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Pass the Buck or the Buck Stops Here? The Effectiveness of Claiming and Deflecting Blame by Elected Executives | Andrew Reeves

Pass the Buck or the Buck Stops Here? The Effectiveness of Claiming and Deflecting Blame by Elected Executives

Abstract

When things go wrong and the government may be to blame, the public reputations of elected executives are vulnerable. Because attribution of responsibility is often not straightfor- ward, elected executives can influence citizens’ evaluations of their performance by means of presentational strategies, or explanatory frames which describe their own roles in the manage- ment of the crisis. We examine the effectiveness of two ubiquitous presentational strategies: blame claiming, where the executive accepts responsibility, and blame deflecting, where the ex- ecutive shifts blame to others (especially bureaucrats). Using survey experiments incorporating stylized and real-world stimuli, we find that blame claiming is more effective than blame de- flecting at managing public support in the aftermath of a crisis. In investigating the underlying mechanism, we find that blame claiming creates more favorable views of an executive’s character valence. While elected executives are better off avoiding crises, we find that when they occur, “stopping the buck” is a superior strategy to deflecting blame.