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Technology and Politicians' Promises

Tiago Carneiro Peixoto's picture

Increasingly popular, promise-tracking platforms are software solutions designed to track the extent to which elected officials fulfil their promises made during electoral campaigning. David Sasaki has written an interesting post about these “promise meters”. Given that we are still in the early stages of development of these innovations, a few considerations might be noteworthy.

While the cases that David lists focus on candidates for the Executive (e.g. gubernatorial elections), for illustrative purposes I focus primarily – but not solely – on cases in the field of parliamentary informatics. That is, existing or potential solutions for tracking politicians’ promises in parliament.

As David mentions, promises are not always the best metric. This may become even more evident when we consider the issues of collective intelligence and deliberation. To clarify, let us think of parliaments in their simplest form. As the etymology itself indicates, parliaments are in their origin conceived as spaces of dialogue. Such a deliberative component, some might argue, is precisely the epistemic basis that justifies the existence of parliaments as such. From this perspective, the mechanism that leverages the knowledge dispersed amongst the different parliamentarians relies on i) exposure to diverging points of view, ii) the justification of arguments on a rational basis, and ii) the willingness of parliamentarians to change their positions and preferences. From this perspective, a parliament in which its members do not change their preferences may in fact be counterproductive. The same applies to actors from the Executive as they interact with actors from other branches (e.g. Legislative) and levels (e.g. sub-national) of government and society as a whole.

Another question refers to the object of promise-tracking software. Some examples may fall prey to focusing on politicians as opposed to political parties, neglecting the role played by electoral parties in politicians’ behavior. Such oversight is particularly undesirable in the context of electoral systems that tend to foster strong party organizations (e.g. proportional representation), where parties’ directives tend to guide political action more than any individual agenda. This is perhaps one of the reasons for which voting advice applications (VAAs) developed by political scientists, such as the EUProfiler, have structured their design around political parties.

Finally, one could argue that promise-tracking platforms are built under a normative assumption that privileges a “delegate model of representation” over a “party delegate model” or a “trustee model” of representation.  Unintentionally, the discussion surrounding promise-tracking software enters a lively – and still unsettled – debate in the field of political representation theory. Edmund Burke would have loved to be a part of it.

 


Photo credit: By Kheel Center, Cornell University at Flickr 

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