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10 Strangest Political Campaign Promises Made by Candidates

by Toby Oliva
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Political campaigns are known for grandiose promises and bold declarations. We’re used to the same old calls for universal healthcare and turning the economy around. But sometimes, candidates take a detour into the unexpected. Here are the ten strangest campaign promises ever made by political candidates. They’re guaranteed to leave you scratching your head and wondering, “Did they really say that?”

Related: Top 10 Costly US Presidential Campaign Blunders

10 Ronald Reagan Promised to Be Awake

Reagan and the age issue

We can’t forget the pledge made by Ronald Reagan during his run for the presidency in 1980. Reagan took an unconventional route in a world where politicians typically promised to fix the economy or improve healthcare. He promised to stay awake!

Yes, you read that correctly. Reagan vowed to be alert and conscious during his tenure as president. While it may sound like a no-brainer, this promise was born out of some controversy. His critics had raised concerns about his age, suggesting that at 69, he might not have the stamina to lead the nation.

Reagan addressed these doubts head-on during a debate with his opponent, Jimmy Carter. With a twinkle in his eye, he quipped, “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

The audience laughed, and even Carter couldn’t help but chuckle. Reagan’s humorous response defused the age issue and showcased his charm. And true to his word, he stayed awake and alert throughout his two terms in office. So, while it may have been a strange promise, it certainly worked in his favor.

9 Michelle Bachman Promised to Withdraw from Libya… and Africa

The Caucus – Michele Bachmann’s Beliefs

In the 2012 presidential race, Michelle Bachman, a Republican contender, made headlines. She declared that if elected, she’d pull out of Libya and bid farewell to the entire African continent. It was a statement that left many confused. Many wondered if there was a map mix-up or a miscommunication somewhere along the campaign trail.

While candidates often strive for clarity in their policy positions, this promise defied all logic. Africa, after all, is a vast and diverse continent comprising 54 countries, each with a unique geopolitical landscape. To suggest a blanket withdrawal from such a complex region raised more questions than it answered. Critics pointed out the impracticality of Bachman’s proposal. They highlighted the need for nuanced foreign policy decisions tailored to individual countries. While Libya was undoubtedly a hot-button issue at the time, disengaging from an entire continent seemed out of touch.

8 Alan Caruba Promised to End Boredom

Why Boredom is Good For You

Alan Caruba’s campaign promise to end boredom certainly ranks as one of the strangest in political history. Caruba took a different route from typical candidates who often focused on taxes, healthcare, and foreign policy. During his campaign, he declared that he would eradicate boredom from the lives of his constituents.

While most politicians delivered speeches about the economy, Caruba brainstormed ways to make everyday life more exciting. He proposed unconventional ideas, such as mandatory dance breaks in the workplace and government-sponsored amusement parks in every city. His vision included a world where boredom was banished, and every citizen had access to constant entertainment.

Although his promise may have seemed outlandish to some, it struck a chord with voters tired of the same old political rhetoric. Caruba’s campaign rallies were filled with music, games, and lively activities. He quickly gained a following of supporters who embraced his offbeat agenda.

7 Hunter S. Thompson Promised to Replace the Streets of Aspen with Sod

Hunter S. Thompson Documentary BBC (1978)

One of history’s most eccentric political campaign promises came from the legendary journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1970s, Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, as part of his unique and unconventional style of political commentary.

His promise? To replace the streets of Aspen with sod.

Thompson’s campaign was nothing short of bizarre. He advocated for decriminalizing drugs, removing asphalt roads, and even changing the name of Aspen to “Fat City” to deter developers from investing in the area. He believed that by covering the streets with sod, the town would become more peaceful and reduce traffic accidents.

While his campaign promises were undoubtedly outlandish, they served a larger purpose for Thompson. They highlight the absurdity of politics and the hypocrisy of those in power. Although he didn’t win the election, Thompson’s campaign left a mark on the world of politics, reminding us that sometimes, even the strangest promises can make us question the status quo.

6 Sarah Palin Promised to Stand by America’s North Korean Allies

Sarah Palin Confusion on North Korea & South Korea

In the realm of strange political campaign promises, one that stands out like a sore thumb is Sarah Palin’s pledge to “stand by America’s North Korean ally.” She made this lovely statement while running as the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008 alongside John McCain.

Now, it’s essential to clarify that North Korea has never been an ally of the United States. In fact, it’s been a thorn in America’s side for decades, with tense relations, nuclear threats, and missile tests being the norm. So, Palin’s promise to stand by North Korea left many scratching their heads. While it’s common for politicians to make bold statements during campaigns, this one took the cake for its sheer absurdity.

