Demographics and political change

The Japan Times has a brief article about the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ latest survey of Japan’s population, conducted in October of last year.

The survey found that Japan’s population held steady at roughly 127 million people, but there was considerable change in the populations of Japan’s prefectures, a continuation of the shift of Japan’s population away from sparsely populated, rural Japan to densely populated prefectures, particularly Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures.

If one looks at the top and bottom five prefectures in this survey, and looks at the relative numbers of LDP and DPJ candidates those prefectures send to the Diet, several things stand out.

First, the top five, with the latest growth figure (relative to the previous year), population and population density per square kilometer:

Aichi +.74 7,043,235 1,366

Tokyo +.66 12,059,237 5,514

Shiga +.61 1,342,811 334

Okinawa +.5 1,318,281 580

Kanagawa +.43 8,489,932 3,515

And the bottom (from fifth lowest growth rate to the worst):

Shimane -.77 761,499 114

Nagasaki -.83 1,516,536 371

Kochi -.86 813,980 115

Aomori -.98 1,475,635 154

Akita -1.02 1,189,215 102

In 2005, the top five growers elected a total of eighty-one LDP candidates — between constituency and block elections — and twenty-one DPJ candidates, comprising respectively 27% and 18% of each party’s caucus in the Lower House. The bottom five elected twenty-one LDP candidates and five DPJ candiates, comprising approximately 7% and 4% of each party’s caucus.

The greater weight of the densely populated, growing prefectures is by no means surprising — but among the eighty-one LDP candidates elected in the top five in the 2005 landslide, forty-two of them were elected for the first time in either 2003 or 2005. They are, in short, Koizumi’s children, beneficiaries of Koizumi’s popularity throughout Japan, helping the LDP grow outside of its traditional rural base. (Note that in the shrinking bottom five, of the twenty-one LDP candidates elected in 2005, only five were running for the first or second time.)

So the question is, what will happen to the LDP in the next election, when LDP candidates first elected due to Koizumi’s coattails face the voters again, this time with Abe instead of Koizumi at the head of the party? Will voters in growing prefectures be as eager to elect LDP candidates without a vigorous reformer at the helm of the party?

Another interesting question is at what point will the growing population disparities lead to pressure for a new round of redistricting (or even a new mechanism for redistricting).

These numbers do not suggest the LDP’s doom; it is well placed, in the short term, to contest and win in urban Japan. But over the medium to long term, can the LDP shift its policy bias away from protecting rural constituencies to legislating towards the interest of urban workers and consumers? If Koizumi couldn’t do it, is there anyone in the LDP who can?

5 thoughts on “Demographics and political change

  1. ross

    For evidence of the increasing risk the LDP faces in future general elections, look to the 1989 upper house loss. It was in the prefectural SMDs that the LDP had always dominated that the JSP won big. SMD comepetition commonly implies greater vote volatility that, when accompanied by significant vote swings, produces seat volatility. Combine that reality with the increasing proportion of non-party voters in Japan and Abe\’s inability to appeal to that constituency in the way Koizumi did, and it becomes clear that a political storm could well upend the LDP. That said, the LDP still holds such a commanding lower house majority post-2005 that I doubt it will do anything to put that at risk until it has to in 2009. But a poor upper house showing in July could force the LDP to reach out to the DPJ (or try to steal away some reps) and make things more interesting.


  2. When compiling these numbers, I divided SMD and block votes. In the top five, of the eighty-one LDP winners, all but sixteen won in SMDs. And of the DPJ\’s twenty-one? Only six came from SMDs.I find Aichi to be interesting. The LDP has 14 SMD representatives — and zero block representatives (that\’s not just Aichi, but the entire Tokai regional block). Given that Aichi is both growing and the home to some of Japan\’s leading corporations (read: economically vital), it will be worthwhile to see if the DPJ can build on its six SMD seats there.But I agree: the LDP is not in immediate danger by any means.


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