In theory, the citizens vote for candidate X because they share their electoral offers or promises, but sometimes those candidates don't do what they said. So my question is:

What prevents a winning candidate from breaking their campaign promise after the election?

The words are moved by the wind, I can say anything to win an election and do exactly the opposite after I take the power.


2 Answers 2


While recall elections might prevent local and state government officials from doing the opposite of what was promised, promises are exactly that, just promises.

The promises are free to be broken, but remember that very often candidates will wish to be reelected to their offices and that relies on citizen's opinions.

Using the United States of America as an example, delegates/members to the House of Representatives are up for reelection every two years, simplifying the idea of how party politics works in the US (ie caucusing with the affiliate party), this leaves their jobs at the whims of the people. Thus should they ever hope to advance they will need to make sure to effectively pander and do the bare minimum needed to keep the promises.

A counterpoint to that is that Senators often have more leeway to negotiate and compromise due to their six year terms. Many senators, such as Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, often do not face contested reelection bids, allowing them to move across party lines and make fewer and less bombastic promises during campaigns. Very often, you see those running for Senate running on very vague platforms in contrast to Representatives who promise substantial things such as tax cuts and ending Obamacare.

So the answer is that while there is no legally binding obligation to keep promises, Members of the House usually have to promise and appear to do more to keep those promises due to job security, in contrast to Senators who often make few promises and are laxer about keeping them.

In the general answer then, it would follow that promises are kept to build trust for a given political party, thus consolidating party backers (voters) and creating a basis for a party platform. In this regards, renegades of parties often get around this broken promise business by jumping to a more established party, or by starting their own and hoping to garner support for it. Either way, breaking promises can be a quick way of killing a political career.

  • While this is overall a great answer, I'm deeply curious to know of even a single example of Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer "moving across party lines" (especially on a substantial issue).
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 19:47
  • @DVK, Perhaps not the best of examples, I will dig around for better actual bipartisan ones, I only remember this one off the top of my head because Feinstein just won reelection with 67% of the vote and zero campaigning. Of course CA is a very blue state and the Republican establishment is basically in its dying throes here, so again, not the best example.
    – ardent
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 5:50

The process I am most familiar with is a recall election. The fact that a politician can be recalled should be grounds enough to discourage the type of behavior you describe. The details will vary greatly from country to country and from state to state.

In the U.S., for example, it appears that the President cannot be recalled, some states allow US Senators and congressmen to be recalled. For info on certain states, see here for recalling local officials.

In the case that something illegal has been done, impeachment is another option. In the US again there are certain powers given to each branch of government. If say the President oversteps his or her powers, impeachment trials could be held to remove the person from office.

The point with both of these options is that they allow the offending elected official to be removed. The threat of that hopefully would keep them doing the "opposite of what he promised".

  • Pretty much all inter-state elected positions can be recalled. This past year a sweep of recall elections in Wisconsin swept through everything, including Governor, Lieutenant governor, Assembly-person, and state Senator.
    – JKor
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 1:59
  • 3
    Impeachment is a response to misbehavior, but don't stop them doing the opposite of their promises
    – Casebash
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 2:24
  • @Casebash, right. That is the reason for the caveat that something illegal has been done before impeachment. Won't apply in all cases, but possibly some.
    – mikeazo
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 3:17
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    In several states specific grounds are required for recall, so you can't just have a recall because the candidate didn't do what (s)he promised. This answer is also way to US-centric. Most countries don't have recall, and there is simply nothing that prevents politicians from doing the exact opposite of what they promised. Often of course while claiming that are doing what they promised and continuing to promise the same thing. Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 5:58
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    I'm not sure if most democratic countries on a worldwide level has recall or not, but it's unusual in Europe, that's fore sure. I've never heard of it outside the USA. The countries that are listed on Wikipedia as having it USA, Canada, Venezuela and Switzerland. No the Norwegian Wikipedia the Phillipines is also listed. So I'm fairly comfortable saying that most democratic countries do not have it, but I have no authoritative source. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recall_election Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 12:37

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