Public Opinion and Voting Behavior

Does it Matter if Parties Keep their Promises? The Impact of Voter Evaluations of Pledge Fulfilment on Vote Choice

Heinz Brandenburg University of Strathclyde
Fraser McMillan University of Glasgow
Robert Thomson Monash University
Theories of promissory representation posit that voters reward governing parties that carry out their previous election pledges and punish those that do not. An extensive body of research demonstrates that governing parties tend to enact their promises, while an emerging literature on citizen perceptions shows that voters (in the aggregate) make accurate assessments of the fulfilment of specific promises. However, little is known about what voters do with this information. To test the expectation that pledge fulfilment affects parties’ electoral fortunes, we examine the impact of pledge fulfilment evaluations on vote intentions using British Election Study internet panel data (2010-2015). We find that perceived pledge fulfilment has modest but important effects on voting behaviour. These effects vary depending on previous vote choices and party issue ownership, and manifesting differently for first- and second-order elections. Our findings have important implications for promissory modes of democratic representation and explanations of voting behaviour.