Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2007


Published in State Politics and Policy Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Fall 2007): pp. 235–255. Copyright © 2007 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.


How do people explain their behavior in socially unacceptable political situations? Exploring this question will give us insight into how the public responds to and frames collective decisions regarding controversial topics. We analyze accounts of the outcomes of racially sensitive statewide referenda in two states to understand the public responses to such political predicaments. Distinguishing four broad categories of these accounts—denials, justifications, excuses, and confessions—we find some clear-cut differences in their use between proponents and opponents of the ballot measures. These results have implications for political thought and dialogue regarding politically-sensitive issues and other heated policy issues. We also discuss how the different account dynamics in these two cases presaged subsequent political developments in these states, which might provide insights into why some such cases continue to be fiercely contested while others fade from public debate.