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Changes of administration caused by "disappointment" and "expectation"
- Voter feelings and voting behavior -

Takeshi Iida / Assistant Professor at Waseda Institute for Advanced Study

Approaching the forthcoming general election, a research team led by Professor Aiji Tanaka and Professor Masaru Kohno, both of whom are members of the Waseda University Global COE "Political Economy of Institutional Construction," is now cooperating with the opinion poll section at the Yomiuri Shimbun Tokyo office to conduct an opinion poll research project called the Yomiuri/Waseda Joint Research. This project is intended to study voting behavior in general elections from comprehensive and long-term viewpoints by analyzing the results of opinion polls regularly conducted since October 2008. Especially this year, a change of administration may possibly occur. Once the change of administration occurs, this project is expected to show us detailed mechanisms, such as the reasons for the change of government, based on accumulated data over the years.

"Madonna", "New party", and "Koizumi" booms

Through this project, I especially focus my study on the relationship between the feelings voters have for political parties and their voting behavior. Every Yomiuri/Waseda Joint Research conducted contains a question about voter feelings for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to which voters are asked to respond by selecting "anxiety", "expectation", "disappointment", or "satisfaction." Using this question as a key, I am going to discuss voter behavior, especially the so-called election "booms" in Japan (for example, the "Madonna" boom in 1989, the "New party" boom in 1993, and the "Koizumi" boom in 2005), which have rarely been discussed systematically and theoretically in the past. Assuming that a "boom" begins and then leads to changes of administrations in future elections, not limited to the forthcoming general election, a most likely scenario is: (1) Many of those who are not usually interested in elections cast their votes (and as a result, the voting ratio increases) and (2) The majority of such voters cast their vote for the opposition parties.

Next, I am going to consider the conditions under which this scenario is realized. As for (1), many previous findings in political science show that those who feel strong dissatisfaction with the ruling parties, that is "anger" or "disappointment," cast their vote. As for (2), such voters cast their votes for the opposition parties only when they can "expect" that the opposition parties are promising enough to displace the ruling parties. In other words, a change of administration requires voter "disappointment" in the ruling parties as well as their "expectation" for the opposition parties. Without either one of these, a change of admnistration would be difficult. For example, even if voters are disappointed with the government, they will not go and cast their vote as long as there is no opposition party that is expected to eliminate this disappointment. Likewise, even if voters have as much expectation for the opposition party as that for the ruling party, they will not go and cast their vote intentionally for the opposition party as long as there is no disappointment with the current administration.

Movement after the "arrest of DPJ leader Ozawa's secretary"

The question about voter feelings described above represents abstract ideas, and it is very helpful in constructing theories. Actually, conventional methods are effective for explaining the results of each election-in which voters' opinions on points at issue in the relevant election, such as the political reform in 1993 and the privatization of Japan's postal services in 2005-are directly associated with their voting parties. However, this explanation is limited to the relevant election only. To theoretically explain voter behavior regardless of the points at issue in each election, their concrete behavior needs to be interpreted and considered as their abstract feelings. Thus, the association of questions about points at issue and current events with voter feelings will lead to a universal and general explanation about what causes voter disappointment, anxiety, or expectation to grow and voters to decide their voting party, regardless of difference in election.

Let's take an example. Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the change of "disappointment" about and "expectation" for LDP and DPJ in the period from October 2008 to March 2009, respectively. As shown in Figure 1, voter disappointment in the LDP was consistently higher than disappointment in the DPJ, though the difference decreased in the period from February 2009 to March 2009, when disappointment in the DPJ increased. This is because the chief public secretary of Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the DPJ, was arrested for possible violations of the Political Fund Control Law in March 3, 2009. Also, as shown in Figure 2, voter expectation for the DPJ was consistently higher than that for the LDP with the difference widening until February 2009. However, you can see a considerable drop in March, when the arrest of Ozawa's secretary took place. Thus, as implied by these figures, theoretically consistent increases in disappointment about the LDP and expectation for the DPJ among voters has made Japan ready for a change of administration so far, but the arrest of Ozawa's secretary reduced the likelihood of such change occurring.

As shown above, public opinion about the leader of a party largely affects the party he/she leads. DPJ leader Ozawa was finally pushed into resignation after some attempts to stay in the leader position probably because he was afraid that public opinion of him would have adverse effects on public opinion of the entire DPJ. Also, some people say one of the reasons why former Prime Minister Fukuda suddenly resigned last September is that he believed it was not favorable to contest the election under the leadership of an unpopular leader (that is, himself). Similarly, at present, Prime Minister Taro Aso, who was appointed in expectation of filling the role of front man in the next election, is suffering from a low popularity rating without calling for early dissolution. Within the party, so-called "moves to topple Aso" are emerging. This is intended to "regenerate" voter feelings about the party through displacement of the current unpopular leader. The choice of who the LDP appoints as its leader, the front man of the party, in order to win the election may be one of the key factors for the forthcoming general election.

Takeshi Iida / Assistant Professor at Waseda Institute for Advanced Study

After graduating from the Department of Political Science, in the Faculty of Law at Doshisha University in 1999, the author completed the Master's program at the Graduate School of American Studies of the Doshisha University in 2001, and obtained a Ph.D. in Government at the Department of Government, in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin in 2007. Through a visiting research associate at Waseda Institute for Advanced Study, he was appointed to the current position in 2008. He specializes in political behavior, political methodology, and American politics. His main works include "Frontiers in the study of voting behavior" (OHFU, co-editor, 2009).