The total number at the end of May was 270,000 members/supporters nationwide, compared with 244,000 in September 2006 (when Ozawa Ichiro’s current term as party leader began) and 201,000 in 2007 (the month isn’t specified).
What matters is where these new members are located. If they are concentrated in the rural districts targeted by Mr. Ozawa, they could be a sign that Mr. Ozawa’s efforts in rural Japan are bearing fruit, a sign that rural Japan’s “allergy” to the DPJ is vanishing and that the party is set to make major inroads in the next general election. The surge is less significant if it is comprised mostly of urban and suburban floating voters who have been pushed from the “leaning DPJ” category into the “firmly DPJ” category.
Unfortunately the party isn’t sharing the geographical distribution of this influx of members and supporters.
Nevertheless, it is a sign that the DPJ is doing something right. Regardless of its internal squabbles, the party will profit from deepening discontent with the LDP-Komeito coalition’s management of the government.
Meanwhile, for those wondering about the difference between party members and party supporters, the rules are spelled out in section two of the party’s rulebook. Both members and supporters make contributions to the party in their applications for membership. Party members are attached to a campaign office — one per single-member election district — while party supporters apply to local campaign offices and prefectural chapters. Both members and supporters have a vote in party leadership elections. The biggest difference is that members “take a part in planning party administration, activities, and policies” (and are expected to agree with the party’s principles and policies), while supporters “can [emphasis added] take part in planning party events and activities” insofar as they are inclined (but don’t necessarily have to agree to principles and policies).
The money involved is negligible: members pay 6,000 yen annually, supporters pay 2,000 yen annually.
More important than money, the members and supporters provide bodies, ensuring that DPJ candidates will have volunteers to distribute fliers, stuff envelopes, and make phone calls. Again, if enough of these new members and supporters are in districts in which the DPJ has never won before, they could make the difference between victory and defeat for the DPJ.