Should elected officials abide by campaign promises even if circumstances change?
A majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll believe those elected to public office should act based on conscience and judgment, no matter if that means not adhering to a pledge made during a political campaign.
This issue rose to the surface recently when former President George H.W. Bush defended his decision to raise taxes to help reduce the federal deficit even though in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1988 he had made the famous pledge: "Read my lips: no new taxes." Many political observers believe that promise helped Bush win the election.
In an interview, the former president defended his decision, saying "circumstances change, and you can’t be wedded to some (pledge)." That prompted anti-tax activist Grover Norquist to assert that Bush "promised the American people he wouldn’t raise their taxes. He lied to them."
Some Democrats similarly accuse President Barack Obama of breaking his 2008 campaign promise to end the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans. In late 2010, with the cuts slated to expire soon, Obama reached a compromise agreement with congressional Republicans to extend them for two years. Pointing to the fragile economic recovery, Obama said waging a political battle at that time to hike taxes on high earners "would be the wrong thing to do."
Fifty-eight percent of poll participants this week favor actions based on conscience and judgment. Among respondents who identified themselves as Democrats, 87 percent chose this answer; by contrast, 52 percent of Republicans think elected officials should abide by campaign promises even if circumstances change. Those who said they are not affiliated with a political party closely reflected the overall result, with 57 percent choosing "act based on conscience and judgment."
Roughly 475 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Aug. 27 and 28.
When forced to choose between these two options, should elected officials abide by campaign promises or act based on their conscience and judgment?
Act based on conscience and judgment: 58%
Abide by campaign promises: 42%
What is your political affiliation?
The lesson is don’t make promises you can’t keep.
John Maynard Keynes is reputed to have said, "When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?" It applies here as well.
—Jim Haefner, Pittsford
We have an issue in our society where if you change your views on something it’s considered flip-flopping, when sometimes it’s really just more about learning.
—Eric Bourgeois, Rochester
One recent, local example that comes to mind from a few years ago: The Rochester "Chill The Fill" movement (referring to halting the city’s then-plans to fill in the Rochester subway tunnel) had seemingly gained an ally in Bob Duffy when he was campaigning to become Rochester’s mayor to replace Mayor (William) Johnson. He made a campaign promise not to fill the Rochester subway tunnel. And yet, just a few short years later, the Rochester subway tunnel was filled under his administration-against public wishes, protest and outcry.
—Christopher Burns, marketing strategy consultant
I don’t believe politicians’ promises.
Candidates make promises the voters want to hear to try to win an election and generally without the information a sitting president has available. Making a promise without all the information is just as foolish as the voters who believe they will be able to keep the promise. Closing Gitmo was one; as an ex-military person I recognized it as a promise made by an uninformed person.
—Eric Muench, president, Genesistems Inc.
Although conscience ought to trump self-interest, it is a good habit to live up to one’s promises. Unfortunately, it seems that conscience is a rare gift among politicians, so elected officials would be better off following their promises.
What would your mother tell you to do?
—Rich Calabrese Jr.
There are many other ways to get elected by telling the truth. You can outline the goals you have and tell people you will try to meet them and be honest with the realities of doing so by keeping them informed. Keep your goals simple and easy to account for. A promise is a personal contract. It’s pretty simple: Don’t make the promise if you have any inkling that you may have trouble keeping it. Otherwise, you would be what is known as a liar.
Perhaps a better question is whether they should make any promises at all. The idea of a promise is that you can and that you are able to keep it. Voters are set up to think that some change will happen when really no one can guarantee that-sorta like how Western N.Y. approaches the Bills season every year.
If the promises are what got them elected, then not keeping them, or not trying to keep them, is a sham.
Oath of office supersedes campaign promises when there is a change in facts and circumstances. The only pledge should be to uphold the Constitution.
—Nathan J. Robfogel
A promise is a promise from anyone and must be carried out under any circumstance. Otherwise you are considered an elected official.
—Daniel Mossien, architect
You can’t say that everyone should keep their campaign promises as conditions change and ideas need to be altered. I believe they should introduce some meaningful legislation based on their promises and see where it goes. I believe, though, that they need to get closer to the people they represent and not follow the party line always. I’ve often said that politics attracts good-intentioned ambitious people and then turns them into crooks as they have to compromise themselves to give their legislation a chance or to be successful. It turns out to be a big power struggle with little compromise. As we have seen lately it did not matter what you said as the legislature has become ineffective and incompetent. They vote for waste and forget what we really need. When we logically point out savings to be made, they reject it along party lines. Bring on term limits, throw out the lobbyists, and let’s get some representative for the people and not their ideology.
Although it would be ideal if an elected official were to at all times abide by campaign promises, in reality, it isn’t feasible. Once in office, there are so many factors that change, including overall economic conditions, it isn’t practical. With that being said, however, if we vote on the candidate best suited for the job and vote on his character, then we should trust them to act based on conscience and judgment. It appears that all too often, they forget about being true to this country and its people, and fall into the payback of the campaign funds by adding pork and nonsense to a bill when held over their heads, which is usually not in favor of the country and its citizens. This, I fear, is the reality of politics. I believe in my heart the majority of persons who run for office do so in the beginning to make a difference and then they get absorbed by politics. It is a pity that they fail to remember who put them in office and their campaign promises were voted in with the hope that those promises were their intention.
Although we elect officials based on their promises, using the word “always” may not be the most prudent thing to do in a changing environment. I can forgive this change when it is in the best interest of the citizens.
