comparative politics Japan-related research

JPOSS #9 “Policy or Valence? Candidate or Party? Assessing Voter Preferences in Japan”

The ninth session of the Japanese Politics Online Seminar Series (JPOSS) took place on December 17, 2020. Daniel M. Smith (Harvard) chaired the seminar and moderated the question and answer session.

Jordan Hamzawi (University of California, Davis) presented his paper,  “Policy or Valence? Candidate or Party? Assessing Voter Preferences in Japan.” In his presentation, Hamzawi explored an important and puzzling question: why has the Liberal Democratic Party which dominated Japanese politics from 1945 to 1993 become dominant again? He critically evaluates a number of theories that explain why the LDP dominated national politics before Japan’s electoral reform in the 1990s, which triggered a transition from clientelist to issue-based voting, but cannot fully explain why Japanese have supported the LDP since 2012 as many of its policies are unpopular. Using a survey of voter preferences by the Association For Promoting Fair Elections, Hamzawi explores this question. He finds that voters heavily weigh valence—specifically affective valence—when considering their choice of party and candidate. This implies that the LDP’s resurgence stems from voters’ belief that there is no other party with the capacity to govern Japan.

Discussant comments were offered by Kentaro Fukumoto (Gakushuin University) and Zeynep Somer Topcu (University of Texas at Austin). The discussion raised interesting questions about why political parties are able to win elections, the evolution of party politics in Japan, and effective measurement of voter preferences. The discussants and the audience also offered many constructive suggestions pertaining to research methods and possible future directions of the research.

This event attracted around thirty-five 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: