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Comment: Campaign has been defined by the T-word

By Mark Andrews | General Election 2019 | Published:

The campaign has been defined by the T-word.

But despite the public debate about trust in politics, candidates who say one thing on the campaign trail and do another when in office may actually have had a greater chance of getting elected.

As we digest the result of the election, researchers claim to have proof that when looking for power dishonesty works.

There has been plenty of talk through the campaign of fake news, exaggerated financial claims and contrasting but equally dark warnings of the evils of either Marxism or the Far Right.

It appears, according to experts, that we are likely to swallow much of what we hear.

Drawing on findings from a lab-based election experiment which involved 308 people, research from economists highlights that, even though voters indicate that trust and legitimacy are important factors in deciding how to cast their ballots, candidates who progress in politics are often those most prepared to renege on their electoral promises.

The researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany and University of Bath designed a game-theory experiment to test the importance of trustworthiness and to see how individuals react when faced with different election scenarios.

Their two-stage election process first involved individuals vying against each other to win their party’s candidacy for a parliamentary seat.

They asked “candidates” in the experiment how much they would invest on a scale of one-to-100 as a measure of how eager they were to gain selection in terms of money, time or effort they would put in to get through the selection phase.

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Surprising

Those who invested the most had the highest probability of getting through to round two.

If selected to stand for office, candidates next had to choose how much money they would promise to voters in an election, attempting to win over an undecided public.

This could reflect campaign promises on tax and spending, for example.

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Finally, if elected, winning “candidates” had to decide how to make decisions outside the election race, choosing how much they would transfer to voters or whether to renege on promises.

Their findings highlighted that those most likely to make it through the selection process because of their high investments in the first stage were also those who reneged on their promises most when elected into office.

In other words, those who had been most eager to be selected were also those most likely to deviate from what they had promised.

Dr Maik Schneider, from the University of Bath, said the research raised many important questions that were relevant to British politics.

He said: “Our study highlights why it may not be too surprising to find candidates on the campaign trail who lie.

“This should concern us all given the low levels of trust in politics.

“There is a clear paradox here in terms of an electorate which says what’s missing in politics is greater trust – yet results that indicate that candidates who lie more, somehow still have a higher chance of gaining office.”

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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