British Journal of Political Science

Notes and Comments

Avoiding Blame: An Experimental Investigation of Political Excuses and Justifications

Kathleen M. McGraw*

Success and even survival in politics frequently depends on the ability of politicians and public officials to extricate themselves from various types of predicaments. Indeed, politicians are particularly adept at extricating themselves, with a wide range of explanations at their disposal to avoid blame for unpopular actions and decisions. However, there has been little systematic research on the effectiveness of various political blame-avoidance strategies. This Note has two purposes. First, a typology of blame-avoidance strategies, or accounts, is developed. Second, the results of an experiment examine the effectiveness of these various accounts in enhancing evaluations of a hypothetical public official are reported.


* Departments of Political Science and Psychology, SUNY at Stony Brook. A previous version of this Note was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 1988. The research was facilitated by NIMH Biomedical Grant 431-H292P to the author. I am grateful to Sil Lenart, Peg Mericle and George Serra, for their assistance with the data collection, and to Shanto Iyengar, Steve Smith and Kent Weaver, for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.