The Journal of Politics

ARTICLES

Attributing Blame: The Public's Response to Hurricane Katrina

Neil Malhotraa1 and Alexander G. Kuoa2

a1 Stanford University

a2 Stanford University

Abstract

When government fails, whom do citizens blame? Do these assessments rely on biased or content-rich information? Despite the vast literatures on retrospective voting in political science and attribution in psychology, there exists little theory and evidence on how citizens apportion blame among public officials in the wake of government failure. We designed a survey experiment in which respondents ranked seven public officials in order of how much they should be blamed for the property damage and loss of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. We manipulated the information provided to respondents, with some receiving the officials’ party affiliations, others receiving their job titles, and others receiving both cues. We find that party cues cause individuals to blame officials of the opposite party, but citizens make more principled judgments when provided with information about officials’ responsibilities. These results have implications for our understanding of the impact of heuristics and information on retrospective evaluations of government performance.

(Received June 28 2006)

(Accepted April 04 2007)

Footnotes

Neil Malhotra is a Ph.D. candidate in political science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. Alexander G. Kuo is a Ph.D. candidate in political science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.

Metrics