CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition
The following pages detail the content of our project, which will be carried out by the future government. But I want to make clear commitments to you about the tasks that are essential for the future of our country. These are the same commitments that I shall ask of the government and all the parliamentarians who make up the presidential majority.
(Emmanuel Macron, presidential election manifesto, 2017)
On April 22 and May 6, with your vote, you will choose our country’s path for the next five years [...]. A great debate will take place across the country. To give it its full meaning, I wanted to set out precise proposals to put before you. They are my commitments. I shall keep them.
(François Hollande, 60 engagements pour la France [60 Commitments for France], 2012)
I want to be the President of the Republic who will stand by his commitments. That is why I wish to tell you today everything that, tomorrow, we will do together.
(Nicolas Sarkozy, presidential election platform, 2007)

1The French proverb “something promised, something owed” clearly expresses moral expectations about promises shared by every human society.  [1] As a language act relating to a future action, the promise constitutes the very principle of morality, to the extent that there would be “no ethics without the promise.”  [2] The promise is, in particular, fundamental to democracy, as shown by the extracts from electoral manifestos cited here as an epigraph. The functioning of representative democracy is effectively built on the connection between electoral pledges and governmental policies. The act of defining alternative policies to be submitted to a vote, followed by the enactment of these policies by elected representatives in the form of actual public policies, are central to the legitimacy of representative democratic systems. In a famous article, Jane Mansbridge observes, for example, that the traditional model, which she terms “promissory representation,” “focused on the idea that during campaigns representatives made promises to constituents, which they then kept or failed to keep.”  [3] Representatives are considered accountable, and must bear the consequences for their promises in front of those who elected them.

2This principle is closely connected to that of the “mandate” citizens give their representatives to fulfill a defined mission.  [4] Whereas liberal democracies have proscribed the use of the imperative mandate—which requires that the elected person cannot deviate from the action for which they were appointed—the representative mandate constitutes a privileged normative foundation for legitimizing a political decision.  [5] Electoral pledges are presented to citizens as a means of real control over the political decisions to come, and so elicit high hopes, and correspondingly extreme disappointment when they are not kept: in many democracies, opinion polls reveal a climate of general skepticism towards commitments made in electoral campaigns—and election manifestos in particular are seen as no more than a marketing tool, or even a “sham.”  [6]

3Even if it is often only implicit, skepticism towards electoral pledges is also shared by sociologists of public action, since this field of research tends either to elude the dimension of politics outright, or to conclude that it has only marginal importance.  [7] It has been suggested, however, that reflection on the interaction between politics and policies may be able to breathe new life into the study of public policies.  [8] The dimension of political competition also appears in the well-known concept of the “political stream,” in which the meeting of the stream of problems and the stream of policies leads to the opening of a window of opportunity.  [9] But political streams are conceptualized only vaguely in the writings of John Kingdon himself, which explains why it has been examined above all from the perspective of the personal logic of public decision-making, through the concept of “leadership”  [10] or the sociology of ruling elites.  [11] Only a small amount of public policy research has explicitly addressed the specific role of political parties or elections in the manufacture of public policies.  [12] For most authors specializing in this field, the mechanisms of competition between political parties are largely outweighed by other parameters such as path dependence,  [13] external shocks,  [14] governments’ limited resources,  [15] international constraints,  [16] epistemic communities,  [17] and parallel channels of interest representation.  [18]

4The constraints limiting the maneuvering room available for enacting political alternatives is also visible in the discourse of political actors skilled in strategies of “blame avoidance.”  [19] The shift towards a political world in which it has become “difficult” to keep promises may be one of the main causes for the crisis in trust in contemporary democracies, which results in rising abstention rates and increased distrust of political elites on the part of citizens.  [20] Several authors believe that an excessive disconnect between electoral pledges and public policies could undermine the legitimacy of representative democracy.  [21]

5It is therefore crucial for anyone with an interest in the legitimacy of contemporary representative systems to study the fate of electoral pledges. These promises are important objects both normatively (they specify the perimeter of the representative mandate) and empirically (they help citizens evaluate the quality of a candidate or a government). To analyze these issues empirically, we must study public policies through a specific prism: promises made during electoral campaigns. This also requires us to relate the concepts and tools of the analysis of public action to the literature on the question “do parties matter?” more typically associated with political sociology. This is the aim of this special issue.

6Motivated by the tensions between normative conceptions of political responsibility and their practical dynamics, the present issue aims to demonstrate the factors and mechanisms that determine whether electoral pledges are respected. To this end, we set out a conditional model for promise-keeping, summarized by the following general hypothesis: an electoral pledge is more likely to be fulfilled if the executive branch has both the incentive and the capacity to do so. In order to evaluate the relevance and validity of this conditional hypothesis, this special issue proceeds from the results of the ANR Partipol research project.  [22] The contributions analyze five cases of electoral pledges in France, chosen (as we explain below) because of the divergence between their trajectory and the expectations derived from the existing literature: the “full stop” to privatization in the manifesto of the Parti socialiste (PS) (Socialist Party) for the legislative elections of 1997 (article by Rafaël Cos); the 25% increase in the minimum vieillesse (old-age minimum income) (Isabelle Guinaudeau and Olivier Costa) and legislation granting more autonomy to universities (Isabelle Guinaudeau and Sabine Saurugger), both policies announced by Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential campaign of 2007; the closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power station (Eva Deront, Aurélien Evrard, and Simon Persico) and the opening of marriage and adoption to same-sex couples (Stéphanie Abrial and Simon Persico), both part of François Hollande’s 60 engagements pour la France (60 Commitments for France).

7This introductory article first addresses the limitations of the existing literature on the influence of elections on public action, including the work of specialists focused on promises, and then presents the conditional model for whether promises are respected, which structures the whole project. We then explain how we selected the case studies to evaluate the explanatory power and limitations of this model, before presenting the contributions to this special issue and noting interpretations that recurred across all of the cases studied.

Different ways of understanding how elections shape public policies

8Much work in political sociology and comparative politics has attempted to determine the influence of competition between political parties on public policies, which turns around a central question: do parties matter? To answer this, three successive waves of research have addressed different aspects of the link between inter-party competition and public policies: the first aimed to measure the impact of a change of government on policies enacted; the second aimed to evaluate the correspondence between the issues presented in manifestos and the public policy agenda; and the third examined the fate of electoral pledges.

