HEALTHY LIVING

Study: Candidates Really Do Keep Promises

Dec 04, 2008 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Politicians have a nasty reputation for never keeping campaign promises, but most do actually put their money, or at least their efforts, where their mouth is, a new study finds.

U.S. voters tend to have a cynical outlook on how politicians do their jobs. In 2004, the National Annenberg Election Study found that only one-third of voters surveyed thought their elected officials even tried to keep their campaign promises once elected. Other election studies have found a similar pessimism among voters in regards to politicians saying one thing but doing another.

To see whether this cynicism is warranted, Tracy Sulkin, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, compared the policy issues raised in the TV campaign ads of U.S. congressmen and senators to their legislative records.

The ads came from the 1998, 2000 and 2002 campaigns of 391 winning candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and 84 winning candidates for the U.S. Senate and covered more than three-quarters of congressional districts nationwide.

Sulkin marked the ads by the policy-related issues the candidates raised (for example, education, defense, crime, but not honesty or experience) and then looked at the representatives' and senators' records to see if they introduced or sponsored legislation dealing with those issues.

(Sulkin didn't look at voting records because reps and senators have little control over the final version of a bill, and because she thought that introducing and sponsoring legislation was a better measure of what elected officials actually cared about, she said.)