There is concern about possible low voter turnout in the House of Councillors election, with the start of official campaign set for June 22 and voting set for July 10. In addition to the fact that the battle lines are not clearly drawn – with both ruling and opposition parties agreeing on the need to delay the consumption tax increase – it is also reckoned that the impact of lowering the voting age on voter turnout will be limited.
Although the government has been making efforts to raise the voter turnout by extending voting hours, introducing pre-election-day voting, and otherwise improving the voting environment, voter turnout in the electoral districts has remained at the 50% level since the Upper House election in 1998.
Even with the addition of new voters after the voting age was lowered to 18, they will constitute only about 2% of total eligible voters. It is widely reckoned in the ruling and opposition parties that this will not lead to a substantial improvement in voter turnout and the voting rate will remain in the “lower 50% level to upper 40% level.”
Another factor is that unlike a House of Representatives election that may result in a change of administration, an Upper House election is mostly seen as a “by-election” to gauge the incumbent administration’s performance. Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated at his news conference on June 1 that he is seeking the people’s verdict on the postponement of the consumption tax hike in the upcoming Upper House election, this issue does not really constitute a point of contention because the Democratic Party (DP) and other opposition parties all accept the consumption tax increase delay.
It is believed that low voter turnout works in favor of the Liberal Democratic Party, which enjoys solid support from regional, industrial, and other groups, and Komeito, which is backed by Soka Gakkai. On the other hand, this will be a headache for the DP, which is hoping to win the support of unaffiliated voters.
The DP has concluded that the three consecutive crushing defeats in national elections suffered by its predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan, from the 2012 Lower House election to the 2013 Upper House election and the 2014 Lower House election, were the result of “divisions in the opposition parties and low voter turnout.” With the opposition parties able to field one common candidate in all 32 single-seat constituencies nationwide in the present Upper House election, DP leader Katsuya Okada boasted that “a system for opposition cooperation is now in place, so the question now is how to raise voter turnout.”
A national opinion poll conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun from June 17 to June 19 showed that only 6% of voters in their 20s (including 18- and 19-year olds) intend to vote for the DP proportional representation ticket, the lowest figure among all age brackets. (Slightly abridged)