While extreme political ideologies and actors have always existed within democratic systems, explicit intolerance toward marginalized minority populations and outright support for radical right leaders and parties promoting such sentiments have become increasingly widespread over the past 25 years. Recent electoral successes by radical right politicians across Europe and North America have galvanized fringe ethno-nationalist groups and lent legitimacy to nativist and xenophobic policy objectives. This study seeks to understand what key individual-level factors account for contemporary rises in radical right political expressions and the extent to which contextual circumstances affect such expressions. In examining outcomes related to support for radical right parties (chapter 2), tolerance toward minority populations (chapter 3), and engagement in system-challenging political activities (chapter 4) in Canada and across comparative democratic polities, my research suggests that variations in context (both objectively and subjectively conceived) have broad moderating effects on the expression of political attitudes and behaviours. Using the psychological predispositions, Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), as barometers for gauging individual sensitivities to changing social and economic circumstances (perceived threats linked to immigration, ethnic diversity, and national unemployment rates), results here suggest that individual political expressions are circumstantially dependent. While measurable psychological traits are reliably predictive of attitudinal and behavioural outcomes, situational stimuli can significantly alter these relationships. Drawing on data from the Canadian Election Study, the European Social Survey, the World Bank Databank, and Statistics Canada, each respective study contained in this dissertation takes a quantitative approach to examine variations in political attitudes and behaviours across diverse contexts.
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Thesis advisor: Weldon, Steven
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