Globalization and Promissory Representation

The forthcoming article “Globalization and Promissory Representationby Christina J. Schneider and Robert Thomson is summarized by the authors below.

This article reports that globalization has a significant and negative effect on governing parties’ ability to fulfill the promises they made to voters in previous election campaigns. We argue that this is a key aspect of the debate on the impact of globalization on national democratic representation. Opinion is divided on the question of whether countries’ integration into the international economic system has negative consequences for the quality of national representation. Some scholars contend that exposure to globalization poses a grave threat to meaningful national democracy, while others argue that national democracy can still thrive in a globalized world. This debate has become all the more pertinent in the context of recent developments that have been described as deglobalization. Our focus on the fulfilment of election pledges sheds light on this debate in relation to promissory representation, which holds that parties should make promises to voters during election campaigns and follow through on those promises if the election results give them sufficient governing authority to do so. If governing parties are habitual promise breakers, then at least one common justification for elections is called into question. 

We argue that countries’ exposure to economic globalization is associated with increased economic uncertainty, international legal constraints, and the empowerment of internationally oriented market actors. These constrain governing parties in their attempts to follow through on their campaign promises. Our empirical strategy consists of quantitative and qualitative analyses. The quantitative analyses draw on work by the Comparative Pledges Project (CPP), which has assembled detailed evidence on thousands of campaign promises made by parties in twelve countries. Previous studies by CPP researchers, including a previous article in the AJPS, focused mainly on the domestic power-sharing arrangements that constrain governing parties in fulfilling their election pledges, and has not yet considered the possible impact of countries’ exposure to globalization. A series of statistical models show that the negative effect of globalization on promise keeping is robust to a range of different plausible specifications.  

The qualitative part of the study consists of a detailed case study of the UK Conservative Party’s infamous campaign promise from 2010 to cut net migration to the UK to under 100,000. This is a typical case study in that it is a broken promise made in a country that is highly exposed to economic globalization. Notwithstanding the government’s serious attempts to reduce migration to the UK, factors relating to economic uncertainty, international legal constraints and powerful market-oriented actors prevented the government from fulfilling the pledge. 

The article is part of a larger project in which we are examining the consequences of globalization for a broad range of indicators of democratic performance in established democracies. This includes the extent to which globalization affects parties’ responsiveness to public opinion, and the possible tradeoffs between responsiveness and responsibility. In doing so we seek to add insights into the polarized debate on the impact of globalization on national democracy. 

About the Authors: Christina J. Schneider is a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego and Robert Thomson is a Professor of Political Science at Monash University. Their research Globalization and Promissory Representation is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming 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.