Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Over the line

The other day the Yomiuri Shimbun, in fulfilment of its self-appointed role as the party organ of the Abe Cabinet, printed on its inside a rather misleading cartoon regarding the shift of the election from July 22 to July 29.

Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun
morning edition of June 22, 2007

If we are to accept the imagination of the cartoonist, a curiously unwinded and kempt Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Komeitō Party chief Ota Akihiro are pulling a fast one on the political playing field, yanking up the goal posts and moving the touch line just as the exhausted and sweating heads of the other parties are arriving to score a try.

Of course, in the real world, the persons who are sweating like mad are Abe and Ota. Abe is wondering how he ever got himself into the predicament he is in. Ota is wondering how he ever got himself entangled with Abe.

In the real world too, while Abe and Ota may have run away with the goal posts, they have done themselves few favors.

In the real world, the pair have run ahead of the pack, reset the goal posts, then have had to RUN LIKE HELL to get back, pick up their ball and then rush with every gram of their strength to try to catch up with the others, who zipped by them on their way to the new goal.

Unbelievably, one could argue that they might just pull it off.

According to the graph on the front page of today's Asahi Shimbun, the bubble of support for the DPJ (blue line) in the wake of the pensions scandal has burst, allowing the LDP (red line) to pull fractionally ahead among voters ready to commit to a particular party in the at-large proportional vote. From a high of 29% of polled voters just two weeks ago, support for the DPJ has fallen down to 23%--which happens to be the lowest point the LDP reached during its swoon.

Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun
morning edition of June 26, 2007

A long-term (and boy, I may not have put in the hours--but I sure have put in the years) observer of Japanese polling would not be advising a smashing of sake casks at LDP headquarters just yet.

For starters, support for the LDP has risen just a single percentage point, leaving it darn near its trough for the Abe Cabinet.

Second, the rise in the Komeitō numbers, from 3% to 5%, is aberrant--Komeitō voters are always reticent to (some say they are ordered to not) reveal their affiliation. A support rate of 5% prior to election day is suspect.

Third--and this may be crucial--the House of Councillors election is the traditional means of sending a message to the Prime Minister and the LDP. While in most elections voters tend to look into their wallets, think a while, sigh, then write down the name of the individual whom they want to represent them (and they go through this ritual in manner bordering on fanaticism in a House of Representatives election) there are times when the electorate foregoes the wallet issues and just punishes the reigning oligarchy for its stupidity and venality.

A rule of thumb in the years when the electorate is ticked off--like this year--is that the final House of Councillors proportional vote totals for the main opposition party are double the numbers found in the pre-election polling. The undecided voter, having kept his or her peace long enough, finally breaks down at the polling booth and votes for the opposition--even if the opposition is no great alternative.

Which means that even if overt support for the DPJ does not climb upward toward the magical 30% level in pre-election polls again, the party could still thump the ruling coalition on July 29.

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