Last year Japan lowered the voting age from 20 to 18. This change will allow some 2.4 million teens to cast their ballots for the first time in the House of Councillors election this summer. Much discussed here is whether this first amendment of the electoral law in 70 years will mean the end of the “silver democracy” in which economic and social policies are decided in favor of senior citizens. In an attempt to find out what’s on the minds of Japanese youth, the weekly magazine AERA (12/14/15) conducted an Internet survey of some 1,000 eighteen-year-old high school students.
The survey showed a clear difference in cabinet support between male and female respondents. While
55% of the male respondents approved of the Abe administration, 66% of the female pollees disapproved of it. Several girls expressed concern about the newly enacted security bills, saying that the legislation may deprive them of their brothers or boyfriends by sending them to war in the future.
However, a young man in Kanagawa said that Japan’s post-WWII pledge never
to wage war again is a “cowardly” statement and that it is self-serving for Japan not to extend help to the U.S. when it’s in trouble but rely on the U.S. for Japan’s national defense. A male student in Tokyo expressed support for Prime Minister Abe’s tough position on the dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, saying: “If we take a soft approach, China will take advantage of it.”
Osaka University Associate Professor Daisuke Tsuji says the reason for the gender gap in approval of the Abe administration lies in the different reasons young men and women use the Internet. “Females tend to use the Internet and social media as tools for communication with friends,” he says, “while many males use the Internet to collect information. Young men may be more exposed to conservative or right-leaning discussions in cyberspace as a result.” When asked what issues they want the Abe administration to focus on, economic stimulus was highest among both boys and girls.
Their major concerns also included the so-called “black companies” that tend to exploit young part-time workers, the declining birthrate, the low minimum wage, and bullying. This shows that the students were apparently more interested in economic than security issues. The weekly wrote that it makes sense for the young respondents to place priority on job security, since they grew up during the economic slump known as the “lost decades.” “Even in fifth grade, I knew that Japan was in deep trouble,” said one boy. “I heard a lot about people having trouble finding jobs.”
AERA also asked the 18-year-olds what sources they plan to rely on in deciding which candidates or parties to vote for. Some 64.4% cited TV, followed by newspapers (35.7%), Internet news sites (30.4%), the opinions of family members (16.8%), in-class discussions (10.2%), and the opinions of friends (6.2%). When asked whether they plan to vote in the next election, 67.7% (73.2% of young men and 62.1% of young women) said they do, but a majority said they do not expect society to change as a result.