Theres Matthieß
Retrospective pledge voting: A comparative study of the electoral consequences of government parties’ pledge fulfilment

European Journal of Political Research, 2020: 59, issue 4, pp. 774-796
ISSN: 0304-4130 (print), 1475-6765 (online)

Does pledge fulfilment bear any electoral consequences for government parties? While previous research on retrospective voting has largely focused on electoral accountability with respect to the economy, the theoretical framework presented in this study links government parties’ performance to their previous electoral pledges. It is argued that government parties are more likely to be rewarded by voters when they have fulfilled more pledges during the legislative term. Good pledge performance of a party is associated with the ability to maximise policy benefits (accomplishment) and to be a responsible actor that will stick to its promises in the future as well (competence). Analysing data from 69 elections in 14 countries shows that a government party's electoral outcome is affected by its previous pledge performance. A government party that fulfils a higher share of election pledges is more likely to prevent electoral losses. This finding indicates that voters react at the polls to party pledge fulfilment, which highlights the crucial role of promissory representation in democratic regimes. Surprisingly and in contrast with economic voting, there is no evidence that retrospective pledge voting is moderated by clarity of responsibility.