The Effects of Blaming Others for Legislative Inaction on Individual and Collective Evaluations

David Doherty, Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Legislators commonly blame others for gridlock. We posit that legislators may engage in this type of rhetoric to minimize the individual reputational risks associated with legislative inaction or to boost the relative standing of their party. In a series of six survey experiments, we find that blaming others for inaction undermines voters’ evaluations of individual legislators who engage in this rhetorical strategy. This effect is particularly pronounced among out-partisans and independents. However, blaming rhetoric can also enhance the standing of the blamer’s party relative to the opposing party across all groups (including out-partisans), in large part by undermining the reputations of these other actors. Ultimately, we show that when an individual legislator engages in blaming rhetoric, the immediate net electoral effects are null. This suggests that coordinated efforts by a party to blame opponents may improve the party’s relative standing, while imposing few costs on those engaged in blaming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-99
Number of pages31
JournalLegislative Studies Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • blame
  • collective interests
  • gridlock
  • institutional reputations
  • legislator communication
  • parties
  • partisan reasoning
  • party conflict
  • survey experiments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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