9The first wave focused on the effect that a change in the party in power had on public policy. Primarily, this literature explored in greater detail the idea that such changes would lead to shifts in the policies enacted. With regard to public finances—the policies that have been most studied  [23]—left-wing governments do not spend significantly more than conservative ones, contrary to the expectations created by a conception of a left-right division centered on the state’s role in the economy. Other economic indicators, such as the balance of trade, unemployment, or inflation,  [24] also have only a limited correlation with the party in power. Similarly, more sectoral public policies such as foreign affairs  [25] or the environment  [26] remain relatively unaffected by the particular party in government. The major indicators studied—the public deficit, unemployment, the proportion of the budget devoted to defense or education, etc.—are ultimately fairly stable, and their development does not seem to be clearly influenced by changes of party control.  [27]

10Starting from this observation, a second wave tried to go beyond the overly simplistic conceptualization and operationalization of “parties,” which involved an implicitly static view of representation, with parties representing fixed interests typically involving an opposition between “left” and “right.”  [28] Rather than analyze the effects of “parties,” authors focused instead on “manifestos,” which can vary over time for a given party. This resulted in the production of large databases that encode the thematic content of manifestos, such as the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) and the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP). The hypothesis shared by these studies is that, in competition between parties and between public policies, a high degree of differentiation exists between parties that are keen to reinforce and capitalize on their credibility in a given sector—that is, their “issue ownership.”  [29] Social democratic parties, for example, could be expected to make a priority of defending the welfare state and extending rights—and act accordingly once in power—while conservative parties may favor policies related to sovereignty or ones that would be advantageous to businesses. Here again, the results are unclear, or at least variable, between those studies that identify a correlation between issue emphasis in manifestos and budgetary (or legislative) priorities,  [30] those that contest this result on grounds of methodology  [31] or substance,  [32] and those that conclude that there is a conditional effect dependent on the institutional capacity of the government,  [33] the type of public policy, and the timing within the electoral cycle.  [34]

11Although these approaches represent advances in incorporating the major transformations of parties and manifestos over the last few decades, major limitations remain: the convergence of electoral and governmental priorities suggests that elections shape public policies but is still far from proving this, since no precise information is provided on what was promised and what was actually carried out. The limitations of an approach centered exclusively on the visibility of issues are all the more significant as the priorities asserted during a campaign by the different parties tend empirically to overlap  [35] and therefore do not necessarily offer a relevant index of differentiation between parties.

12A more recent wave of studies has therefore focused on the fate of the commitments presented to the electorate. This approach makes it possible to consider the development of electoral offers in more precise terms: it involves studying the proposals for change that are explicitly formulated for the attention of voters, and their realization (or abandonment) in public policy. It also enables us to reposition the study of the connection between party competition and public policy in its national and historical context: a promise for a given change in public policies will have a different meaning depending on the period or country in which it is formulated. Above all, a promise-based approach makes it possible to evaluate more directly the congruence between promises formulated during the electoral campaign and what is carried out in government.  [36] This led to the emergence, in the 2000s and 2010s, of an international research group focused on electoral promises, present in twelve OECD countries: the Comparative Political Pledges Group (CPPG). The group’s aim is no longer to work on manifestos as a whole, but to concentrate on electoral pledges: “a commitment to carry out some action or produce some outcome, where an objective estimation can be made as to whether or not the action was indeed taken or the outcome produced.”  [37] Their results offer a more nuanced vision of the relationship between political competition and public policies: although they observe a general increase in the number of promises made,  [38] they do not confirm the very negative perceptions of electoral promises being quickly forgotten once an election has passed. On the contrary, they tend to validate more clearly than previous approaches the link between elections and public policies. The level of manifesto commitments that are carried out is far from negligible, with an average of 50% and levels of up to 85% in the United Kingdom.  [39]

13This literature encourages the thought that political parties and elections should be better integrated into public policy analysis. But it also shows that, approached from the point of view of promises, the influence of electoral competition is by no means systematic. First, government activity is not limited to the field delimited by electoral manifestos: a government must act in many domains that it will not have anticipated during its electoral campaign. Above all, these studies show that certain promises—a large minority—are not kept, while others are. However, the explanations for these differences provided by the authors of the CPPG have so far been limited. As we shall discuss, these authors have especially shown the influence of institutional factors, demonstrating that the division of power (coalitions, minority governments, etc.) tends to reduce the number of promises kept. Their control variables also suggest that a higher proportion of “non-budgetary” promises are kept.  [40]

14It seems we can and must extend the focus considerably: although elections and manifestos shape public policies only in certain cases, we must characterize these cases, beyond simple institutional and budgetary configurations. Rather than simply evaluating the correlation between promises and policies, we should identify the conditions in which this is established: why are certain promises respected more than others? How do “constraints” emerge and how much freedom do elected representatives have? Can we identify factors that shape how the heads of the executive branch use this room for maneuver to carry out their mandate? This special issue explores these questions by mobilizing a renewed conceptual and methodological framework that will allow us to extend the conclusions emerging from the macro-statistical approach that has dominated until now in the analysis of electoral pledges.

Studying the conditional influence of electoral pledges on public policies

15Several elements can limit or, conversely, increase the influence of electoral commitments on the policies carried out. It is indispensable to identify these conditions if we are to understand the variations observed in the literature. Although several authors have called for the development and testing of a conditional model of promise-keeping,  [41] attempts to do this have so far focused on a limited number of factors, mainly institutional ones. Party manifestos are situated at the juncture of elections and public action, and it therefore seems relevant to build once again on electoral studies, which enables us in particular to consider the incentives for promising and realizing certain measures, and on the sociology of public action, which shows that policymakers have limited resources and considerable constraints that weigh upon the construction of policies.

16However, until now, the dialogue between pledge research and these subdisciplines has been limited. This can surely be explained by the fact that this literature has only recently developed—perhaps because of preconceived ideas that electoral manifestos are irrelevant, or because electoral pledges as an object of study existed at the juncture of several sub-disciplines. Analyses of manifestos have long followed established paths, tending to capitalize on existing databases (notably those of the CMP and the CAP), whose creation required considerable resources. The turn towards encoding and analyzing electoral pledges, which involved significant risk and effort, only arose in the context of an increase in the visibility of manifestos and a growing awareness, in the field of electoral sociology, of the limitations of approaches centered on the salience of issues, given the observation that electoral priorities are largely convergent.  [42] Besides the recent emergence of electoral pledge analysis, its limited connections with such structurally important fields of political science as the sociology of public action and electoral studies can undoubtedly be explained by the difficulty—if not impossibility—of integrating sufficiently synthetic and relevant information in large longitudinal and comparative databases, whose construction remains the main aim of the CPPG.

17This dialogue seems to us particularly promising for enlarging the conceptualization of the “constraints” elected representatives are subject to, but also for taking account of the negotiations that take place within the available room for maneuver. Conceptually, our innovation is to introduce into the study of electoral pledges concepts from public policy analyses and the literature on party competition. We have in mind especially the theories of issue-based competition,  [43] the literature on electoral cycles,  [44] Kingdon’s “multiple streams framework” (MSF),  [45] the analysis of the “publics” (clienteles or target populations) of distributive policies,  [46] mechanisms of delegation to unelected agencies,  [47] strategies for blame avoidance,  [48] and the political  [49] and operational  [50] dimensions of the capacity to change a public policy.

