The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing

The AJPS article The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing by Robert Thomson, Terry Royed, Elin Naurin, Joaquín Artés, Rory Costello, Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, Mark Ferguson, Petia Kostadinova, Catherine Moury, François Pétry and Katrin Praprotnik was published in AJPS 61:3 is summarized here by its authors:

To what extent do parties keep their campaign promises or election pledges if they enter government and hold executive power after elections? This understudied question is of great importance to the theory and practice of democracy. The idea of promissory representation is that parties should make clear policy commitments to voters during election campaigns and take action on those commitments if they hold government office after elections. In this article, which is the first major publication of our comparative project, we ask whether parties are more likely to fulfill their pledges if they hold executive office alone rather than in coalitions, if they control legislative majorities rather than minorities, and if they are unconstrained by a range of other institutions. Our research systematically compares what parties promised during election campaigns with what governments did after elections. In a series of carefully coordinated case studies using common definitions of pledges and fulfillment, we study the fulfillment of over 20,000 pledges made by parties in 12 countries during 57 election campaigns.

Our main findings challenge the common view of parties as promise-breakers. We find that a clear majority of pledges made by parties that hold executive office after elections were at least partially fulfilled, and in some cases well above 80 percent of pledges were redeemed. We find significant variation in pledge fulfillment by government type, with parties that govern alone rather than in coalitions being most likely to fulfill their pledges. The highest rates of pledge fulfillment are found in Canada, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, where single-party governments are common, and lower rates in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands, where coalitions are the norm. In the United States, on average over 60 percent of the pledges made by the party of the president were fulfilled at least partially, which is comparable to levels found for some governing parties in coalitions. While the evidence shows that parties generally take their pledges seriously, whether they are able to follow through on their promises depends to a large extent on whether they share power with other parties.

This article is part of a larger research project in which we examine pledge making, breaking and fulfillment from a comparative perspective. At the time of writing, we are completing a book project, which is under contract with the University of Michigan Press. The book has extensive analyses of the conditions under which parties make and keep election pledges, including a series of country-focused chapters and integrated comparative analyses. In the years to come we intend to develop our project further with both new theories and evidence, including a broader range of countries. We are also expanding the project to include the study of how citizens perceive the fulfillment of pledges. The results show that while most citizens are skeptical about whether parties fulfill their election pledges, people are often able to assess accurately whether specific promises were broken or kept. We have also found considerable interest from the media and general public in our main research findings.

The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing was published in the July 2017 issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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