The following is the gist of an interview with Hata Masaki (born in 1988), an associate professor at Kyoto Prefectural University specializing in political psychology and political behavior. Hata is a co-author of “Has Japan Shifted to the Right?”
Interviewed by Ikeda Shinichi
Nippon Ishin no Kai became Japan’s second-largest opposition party after successfully increasing its seats in the Lower House election. Some interpret the Nippon Ishin’s advancement to mean that Japan now has a three-way political structure and its voters have significantly shifted to the right of the political spectrum. These interpretations are unfounded, however, based on our analysis of voter perceptions.
During the period prior to and following the Lower House election, we surveyed roughly 45,000 voters across Japan and asked them about their political views and opinions about political parties. They were asked where they stand within the ideological spectrum, with zero being the most left leaning and 10 the most right, with 5 as the midpoint. They were also encouraged to rate major political parties on the same spectrum.
The respondents rated the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as the most right leaning, at 7 or higher. Komeito, which had been considered a centrist party in the past, was now rated at 6, possibly because of its coalition with the LDP. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) was rated by the respondents at 3.8 and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) at 2.7, both on the left side of the spectrum.
Meanwhile, Nippon Ishin no Kai was rated at 5.5, very close to the “middle-of-the-road.” Considering that the survey respondents rated themselves at 5.4 on average, Nippon Ishin was extremely close to the position of average voters.
That Nippon Ishin isn’t more right leaning might come as a surprise to those who have heard its leader Matsui Ichiro talking about constitutional reform or the party’s founder Hashimoto Toru’s past remarks on nuclear weapons [saying that it is impossible to abolish them].
However, the data obtained in the survey showed that the general voting population doesn’t consider Nippon Ishin to have a particular ideological bias. Many see Nippon Ishin as the party of Osaka Mayor Yoshimura Hirofumi, who demonstrated leadership in combating the spread of COVID-19, rather than a party that symbolizes an ideology.
In our survey, only 10% of those who voted for Nippon Ishin in the Lower House election focused on issues related to the Constitution. Those who were focused on constitutional reform and inclined to support hawkish security policies were more likely to cast their votes for the LDP.
It was telling that Tsujimoto Kiyomi, the deputy leader of the CDPJ, who lost both her single-seat constituency (to a new candidate from Nippon Ishin) and proportional representation bloc, had said: “Nippon Ishin is too localized a power to pay attention to.” On the contrary, Nippon Ishin was strong precisely because it was a local power.
Out of the 41 seats won by Nippon Ishin in the election, 26 were in the Kansai region. The voters must have felt that Nippon Ishin would accomplish something concrete that would benefit Osaka and Kansai. The Lower House election, which was held close to the expiration of the members’ terms, lacked a strong focus. Nonetheless, it was not a vague image of reform that enabled Nippon Ishin to make such significant progress.
In a way, by gaining seats in all proportional representation blocs [beyond Kansai] other than Hokkaido, Nippon Ishin was suddenly pushed onto the national stage even though its local orientation was still strong. If the party adopts right-leaning policies, its supporters who approved its accomplishments in Osaka and its pragmatic, reality-based policies might lose faith. Whether Nippon Ishin will be able to continue to grow nationally depends on what it has to say about the issues on a national scale.