Project Description

Communicating the COVID-19 Crisis

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



Wider research context and theoretical framework
Crises are defined by their unexpected nature and are singular events, which are usually temporally and geographically limited. Therefore, comparative studies on political crisis communication are scarce. The global scale and massive impact of the COVID-19 crisis provide an unprecedented opportunity for a large-n, comparative study that systematically compares the strategies of crisis communication and for making robust inferences about external factors that influence the nature of these strategies.

Hypotheses, research questions and objectives
With this project, we examine the strategies of communication that governments and heads of state used in televised press conferences to steer their countries through the immediate phase of the COVID-19 crisis through a combination of three analytic decisions: we analyze press conferences as the most important means of communication, focus on governments and heads of state as the most important political actors, and select the immediate phase of the COVID-19 crisis as a distinct time frame. We seek to answer two research questions:

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?

Approach and methods
This project focuses on televised press conferences as a crucial, yet understudied form of crisis communication. During the COVID-19 crisis, such press conferences were held in all countries included in our study. We use a combination of quantitative content analysis, discourse analysis and topic modeling as well as extensive secondary data regarding economic, political, epidemiological and biographical characteristics to analyze crisis communication in 17 OECD countries.

Level of originality and innovation
The project will lead to three original contributions: First, it enhances our knowledge of the political dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis. Second, we add to the literature by comparatively analyzing government communication strategies in a crisis of unprecedented global scale. Third, we employ an innovative data collection approach by relying on crowd-sourcing to transcribe and translate press conferences for further automated and manual text analysis.

Primary researchers involved
The core project team consists of three researchers at the Department of Political Science at the University of Innsbruck. Lore Hayek (principal investigator) is an assistant professor of Austrian politics focusing on political communication, Sarah C. Dingler is an assistant professor specializing in empirical gender research, and Martin Senn is an associate professor of International Relations.
Additionally, Christian Schwaderer is pursuing his PhD within the project (“Communicating through a pandemic: A comparative study on state crisis communication and public perception during the Covid-19 pandemic”), and Andreas M. Kraxberger and Nada Ragheb support the project team as student assistants.


17 OECD states January 2020 - July 2020  time frame of analysis 1106 press conferences 518 hours of footage






Funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)  

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