18The connections between these perspectives leads us to a central, structuring hypothesis: the outcome of an electoral pledge depends on the capacity of leaders to stand by it, but also on their incentives to use their resources to do so.  [51] It is not uncommon for a single factor to affect both the capacity and incentives to keep one’s word—this could be the case, for example, where the executive branch has limited popularity, which could simultaneously provide an incentive to hold more closely to its manifesto, while also limiting its political capacity to enact reforms. It nonetheless seems heuristic to distinguish between what representatives can do and what they wish to do, since both conditions are logically necessary for a commitment to be kept.

Achievable promises? The capacity condition

19The principles of responsibility and mandate stem from the centrality of the executive branch in the process of enacting public policy. Those who exercise this power have substantial resources to initiate, oversee, and direct such changes. These resources can, however, be affected by several types of factors, notably institutional ones. When confronted with numerous counter-balances, political representatives have a diminished capacity to enact their manifestos.  [52] For example, single-party governments such as those in the United States  [53] or the United Kingdom  [54] show a fairly strong connection between electoral pledges and policies enacted. This connection is even stronger in the United Kingdom, where power is concentrated in the hands of the government (and the Prime Minister), rather than in the United States, where the President does not hold legislative power.  [55] In contrast, studies of coalition governments show that power sharing considerably reduces the percentage of promises fulfilled.  [56]

20Although this institutional dimension of government capacity may be relevant for comparing political systems with each other, it only rarely explains why certain promises or types of promise have more chance of being fulfilled than others. Nor does it explain why a recently elected head of the executive branch finds it easier to keep his or her promises than one at the end of their term of office. The capacity of governments to keep their promises cannot be reduced to the room for maneuver allowed by institutions.

21This is probably the point where the literature on electoral promises can draw most productively on the analysis of public policies. Such research emphasizes several essential dimensions, which are overlooked by purely institutional conceptions of capacity: operational feasibility, the dynamics of mobilizations either in support of or working against reform, budgetary freedom, and so on. The concept of “political capacity,”  [57] which emerges from analyses of public action, notably at the local level, makes it possible to account for the plurality of factors that reinforce (or limit) the power of political representatives to act. Although it is used in various ways in the literature, two major dimensions can be distinguished: 1) an operational and technical dimension of capacity, connected to the existence and accessibility of material, budgetary, cognitive, and human resources that make it possible to formulate operational political options, to reflect on them, and to organize their execution;  [58] 2) a more political dimension related to the capacity of the government to make the relevant actors cooperate, whether they are institutional or non-institutional, public or private.  [59]

22Broadly speaking, this special issue proposes going beyond an analysis centered on the institutional dimensions of capacity, in order to explore its operational and political dimensions. The relevance of this is all the greater as we have already observed major differences in the fulfillment of different types of promise. To begin, we make a general distinction between promises about the means used (outputs, the classic examples of which are expenditure, legislation, and fiscal measures) and promises about the intended results (outcomes, such as the level of poverty, purchasing power, the number of unemployed people, or the level of parity in assemblies).  [60] The capacity to keep promises about means, which are easier for governments to administer, may be greater than the capacity to attain the results promised, since these outcomes depend on a context (particularly an economic one) that is often difficult to control. In other words, it can turn out to be easier to keep a promise to merge two programs tackling unemployment (a promise about an output) than a promise to effectively lower unemployment (a promise about an outcome).

23Fulfilling commitments is also conditional on the availability of funds. A promise with a limited cost is obviously easier to keep than a commitment with large budget implications. This idea was already present in the groundbreaking work of Theodore Lowi, whose typology of public policies—divided into distributive, redistributive, regulatory, or constitutive measures—includes a budgetary dimension. Regulatory policies have more limited budgetary implications than redistributive policies, for example, which has the effect of increasing the capacity of governments in this domain.  [61] This budget constraint is particularly strong today because the economic slowdown in European economies following the 1974 financial crisis marked the end of the Fordist compromise and the rise of the neoliberal paradigm.  [62] These transformations helped reshape the capacity of the state and of governments, one of whose main objectives is to ensure the balance of public accounts. This tendency was strengthened by the Maastricht Treaty, which introduced constraints on balancing budgets,  [63] and by the sovereign debt crisis, which arose in the context of the 2008 financial crisis.  [64] Certain promises do not necessarily involve significant budgetary expense, and could therefore be less affected by these far-reaching transformations in European economies.  [65]

24Whether there is an accessible political means of keeping a promise may also depend on the degree of planning prior to the creation of the manifesto, for example, in the form of reports. It is not uncommon to see the causality leading from promise to policy reversed—that is, the preparation for a public policy instigates the formulation of a promise instead of following it. The promises inspired by initiatives that are already on the agenda before the election are undoubtedly more likely to be kept because they are often more operational. The presence within the government’s immediate entourage of a political actor who has contributed to putting the problem on the agenda, and elaborating and promoting a solution, could act as a favorable condition for the realization of electoral commitments. Indeed, a promise whose operationalization is already considerably advanced allows for a rapid decision in the aftermath of an election.

25Several waves of research have suggested that the electoral cycle influences a government’s capacity to keep its promises. In addition to reforms that are already “in the pipeline,” the start of a term of office favors the realization of promises, because the legitimacy of the democratic mandate derived from the election is particularly strong at this time. A rich tradition of research on political and electoral cycles shows, for example, a greater level of governmental activity and capacity to enact reforms in the months following the assumption of power, a time in which the executive branch benefits from a honeymoon effect.  [66] Immediately after being elected, the head of the executive branch possesses considerable political leverage.  [67] The start of a term of office is also favorable to the convergence of the “streams” described by Kingdon.  [68] But the literature also points towards a decline in the popularity of governments over time,  [69] which reduces the government’s political capacity to keep its promises.  [70]

26One of the reasons for this decline in popularity lies in the development, over the course of the term of office, of forms of resistance to the changes desired by the executive branch. This resistance can take the form of media controversies, sectoral mobilizations, or social movements; there is a consensus in public policy research that mobilizations influence the fate of particular reforms,  [71] even though they have varying chances of achieving their goals.  [72] In any case, the response of the public—whether citizens as a whole or a “mixed public in which the particular public for a given policy is dominant”—helps determine the political capacity of governments.  [73]

27The concept of capacity allows us to consider the connection between the executive branch’s room for maneuver to carry out its manifesto on an institutional, political, and material level. Although the analytic distinction between these dimensions of capacity is heuristic, it is not a matter of considering them independently from each other, but rather of seeing them as forms of resources, or absences of resources, that are convertible. The case studies in the present issue pay close attention to each type of resource, and the forms of conversion they may give rise to. It is particularly important to account for configurations that allow the executive branch to capitalize on its popularity, especially at the start of their term, to obtain the budgetary resources needed to fund a given measure. Conversely, substantial budgetary resources often play a key role in producing the conditions for the “political” capacity to make actors cooperate. In an interview carried out in the course of this research, Emmanuelle Mignon, research director for the UMP (responsible for creating the 2007 manifesto) and, later, Sarkozy’s chief of staff from May 2007 to July 2008, explained this budgetary requirement in very direct terms:


