The German grand coalition cabinet of 2013 till 2017 is sitting on its benches in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, shortly after being appointed by the German President.

Coalition agreement under the microscope: The grand coalition largely kept its promises

More of the same or a feeling of new beginnings: A possible relaunch of the grand coalition would be met with little enthusiasm by voters and commentators. But an analysis of the achievements of the CDU/CSU-SPD government in power from 2013 to 2017 shows that it was at least much more hardworking than its reputation. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the promises made in the coalition agreement were either completely or partially kept. Nevertheless, citizens don't see it that way.

In most cases, the previous grand coalition in Germany kept most of its promises. A detailed analysis of the 2013 coalition agreement conducted on our behalf shows that the parties in the coalition government for the 2013-2017 legislative period agreed on 188 concrete measures and goals. Of these, 120 promises were completely fulfilled and an additional 28 were at least partially fulfilled. It thereby enacted almost two-thirds (64 percent) of its projects completely and a further 15 percent at least partially. The government enacted exactly two-thirds of all the kept promises already in the first half of the legislative period.

"In the previous legislative period, the grand coalition kept the promises it had made to voters in the coalition agreement to a very large extent and, for the most part, even completely," says Robert Verhkamp, our democracy expect, who wrote the study together with Theres Matthieß from the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

The coalition agreement under the microscope: Our analysis shows that almost 80 percent of the plans were either fully or partially enacted.

Voters don't believe the government keeps its word

In contrast, if one asks voters whether and in which proportions the promises of the parties from the coalition agreements were kept, another picture emerges: Only one in eight eligible voters correctly assesses the degree of fulfillment of the promises made. This holds true both for the campaign promises of the parties in their election platforms and for the concrete agreements on government policies in the coalition agreement.

Only 13 percent of all eligible voters respond that either "all, almost all" or at least "a large part" of the promises were kept. Still, almost one-third (30 percent) assumes that at least "roughly half" of the agreements were enacted. However, the relative majority of people (38 percent) assume that the government actually enacted or achieved only "a small part" or "hardly any" of the measures and goals agreed upon in the coalition agreement.

"The majority of people underestimate what the parties and the government achieved."

Robert Vehrkamp, democracy expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung

[Translate to English:] Parteien versprächen vor der Wahl das Blaue vom Himmel und interessierten sich nicht für die Umsetzung ihrer Versprechen, so der allgemeine Tenor. Vehrkamp stellt jedoch das Gegenteil fest: "Tatsächlich haben die Regierungsparteien der Großen Koalition sofort nach der Wahl 2013 mit der Umsetzung ihres vereinbarten Regierungsprogramms begonnen und hatten bereits zur Mitte der Legislaturperiode mehr davon umgesetzt, als die Wähler der Großen Koalition für die gesamten vier Jahre der letzten Regierung zuschreiben."

What do Germans believe: How many of its projects from the coalition agreement did the grand coalition enact?

Credibility gap for the democracy

However, people rate how and which concrete measures were enacted more positively than the government's overall performance. When asked about concrete measures and achievements, the majority of voters almost always has the correct judgment. However, the more positive assessment on the details does not lead to a positive overall appraisal. The negative overall view remains dominant.

"For representative democracy, this is a very distressing credibility gap between the actual and perceived keeping of campaign and government promises."

Robert Vehrkamp, democracy expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung