Mayors, framing strategies and political outcomes in the wake of three riot-related crises Photo of rioters in Haren, made by Nathan Meijer. Retrieved via flickr. CC BY 2.0

Mayors, framing strategies and political outcomes in the wake of three riot-related crises

Dutch mayors have become more vulnerable to critique on their performances as their crisis management responsibilities have increased. How they communicate during crises is crucial for their reputation and political survival.

It is argued that in the aftermath of a crisis both the public leaders in charge as well as their critics seek to exploit the situation for their own political gain. Effective crisis framing therefore seems to have become all the more important. The article The framing contest unravelled: Mayors, framing strategies and political outcomes in the wake of three riot-related crises in the Netherlands is an attempt to improve our understanding of post-crisis meaning making and the allocation of blame.

The study described in the article approaches crisis framing as a process sensitive phenomenon. Therefore, it has been possible to analyse framing strategies and how they coincide with particular political outcomes, while taking into account the different stages of the aftermath during which these strategies may shift. This theoretical approach, in addition, has been applied to a qualitative and most-similar case study of three Dutch crises: the riots in the Hoek van Holland of 2009, the Project X riots in Haren of 2012, and the riots in the Schilderswijk in The Hague of 2014.

The analysis of the three cases shows no predetermined ideal framing strategy leading to a most successful outcome in terms of political survival. This seems due to the observation that the used framing strategies by mayors may change during the course of the aftermath in response to contextual factors. It seems therefore difficult to predict reputational implications beforehand.

This study observed, however, particular context and process sensitive elements that may help to explain the development of framing strategies and additional political outcomes. Two of the three cases (Hoek van Holland and Project X) indicate that continued pressure over time, in terms of an official inquiry, is likely to lead to a less defensive framing strategy of the mayors as the aftermath of the crisis evolves. The Hoek van Holland case in addition, implies that when this turn towards more responsibility acceptance is combined with a short time spent in office, this might explain political survival. The mayor is seen as self-reflective and less responsible for existing policies and practices.

In addition, the Schilderswijk case shows that the media may influence the instigation of a debate and the initial pressure on a mayor, but when not combined with for instance an official inquiry, it may not necessarily pose a contextual pressure during the course of the aftermath. This lack of continued pressure seems to allow for the successful deployment of a defensive framing strategy by the mayor in the third case.

Analysis thus implies that it is important to explore the aftermath of crises in terms of a process that is influenced by context as well as situational dependent elements. It indicates that mapping these elements may help to understand different political outcomes. The article suggests that a future research design therefore could include a set of carefully selected, comparable crises with a successful and non-successful political outcome to be subjected to process tracing. Such a design could focus on contextual factors and would make it possible to include a systematic, empirical inquiry of how these factors coincide with the type of crisis frames deployed by local leaders, frame shifts and political outcomes.