It’s easy to make reforms when the money’s flowing. But when you don’t have money... Because there’s something that’s never factored into the campaigns, in electoral campaigns: the cost of reform. Reforms, if you want to make them happen—in any case, today, this is the only way—today, if you want to make reforms happen, you have to buy them! The reform of special pensions schemes cost us more than it saved!  [74]

Why promise, and to whom? The incentives condition

29The presence of the institutional and political capacity to keep one’s word does not guarantee that promises will be respected. In order to understand how elected representatives use their available room for maneuver to realize certain measures and not others, we need to take account of their political and electoral incentives. These have barely been analyzed in studies of the fulfillment of electoral pledges. There are several different types of incentive, which can be conceptualized using tools from several fields. Wolfgang Müller and Kaare Strøm’s analytic framework, which distinguishes three classic goals of political elites—the adoption of specific public policies, the exercise of public office, and the votes of electors—provides a good starting point.  [75]

30The incentive to keep certain promises is intrinsic (relating to policy), for example, when the candidate or their party defends a measure for ideological reasons. Some promises are more important than others, both for voters and for the candidate. Manifestos are designed to cover most domains of public action, but not every domain receives the same level of attention, which necessarily produces different expectations. In a recent article, we drew on issue competition and issue ownership models to cast light on these differences, and suggested that the visibility of an issue or public policy often provides an indicator of the degree of priority attributed to it.  [76] More generally, the promises at the heart of the candidate’s political (or ideological) project—those that provide the candidate with a high degree of sectoral credibility  [77]—have more chance of being kept. In effect, the candidate’s capacity to exercise their “mandate” and to carry out the policies they were elected for is at play in the eventual fate of these promises. For example, those who vote for a right-wing candidate are likely to attach greater importance to fulfilling promises to deregulate working contracts or rethink migration policies, than to fulfilling promises to reduce ecological harm or inequalities in access to culture.

31Incentives to fulfill electoral commitments can also be connected to the electoral strategies of the executive branch (seeking votes). Following William Riker’s theory of heresthetics, they could be stronger when there is a consensus about the promised measure within the winning camp, or when it divides the opposition camp.  [78] Respecting one’s promises can make it possible to unite and mobilize one’s electoral and party bases, or to build loyalty with an electoral base known to be favorable to one’s camp but whose support needs to be strengthened. At the same time, keeping certain commitments can sometimes drive a wedge through opposition parties, if they are divided on this question.  [79]

32The use of analytical frameworks from public policy analyses allows us to develop complementary hypotheses about the electoral dimension of motivations, taking account of the characteristics of the groups to whom the promise is addressed. Studies of distributive policies  [80] and the social construction of target populations  [81] suggest that the groups that are due to benefit from a promise are more likely to bring about its fulfillment if: 1) the group possesses significant resources to support its mobilization (if it is an influential interest group, can encourage high voter turn-out, or occupies part of the electorate who are swing voters); and 2) if the group is viewed positively (benefits from a positive “popular image”).

33In several regards, then, the characteristics of particular publics are a potentially crucial parameter for whether electoral pledges are respected or not. On one hand, the most influential publics may possess sufficient resources to express their demands and audibly remind the executive branch of their electoral commitments, or even contribute themselves to defining the problems and solutions. We have already mentioned this influence in terms of the capacity of elected representatives to keep their promises; these actors also create incentives to put the proposals that concern them into action.  [82] On the other hand, policy positions can become priorities for government action if the groups they would benefit constitute a strategically important part of the electorate and are viewed positively by society. If they are viewed positively, the publics that are least mobilized and do not constitute a target population instead become the object of symbolic policies that allow the government to show that it cares, but without having to commit resources. The literature on distributive policies suggests that this type of strategic consideration is particularly important when political competition is strong.  [83]

34Finally, incentives to make and keep promises may be part of a strategy aimed at taking power, especially in the construction of a parliamentary majority and a coalition (the goal of entering office). Manifestos do not derive exclusively from proposals corresponding to the attitude represented by the President (or Prime Minister), but are also the result of multiple compromises, especially within the candidate’s party and with potential coalition partners.  [84] From this perspective, the origin of promises in the manifesto should have a bearing on their fate, since governments could feel less obliged to honor commitments made unwillingly, the result of concessions to minority groups in their party or to potential coalition partners during the campaign. In the French system, which uses a two-round majoritarian system for national elections, these actors possess very limited resources to incentivize the head of the executive branch and the government to respect a commitment made to them.  [85]

35Here again, the analytic distinction between different types of incentive is heuristic, even though they are intrinsically connected and convergent. The head of the executive branch may be particularly motivated to fulfill a commitment when it concerns a flagship policy at the heart of the ideology of their party or their political stream (the “policy objective”) and when a large majority of their voters or coalition partners are attentive to this issue (the “votes” and “office” objectives, respectively). As for the dimension of capacity, the relative prominence of different types of incentive and their hierarchization are likely to change over the course of electoral cycles. We have already emphasized that the ambition to form a parliamentary majority can provide strong incentives during the electoral period, but these remain relatively small between two national elections. Electoral incentives probably become more important as national elections approach, but also in advance of intermediate elections.

36Using the sociology of public action and party-based competition research allows us to significantly expand the range of factors presented in the literature on promises, which has so far focused on the institutional dimension of the capacity to fulfill promises. This special issue adopts a broader definition of capacity as a form of multidimensional capital, while emphasizing the decisive importance of incentives to keep promises, in order to understand how executive branches use their room for maneuver to fulfill some commitments rather than others.

Towards a conditional model, based on five strategically chosen case studies

37Macro-statistical analyses of large corpora of promises obscure the diversity of factors that facilitate or hinder their fulfillment, and offer no insight into mechanisms of influence and causal sequences. We therefore propose exploring the conditions of fulfillment of promises using qualitative approaches. Emerging from the work carried out since 2014 by the ANR Partipol project team, the articles in the present issue examine the fate of five promises that were instrumental in the election of the leaders of the French executive over the last twenty years.

