Errors have been made, others will be blamed: issue engagement and blame shifting in Prime Minister speeches during the economic crisis in Europe
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Description: In this paper we investigate prime ministers’ communication strategies during the most recent economic crisis in Europe. We argue that when electoral risk is high but governments’ policy options are severely limited, prime ministers will use specific communication strategies to mitigate electoral risks. We analyze two such communication strategies – issue engagement and blame shifting – by applying state-of-the-art quantitative text analysis methods on 5553 speeches of prime ministers in 9 EU member states. We find evidence for both strategies. Prime ministers talk about the economy more in response to both high (domestic) unemployment and low (domestic) GDP growth. Furthermore, we find the (domestic) unemployment rate to be the most consistent predictor of blame shifting: as the domestic unemployment rate goes up, this is followed by an increase in blame shifting towards banks, Greece and the Troika.