Predicting DPJ's Defeat

Predicting DPJ

Image from Democratic Party of Japan TV ad featuring (from left) DPJ leaders Yukio Hatoyama, Ichiro Ozawa, and Naoto Kan.

Cornell's Robert Weiner explains why the opposition Democratic Party of Japan will keep losing to the Liberal Democratic Party in Japanese politics.

The DPJ is not an urban party—or certainly not to the extent that the conventional wisdom makes it out to be.

If the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wins more seats than the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the upcoming July 22, 2007, upper house elections, it will mark a surprising deviation from the norm in Japanese politics, said Robert Weiner, an assistant professor of government at Cornell University.

But Weiner expects the DPJ to continue to lose to the LDP. He explained his reasons at a June 4, 2007, lecture sponsored by the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at UCLA.

The LDP has held power in Japan since 1955—except for a brief period in the 1990s when a coalition of opposition parties formed a majority in government. The DPJ gained an unexpected 40 seats in the 2003 general elections, but suffered a significant setback in 2005 when it lost 62 seats after then-LDP leader and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for a special general election on postal privatization.

In Japan, general elections to the powerful House of Representatives (lower house) are normally held every four years. Elections to the House of Councillors (upper house) are held every three years, and local elections are held every four years for offices at the prefecture, municipal, and village levels.

Weiner, a fellow at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, challenged the prevailing notion that the DPJ is an urban party. "The DPJ is not an urban party—or certainly not to the extent that the conventional wisdom makes it out to be," Weiner said.

The DPJ's weak support in urban areas is related to the LDP's alliance with New Komeito (formerly the Clean Government Party), which has very strong support in cities. The Socialists and other constituent parties that originally formed the DPJ were never strong in urban areas to begin with, Weiner said.

"If the DPJ were really an urban party at its core…you would expect that it would still do well. If it's going to win anywhere, it's going to win where it's strongest," Weiner said. "Those places are not urban areas," he explained, pointing to a cartogram showing that the DPJ won most its seats in the 2003 general elections in the outskirts of cities.

Another reason why the DPJ keeps losing is its no-show strategy in local elections. In an effort to conserve resources, the DPJ has often failed to field candidates. In elections for governorships since 1996, DPJ candidates have run only 29 times, which accounts for only 21 percent of all gubernatorial elections since 1996. The DPJ is making a rational decision to try to cut their losses, but they are also stunting their growth, Weiner argued.

"It's not just that they don't win; it's also that they don't try," Weiner said. "They make a conscious decision not to run candidates."

Finally, Weiner expects the DPJ to continue losing because "competitiveness in general is low" in Japan's lower house, and "uncompetitive districts are usually uncompetitive in the favor of the LDP."

"All they have to work with is protest votes," said Weiner of the DPJ's chances in the upcoming upper house elections.

Published: Monday, June 25, 2007