Communicating the COVID-19 Crisis

A Comparative Analysis of Crisis Communication by Governments and Heads of State






In this project, we examine government press conferences on Covid-19in terms of government communication behavior in a crisis situation, and thereby explain the use of different communication strategies for crisis management. The Covid-19 pandemic posed immense challenges to governments worldwide and provides a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of political crisis communication: 


The unique role of press conferences during the Covid-19 pandemic

Rarely has so much attention been paid to politicians' speeches as in the spring of 2020: Around the globe, citizens followed the live speeches and press conferences on the spread of the coronavirus and the containment measures that eventually led to an almost worldwide lockdown in March. For example, the Austrian federal government's press conference broadcast on ORF on 13th of March achieved a market share of 69 per cent, making it one of the top 10 most-watched programmes of 2020, along with the opera ball and ski broadcasts.


The objectives of the project

The frequency and global distribution of these live press conferences provide a unique opportunity for comparative research on crisis communication. On the one hand, it is very rare in democratic countries for governments and heads of state to be awarded as much live television airtime as they were at the start of the Corona pandemic. On the other hand, never before have such live televised speeches on a similar topic taken place in the same period of time in so many countries around the world. Against this background, we are addressing two central questions in this project:

1) Which strategies of crisis communication did governments and heads of state choose in the immediate phase of the COVID-19 crisis?

2) Which factors influence the crisis communication strategies of governments and heads of state?


The realization of the project

To answer these questions, we analyse video recordings of live-streamed speeches and press conferences between January and summer 2020. We examine  17 OECD countries and three U.S. states, from Austria and Germany to Iceland, Sweden, South Korea, and New Zealand. Using quantitative and qualitative methods of social sciences, we explain how often and on what content heads of state and government members held press conferences during the pandemic, and what factors influenced their respective approaches. At the end of this project, we will gain new insights into the political dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis from a comparative perspective and contribute to a better understanding of political crisis communication.


Project Overview  

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