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield
Politicians keeping their campaign promises??? You have to be kidding me!!! Why not use this space to poll serious opinion with questions related to: fracking, global warming, voter suppression or gun control.
It’s not so much about candidates keeping their promises. It should be about the electorate being educated and sufficiently knowledgeable to discern which promises are reasonable and necessary to keep and which only serve the interest of the particular voter rather than the common good. As for the choices you offer, the presumption is that the politician has conscience and judgment. The voters should worry about electing those who do.
I object to the premise of the question. If I have read the question correctly, the elected official made a campaign promise that was in DIRECT conflict with their conscience or judgment. I would hope someone like this never gets elected in the first place.
The smart thing to do is not believe any campaign promise. It is incumbent on voters to judge a candidate on his or her past performance and honesty, not on their personality, affiliation or slick ad campaigns. Let the voter beware!
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
Expecting a politician to abide by campaign promises is like expecting your dog to guard the hamburgers at a picnic.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
Campaign promises, realistically, cannot include tax cuts/no tax cuts. Same with spending—you cannot say you will not spend more when our country is in a war! A much better approach is to set goals, not promises. List your goals and their priority as well as how you plan to attain those goals. Campaign promises should be thought out and not made unless the candidate knows they can hold to those promises. This is what people are voting on. To not stick to what you promise does make you a liar. If you lie once you will lie again. How do you trust a liar?
All political officials need to make their commitments on certain issues apparent, so “we the people” understand who we are voting for, but they need to also be pragmatic enough to work through the real situations that evolve. A promise is a promise, so maybe they need to speak to us differently, and we need to listen to them, and those who criticize them, differently.
—Jim Baker, Foundation Design P.C.
Only idiots and bone heads won’t adjust his/her thinking in the face of irrefuteable information to the contrary.
Am I supposed to actually believe a “campaign promise”? One, these are politicians. Two, it’s a campaign. Isn’t it common practice to tell people what they want to hear to win their vote? If that’s too cynical, let’s look at it this way: to actually enact a campaign promise requires your party to be in agreement, and in the majority. And for circumstances to remain the same so that the promise is still relevant. How likely is all of that? Not very. Perhaps we should interview for the “CEO” position of the U.S.A. and then put forth two candidates who are most viable to do the job of negotiating needs, circumstances and feasibility to enact change that’s in the best interest of the population. The days of campaigns and two-party politics are over. It’s time for a new way because promises don’t hold up. They can’t. The system doesn’t support it.
Elected officials should act based on their judgment and conscience. This is the primary reason I support Barack Obama’s re-election—I trust his thoughtful, considered judgment when it comes to the hard choices and difficult decisions a president needs to make. Unlike his adversaries in Congress, notably Paul Ryan, Obama is willing to compromise to move the country forward. He was a breath of fresh air from the anti-science, “bring ‘em on” days of George W. Bush. He is a moderate who has and will continue to take the long view, consider his conscience and use good judgment to guide his actions and policies.
—Michael L. Harf
Candidates should never make promises. There is a process called “Congress” and if they are not on the same page, in the same library, then you can kiss that promise goodbye. Specifically, for anyone going up against an incumbent, how can you make an informed decision when you have no clue what has really transpired within the current administration? What candidates should say is, “if I am elected, these are some of the issues that I would like to tackle for the American people.” No matter the party affiliation, he/she would most likely have my vote barring no other detrimental concerns.
—Cyndy Gayden, Frontier Communications
I keep my promises. I expect you to keep your promises. Even to ask this question shows what shape our politicians are in and shows what shape we are in from our politicians.
The leader needs to act on behalf all the citizens of the country and the globe for the good of all people—no matter what position they hold. Sensible, practical, compassionate, with a forward vision is leader that we need in every elected position. One who understands true democracy and what that implies for all. This is still my idealistic concept of what a true leader is. Of course we all know that it is cold hard cash, unbridled greed and ego, and the lust for power and domination that control the system.
Politicians should not make promises that they cannot keep nor should they pander to special “groups” by making promises they have no intention to keep. As chairman of the Ontario County Conservative Party, I work with my Executive Committee and other party committee members to interview candidates for elected office. We take our job seriously and the interviews are not “fluff”; many candidates dread facing my party’s interview process. We do not waste their time on silly issues but actually interview them concerning real issues they face or they may face. Thus candidates for local offices, county clerk, councilmen, supervisors etc. don’t get asked questions relating to national issues. The interviews are targeted to the office. That said, when a candidate is interviewed the questions asked relate to the platform they are running on and promises they are making. If my committee decides to endorse a candidate we base our decision upon their qualifications and our impression as to their character and principles. The individual voter is then left to decide if the candidate is to be trusted or not. The candidate once elected must then deliver upon their promises or face not being reelected in the future—if the voters keep watch over those they elect. My committee’s job after the election is to observe the candidate. If he or she decides to violate their promises and fails to follow their core principles as they were described to the committee, then he or she may find getting any future party endorsements and support difficult at best. Elected officials must be kept to their promises. Promises to the voters should not be like a reeds in the wind bending in whichever way the wind blows; they must stand firm and like their principles honor their promises.
—Michael F. Kloppel, chairman, Ontario County Conservative Party
If they break a campaign promise they should acknowledge it and explain why they are doing it.
A campaign promise is a statement of “What I want to do.” An executive or a politician quickly finds that “What I can do” is usually different, consequently they must not be so ideologically rigid that they cannot abandon a promise in favor of getting the job done.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
Gee, has this ever been attempted?
8/31/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.