Promising Democracy. Parties, Citizens and Election Promises
Election promises have important roles to play in representative democracy. This book gives focus to what seems to be a puzzling controversy between scholars and ordinary citizens concerning whether or not politicians actually keep their promises. While research presents an image of responsible parties acting on most of their election promises, ordinary people are mostly presumed to hold the opposite view – that parties usually break their promises. This “Pledge Puzzle” is investigated through a comparison between citizens’ views of election promises and the result of research. The first part of the book is dedicated to the role that election promises have in theories of representative democracy. The scholarly part of the Pledge Puzzle is then analysed both via discussions about definitions and results of earlier research and via new data added by a study of pledge fulfilment in Sweden. The study of Swedish election promises gives background information to the interviews with Swedish citizens that are given later in the book. It is shown that single party minority governments (the Social Democrats between 1994 -1998 and 1998 - 2002), can also fulfil a great majority of their election promises. The rest of the book gives focus to citizens’ views on election promises. First, the negative “conventional wisdom” that scholars often refer to when they draw their conclusions is for the first time empirically analysed. In most countries, at different times in history, in most groups of people and with different ways of asking the question, most people believe that parties break their promises. Second, the view of election promises is compared to more general measures of distrust in politicians. Unidimensional scaling analyses show that the claim that parties usually break their promises is not just another expression of general political distrust. Third, longer research interviews and an open ended survey question about examples of broken election promises are presented. It is concluded that citizens cannot be expected to only use the notion of election promises in the same way that scholars do. Citizens’ specifications of when, where and by whom the promise is given differs from scholars’ evaluations. Citizens also sometimes make comparisons with what they believe should have been promised, rather than with what was actually promised. It is also found that citizens can base their negative perceptions on a story, or a narrative, of the promise breaking politician rather than on actual evaluations of what is said and done in politics. Election promises are useful as tools in a wider discussion of representative democracy. A part from the more specific conclusions regarding scholars’ and citizens’ views on election promises, three general conclusions of importance for representative democracy are discussed: 1. Political representation is a continuous process in the eyes of citizens. 2. In the eyes of citizens, the process of representation reaches all the way down to the individual’s personal perception of outcomes. 3. It is probable that wishful thinking and narratives affect citizens’ views on politicians.
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Gothenburg. Faculty of Social Sciences
Göteborgs universitet. Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten
Department of Political Science ; Statsvetenskapliga institutionen
Fredagen den 2 oktober 2009, kl 10.15, sal 10, universitetsbyggnaden, Vasaparken
Date of defence
election promises, representative democracy, public opinion, voter behaviour, elections, mandates, accountability, political trust, election campaigns, election manifestoes, policy evaluation, Sweden.
Gothenburg Studies in Politics
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