38In terms of methodology, the contributions to this special issue are original because of their decision to use process tracing to study a single commitment in depth, chosen for its heuristic potential,  [86] instead of using statistics to work on a large number of promises. More precisely, among all the measures contained in the manifestos of heads of the executive branch since 1997,  [87] each contribution examines one commitment that we might think diverges from the results produced by existing models—commitments, in other words, whose fate cannot be understood by reference to the institutional and budgetary factors that have been at the center of the literature on electoral pledges.  [88] We are therefore interested in promises that have been kept even though the existing theoretical models would predict that they would be abandoned, or conversely, promises that were not kept even though they do not initially seem to pose any difficulty. These deviant cases offer the greatest potential for generating additional hypotheses about the conditions that favor a connection between electoral offer and public action. By focusing on what existing models do not explain, we create the best conditions for detecting additional explanatory principles.  [89]

39Two studies examine deviant cases for the non-respect of promises, that is, promises that were not fulfilled even though all the conditions seemed to be in their favor: first, the promise to put a full stop to privatizations, contained in the Socialist Party’s legislative platform for the 1997 elections, whose central principle was abandoned from the very beginning of Lionel Jospin’s term in office; and the promise in François Hollande’s presidential manifesto to close the Fessenheim nuclear power station, which was still in operation at the end of his term. In both cases, they were promises about an output, relatively precise, understandable, visible, and symbolically important. They did not necessarily involve considerable expense, even though the policy of ending privatizations involved an opportunity cost. However, they were also promises formulated in the negative, a commitment not to act—which is, by definition, easier to accomplish than a proposal to carry out a reform. These two cases of abandonment therefore allow us to identify alternative factors that can prevent the realization of a manifesto.

40Conversely, another article looks at a deviant case of a promise that was kept—surprisingly, given that it did not possess any of the characteristics identified by the literature as being favorable to the fulfillment of electoral commitments: the increase in the minimum vieillesse by 25% over five years, passed by Sarkozy in 2008. This measure, adopted in a context of social reforms aimed at reducing public spending, took place alongside an increase in the number of beneficiaries of the existing payments, and therefore involved a significant budgetary cost. Furthermore, it was not part of the President’s favored themes (or those of his party) and had not received intense media coverage. We can therefore view its fulfillment as an unexpected event, and analyzing it may reveal factors that have been overlooked until now. In particular, it allows us to question the capacity of political actors to overcome budgetary obstacles, since it suggests that these concerns are less restrictive than they had seemed.

41Whereas the study of highly deviant cases seemed particularly useful for an exploratory phase of identifying factors that had been overlooked or invisible until now, cases combining both favorable and unfavorable characteristics for the fulfillment of promises allow us to focus more closely on a particular dimension of capacity or incentives. The last two articles address two fulfilled promises that, while presenting a certain number of favorable factors such as the absence of a large budgetary cost or considerable media coverage, cannot be viewed as typical cases, and are therefore deviant in relation to certain dimensions. The Loi relative aux libertés et responsabilités des universités (LRU) (Liberties and Responsibilities of Universities Act), adopted at the start of Nicolas Sarkozy’s term, was not part of the flagship themes of either the UMP or Sarkozy, who had been far more outspoken on the topics of immigration, security, and the economy when he had been a minister, and during his campaign. Besides, although the LRU did not present any budgetary obstacle, it risked provoking significant resistance. This case can therefore offer an insight into factors that, aside from the desire to maintain one’s reputation in a given sector, may motivate the executive branch to keep its promise while disarming potential resistance to this goal. A final study looks at the opening of marriage and adoption to same-sex couples, promised and delivered in 2013 by François Hollande. This commitment offers an intriguing case: although it benefited from all the favorable conditions—it was a purely regulatory measure, largely a matter of consensus on the left, and grounded in the political work of the Socialist Party for several years—its execution turned out to be laborious and controversial. Based on the variables discussed in the literature on pledges, it should have been more straightforward to keep this promise; we must identify the factors that impeded this.

42This selection of cases represents an approach that is above all exploratory, without any intention of questioning the results of the existing statistical analyses—since we are deliberately focusing our attention on cases that these analyses do not explain—but rather of identifying additional factors by closely following the progress of the fulfillment (or not) of electoral promises. Furthermore, the qualitative method we have chosen allows us to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms at work behind the causal relations identified by statistical analyses, and possibly to present a new insight into the same reality.

43Our scientific approach involves triangulating several types of data. First, we drew on a large textual corpus on promises, and their fulfillment or abandonment, in the political and economic press (both national and regional, chosen in such a way as to account for journalistic attitudes and editorial differences). Alongside this press corpus we consulted a large quantity of grey literature, including the mission statements, relevant reports, and analyses produced by the organizations involved in delivering the measure. In certain cases, these sources were supplemented by public testimony from people close to the executive branch, the internal newsletters of the party in power and its main internal minority group, party conferences talks, campaign speeches, presidential and ministerial remarks, oral and written parliamentary questions, and working documents provided by advisers or union officials encountered during fieldwork. These sources were studied systematically and were subjected to a mainly qualitative approach,  [90] which allowed us—especially for those promises with the heaviest media coverage—to reconstitute as precisely as possible the conditions in which each promise was formulated and enacted, and the actors and considerations involved at each stage.

44This data was backed up by around sixty semi-structured interviews that took place between September 2016 and October 2017, with advisers responsible for the drafting and execution of the manifesto, national political representatives, administrative actors, representatives from trade unions and associations, and more generally actors directly involved in the relevant sector. By providing us with information that complemented the other sources and allowing us to see actors’ own representations, these interviews were essential for reconstructing the processes that took place in the least visible areas, while also providing valuable information about the compromises and considerations of the actors involved.

45All members of the team worked with an awareness of the challenge of conducting interviews with leaders who are highly accomplished speakers, accustomed to controlling the nature and level of detail of the information that they wish to convey—including on the question of the fate of electoral promises, which may be subject to significant social desirability bias.  [91] Several techniques discussed in the literature were used to make these conversations as productive as possible. Beforehand, studying the documentary corpus described above allowed us to prepare the interviews in depth by compiling as much information as possible, then identifying the most appropriate actors to begin the inquiry, as well as targeting our questions and follow-up strategies. When we made contact, we emphasized the scientific (rather than normative) issues of the project and the fact that it was part of an international research program, in order to defuse potential fears of judgments that might reflect poorly on them in French political debates. In order to avoid imposing a perspective that would over-emphasize the role of manifestos, our interview framework contained questions formulated in a very open way on the process of “putting issues on the agenda,” leaving interviewees the freedom to interpret these questions in relation to electoral promises. A certain number of follow-up questions then allowed us to more explicitly target the dimensions that interested us, if the interviewee had not mentioned them of their own accord. These approaches undoubtedly helped create an environment of trust. Besides these precautions, it seems likely that the fact that some of the events in question are in the relatively distant past, and that many of our interviewees had already left political life, contributed to their freedom of expression. Many of our interviewees spoke very frankly about the conditions for the fulfillment of promises, the conflicts they could lead to, and the strategies associated with them, and about the daily business of the major parties in government, in the Élysée, in ministerial cabinets, and the National Assembly. An electoral pledge­based approach therefore turned out to be particularly productive for gaining access to the inner circles of the executive branches and party elites. By comparing the interviews with each other and with other collected sources, we could evaluate the authenticity of the material collected.  [92]

From promises to policies: The workings of promise-keeping (and -breaking)

46This approach, which is more conducive to a dialogue between political sociology and the analysis of public policies, enables us to reveal the causal sequences, actors, and mechanisms of influence that statistical studies do not identify. Of course, concentrating on a single case necessarily limits any ambition to create a general rule, and the conclusions of each article need to be tested on a broader scale. Nonetheless, our selection of promises with varied characteristics, formulated by governments with particular ideologies and forms of leadership, elected in different political and socioeconomic contexts, puts us in a strong position to suggest that the types of conditionality that are repeated and invariable between cases play a structuring role across the French context.  [93] As it happens, several observations have indeed emerged in parallel.

