Great Expectations

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Germany’s Grand Coalition has kept most of its promises so far. Fifteen months into the alliance between CDU-CSU and Social Democrats, the government has already tackled over 60% of the plans set out at the beginning of the coalition. But this success has fallen on deaf ears. Only one in ten voters believes that the government makes good on its promises, as revealed by a study conducted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in partnership with Theres Matthieß, a research fellow at the WZB.

The research team identified 296 plans or “true promises” for its analysis. These were defined as cases where it was possible to empirically test if the goal had been achieved. Of the plans set out by the CDU-CSU wing of the coalition, 44% were realized, for the SPD, this was 45%. The German Interior Ministry was top of the class in following through on the greatest number of promises (26 from a total of 49), whereas the Ministry of Defense was the most efficient, ticking off 77% (10 out of 13) of its proposals. “The results of the study show that the Grand Coalition has broken the record for keeping its promises at the half-time mark,” explained Robert Vehrkamp, one of the study’s authors.

At the same time, voters seem to turn a blind eye to their government’s track record. As few as one in ten German voters felt that a “large part” of the coalition’s plans had been followed through on as promised. Over three-quarters (79%) were of the opinion that “barely any” or only “around half” of the promises had been kept.

“This is not a specifically German problem. The results hold true for other countries where parties also follow through on a majority of their promises,” adds WZB researcher, Theres Matthieß. “We need to develop a better understanding of these negative perceptions and where they come from. For example, is the delay simply too great between the government delivering on a promise and the effects being felt by voters?”

 “The poor state of political compromise offers a substantial explanation for the gaps in voters’ perception of the work done by the government. The parties need to better explain which goals they are pursuing and why,” asserted Robert Vehrkamp.

The results of the study were presented at a press conference in Berlin on August 19, 2019.

Robert Vehrkamp

Robert Vehrkamp directs the "Future of Democracy" program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung and is a visiting researcher at the WZB.

Portrait Theres Matthieß
David Ausserhofer

Theres Matthieß is a research fellow at the WZB's Democracy and Democratization research unit.