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Conventional wisdom holds that politicians do not keep their promises. According to the 2006 Role of Government IV International Social Survey Program (ISSP) survey, only 26 per cent of Canadians think that “their elected representatives make the effort to keep their election promises.” Canadians are not the only ones to hold this opinion. Out of 21 countries that participated in the survey, the average percentage of respondents stating that politicians keep their promises was 20 per cent. Israel had the lowest percentage (8 per cent) and Switzerland the highest (37 per cent).
Political leaders accuse one another of lying on a regular basis and media stories frequently portray political leaders as promise-breakers. Moreover, political scientists are reluctant to embrace the notion that candidates actually carry out their campaign promises. In their classic work Absent Mandate, Harold Clarke and collaborators affirm that “absent mandates are likely to be the rule, not the exception. Elections decide who shall govern, but rarely the substance of public policy.” For his part, Anthony King, Canadian-born political scientist at the University of Essex, affirmed that “party manifestos are empty and meaningless documents having a virtual random relationship to what a party will do in office.”1
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