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When Is a Pledge a Pledge?

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Despite the central role of election pledges in modern representative democracy, it remains uncertain how voters define pledges. We examine this by focusing on four rhetorical dimensions of political statements: The pledge giver, the formulation of commitment, the policy content and quantification. In three conjoint experiments on representative samples totalling around 6,000 respondents in the United States, Britain and Denmark, we find remarkably consistent results. On the one hand, voters consistently differentiate between statements in a highly focused manner: A promise is a promise if it is sincere and realistic-no matter who made it and whether it can be checked. On the other hand, voters are not willing to hold their party accountable for a given statement-even if they consider it an election pledge. We demonstrate that this is the perceptual logic of election pledges in Western democracies.

Original languageDanish
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Volume52
Issue4
Pages (from-to)1911-1922
Number of pages12
ISSN0007-1234
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

    Research areas

  • accountability, election pledges, voters

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