In the run-up to every election, candidates and parties make a range of campaign promises stating what they will do should they get into power. Promises on social benefit expansions are especially used as they usually have very direct implications for individuals. This is according to the work of doctoral researcher Michael Ganslmeier whose research aims to understand whether electoral pledges on social benefits hold influence on individual voters' ballot box decisions.
“My research has been looking at the effect of social benefit-related campaign promises on the political behaviour of individual voters. The goal was to understand whether political parties can promise such benefit expansions in order to attract voters from competitor parties.”
The research found that the campaign promise of a large pension benefit expansion in the run-up to the 2013 federal election in Germany increased party alignment among benefiting individuals with the pledge-making party (conservative party) by over 12%. The alignment gain saw a switch from left-leaning voters. The research concluded that campaign promises on social benefit expansions have a larger effect on individuals with lower social and economic security and the alignment gain disappears shortly after reform implementation.
“The main implication of this paper is that parties can successfully mis-use the welfare state for purely political purposes, and spend financial and non-financial resources on programs that may not be the most efficient option from a socioeconomic (non-political) perspective but that rather pay the highest electoral dividends.”
The full paper, ‘Are Campaign Promises Effective?’, secured Michael the department’s 2023 Barnett Prize, which is awarded to the best doctoral research papers in a given year.
“I have always been interested in elections, but the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election in 2016 has transformed this general interest into a true passion. I really do find it fascinating to observe what people do at the ballot box every 4-5 years because it doesn’t just show what society they (think they) want to live in but it also gives us an idea how they see their own role in this social context.”
Prior to starting his doctoral degree in Social Policy, Michael gained a MSc in Political Economy from the LSE and a BA in Economics from Zeppelin University (with a semester abroad at Columbia University). He’s worked as researcher, research assistant and consultant for multiple universities and organizations including LSE, UCL, King’s College London, IMF, World Bank, and EBRD, amongst others.
Beyond the nexus of social policies and voting behaviour, Michael’s also interested in the economic and political consequences of climate change. Working in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, he’s working to measure how economic and social outcomes change in times of global warming using both causal inference and machine learning approaches.
“For me, social policy stands as a fundamental pillar in the successful operation of market economies. While the mechanisms of market-driven and price-oriented distribution offer distinct advantages, they frequently fail in generating optimal economic and social outcomes, especially for marginalized segments of society. The modern welfare state, a monumental intellectual accomplishment of the European continent over the past centuries, plays such a pivotal role shielding individuals from various social risks throughout their lifetimes."
In the future, Michael aims to build upon his research on social policies and voting behaviour, and alongside Oxford colleagues is already studying how the expansion of pension benefits can increase electoral participation in the US.
Since completing his DPhil, Michael has become a postdoctoral fellow at LSE. Find out more about Michael’s research here.