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Can responsibility attributions be sensible in the presence of partisan-motivated reasoning?

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Political accountability requires that voters understand the distribution of policy outcome responsibility among their vote choice options. Research on partisan-motivated reasoning suggests that voters do not meet this requirement. The problem is that voters condition their attributions of responsibility to the government on their party identification. Government identifiers credit the government for desirable outcomes and blame external forces such as the global economy for undesirable outcomes. This paper draws a more optimistic conclusion. It argues that focusing on the perceived responsibility of the government and external forces is not sufficient for understanding whether voters meet the responsibility attribution requirement. It is also necessary to compare the perceived responsibility of government parties to the perceived responsibility of opposition parties because those are the options that voters get to choose from. This party distribution of perceived responsibility is analyzed with original survey data from Denmark and the United Kingdom. The results demonstrate that while party identification does indeed condition voters’ responsibility attributions, both government identifiers and independents attribute systematically more responsibility to the government than to the opposition regardless of the desirability of the outcome. This suggests that voters tend to meet the responsibility attribution requirement of accountability despite the presence of partisan-motivated reasoning.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Pages (from-to)967-976
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

    Research areas

  • accountability, partisan-motivated reasoning, responsibility attributions

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