Although the welfare state is a core theme in most national elections in Western democracies, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the causes of welfare state pledge-breaking. This article presents an argument that explains when governments do not do what they promised and tests it using an innovative research design with data covering four decades and 18 countries. The argument is able to account for several important but, until now, undescribed phenomena. First, nowadays, governments, on average, deliver less welfare than they promised, whereas in the 1970s they used to deliver more than promised. Second, the pledge-breaking of governments has become highly dependent on the parliamentary opposition's position on the welfare issue. When the opposition favours fiscal and economic responsibility, governments’ tendency to deliver less welfare than promised is amplified. In contrast, when the opposition emphasises the positive benefits of generous welfare, such as equality and social justice, governments become more prone to keep their promises. Third, this conditional effect of the opposition is a recent occurrence that only emerged after the number of potential swing voters increased as class-based voting gradually declined from the 1970s onwards.
Figure S1. Distribution of pledge gaps
Figure S2. Opposition welfare position across 18 countries
Figure S3. Government versus opposition welfare position
Table S1. Variable overview
Figure S4-S15. Predicted pledge gap if specific manifesto items are excluded from pledge variable
Table S2. Robustness tests reported in main text
Table S3. Robustness tests reported in main text
Table S4. Robustness tests reported in main text
Figure S16-S17: Predicted pledge gap in different electoral systems
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