comparative politics Japan-related research

JPOSS #37: “Good News or Bad News? Political Social Media Messaging During the Tokyo Olympics”

The thirty-seventh session of the Japanese Politics Online Seminar Series (JPOSS) took place on April 20, 2023. Daniel M. Smith  (Columbia University) chaired the seminar and moderated the Q&A session.

Etienne Gagnon (University of Tokyo) presented a paper co-authored with Kenneth McElwain (University of Tokyo) and Yuya Shibuya (University of Tokyo) where they offer a theory on “political bandwagoning,” politicians’ opportunistic behavior in response to events that present irrelevant cues to evaluate political competence. Their study focuses on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, an event that presents a crucial case to test their theory. Existing studies on the effects of politically irrelevant cues focus on the passive occurrence of events that are both unpoliticized and unambiguously positive or negative. In contrast, the Tokyo Olympics was especially controversial due to its occurrence in the midst of a pandemic, not to mention the event had coincided with a pending election, which presumably accentuated strategic considerations for bandwagoning. Thus, the sports event presented favorable conditions for opportunistic behavior while remaining a politically irrelevant cue. To test their theory, the authors use a difference-in-differences approach to examine politicians’ social messaging behavior after an athlete from the politicians’ respective hometown wins a medal. They find evidence for an increase in positive messaging by ruling party politicians and no observable difference for opposition party politicians.

Neil Malhotra (Stanford University) and Eunji Kim (Columbia University) offered insightful comments on the framing of the study as well as the interpretation of its findings. During the Q&A session, participants furthered discussions on research design and provided suggestions on alternative sources of data for analysis.

This event attracted around 23 participants and produced an engaging Q&A session. The organizers would like to thank the presenters, discussants, and participants, as well as the staff at the Harvard Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, who provided administrative support. We look forward to seeing you at the next session of JPOSS: