A poll conducted by Mainichi over the weekend reveals that voters’ concerns favor the DPJ. Health and welfare policy are the top priority (22%), followed by the pensions problem (20%), administrative reform (14%), economic growth (12%), regional revitalization (12%), education (8%), combating inequality (6%), and agricultural policy (2%). A majority of respondents who said that health and welfare, and the pensions problem are most important stated that they support Mr. Hiraoka; a majority of those who gave highest priority to regional revitalization said they favored the LDP’s Yamamoto Shigetaro. The poll also found that Mr. Hiraoka bested Mr. Yamamoto among respondents in their 60s and 70s, a distressing sign for an LDP that has relied on the elderly vote. Another encouraging sign for Mr. Hiraoka is that the absence of a JCP candidate will be to his advantage: approximately sixty percent of JCP supporters said they would vote for Mr. Hiraoka, compared to only twenty percent who said they would vote for Mr. Yamamoto.
The LDP is clearly panicked over the prospect of getting trounced in Yamaguchi, not least because it could both doom efforts to reimpose the temporary gasoline tax and inject a degree of urgency into the post-Fukuda discussion. The party is particularly concerned about the defection of elderly voters, and is scrambling to provide a simple explanation of the party’s plans for a new pensions system. (Jun Okumura has more on the new pensions scheme here.) The LDP and Komeito continue to hope that visits from high-level officials will rally their supporters — Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Ota were in district over the weekend — but it is unlikely that these campaign visits will be enough shift the momentum in Mr. Yamamoto’s favor.
The DPJ, not surprisingly, is feeling confident, although the DPJ and other opposition parties are sending party leaders to the district too. On Saturday, Kan Naoto (DPJ), Tanaka Yasuo (NPJ), Kamei Shizuka (PNP), and Fukushima Mizuho (SDPJ) attended an event for Mr. Hiraoka. The speakers attacked LDP rule as failing to protect the weak and revive stagnant regions — and Mr. Kan attacked bureaucrats for putting their interests before the people’s interests.
The contrast between the LDP’s and the DPJ’s positions in advance of the by-election is revealing. The LDP is struggling to figure just what it’s running on, while the DPJ is hammering away at the government for misuse of power. Whatever the national opinion polls say, the DPJ sounds increasingly ready to contest a general election and strike another major blow against the LDP.