The Program-to-Policy Linkage: A Comparative Study of Election Pledges and Government Policies in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland
33 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 19 Aug 2010
Date Written: August 18, 2010
The program-to-policy linkage refers to the level of congruence between what political parties promise during election campaigns, as set out in their election programs, and the policies delivered by governments after elections. The program-to-policy linkage is an important element of modern democratic theory. Moreover, institutionalist theories predict variation in the strength of the linkage according to the extent to which parties hold control over the levers of power. For instance, we expect a stronger linkage for parties that go on to form single-party governments that control both the executive and legislative branches after the elections than for parties that must share power. In coalition governments, we expect that control over relevant ministerial portfolios is a key explanatory factor. Over time, economic conditions should also affect the types of policy commitments parties make and the ability of governing parties to deliver on those commitments. In this paper we examine the program-to-policy linkage by focusing on election pledges: campaign policy commitments that are specific enough for researchers to test whether they were fulfilled during the subsequent governing period. We study the fulfillment of 6,552 election pledges in four countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland) over a thirty-year period, from the 1970s to early 2000s. Particular attention is given to the fulfillment of the 3,576 pledges made by parties that controlled the presidency or entered single-party or coalition governments after the elections. The countries and time periods selected contain considerable variation in institutional conditions, including single-party governments (in the UK and Ireland), divided governments (in the US), coalition governments (Ireland and the Netherlands) and minority governments (Ireland). The cases selected also contain variation in economic conditions. We also report on ongoing collaborate research in which we and other colleagues are studying election pledges in eleven countries.
Keywords: Election pledges, party mandate
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