The Power of Conformity in Citizens’ Blame: Evidence from a Survey Experiment


The authors examine whether conformity towards prevailing public opinions and preexisting blame influences citizens’ attribution of blame for public service failure, by using a between-group experimental design with five groups. Two groups received information cues mentioning different public opinions. Two additional groups received information on preexisting blame or the absence of such blame. One control group did not receive any information. The empirical analysis reveals that public opinion in favor of blame leads to increased blame attribution, while a contrary public opinion decreases citizens’ blame. Likewise, the expected increase in citizens’ blame resulting from preexisting blame is supported. However, the absence of blame has no effect. Overall, the experiment supports the impact of conformity on citizens’ blame. In addition, the literature on citizens’ blame is extended by utilizing a citizen-centered perspective and taking social psychological theory into account.

Public Performance & Management Review