Crisis, Accountability and Blame Management Strategies and Survival of Political Office-Holders

University dissertation from Utrecht University

Abstract: Crises are an integral part of our modern world; they are breaking points that disturb our sense of normalcy. While some of them are treated as ‘normal incidents’ that are bound to occur in a vast and complex array of governmental activities, others spark a blaze of media attention, public emotions, and political upheaval. This thesis explores how political office-holders respond to incidents that are perceived as blameworthy and how crisis-induced accountability processes affect their political careers. In an attempt to determine this, a series of case studies containing elements of high-pressure crisis-induced accountability were examined. Strategies employed by top political actors in coping with accountability and blame are identified and discussed. Crises often trigger discussions on accountability and top political actors engage in a framing contest over defining the causes of the crisis and who or what should be held responsible. This is a staged and dynamic process in which key actors employ different strategies in several arenas for managing and ultimately assigning blame for the unwanted event. These processes are shaped in relation to issues regarding causality, agency, and responsibility. In addition to the fact that crises can be managed on different ‘levels’ and arenas, we can also see that certain contextual and situational factors (such as personal experience and the constitutional framework of the cabinet) can constrain or enable how blame is managed and ultimately what the consequences will be for the careers of top political office-holders.