ABSTRACT - Although local political elites constitute the cornerstones of national party organizations, the existing literature has not fully investigated their role in affecting national election outcomes. In this paper, we examine it by using the recent case of municipal government mergers in Japan. Specifically, we argue that the political party relying most extensively on local politicians’ efforts for electoral mobilization and monitoring will suffer an electoral slump, as municipalities are merged and the number of municipal politicians is swiftly reduced. Empirically, we show that municipalities with a history of recent mergers exhibit significantly lower voter turnout and obtain a smaller vote share for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in national elections when compared to other municipalities without recent experience of mergers. This result indicates that municipal politicians are indeed indispensable human resources for LDP candidates running for the national parliament.The key point is that lowered turnout, which in the 1990s was seen as a strategic positive for the LDP (because, ostensibly, the lower the turnout, the greater the impact of the LDP's local political machine), is now seen as symptomatic of LDP decay in the merged municipalities.
Many thanks to the Social Science of Japan Forum (SSJ Forum) for hosting the discussion that led to the posting of this paper on the Web.