Monday, October 26, 2015

Election Promises I

          Throughout the election (including on here), I kept insisting when people asked me what would happen that “political scientists aren’t in the business of prediction”, because we aren’t (and we’re as bad as everyone else on that count).

          But this… now this is what political science exists for.  The aftermath of an election leaves a wealth of puzzles and information that my kind of people will spend the next several years poring over.

          So there’s a lot I could say about what happened last week.  But what I’ll focus on is on whether the new Trudeau (the younger) government will be able to keep its promises.

          It’s an unshakable truism among the general population that politicians never keep their promises.  Everyone knows that promises made during a campaign aren’t worth anything. 

          And yet… it’s not quite that simple.  For one thing, many of the promises you hear during a campaign don’t happen because that party never forms government, which isn’t the fault of the governing party.  People might also feel like the record is worse than it is because they don’t like the promises a government is keeping.  Election promises can also take years to really be fully implemented, so not seeing action right away might not mean anything.  And really, it only takes breaking one high-profile promise for people to get cynical.

          There are gaps in the research on this, but analyses have been done of the Mulroney government and the Harper government.  In the case of Mulroney, the Progressive Conservatives were found to have kept or partially kept close to three-quarters of their election promises.  In the case of Harper, a recent chapter by François Pétry* found that (as of 2012), the Harper Conservatives had kept or partially kept 64% of their promises, broken 19%, and that it was too soon to tell for 16%.

              It would be interesting to see research on the Chrétien/Martin Liberals, to see whether they were significantly different.  I suspect their results would be worse for the following reason: because the Harper government was a Conservative one, it rarely made promises about big government programs.  Its promises were around changes to the criminal code, to tax law, and so on.  These promises tend to be more manageable and less ambitious than a promise to “end child poverty” or something like that.

          And that brings us to what we can reasonably expect from Justin Trudeau’s government, which I’ll cover next week.

*If you’re interested: François Pétry. 2014. “A tale of two perspectives: election promises and government action in Canada”. In Canadian Democracy From the Ground Up, edited by Elizabeth Gidengil and Heather Bastedo. Vancouver: UBC Press. 

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