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Promises Kept, Promises Broken, and Those Caught in the Middle (WP-22-27)

Tabitha Bonilla

Campaign promises are central to representation and accountability, where candidates use promises to attract voters and fulfillment of those promises is used as a rubric for success. Investigations into how promises matter to voters, whether during campaigns for a new office or when running for reelection, reveal that voters have a nuanced understanding of promises that is dependent on assessments of candidate attentions as well as the successful policy interventions. Bonilla builds on that work and the long literature on motivated reasoning to examine how voters use partisanship in their decisions of promise fulfillment. With two original survey experiments, she demonstrates that voters view promise fulfillment through a partisan lens when an issue is a partisan issue, and particularly when there is ambiguity around if the promise is kept. This finding suggests nuance to the traditional assumptions around how promise fulfillment is assessed in reelection campaigns.
Tabitha Bonilla, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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