Keys to victory

With less than two weeks to election day, the campaign is beginning to take shape. Allow me to play John Madden (substitute a TV sports analyst of your choice) for a moment and give you what I think are the LDP’s and the DPJ’s Keys to Victory.

Insert flashy opening montage + brassy theme music here.

For the LDP, the key seems to be if not changing the subject, at least spinning it in such a way that allows the LDP cast the pensions issue in such a light so that it reflects not on the LDP per se, but on the “postwar regime” as a whole, giving credence to Abe’s “getting rid of the postwar regime” message. And so voters will hear speeches like this one by Nikai Toshihiro, chairman of the LDP’s Diet Strategy Committee, described in an article in Asahi (not online).

“People who say they are worried about the pensions problem, please raise your hands.” On the evening of the 15th, Nikai Toshihiro, the LDP’s Diet strategy committee chairman, spoke before a crowd of 400 people at an official candidate’s assembly in Osaka. Seeing no one raise a hand, Nikai continued. “No one, it seems. This is the reality. The ‘head wind’ is nothing to fear. An airplane flies straight into a head wind.” (Note: head wind is the ubiquitous term being used by the media to described the conditions facing the LDP in advance of the election.)

「年金問題で心配だ、と言う人は手を挙げてくれませんか」。15日夜、自民党
の二階俊博国対委員長は、大阪市内であった党公認候補の決起集会で400人を前にこう訪ねた。誰も手を挙げないのを見て、二階氏は続けた。「いないでしょ。これが現実なんです。逆風は何も怖いことはありません。飛行機は逆風を突いて飛ぶんです」。

A chart published in the same article shows a gradual softening of public concern on the pensions and “politics and money” issues. The question for the LDP is whether public concerns are softening fast enough. With less than two weeks to the election (instead of one), the Abe Cabinet’s delaying tactics may yet reap dividends. With each day that passes, with each campaign speech by LDP candidates and senior officials explaining to voters why the current problems are anything but the government’s fault, public opposition is likely to soften further in the next two weeks. It will probably not translate into higher support for the government — but the government does not need to be loved, it just needs to not be hated with such a passion that people march to the polls on the 29th to send a message to the government. The government will probably be helped further by Mr. Abe’s leaving the hustings in Kyushu to rush back to Tokyo upon receiving news of the earthquake in Niigata.

Indeed, if Asahi‘s latest poll is to be believed, getting Abe away from candidates might be the best thing that the LDP can do, with forty-five percent of respondents noting that their opinions of Abe have worsened following his handling of the ongoing Akagi affair.

Meanwhile in the face of the LDP’s efforts to soften public outrage, the key for the DPJ is turnout, turnout, turnout — which means playing upon (and perhaps playing up) the fears and insecurities of voters. Having handled a succession of DPJ fliers and the party’s manifesto, I can attest to the party’s message as being little more than a drumbeat of worrying news about taxes and pensions. The latest looks like pensions passbook, with details inside about who is at risk from having their pensions vanish. In other words, for the headwind to persist, the DPJ needs to continue to huff and puff. (Don’t take this analysis as criticism of the DPJ — there are problems, and the government should be held accountable. I’m just talking about campaign strategy.)

From where I stand, it seems that without more bad news, another two weeks of repeating the facts may eventually lose its efficacy as a way of raising turnout. Of course, the Abe Cabinet may yet oblige the DPJ with yet another scandal that helps the opposition make its point. But barring that, another thirteen days of mollifying words — delivered by LDP candidates themselves, many of whom have been elected two or more times and thus can somewhat distance themselves from the Abe Cabinet, if not the LDP — may be enough to undermine the DPJ’s efforts and snatch a victory (or an outcome that can be spun as a victory) from the jaws of defeat.

As I made clear in my discussion of the campaigns in the twenty-nine single-member districts, victory for the DPJ is far from certain — and there is a floor to how low the LDP can go.

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