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The Rhetoric of Accountability: Carving out the link between news coverage of the accountability dialogue and success in the polls

Andrea Lawlor
McGill University
Mark Daku
McGill University
Andrea Lawlor
McGill University
Open Panel

Abstract

The language and rhetoric of accountability has risen in popularity in the previous decade’s election cycles, both in terms of its usage and the favour it curries with voters. Discussion of governments’ perceived lack of transparency and an unwillingness to deliver clarity in financial and ethical matters fuelled political commentators, watchdogs, interest groups and the general public to demand greater accountability without much enumeration of what tangible changes that may entail. This not withstanding, the language of accountability became a critical part of election campaigns. The language of accountability has taken hold in many Western democracies, however, particularly in light of recent economic turmoil, there has been little to no clear assessment of how the rhetoric of accountability has affected electoral outcomes. The election of Conservative minority governments in Canada (2008) and Britain (2010) are two clear examples of change that came largely on the wave of “accountability” or doing government differently than their Liberal and Labour predecessors. This study performs a content analysis of newspaper articles and televised broadcasts in the period leading up to and including the election campaign in the past six British and Canadian elections to determine if there is a positive correlation between the rhetoric of accountability and increased electoral support. Contrasting the two recent cases with previous elections where the language of accountability may not have had as much impact, makes a substantive and empirical contribution to the study of political communications and agenda setting.