Motivated Reasoning and Blame: Responses to Performance Framing and Outgroup Triggers during COVID-19

09/04/2020 ∙ by Gregory A. Porumbescu, et al. ∙ 0

To manage citizen evaluations of government performance, public officials use blame avoidance strategies when communicating performance information. We examine two prominent presentational strategies: scapegoating and spinning, while testing how public responses vary depending on whether they are ideologically aligned with the public official. We examine these relationships in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the Trump administration sought to shift blame by scapegoating outgroups (by using the term "Chinese virus"), and framing performance information on COVID-19 testing in positive terms. Using a novel pre-registered survey experiment that incorporates open and close-ended items, we offer three main findings. First, there is clear evidence of motivated reasoning: conservatives rate the performance of the Trump administration more positively and are more apt to blame prominent Democrats, Chinese residents and the Chinese Government. Second, performance information framing was found to impact blame attribution among conservatives, but only for open-ended responses. Third, while exposure to the term "Chinese virus" increased blame assigned to Chinese residents among all participants, conservatives exposed to the term appeared to blame President Trump more, suggesting repeated use of divisive blame shifting strategies may alienate even supporters.

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