From Global to Regional - how Political Communicators made sense of Covid-19 Crisis. Evidences from 2020 Italian Regional Elections
Abstract: Described as a “paradigm shift” event (Michelson, 2020), the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging all humans activities worldwide. Such disruptive event can be labelled as a crisis, which is described as an episode of uncertainty threatening high priority goals (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). Despite this critical situation, 206 different relevant elections has been held globally since February 2020 (IDEA, 2021). This occasion offers to us a unique opportunity to observe how electoral campaigning dynamics have been recently challenged by the pandemic. Specifically, the aim of this Master Thesis is to understand how this crisis could have “influenced” Political Communicators (PC) during last Italian Regional Elections (IRE). In particular, on one hand this Master Thesis will analyze and describe how PCs made sense of the context (RQ1), while on the other hand it will identify how those interpretations have triggered different responses to the crisis itself (RQ2). After having reviewed other case studies of elections during the Covid-19 crisis, I briefly discuss Crisis Communication in order to give more consistent attention to Sensemaking Theory. Originated from the work of Weick (1979, 1988, 1993), this theory is about the process of human meaning-making and the consequent reactions due to the ongoing alterations of our social contexts. Sensemaking Theory will enable us to understand how this process arose in the experiences lived by the expert professionals that were involved in this research. I will complement this theoretical framework with Crisis Exploitation Theory (Boin, 't Hart & McConnell, 2009), which shares with the previous theory a symbolic, social-constructivist and interpretative foundation. According to this theory, crisis are at the very base of political competition. In this case, Crisis Exploitation Theory will be used to comprehend how crisis has been differently framed by PCs, and with which consequences. The methodology used for this research is set to be individual semi-structured digital interviews. Such approach will enable the emersion of individual experiences with a wider reflections about them. In total 12 PCs have been interviewed, covering 6 out of 7 of the voting Regions. The main conclusions are that: a sense of emotional negativity and uncertainty pervaded the social and cultural context of IRE, further conditioned by an already unstable political scenario. Moreover, also logistical decisions for developing IRE has been seriously unsettled, since a sense of indeterminacy was felt due to a lack of retrospective feedbacks. In this situation, the only PCs who seemed to have a clear understanding were the ones who worked for incumbent Governors. Their advantaged position, allowed them to linearly conclude their sensemaking processes. Hence, this turned to be an advantage also for their communication responses, since they exploited attacks and blames from other competitors, giving scant leeway for other PCs to discuss their issues. Nevertheless, this did not inhibit other PCs attempts to strategize the crisis, and spread their frames.
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