Promissory Representation: Making, Breaking and Keeping Campaign Promises

Promissory Representation: Making, Breaking and Keeping Campaign Promises

This presentation will examine the making, breaking and keeping of promises made by candidates during election campaigns. Promissory representation refers to the idea, which is found in a range of mainstream democratic theories, that candidates make promises that are either kept or broken by subsequent governments. The Comparative Party Pledges Project (CPPP) examines promissory representation from the perspective of “election pledges”, which are campaign statements that are specific and testable enough to enable researchers to assess with a high level of agreement whether or not they have been fulfilled. The CPPP currently involves approximately 20 researchers, who have assembled a qualitative and quantitative dataset of over 20,000 election pledges made in 57 election campaigns in 12 countries. We will review the recent and ongoing work of the CPPP, which includes broad comparisons of pledge fulfilment across governments with different power-sharing arrangements, and detailed narratives of particular pledges. The CPPP also includes a relatively new line of inquiry on citizens’ evaluations of pledge fulfilment. It will be argued that existing explanations of variation in pledge fulfilment can be improved by developing a micro-level theory that attends more closely to contextual factors. The main elements of this theory are dimensions of pledge salience, and the incentives and preferences of key politicians who occupy relevant executive and legislative posts after election campaigns. Plans to extend this work to Australian parties will also be discussed.

Robert Thomson is Professor of Politics and Head of the School of Social Sciences at Monash University. He moved to Melbourne in July 2017, having previously held positions at the University of Strathclyde in the UK, Trinity College Dublin, and at the Universities of Groningen and Utrecht in the Netherlands. His research focuses on democratic representation and negotiations at the national and international levels. His publications include the books The European Union Decides and Resolving Controversy in the European Union (both Cambridge University Press), and a series of articles and book chapters on various aspects of national and international politics.

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Date & time

Thu 22 Mar 2018, 12–2pm


L.J. Hume Centre, Copland Building


Professor Robert Thomson


Feodor Snagovsky


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