IT’S LONG BEEN AXIOMATIC among both politicians and pundits that pocketbook issues are the key to electoral success. As campaign advisor James Carville famously reminded Bill Clinton during the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
With the Japanese Upper House election to be held in July, we might find out whether the same rules apply to the Japanese electorate, or whether the media’s constant drumbeat of doom to drown out the Abe administration will have its intended effect. Buried at the bottom of this article from AFP about the latest economic news was this nugget:
Japan, which for years was beset by stagnant growth and on-off recessions, is now in the midst of its longest sustained expansion since World War II.
And that’s not to mention the glad tidings for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling LDP in the rest of the article:
Japan got a double dose of good news on the economy Tuesday with the jobless rate hitting a nine-year low and consumer spending up for a fourth straight month, underpinning the overall recovery…The last time Japan’s unemployment rate was so low was in March 1998, officials said.
Some opinions diverged, however. Said AFP:
The unexpected fall in the April jobless rate to 3.8 percent from 4.0 percent in March reflected brisk hiring by Japanese companies at the start of the new fiscal year and a shift from part-time to full-time positions, analysts said.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, agreed with the first assessment…
Increased employment of college graduates at the start of the business year drove the drop in the jobless rate, the statistics bureau said. “Young people who in the past couldn’t find jobs out of college are now getting them,” said bureau spokesman Norio Kondou. Japan’s unemployment rate is the second lowest among Group of Seven nations, behind 2.8 percent in the U.K.
…but disagreed with the second:
Greater use of part-time workers is another reason (higher demand for labor has yet to spur wage growth). Part-timers made up more than a third of the workforce in the first quarter, rising almost one percentage point from the previous three months, the statistics bureau said.
Wherever the truth lies, conventional political wisdom holds that the bright economic picture should serve as a tailwind for the LDP in the upcoming election.
Now for the double dose of bad news: the media is convinced that the suicide earlier this week of Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who was embroiled in a political financing scandal, will dim the LDP’s prospects in the July balloting.
Additionally, the Asahi Shimbun is reporting that confusion over the rightful beneficiaries of 50 million pension accounts (!) is the reason for the Abe Cabinet’s decline in their latest polling results after a sharp rise in May.
I’m not so sure about the former; suicides in Japan have a tendency to close the book on a situation rather than exacerbate it. I also tend to think the voters will have typically short voter memories come election day.
They may not have forgotten about the pension account problem, but that will depend on the ability of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and their leader Ichiro Ozawa–the most overrated politician in Japan™–to remind them. If I were to take a flyer, I’d wager that the DPJ will cement its well-deserved reputation for tripping over its own shoelaces.
Though most in the media would be loathe to admit it, Mr. Abe’s presence cannot be so easily discounted, either. He surprised many observers by demonstrating political coattails in a recent by-election for an Upper House seat in Okinawa. The prime minister twice made the trek to the southern islands to make personal appearances for his candidate, who wound up winning what was previously an opposition seat.
Also, consider what else the Asahi poll found:
Asked who they would vote for if the Upper House election were held now, 26 percent of the respondents picked Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party or its candidates in the proportional representation system, down from 31 percent in the previous survey.
On the other hand, 25 percent said they would choose the main opposition party, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), or its candidates.
When respondents were asked which party’s candidates they would vote for in the prefectural districts, 29 percent said the LDP while 26 percent chose Minshuto.
When asked which parties they would like to see gain a majority in the July Upper House election, 28 percent answered the ruling coalition and 48 percent said the opposition.
In other words, the Asahi poll finds that nearly a majority of voters want to see the opposition win a majority in the election, but also reveals that more respondents intend to vote for the ruling party in both phases of the election itself.
That only provides further ammunition to those who suspect the media conduct their polls by throwing darts at a paper target.
It’s possible that the Asahi’s poll is accurate. Then again, newspaper poll results in Japan vary significantly from paper to paper. Here’s this from the Yomiuri:
In a poll taken by The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 19-20, the approval rating for the Abe Cabinet stood at 49.6 percent, up 5.8 percentage points from the previous survey conducted in March. The disapproval rating declined 7.1 points to 36.8 percent. Thus, the approval rating exceeded the disapproval rating by 12.8 points.
At this point, if you decide you want to use the newspapers for lining the cat box instead of for getting a line on Japanese electoral trends, I wouldn’t blame you.
All things considered, the poll I’ll take the most seriously is the one announcing the results after the balloting is finished on July 22.