47Our case studies, and borrowings from public policy analysis, enable us to qualify the role of capacity, at least as a determining factor. They also enable us to think of this capacity as plural: whether it is institutional, political, or operational, the capacity to act involves different dimensions that are not simply dependent on one another. These different forms of capacity are also variable. They develop over time and, since they are neither given nor fixed, they can be gauged more or less successfully by political actors. The latter can overestimate or underestimate their political, operational, or institutional capacity.

48The different forms of capacity are not analyzed as essential conditions, but as resources whose lack can be compensated for. Accordingly, the articles on the LRU Act and the rise in the minimum vieillesse show that elected Presidents can, in the dynamic of power relations with the civil service and the Finance Ministry, convert the resources provided by their “democratic mandate” or high popularity into political or budgetary room for maneuver. As the literature on electoral cycles suggested, the period immediately following an election seems particularly favorable to the fulfillment of promises, but this freedom diminishes over the course of a term of office or if the economy turns for the worse. Technical devices—using decrees, inscribing the measure in a more flexible legal framework, or instigating the legislative process for the measure based on an inaccurate costing—can all be mobilized to secure the adoption or funding of a promise deemed strategically important. The case of the commitment to close the Fessenheim nuclear power station shows that the obstacles the executive branch encounters can even be instrumentalized in themselves in order to “avoid blame,” while justifying the abandonment of one’s promise.

49On the other hand, the cases of unkept promises often resulted from the difficulty of moving from the electoral sphere to the governmental sphere—in other words, obstacles that were unforeseen (or deliberately ignored)  [94] when the manifesto was written. The studies presented in this special issue emphasize this plurality of conditions, and the difficulty, for those involved in writing manifestos, of precisely evaluating the room for maneuver that would be available while taking into account all these factors. The cost of promised policies can therefore turn out to have been poorly evaluated, as was the case for the increase in the minimum vieillesse in 2008. The article on Hollande’s abandoned attempt to close the Fessenheim nuclear power station shows that he clearly overestimated his institutional capacity in this regard.  [95] Hollande also seems to have overestimated his political capacity to pass legislation opening marriage to same-sex couples. This explains his decision to leave time for debate, which provided the opportunity for more mobilizations against the legislation. Conversely, the LRU Bill, which had been pursued over several years in political and administrative networks, was able to be carried out just two months after the legislative elections.

50Where we find greater room for maneuver to carry out the manifesto than we would expect, this raises the question of the executive’s incentives to keep its word, since it is ultimately the executive that plays an essential role in identifying which priorities for action will receive the most generous resources. These incentives can also develop after an election has passed. Viewed as a whole, the contributions to this special issue bring to light a central factor, which is overlooked in the literature on electoral pledges: the characteristics of the actors they affect, either positively or negatively. As Table 1 shows, whether a promise is respected depends to a large extent on the nature of the target social groups, and the type of party actors involved in this commitment.

51The contributions to this special issue show that the incentives to respect a promise depend first, crucially, on the resources of the beneficiary groups. A promise is more likely to be considered a priority when it benefits a part of the electorate that is both strategically important and viewed positively, as was the case for the retirees with modest incomes targeted by the increase in the minimum vieillesse. This case suggests that the fulfillment of a promise that consists in privileging certain target groups is catalyzed by the approach of elections (either national or intermediate) and by dips in the popularity of the executive branch. Conversely, bringing about equal marriage, which targeted a group that is a social minority, perceived in very different ways by the public and very negatively by some—highly mobilized—parts of the population, turned out to be more difficult than expected.

52Strong incentives can also derive from the mobilization of political activists and influential interest groups, such as the Conference of University Presidents, especially when these actors possess significant resources and act within a (neo-)corporatist system that guarantees they will be involved in every stage of the enactment of public policies. Conversely, when the cost of a promised measure is concentrated on such actors, it can create a major obstacle—as seen in the role played by bosses of large public companies who wanted their capital freed up during Jospin’s term, or the obstacles created by EDF in the Fessenheim case.

Table 1. Typology of actors related to electoral promises

Social groupsParty actors
Abundant resourcesPolitical activists, organized interest groups integrated into the decision-making process. Mobilized electoral segments and those possessing strategic importance.(many promises and delivered promises, where pressure is applied)Head of the executive branch and his or her supporters.(many promises and delivered promises)
Limited resources“Dependent” and “deviant” social groups.(few promises and few promises delivered, or only in a symbolic way)Minority political group. Coalition partners.(many promises, few promises delivered)

Table 1. Typology of actors related to electoral promises

53Considerable asymmetries of resources also appear when we examine the promises made by party actors. The incentives to enact proposals from the manifesto are stronger when these proposals have been defended from the beginning by the head of the executive branch, his supporters, and more generally by the majority group of the party. Conversely, incentives are less strong when the promises were made in the context of the electoral campaign as concessions to a minority political grouping or a potential coalition partner. This asymmetry is very clear in the article on the promise to bring an end to the privatization of public companies, formulated in 1997 by the Socialist Party on the insistence of the “Socialist Left,” a party grouping that was marginalized immediately after the election in favor of more “modernizing” elements. Similarly, Hollande made the promise to close Fessenheim nuclear power station only reluctantly, in the context of negotiations for a coalition agreement with EELV, whose representatives had only limited resources after the election to press for a more rapid decision. Conversely, analyzing the increase in the minimum vieillesse, the LRU Act, and same-sex marriage shows how powerful the French president’s tools are—both formal ones (personal powers, mission statements for ministers, mechanisms for controlling their activities, rules for circumventing the parliamentary system) and informal ones (authority over ministers and the civil service, influence on the party, access to the media)—for carrying out the measures that are judged to be a priority.

54More generally, this poses the question of the networks in charge of the drafting of the manifesto and how much this personnel overlaps with those who will belong to the cabinets of the President and ministers after the election. From this point of view, the presidentialization of the parties and political life,  [96] which has given the candidates increasing autonomy relative to their parties, might be expected to increase the rate of promise fulfillment. Indeed, unlike Jospin—who had to negotiate his manifesto with the different groups inside the Socialist Party, and also with the two parties in the pre-electoral coalition—the candidate for a more presidentialized party is relatively free to formulate promises, and to put together a campaign team and later a governmental team, all of which should make it easier to take decisions. The analysis of the LRU Act shows, for example, that the same networks and individuals worked on Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential manifesto and later, in ministerial cabinets and the Élysée, on the policies that were adopted during his time in office.

