Newhouse doctoral students Yu Tian and Jeongwon Yang co-authored the paper, “Deny or bolster? A comparative study of crisis communication strategies between Trump and Cuomo in COVID-19” in the Public Relations Review journal.
This study applied the situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) in political crisis communication amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, a “sticky crisis” that is longitudinal and politicized, thereby involving multiple challenges and complexities. Considering the critical role of Twitter in the information transmissions during the ongoing pandemic, this study considered politicians’ tweets as a proxy to access their crisis communication strategies and conducted a systematic content analysis to critically evaluate COVID-19 crisis communication strategies of two politicians, Trump and Cuomo, according to their perceived day-to-day circumstances during COVID-19. Three strategies categorized by SCCT, deny, diminish, and bolstering, surfaced with significance for both Trump and Cuomo. A new strategy specific to the political context, cohesion, was also identified. In addition, significant differentiation was observed in the strategic narratives between Trump and Cuomo, which reveals the evolving political dynamics in disease representation and crisis messaging. For example, Trump emphasized social exclusion and accusations of Democrats whilst Cuomo stressed care for vulnerable and minority groups and compassion delivery. Moreover, deny strategy, especially accusing other races, significantly boosted audience engagement for Trump. The results are discussed in relation to the idiosyncrasy of the complex COVID-19 pandemic and crisis communication in the political realm. Our findings demonstrate practical implications including online crisis messaging recommendations that foster public trust during politicized and polarized health emergencies and cultivate grounds for information exchange beyond partisan barriers.