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Govts do keep promises, some more than others

Written By: - Date published: 12:40 pm, September 15th, 2008 - 24 comments
Categories: election 2008 - Tags:

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.

24 comments on “Govts do keep promises, some more than others”

  1. Tim Ellis 1

    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;

    Put in less inflammatory terms, the study shows that both National and Labour have been as good at keeping their promises as each other, although both have been through periods of breaking their promises.

    What I did find very surprising was the paragraph near the end:

    …every major party returned to office increased its promise-keeping performance with each successive consecutive term. However, electoral support dropped in every case indicating that voters do not reward political parties for keeping promises. “This means, in effect, there appears to be no electoral pay-off to parties for doing what they said they would,’ Mr McCluskey says.

    Dear oh dear. Here McCluskey is suggesting causation. My view is that from the time that a government is elected, it starts to lose political capital, irrespective of what it does. Governments that break promises lose political capital more quickly, but simply delivering on promises doesn’t lead to an increase in popularity.

  2. “as the outlines of National’s secret agenda slip out.”

    Who really has the secret agenda Steve? The only policy that Labour has published is Nationals.

  3. Another interesting topic to do a thesis on might be:

    “What do a wide spectrum of political party supporters believe their party stands for, and how close is this perception to reality – as defined by a party’s actions upon achieving power?”

    If you asked this question in 1984 or 1990, you could be absolutely sure that you would return a wide disparity between beliefs and actions. However, the jury remains out if there is a change of government in 2008.

  4. r0b 4

    Put in less inflammatory terms, the study shows that both National and Labour have been as good at keeping their promises as each other, although both have been through periods of breaking their promises

    In terms of recent governments National have been the worst: “The 1996-1999 National-NZF Government failed to live up to its promises more than any other”.

    Labour have been the best: “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.”

    I note in passing that most of National’s current front bench are from “the worst” 1996-1999 National government (and are also veteran Hollow Men). Hmmmm.

  5. burt 5

    Is there 1 single promuise from the 1999 pledge card that has been kept ? I don’t think so….

  6. Crank 6

    “every major party returned to office increased its promise-keeping performance with each successive consecutive term. However, electoral support dropped in every case indicating that voters do not reward political parties for keeping promises. “This means, in effect, there appears to be no electoral pay-off to parties for doing what they said they would,’ Mr McCluskey says.”

    Of course you can keep your promises on what policy you would introduce whilst at the same time engaging in corruption and a secret agenda of social engineering.

    This would tend to be a bit of a turn off for voters. A situation that you can see being played out at the moment

  7. burt. moronic. the study we’re discussing shows the Labour-led govts kept 82% of their election promises between 1999 and 2005

  8. burt 8

    Steve P.

    OK, sure but were any from the 1999 pledge card kept?

    Perhaps since this is your post you could list them out and specify why you think they have been kept.

  9. got_banned 9

    [Vidiot, you’re still banned.]

  10. Thomas the Unbeliever 10

    It is not just the electoral promises kept or broken which should concern us – but also the legistation passed without mandate.

    I would be interested in a study which focussed on key legislation passed during an electoral term – and the extent to which that legistation had featured as part of any election manifesto.

    This has become the trend in NZ. It is not the government of broken promises – but the governement of surprise legislation which was never publicly debated during the election.

    In a country with such a short election cycle our parliamentary terms have become dominated by key legislation that has not formed part of the electoral debate. If there is any secret agenda to be exposed – that is where it is manifest.

  11. burt 11

    got_banned

    Personal tax and GST would not increase for those earning less than $60,000

    Well that promise was not kept. Minor beneficiaries in trusts were whacked with a massive tax increase. A minor beneficiary earning a few thousand a year via a trust got a staggering tax increase from their current nominal rate of 19.5% to a flat 33%. Imagine explaining to a god child who’s late parents trust gave them some independence that they have just had a 13.5% tax increase against a promise that if they were earning under $60,000 that their tax rate would not go up.

  12. burt 12

    Oh, on the bright side, the first $1,000 from a trust is taxed at the recipients nominal rate. Note of course that is $1,000 from each trust rather than $1,000 from all trusts. So in classic Winston fashion it would seem that if people wanted income to minor beneficiaries to be taxed at their nominal rate rather than a flat 33% they would simply need to establish multiple trusts and keep the monies passed to the beneficiaries below the “accountability’ threshold.

    This of course would not be illegal and people like Winston would say there was nothing wrong with it as no laws were broken. Or just forget to declare that the reciepent was a minor and claim it was an honest mistake – the IRD would buy that – yeah right.

  13. Felix 13

    How are we ever going to add up Key’s pre-election promises when they contradict each other from day to day?

    For example, if the nats form the next govt, whatever happens to the family commission will be both a kept promise AND a broken promise based on 3 promises made last week.

    The same could be said for many of his “promises”. He’s guaranteed to be keeping a promise to somebody no matter what he does.

  14. Vanilla Eis 14

    Felix: but that means he’s also guaranteed to be breaking a promise to someone. He’s set himself up for a nice round 50% success rate so far.

  15. Vanilla, or he could not do what he’s promised either side of each issue.. two broken promises for the price of one.

  16. Draco TB 16

    If you asked this question in 1984 or 1990, you could be absolutely sure that you would return a wide disparity between beliefs and actions.

    For both the fourth Labour and National governments it’s probably valid to say that what people were voting for isn’t what they got or expected. The Labour government was voted out in 1990 because people wanted to get rid of the neo-liberal reforms that were eating into their paychecks and living standards. National, once it came into power, went even more radical neo-liberal than the previous Labour government.

  17. randal 17

    the thing is we dont know who he is making promises to. Will he keep his promises to his mates to sell them Kiwbank or his other mates to sell them ACC?

  18. r0b 18

    Off topic (sorry) – but is there anywhere that we can vote for Gordon Campbell as best NZ journalist? He’s the only one writing such detailed, intelligent, honest pieces:
    http://election08.scoop.co.nz/‘horse-race'-political-journalism/

  19. r0b 19

    If the above link looks broken in your browser try this version.

  20. higherstandard 20

    I don’t know where you’d vote for such a thing r0b maybe via the Qantas media awards or something similar.

    I must admit I find Campbell quite biased – it would be nice to have a few journalists that were completely neutral in their viewpoint.

  21. burt 21

    Journalists that are completely neutral in their viewpoint would need to never say anything or as soon as they pointed out a issue they would be called bias.

    That’s what this is really about – each side hate having bad things said about them but have no problem when good stuff is said. It’s not the journalists that are suffering from being myopic as much as the readers/listeners.

    Hell even Trotter gets bagged by the left if he dares not praise all of their corruption.

  22. Phil 22

    Re: ’96 Nat-NZF…

    If the two parties in coalition ‘promised’ directly opposing things before the election (ie; “We’ll raise/lower spending on ‘x'”) I wonder how that would be treated in the survey. I suspect you would have one tick, one cross, and a 50% mark… which goes a long way to explaining the poor performance.

  23. bill brown 23

    An interesting comment came out in the interview with Nathan McCluskey on Checkpoint last night (4:55 in). Apparently JK told McCluskey that the Nats would not be putting out a manifesto because “it’s all about image”

  24. Dan 24

    FYI Muldoon’s govt had the highest percentage of election promises… so you can stop the blind speculation now 😉

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