It’s an old saw among those who think knee-jerk cynicism is a replacement for healthy skepticism that politicians always break their promises. That’s challenged by an interesting study out of Canterbury University about whether governments keep their election promises. In the 11 terms from 1972 to 2005, each government kept at least half its election promises and the average was a lot higher.
Unfortunately, the full study isn’t available but there’s some interesting data in the press release.
Before 1984, governments kept 80% of their election promises on average. This dropped to 69% during the Rightwing revolution from 1984-1996.
The 1996-1999 National-NZF Government failed to live up to its promises more than any other – it was the only time a party has kept fewer promises in a successive term in office (the exact figure isn’t given in the press release but it must be something just aboue 50% – the average from 1996-2005 was 62% and the average from 1999-2005 was 82%).
The current government has returned to high standards in promise-keeping; 82% of pre-election promises were kept by the Labour-led Governments between 1999 and 2005.
The press release says the highest percentage of election promises kept by a government was nearly 90% but doesn’t say which governemnt it was. Based on the available figures, however, it would seem it was either the 1972-1975 Labour Government or the 2002-2005 Labour-led Government.
I would argue that, given economic and other circumstances change over election campaigns and the three years of a parliamentary term, a government that manages to fulfil 4 out of every 5 promises it makes is doing very well.
The study also confirms that parties with rightwing agendas tend to keep them secret so they can get elected and then force their agenda on the country once they are in power; the rightwing governments from 1984-1999 kept few of their moderate promises and enacted a hardright agenda instead. That’s something that we should keep in mind as the outlines of National’s secret agenda slip out.