Political parties do keep promises after all
The major New Zealand political parties that were in Government between 1972 and 2005 honoured at least half of their
pre-election manifesto pledges, with some administrations nearly 90 percent true to their word.
These are the findings of a six-year study by University of Canterbury political science doctoral student Nathan
McCluskey which reviewed 33 years of New Zealand government spanning 11 terms from 1972-2005.
“According to opinion polls the public consider politicians to be about as trustworthy as used car salespeople or
professional wrestlers. All of which lends itself to a popular impression of dishonesty and a fundamental lack of
integrity which colours not only the way individual politicians are viewed, but whether the parties themselves can be
trusted to keep any promises at all,” says Mr McCluskey.
“This causes scepticism and generates a lack of faith in the democratic nature of our politics, calling into question
the efficacy of our representative electoral system.”
He says his research found both the Labour and National parties were better at keeping their word prior to 1984,
averaging about 80 percent delivery on pre-election promises. Between 1984 and 1996 the level dropped to an average of
69 percent. A further decrease to an average of 62 percent followed the introduction of the Mixed Member Proportional
Mr McCluskey says despite the trend, Labour delivered 82 percent of its key pre-election policies during its 2002-2005
“This suggests that higher average levels of promise-keeping may be restored as New Zealand’s MMP structure matures,” he
The study also found that, with the exception of National between 1996 and 1999, every major party returned to office
increased its promise-keeping performance with each successive consecutive term. However, electoral support dropped in
every case indicating that voters do not reward political parties for keeping promises.
“This means, in effect, there appears to be no electoral pay-off to parties for doing what they said they would,” Mr
Other findings from the research show that the number of promises made has diminished in recent years and there has been
a greater focus on socio-economic issues, for both Labour and National. Over the period, National kept one percent more
of its promises than Labour.