Deciphering Presidential Campaign Speeches

TOM HUDSON: From lower taxes to cheaper gasoline, we’ve all heard these
promises from presidential candidates before. If you think candidates will
promise anything to get elected, you probably have lots of company. But the
research shows you are wrong. Campaign promises matter and politicians try
to keep their word. Darren Gersh tonight from Washington on how much stock
you should put in the promises you’re hearing this election year.

campaign promise this year, you’re really hearing a fight being settled. On
one side, there are the campaign policy guys and they want the candidate to
do the right thing. They live for wonky details. On the other side are the
political people and they want their guy to win. Doug Holtz-Eakin was an
economic advisor to John McCain and he’s seen it happen.

people want flexibility. And when you write down details, you take away
flexibility and you probably anger some constituency. So the political
people are saying we want to promise a tax reform, but not put one out.

GERSH: Mitt Romney was pretty detailed last week when he proposed to
cut individual income tax rates by 20 percent. And if he wins, it’s an
excellent bet his first budget will call for a 20 percent cut. Political
scientist Jonathan Bernstein says researchers have found campaign promises
really do matter.

scientists have found the more they look at it, is that politicians try to
keep their promises; they don’t always succeed. Circumstances sometimes
change. But whether it is members of the House, the Senate or presidents,
they really do take what they say in the campaigns seriously.

GERSH: But Holtz-Eakin compares election year promises to music. He
says singers often tweak songs, trying out different versions.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Those are all fascinating because you understand why
they were demos and this is the one that was that big hit. Think of all
that campaign stuff as demos. It’s the first time out and it’s not what we
are going to actually pass through a Congress, but it’s what you want to
try to do.

GERSH: Before he retired from Congress, Bill Frenzel survived more
than a dozen campaigns. He says politicians may get grief for making
promises they may not keep, but sometimes voters demand them.

BILL FRENZEL, GUEST SCHOLAR, BROOKINGS: And if they want a tax cut,
they will cheer when a politician offers them one. Or if the politician
says, I will protect your entitlement to my dying day and they like their
entitlements, they’ll be with that politician. But they have to understand
that those are unlikely.

GERSH: Hedge funds and professional investors actually pay a fair
amount of attention to campaign promises, but they don’t sweat the details.
They’re looking for a general sense of what the candidate might do once the
race is won. Darren Gersh, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Washington.

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