Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
An election promise is a promise made to the public by a politician who is trying to win an election. They have long been a central element of elections and remain so today. Election promises are also notable for often being broken once a politician is in office.
Elections promises are part of an election platform, but platforms also contain vague ideals and generalities as well as specific promises. They are an essential element in getting people to vote for a candidate. A promise such as to cut taxes or to introduce new social programs appeal to voters.
A great number of election promises are broken. Many regard this as a severe issue that disaffects people from the entire political process, increasing apathy and lowering voter turnout. Election promises have been broken for as long as elections have been held and this is likely to continue.
There are strong pressures on politicians to make promises which they cannot keep. A party that does not make exaggerated promises would appear bland, unambitious, and uninteresting to voters compared to the one that does. The lying party will thus almost always get elected over the truthful one. Government finances are extremely complex and promises are vague enough that the media and public can rarely say for certain that the numbers do not add up. Thus almost all parties continue to promise lower taxes, more social programs , and a balanced budget . For instance George W. Bush in the 2000 American presidential election promised all three and had to abandon balanced budgets. In the 2003 Ontario election the Ontario Liberal Party also made all three promises and was forced to raise taxes once it found itself in government.
Promises are usually based on the rosiest of possible futures, a strong economy and cooperative leaders of legislatures and sub-national entities. Actual government planning done by bureaucrats generally plans for the worst possible future, but any politician that would plan in this manner would have a platform that is far less attractive than that of their opponents.
There is some latitude for breaking promises. George W. Bush's pledge to not involve the U.S. military in nation building was discarded after the September 11th attacks, a change in policy widely viewed as justifiable among his supporters. Franklin Roosevelt's 1940 pledge to keep the United States out of World War II was similarly abandoned after the Pearl Harbor attack with no negative results.
It has been argued that governments in general should not be elected for what they promise, but rather for their ability to deal with the unexpected. Factors such as competence, honesty, ideology, and experience are in many ways a better method of judging a party or politician than their promises that may or may not be kept. This is reflected in actual elections where a politician's character, the party that they belong to, and factors like scandals have a far greater impact on how people vote than specific election promises.
Election promises differ in different government systems. In the Westminster System where almost all power resides in the office of the Prime Minister voters know where to ascribe blame for broken promises. In presidential systems such as that in the United States where power is more diffuse and ultimate responsibility harder to pin down it is harder for an electorate to punish politicians for broken promises. For instance in the United States a presidential candidate can freely make promises of a impractically large tax cut in the firm confidence that the Senate will reduce it to a manageable level.
The constant stream of broken promises has annoyed many voters and politicians have responded with techniques to make their promises more believable. This includes making far more specific promises with numbers attached. The 1993 Canadian Liberal Red Book was an example of this. Also popular is setting a more specific time for when promises will be implemented, with politicians listing what they will do in their first week or first hundred days in office.
When promises are to be broken, all politicians know it is best to do so at the start of a term. Thus the first budget is the one most likely to see unexpected tax hikes, or slashed spending. The hope is that by the time the next election occurs in three or four years time the anger of the electorate will have faded.
Similarly politicians often save popular, but relatively unimportant promises for the end of their term to be implemented just before they are up for reelection.
Famous broken promises
- The British Liberal Party's pledge to cut military spending, before embarking on the Dreadnought race with Germany
- Woodrow Wilson's promise to keep the United States out of WWI
- Herbert Hoover's 1928 pledge to end poverty
- Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 pledge to maintain balanced budgets and not to greatly increase government spending
- The British Labour Party's 1945 pledge to set up a new ministry of housing
- Richard Nixon's 1968 promise to quickly resolve the Vietnam War
- In the 1974 Canadian election the Liberals derided the Tory plan to implement wage and price controls only to bring them in soon after being elected.
- George H.W. Bush's "Read my lips: No new taxes"
- The Liberal Party of Canada's 1993 pledge to scrap the GST
- Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1987 "by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty"
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