5 Andy Caffrey Promised to Smoke a Joint on Capitol Hill

Congressional candidate Andy Caffrey smokes pot in Tokin’ Candidate campaign TV ad (Broadcast)

In the realm of peculiar political campaign promises, a memorable one still raises eyebrows: Andy Caffrey’s vow to light up a joint on Capitol Hill. Yes, you read that right. Caffrey, a California congressional candidate in 2012, promised to spark up a marijuana joint if elected.

Caffrey, an advocate for cannabis legalization, made this audacious pledge to draw attention to the pressing issue of marijuana reform. He argued that by smoking pot in the heart of American politics, he could symbolically challenge federal cannabis prohibition laws and advocate for their overhaul.

While it might sound like a stunt designed for shock value, Caffrey’s intention was serious. He believed that this act of civil disobedience would spark a conversation about the need for cannabis policy reform, and it certainly did. However, Caffrey’s campaign ultimately went up in smoke as he failed to secure the nomination.

4 Barack Obama Promised Not to Call Mitt Romney Weird

Obama to Romney: U.S. Uses Less ‘Horses and Bayonets’ Today – Presidential Debate 2012

While Barack Obama has been immortalized as one of the classiest presidents we’ve seen in decades, he still makes this list. In the 2012 presidential race, Obama vowed not to call his opponent, Mitt Romney, “weird.”

You might wonder why a candidate would even need to make such a promise. The 2012 election was heating up, and political mudslinging was reaching its peak. Supposedly, Obama’s campaign strategy was “leaked” and included a plan to brand Romney as weird, also making fun of his skinny jeans. Obama made his promise not to do this during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

It’s not that calling someone “weird” is the worst insult in the world, but it’s a pretty unusual promise in the context of a high-stakes presidential race. In the end, Obama did keep this promise. But it’s safe to say that the 2012 campaign was still filled with its fair share of heated rhetoric.

3 Dan Quayle Promised the Best Educated People in the World

Former Vice President Dan Quayle Misspell’s Potato

Dan Quayle’s promise to deliver “the best educated American people in the world” during his 1988 vice-presidential campaign remains one of American history’s strangest and most memorable political pledges. Running alongside George H.W. Bush, Quayle faced significant backlash and ridicule for this ambitious vow.

Critics argued that it was a lofty goal with no clear plan for implementation. Achieving such a feat would require massive investments in education, comprehensive reform, and a radical transformation of the entire education system. Quayle’s opponents pointed out that the United States had a long way to go to be the “best educated” country.

In the end, Quayle’s promise may have contributed to his image as a gaffe-prone candidate, most famously remembered for misspelling “potato” during a school visit. While his commitment to improving education was noble, his over-the-top promise left many skeptical.

2 John Edwards Promised to Cure Diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s

Campaign 2008 Series: John Edwards

John Edwards, the former U.S. senator and one-time Democratic presidential candidate, made quite the splash in the 2004 election cycle. He vowed to cure diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. Now, don’t get me wrong, finding cures for these devastating conditions would be nothing short of miraculous.

But let’s be real here—promising to cure not one, not two, but three complex and currently incurable diseases during a political campaign? That’s a tall order.

Edwards’s audacious pledge was undoubtedly an attention-grabber, but it raised some eyebrows. While we all appreciate politicians with ambitious goals, these medical promises border science fiction. It’s not like Edwards had a secret laboratory stocked with genius scientists working on these cures, right?

In the end, Edwards didn’t secure the nomination, and his grandiose medical claims didn’t help his cause. To be fair, though, he did bring attention to the importance of medical research funding and the need for breakthroughs in these areas. So, while his promises may have been outlandish, they did spotlight pressing healthcare issues.

1 Vermin Supreme Promised Ponies for Everyone

Want a free pony? Vote Vermin Supreme

Vermin Supreme, a perennial presidential candidate known for his eccentricity, once made a promise that tops the charts for bizarre campaign pledges: ponies for everyone. Yes, ponies. His outlandish pledge was a central theme in his political campaigns, leaving many flustered while others just laughed.

Supreme, often seen wearing a boot on his head as part of his trademark attire, knew how to grab attention. He promised that he would provide every American with a free pony if elected. While it may sound like a joke, Supreme used this promise to comment on politicians’ outrageous and often empty pledges during election seasons.

In reality, he never intended to deliver on his pony promise. Instead, it was a satirical statement meant to highlight the absurdity of some campaign pledges and the willingness of voters to believe in grandiose proposals without much scrutiny.

fact checked by Rachel Jones