55A crucial advantage of the qualitative approach used here is the opportunity it offers to observe how promises are made, constructed, invested, and sometimes abandoned or redefined, how they take on consistency (or fail to do so) over the course of their history, responding to the anticipation of constraints, budgetary compromises, and the permanently shifting room for maneuver for the enactment of the manifesto. Far from being fixed, promises are subject to competing interpretations by citizens, political elites, and administrative actors. This variation in the way these promises are perceived and enacted explains the gulf between the concrete effects of a promise that has been kept, and the effects predicted—as was the case for the increase in the minimum vieillesse, which did not reach all the populations it was supposed to benefit—or the appearance of resistance that was not anticipated—for example, the extension of marriage to same-sex couples provoked a mobilization that the executive branch could undoubtedly have avoided. Finally, the close observation of the sequence of events leading from the formulation of a promise to its realization often requires us to question an excessively linear conception of this process. In fact, rather than a straight trajectory between the field of the electoral campaign and that of public policy, there is a to-and-fro during which certain reflections from technical and expert domains are taken up by political officials.

56Each contribution to this issue therefore demonstrates the richness of promises as a way of viewing the functioning of the French political system. This perspective allows us to test the reality of a foundational principle of representative government: the fulfillment of electoral commitments. Despite the fact that they may fail or give up, our work suggests that political officials usually try to carry out the promises made during the campaign. We need not conclude from this that they possess moral virtues or convictions: they know that they are accountable for their promises in front of the concerned groups, the organizations of civil society, the media, and parties. However much effort officials make, the articles in this issue cast light on the multiple factors affecting promise-keeping: a multidimensional capacity that allows the executive branch to take advantage of the conversion of several types of resource in order to secure the realization of promises, whose relative priority is largely defined in positive or negative terms by the groups targeted.

57These conclusions are also relevant to the public policy literature. Even if the public policies directly associated with an electoral promise are far from the central part of governmental action, this special issue allows us to indicate the conditions in which elections and party actors are able to play a role in the creation of public policies with a particular status. This is particularly the case in prominent domains, giving rise to dynamics of competition between issues, or to substantial mobilization by social groups and interest groups, especially if these are largely perceived positively. From a methodological point of view, finally, our approach shows the cross-fertilizations that can occur between quantitative and qualitative approaches: the selection of cases guided by existing statistical analyses enables new hypotheses that warrant testing at a larger scale.  [97] We hope this special issue casts a useful light on how the machinery of the Fifth Republic guarantees, with varying effectiveness and the occasional malfunction, transmission between electoral promises and public action.  [98]


