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How Credible Is Your Campaign Promise?

Making A Commitment

Politicians seeking office make promises, this we know. Do these promises alter voters’ beliefs about the policies the politician will implement if elected? Elections are certainly won and lost on campaign promises so politicians are unlikely to give them up anytime soon. The flip side of the coin is that these commitments may later come back to haunt an office-holder. For this reason, candidates must temper their promises in anticipation of future elections. But do politicians really go out to make outlandish promises? And more importantly, do they actually break these promises?

What's in a Promise?

Promises are made to set oneself apart from the next candidate. How can you differentiate your political operation from someone in the same constituency? Simple, promise the voter something that your opposition can’t.

Campaign promises are usually related to what is currently on the agenda for the electorate. There isn’t an election that doesn’t offer “ fewer taxes” or “more jobs”, things that, through the ages, have been dusted off and reused again and again. Other commitments from politicians can be more ideological in nature, though, for example, right to life issues or gun control can position a politician with a certain voter bloc and cement support in that way. Taking a stance for or against doesn’t mean that you will be able to bring them into law, but it does mean that you will be putting yourself directly in with supporters of the same.

Problems Delivering

The skeptics among us will say politicians will promise the moon and the sun and never follow through. The media is always quick to exploit this stereotype. Politicians don’t actively make promises and have no intention of following through on them. Trying to blaze the way on the campaign trail can be difficult and more often than not, you can find yourself forced into making a commitment or promise which you had not planned for. There can be a lack of control or planning in campaign promises and they do not represent a plan of action for government. Off the cuff remarks at political rallies or talk shows have a way of cementing themselves in the public psyche even though these commitments were never intended to become part of the government's agenda.

However, politicians usually do try to fulfil promises because reneging is politically toxic. Presidential Candidate George H.W. Bush's "Read my lips: No new taxes" promise is one such example of an unkept promise. Bush created this famous sound byte at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Unfortunately, once in office, he had no choice but to raise taxes in an effort to reduce the budget deficit and provide needed funding drawing particular ire from his one-time supporters.

Politicians are wary of making promises that they know may come back to haunt them, but they still can’t avoid them when an election campaign really kicks off. Research suggests that, in fact, politicians do tend to keep their promises.

The Credibility Battle

With good intentions, presidential candidates wage their campaigns with promises designed to sway voters' opinions and get elected. Some of the promises are ideological in nature and difficult to quantify while others are more direct and accountable.

It would be ideal for all presidential candidates to just tell us that we will have to raise taxes and cut spending to make ends meet, but unfortunately, what candidates promise and what they are able to deliver can be very different things. Commitments that politicians make during campaigns can end up metaphorically tying said-politicians hands. In reality, it serves nobody well to make promises that they can’t help materialise. This is not good for government or country. So to maintain credibility, only promise things you are certain on delivering on. In the long run, it will benefit everyone.

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