Swing voters are increasing, posing a threat to the ruling camp — the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and New Conservative Party — because many of them are critical of the current administration, pundits say.
One such voter is Yoshitaka Matsui, 27, who said he never considers what party his favored candidate belongs to.
“I vote for the individual rather than the party,” said Matsui, a company employee in Chiba Prefecture.
He said he does not take parties at their words because when they break up or join with other parties, they alter or give up their policies.
Some of those voters with no party affiliation have even begun conducting political campaigns to reflect their voice in the Lower House election to be held June 25.
“Most voters without any party preference are critical of the current government,” said Ikuo Kabashima, professor at the University of Tokyo. “The Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party are the two big opposition parties that anticoalition voters are likely to cast their ballots for.”
But Keio University professor Yoshiaki Kobayashi pointed out that people who claim to be LDP supporters also hold the key to the upcoming election because they are not always loyal to the LDP.
When Yukio Aoshima was elected governor of Tokyo and “Knock” Yokoyama governor of Osaka in 1995, many observers claimed they won support from swing voters because they ran as independents, he said.
But Kobayashi’s own research found that in fact, LDP supporters were the ones who actually voted for Aoshima and Yokoyama.
“LDP supporters don’t always vote for LDP candidates,” Kobayashi said. “They sometimes vote for candidates in other parties.”
Observers claim the Upper House poll in 1998, when the LDP, headed by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, suffered an unexpected setback, reflected a change in voter attitudes.
That poll was similar to a trend seen in the U.S., where people often cast their votes based on past achievements, Kabashima said.
“Although voters in Japan were not satisfied with the government (for a long time), there was no alternative party to vote for,” he said. “They didn’t have any choice but to vote for the LDP.”
But in the 1998 election, voters severely evaluated the achievement of the government and sent a clear “no” to the LDP for their failure to resuscitate the economy, he said, adding that some voted for candidates in other parties, including the DPJ.
Based on the 1998 result, he said the current fragile economy will not benefit the LDP.
Such dissatisfaction over policy achievements also seems to have changed the longtime trend in Japan of voting for the ruling camp in times of economic downturn.
Keio University’s Kobayashi said that in the case of the U.S. and Europe, voters generally cast ballots in favor of the party in power when the economy is good. But in Japan, the situation is the other way around. When the economy is bad, people tend to vote for the LDP because it always increases public works projects.
However, Kobayashi claimed that in the 1998 Upper House poll, the LDP setback came amid a recession.
Touching on how voter turnout will effect the coming poll, political experts agree that a low turnout will be beneficial to the ruling parties.
When the LDP suffered its 1998 setback, voter turnout was 58.84 percent. The figure was more than 13 percentage points higher than in the previous Upper House election in July 1995, when turnout hit an historic low of 44.52 percent.
Experts say established parties like the LDP and New Komeito still have strong local organizations, which act as vote-gathering machines.
According to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey of voters, however, 68 percent said of the respondents they definitely plan to go to the polls — higher than the survey conducted ahead of the 1996 Lower House election, the last general poll for the chamber.
In an effort to draw more public attention to politics, civic and academic groups have launched campaigns to offer more information on politicians.
Inspired by a similar move launched in South Korea, Shimin Rentai — Nami (Citizen Solidarity Wave) 21, a Tokyo civic group, is in the process of listing those politicians whom they don’t want to see in national politics. The move is a bid to provide voters with a new tool to express their political dissatisfaction.
“Voters are angry at politicians for using politics for their own benefit,” Zensaku Sakurai said. “But at the same time, the public has a feeling that they have to change the status quo,” which is why the campaign is drawing public attention regardless of age and sex, he said.
People can send, fax or e-mail the group, enclosing the name of a politician they deem unfit to hold office. The group has so far received 3,000 responses while some 90,000 people visited its home page on the Internet.
They have already announced a first blacklist of such politicians, and the final list will be released later this month, the group said.
Another group, headed by the well-known journalist Soichiro Tawara, sent out a questionnaire to candidates for the upcoming election. It consisted of six questions regarding controversial issues such as whether Japan should revise the Constitution. The results were made public last month.
“Our purpose is to provide information to the public so that voters can decide which candidate they want to vote for,” Tawara said, adding that the group will not analyze the results.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto, of the Social Democratic Party, said voters should realize they are also responsible for the current state of politics.
Tsujimoto, who will run from Osaka in the upcoming election, said if voters stay away from the polls, only those supported by religious groups and other interest groups will represent the public.
“Voters should not abstain from voting and just criticize politicians,” Tsujimoto said. “The voters’ sense of responsibility and political awareness will be tested in the election.”