How do executives communicate about crises?

Olga Eisele, Petro Tolochko, Hajo Boomgaarden

A plethora of accumulating crises, and the public frustration with how they were tackled, have provided fertile ground for growing public scepticism towards the European Union (EU). The way in which political leaders manage these crises may well decide the future of the EU. Research has addressed these developments comprehensively. However, it has not, to date, provided an adequate analytical lens to confront the crisis theme explicitly and therefore needs analytical advancement. We contribute to the debate by developing a framework for comparative analysis and evaluation of public political crisis communication, identifying four aspects along which public political crisis communication can be analysed: (1) how accessible it is, (2) how well it can contribute to allaying fears, (3) to what extent it accommodates public concerns, and (4) how politically aligned crisis managers are in their communication. We analyse a dataset of 10 years of speeches and press releases of the governments of Austria, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom in addition to the EU's executive institutions (EU Commission and Councils). Drawing on different approaches to automated text analysis, we score texts on the four identified dimensions and draw dimensions together in a holistic similarity index. Results demonstrate the cohesion of crisis-relevant communication in contrast to non-relevant communication. They also show that accommodation, is consistently emphasised more in crisis than in non-crisis communication; however, political crisis managers have practiced a politics of fear rather than allaying concerns, potentially fuelling political frustration and disenchantment. In addition, the EU's crisis communication is not found to be different from communication about non-crisis topics, opening up avenues for future research concerned with legitimation processes at different political levels. Overall, the results do partly resonate with the insights provided by the existing literature but also shine a new, holistic light on how political executives have managed crises in the past decade.

Department of Communication
European Journal of Political Research
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
506004 European integration, 508020 Political communication
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Sociology and Political Science
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Portal url