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    We owe to Hanna Pitkin the concept of substantial representation, whereby the representative acts for the represented. On this conception, the promise of public policies must conform to the choice of those represented, and respecting this promise guarantees the responsiveness of the democratic system. See Hanna F. Pitkin, The Concept of Representation, Berkeley, The University of California Press, 1967. Also see Anthony H. Birch, The Concepts and Theory of Modern Democracy, London, Routledge, 1993; Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Richard I. Hofferbert, and Ian Budge, Parties, Policies, and Democracy, Boulder, Westview Press, 1994.
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    It is relevant to note that, alongside the developments of the literature in political science devoted to promises, websites have proliferated that systematically evaluate the implementation of manifestos, such as, developed in France after the election of François Hollande in 2012, or its American counterpart,
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    This category therefore excludes remarks and passages in manifestos that analyze the past or present situation, general and axiological considerations, or declarations of intent that assert desirable principles or directions for public action without making concrete commitments. See Terry J. Royed, “Testing the Mandate Model in Britain and the United States: Evidence from the Reagan and Thatcher Era,” British Journal of Political Science 26(1), 1996, 45-80, here 79.
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    Nicklas Håkansson and Elin Naurin, “Promising ever More? An Empirical Account of Swedish Parties’ Pledge Making During 20 Years,” Party Politics 22(3), 2016, 393-404; Christophe Bouillaud, Isabelle Guinaudeau, and Simon Persico, “Parole tenue? Une étude de la trajectoire des promesses électorales du président Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012),” Gouvernement et action publique 6(3), 2017, 85-113.
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    Robert Thomson et al., “The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing,” American Journal of Political Science 63(3), 2017, 527-42.
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    A recent study suggests that the commitments that are least expensive, most visible, or the most closely connected to the themes that establish the party’s or parties’ credibility in the sector, have the highest chance of being enacted. Cf. Bouillaud, Guinaudeau, and Persico, “Parole tenue?“.
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    Kingdon, Agendas.
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    Rory Costello and Robert Thomson, “Election Pledges and their Enactment in Coalition Governments: A Comparative Analysis of Ireland,” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 18(3), 2008, 239-56; Lucy Mansergh and Robert Thomson, “Election Pledges, Party Competition, and Policymaking,” Comparative Politics 39(3), 2007, 311-29; Elin Naurin, “Is a Promise a Promise? Election Pledge Fulfilment in Comparative Perspective Using Sweden as an Example,” West European Politics 37(5), 2014, 1046-64.
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    Stone, “Urban Regimes“; Lindvall, Reform Capacity.
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    Imbeau, Pétry, and Lamari, “Left-Right Party Ideology“; Thomson, “The Program-to-Policy Linkage.” These studies address a common distinction in analyses of public action, cf. John G. Grumm, “The Analysis of Policy Impact” in Fred Greenstein and Nelson Polsby (eds), Policies and Policy-Making Handbook of Political Science, Reading, Addison Wesley, 1975, 6:439-73.
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    Timothy J. McKeown, “The Global Economy, Post-Fordism, and Trade Policy in Advanced Capitalist States” in Herbert Kitschelt, Peter Lange, Gary Marx, and John D. Stephens (eds), Continuity and Change in Contemporary Capitalism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), 11-35; Pierre Muller, La société de l’efficacité globale, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2015.
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    Brouard et al., “Do Party Manifestos Matter?”
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    For a new overview of this literature, see Dubois, “Political Business Cycles.” On the honeymoon effect, see, for example, Torun Dewan and David P. Myatt, “Dynamic Government Performance: Honeymoon and Crises of Confidence,” American Political Science Review 106(1), 2004, 123-45; Matthew N. Beckmann and Joseph Godfrey, “The Policy Opportunities in Presidential Honeymoons,” Political Research Quarterly 60(2), 2007, 250-62.
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    Daniel E. Ponder, Presidential Leverage: Presidents, Approvals, and the American State, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2017.
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    Nicole Herweg, Christian Huss, and Reimut Zohlnhöfer, “Straightening the Three Streams: Theorising Extensions of the Multiple Streams Framework,” European Journal of Political Research 54(3), 2015, 435-49.
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    Lee Sigelman and Kathleen Knight, “Why Does Presidential Popularity Decline? A Test of the Expectation/Disillusion Theory,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 47(3), 1983, 310-24.
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    Lindvall, Reform Capacity.
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    Giugni, MacAdam, and Tilly, How Social Movements Matter.
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    Jean Leca, “La ‘gouvernance’ de la France sous la Cinquième République” in François d’Arcy and Luc Rouban (eds), De la Ve République à l’Europe: Hommage à Jean-Louis Quermonne, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 1996, p. 329.
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    Interview conducted in Paris, November 14, 2016.
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    Wolfgang Müller and Kaare Strøm, eds, Policy, Office or Votes? How Political Parties in Western Europe Make Hard Decisions, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
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    Bouillaud, Guinaudeau, and Persico, “Parole tenue?” Furthermore, visibility reinforces transparency, and therefore the electoral consequences of respecting or breaking the promise. Cf. Pepper Culpepper, Quiet Politics and Business Power: Corporate Control in Europe and Japan, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011. On the importance of media visibility in the transformation of policies, also see: Elmer E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America, New York, Wadsworth, 1960; Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones, The Politics of Attention: How Government Prioritizes Problems, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
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    Jacques Gerstlé, La communication politique, Paris, Armand Colin, 2008; Stefaan Walgrave, Jonas Lefevere, and Anke Tresch, “The Associative Dimension of Issue Ownership,” Public Opinion Quarterly 76(4), 2012, 771-82.
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    Riker, The Strategy of Rhetoric.
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    D. Sunshine Hillygus and Todd G. Shields, The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2009.
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    This literature is presented in detail in the article on the increase of the minimum vieillesse in this special issue.
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    Schneider and Ingram, “Social Construction.“
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    Kingdon, Agendas.
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    Torsten Persson and Guido Enrico Tabellini, Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2002.
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    Thiébault, “Forming and Maintaining Government Coalitions.“
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    In order not to over-interpret the specificities of the types of action of a particular party or president, we have deliberately chosen examples for the mandates of Lionel Jospin (1997-2002), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-12), and François Hollande (2012-17).
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    Joachim Blatter and Markus Haverland, Designing Case Studies: Explanatory Approaches in Small-N Research, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Seawright and Gerring, “Case Selection“; Dirk Leuffen, “Case Selection and Selection Bias in Small-n Research” in Thomas Gschwend and Frank Schimmelfennig (eds), Research Design in Political Science: How to Practice what they Preach, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 145-60; Nikolaos Zahariadis, “Selling British Rail: An Idea whose Time Has Come?,” Comparative Political Studies 29(4), 1996, 400-22.
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    However, some of the articles in this issue also use the collected material as descriptive statistics that could be used, in particular, to measure the changing prominence of the matter at hand.
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    For works supporting contrasting positions, cf. Hélène Chamboredon, Fabienne Pavis, Muriel Surdez, and Laurent Willemez, “S’imposer aux imposants: à propos de quelques obstacles rencontrés par des sociologues débutants dans la pratique et l’usage de l’entretien,” Genèses 16, 1994, 114-32; Samy Cohen, ed., L’art d’interviewer les dirigeants, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1999; William Genieys, Sociologie politique des élites, Paris, Armand Colin, 2011.
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    Didier Demazière, “À qui peut-on se fier? Les sociologues et la parole des interviewés,” Langage et Société 121-22, 2007, 85-100.
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    This is based on a logic of comparison of the most varied cases: John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, London, Routledge, 1996; Cécile Vigour, La comparaison dans les sciences sociales, Paris, La Découverte, 2005, chapter 2.
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    Michael Becher, “Endogenous Credible Commitment and Party Competition over Redistribution under Alternative Electoral Institutions,” American Journal of Political Science 60(3), 2016, 768-82.
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    Similarly, technical constraints can vary over time. The closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power station was connected to the opening of the Flamanville nuclear power station, but the repeated delays in the latter limited Hollande’s capacity to keep his promise.
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    Paul Webb and Thomas Poguntke, eds, The Presidentialization of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.
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    The results of the case studies presented in this special issue motivated the Partipol project team to recode the database of electoral promises of the French executive branch (1995-2012) to statistically test the conditionalities associated with the types of target populations, the stage of the electoral cycle, and the popularity of the President and Prime Minister, as well as the forms of direct causality between public action and manifesto production.
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    The studies presented in this issue could not have been carried out without the support of the Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) for the Partipol project (funded by ANR Jeune Chercheur, project ANR-13-JSH1-0002-01, directed by Isabelle Guinaudeau). In this project, the selection of cases for qualitative study and the definition of our theoretical and methodological framework benefited from conversations with Tinette Schnatterer, Emiliano Grossman, Christophe Bouillaud, Sylvain Brouard, and Claire Dupuy. We would also like to offer warm thanks to the three anonymous reviewers for their many comments and suggestions.

This article explores the factors and mechanisms at play in the fulfilment of campaign promises – a key element in the functioning of representative government. After presenting an overview of the current literature on the subject, we shall outline the conditional model of promise-keeping that informs this issue: an electoral pledge is more likely fulfilled if the executive branch has both the incentive and the capacity to do so. We shall then explain why each case in this issue was selected to assess the pertinence and limits of this conditional model, presenting each contribution and then highlighting any cross-cutting findings. Combining political sociology and public policy analysis shall allow us to better understand how pledge fulfilment is conditioned by the executive branch’s capacities and motivations. The ability of the executive branch to keep its promises has a number of institutional, operational and political dimensions, while its motivations appear to be largely determined by the characteristics of the publics targeted by the electoral pledges in question.


  • electoral pledges
  • campaign promises
  • political platforms
  • mandate
  • government accountability
  • public policy
  • qualitative methodology
Isabelle Guinaudeau
Isabelle Guinaudeau is a CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) Research Fellow at the Centre Émile-Durkheim at Sciences Po Bordeaux (Bordeaux Institute of Political Studies). Her current research examines the influence of elections and electoral pledges on public action—this subject was at the center of the ANR Jeune Chercheur Partipol project (2014-18), for which she was the principal investigator. She also works on the politicization of European integration, with an interest both in public opinion and party competition. Her articles have been published in journals such as Political Studies, the British Journal of Political Science, West European Politics, European Union Politics, the Journal of Public Policy, the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, the Revue française de science politique, and Gouvernement et action publique.
Simon Persico
Simon Persico is a University Professor in social sciences at Sciences Po Grenoble (Grenoble Institute of Political Studies), attached to the Pacte research group. His current research addresses the impact of parties on public policies, change in party systems, and environmental policies. His recent publications include: (with Florent Gougou) “A New Party System in the Making? The French 2017 Presidential Election,” French Politics 15, no. 3 (2017): 303­21; (with Christophe Bouillaud and Isabelle Guinaudeau) “Parole tenue: Une étude de la trajectoire des promesses du président Nicolas Sarkozy (2007­2012),” Gouvernement et action publique 3, no. 3 (2017): 85­113; “`Déclarer qu’on va protéger la planète, ça ne coûte rien.’ Les droites françaises et l’écologie, 1975­2015,” Revue française d’histoire des idées politiques 44, no. 2 (2016): 157­86.
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