Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Autonomy, Not Identity, in Politics

Give me one reason to stay here
And Ill turn right back around
Give me one reason to stay here
And Ill turn right back around
Because I don't want leave you lonely
But you got to make me change my mind...

- Tracy Chapman

With all apologies to Ms. Chapman, the Liberal Democratic Party had their shot -- and they failed to convince.

The Asahi Shimbun managed to kick out a new public opinion poll on the eve of the official campaign period. The result of the poll: the Democratic Party of Japan is stomping the LDP, two-to-one. This is true for both the district and proportional candidacies.

"If the election were held today, to which party will you give your vote to in the proportional voting?"

LDP 21%
DPJ 40%
New Komeitō 4%
Japan Communist Party 5%
Socialist Party 2%
Japan New Party 1%
Other 0%

"Which party's candidate will you be voting for in the district elections?"

LDP 21%
DPJ 40%
New Komeitō 2%
Japan Communist Party 3%
Socialist Party 1%
Japan New Party 0%
Other Party/ Independent 3%

What is most significant about these two sets of results is not just their parallelism -- though this provides strong evidence that party affiliation, not the identity of the candidate, will likely spell the difference between defeat and victory for many a district candidate on August 30.

What is stunning is the relative stability in the public's views of the parties over time.

Image courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

The public decided in February that it had had enough of the LDP. After a brief March-to-May swoon resulting from the arrest of DPJ leader Ozawa Ichirō's personal secretary for improperly accepting corporate political donations, the public displeasure with the ruling party returned in June and has not wavered since.

The ruling coalition's desperate attempts to portray the Democratic Party as the party of irresponsible profligacy and truancy, a task that has been keeping New Komeitō leader Ōta Akihiro at the microphones in a scold mode, has not budged public opinion one meter in over two months.

It is really, truly over.

The public senses that it can and will change the course of the country's history. The Diet's balance of power is not predetermined by apportionment; the LDP's organizational vote is not unified and indomitable.

The public can hear the LDP's death gasps in the wind.

And for many the entire point of voting on August 30 will be just to feel the thrill of making history happen.


Joe said...

In both those poll questions, a significant number of respondents (27% in the first, 30% in the second) didn't openly choose any of the parties. Does that mean they don't know or care? They are undecided? They don't plan on voting? It's a large group that could tip the results of the election either way.

I can easily see a scenario where large numbers of voters are looking down at their ballots, thinking, "I don't like the incumbent party, but I've always voted for them, and I just can't bring myself to vote for the other party." I've seen it happen more than once in my home country; it could happen here.

MTC said...

Joe -

The undecideds will break for the Democrats, by a wide margin. The rule of thumb for judging the voting of undecideds used to be that the DPJ will receive twice as many votes as pre-election polls would indicate. With 40% of the respondents saying they will vote for the DPJ, that rule is obviously no longer operative. However, the psychological compulsion toward rebellion against the status quo remains pretty much as before. When forced to choose between "more of the same" and "oh, what the hell, why not?" the undecided voter will choose the latter.

Dave said...

Interesting to see the Communist Party ahead of Komeito in both responses.

MTC said...

Yumeji -

The failure of New Komeitō voters to be entirely honest about their voting preferences tends to mess up predictions made on the basis pre-election polling. The eventual vote totals for New Komeito candidates always surpasses the totals indicated by the opinion polls by 50% or more.

Communist Party voters, by contrast, are scrupulously, even painfully, forthright. We know with a reasonable degree of certainty that the Communists will top out at 5% of the proportional vote -- not bad, but probably still less than the New Komeito will receive.

Joe said...


That's what I'm hoping will happen, but I've been through elections where it has surprisingly gone the other way. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the LDP gets the ol' heave ho.