Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Politics. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 04 December 2022

Avoiding Blame in Policy Crises in Different Institutional Settingslocked

Avoiding Blame in Policy Crises in Different Institutional Settingslocked

  • Minou De RuiterMinou De RuiterSchool of Governance, Utrecht University
  •  and Sanneke KuipersSanneke KuipersInstitute of Security and Global Affairs, Leiden University

Summary

Policy crises often lead to “framing contests,” in which officeholders, opponents, media, and the public at large aim to interpret the crisis in question, explain its cause, attribute responsibility, and agree on ways to address harm caused. More often than not, these contests turn into blame games for the incumbent officeholder. Formal and informal institutional factors can shape blame avoidance options of officeholders, and influence the outcomes of these crisis-induced blame games in terms of blame escalation, policy responses, and political sanctions.

First, formal institutions shape officeholders’ incentives for arguing that they are not responsible for the crisis or should not be punished for its occurrence. Studies in the field of welfare state retrenchment and ministerial resignations have analyzed the blame avoidance options of governments and the survival rates of officeholders in various institutional settings. These studies have provided evidence that institutional complexity and policy-making authority help explaining pathways of blame management. In single-party governments, the accountability chain is more clear and prime ministers have a stronger electoral incentive to sack failing and unpopular ministers. However, a more restrictive interpretation of formal ministerial responsibility for administrative or implementation failures, along with the delegation of policy execution to agencies at arm’s length, can work as a protective shield in blame games for the officeholders and reinforce policy inertia. Consociational systems with multiparty coalitions often show an opposite effect.

Second, institutionalized norms, also known as “the way we do things around here,” affect blame avoidance behavior available to officeholders. Studies which have taken “cultural-institutional” approaches to accountability studies have shown that informal accountability actors, fora, and norms about appropriate behavior shape blame processes. Actors in consociational systems with multiparty coalitions often consider consensus-oriented and nonconfrontational behavior, such as attempts to appease the opposition with policy reparations, as more appropriate responses to blame than those in systems with more elite polarization. In addition, officeholders are increasingly held to account by actors who solely have an informal role in blame games, such as the media and interest groups. Therefore, the extent of mediatization and increased polarization plays a major role in how different political contexts “process” blame.

Third, other relevant noninstitutional factors for blame avoidance behavior are important, such as the nature and timing of the crisis and involvement of other actors in the blame game. Issue salience and proximity affect the potential for blame escalations and the options for blame management by both office holders and their opponents. Prior reputation of incumbent politicians helps them to draw on leadership capital to deflect blame. If the timing of a blame game coincides with upcoming elections, blame is more likely to escalate and lead to political sanctions.

To further understanding of the role of institutional factors in crisis-induced blames games, future research should focus on blame games where institutions themselves are questioned, contested, or in-flux.

Subjects

  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy
  • Political Behavior
  • Political Institutions

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription