Support for increased government spending instead of practicing fiscal responsibility has doubled among Upper House election candidates over the past 20 years, according to surveys.
Among all candidates surveyed ahead of the July 10 Upper House election, 84 percent “supported” or “somewhat supported” the statement: “The government should expand public finance to revitalize the economy in the foreseeable future, rather than refrain from doing so to rebuild government finances.”
The candidates could pick from five choices to express their views.
The lowest ratio of such “support” for the statement was 18 percent recorded in a survey of candidates in the 2007 Upper House election.
At that time, the fiscal austerity policies implemented by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi under the banner of “smaller government” were still in effect.
The surveys, taken for Upper House elections from 2004 to 2022, found that support for fiscal expansion among candidates tended to increase to overcome certain “events.” In the latest survey, the COVID-19 pandemic was the event.
The Asahi Shimbun and the office of Masaki Taniguchi, professor of Japanese politics at the University of Tokyo, have conducted joint polls among candidates in national elections since 2003.
They compared the survey results among Upper House election candidates between 2004 and 2022 from major political parties.
The support rate for increased government spending rose after the global financial crisis triggered by the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.
The rate increased to 43 percent in the 2010 survey, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.
Support for the pro-spending statement soared among DPJ candidates from 8 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2010.
The rate also jumped among candidates of the Liberal Democratic Party, from 27 percent in 2007 to 67 percent in 2010.
In 2013, a year after the LDP regained power, the second administration of Shinzo Abe was advocating fiscal expansion. The country was still trying to recover from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The 2013 survey showed support for increased spending among LDP candidates rose further, to 74 percent.
The parties covered in the latest survey were: the LDP; junior coalition partner Komeito; the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan; the Democratic Party for the People; the Japanese Communist Party; Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party); Reiwa Shinsengumi; and the NHK Party.
Candidates of the NHK Party, which actually opposes the public broadcaster, raised their support for fiscal expansion to 84 percent this year from 69 percent in the 2019 survey.
The party is fielding many candidates this year, and their support for the statement helped to lift the overall ratio.
Taniguchi said the latest survey results “represent a departure from the idea of smaller government.”
“The earthquake in 2011 and the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the necessity of fiscal expansion,” the professor said.
Candidates were also given five choices for the question on whether Japan should enhance its defense capabilities.
In 2004, only 28 percent of all surveyed candidates supported a strengthening of Japan’s defense, while 50 percent either “opposed” or “somewhat opposed” the idea.
However, in 2013, 46 percent of candidates backed enhanced defense capabilities, while 33 percent were against the idea.
Support among LDP candidates rose significantly, from 78 percent in 2010 to 95 percent in 2013.
In the years between the two surveys, Japan’s relations with China and South Korea deteriorated over territorial issues and other matters.
In both the 2016 and 2019 surveys, support for stronger defense capabilities hovered around 40 percent among all candidates, but the figure spiked to 63 percent in 2022. Among LDP candidates, 99 percent “supported” or “somewhat supported” the idea.
“Support for enhancing defense capabilities stopped rising significantly under the second Abe administration,” Taniguchi said. “However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is bolstering support for it again.”
The surveys also asked candidates about revising the Constitution, although the specific wording of the questions differed.
In general, support for constitutional revision hovered from around 40 percent to 50 percent among all candidates between 2004 and 2019.
A big shift has been seen among Komeito candidates.
Only 37 percent of Komeito candidates supported the idea of amending the Constitution in 2010, just after the coalition lost power. That figure was less than half of the ratio in the previous survey conducted in 2007.
However, as much as 74 percent of Komeito’s candidates backed the idea in 2013 after the party’s return to power, following the trend of the LDP.
But support for constitutional revision among Komieto candidates fell to 17 percent in 2019, its lowest ratio in the surveys.
Abe in 2017 proposed changing the Constitution to clearly refer to the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9, with plans to implement the revised Constitution in 2020.
In the latest survey, 42 percent of Komeito candidates backed revising the Constitution.
Komeito appears to heighten its opposition to constitutional revision when the argument for amending war-renouncing Article 9 heats up.
In this year’s survey, 55 percent of all surveyed candidates supported constitutional revision, up from 44 percent in the 2019 survey.
Taniguchi said the July 10 Upper House election is important because “revision of the Constitution could be more realistic depending on its results.”