Here are a few thoughts around the outcome according to the polls, which has the LDP-Komeito coalition within reach of a House of Representatives supermajority that would allow it to override any legislative vetoes by the House of Councillors.
The anti-nuclear message has not taken. At the beginning of the race, Toru Hashimoto and the pre-merger-JRP was solidly anti-nuclear. So were Ichiro Ozawa’s DPJ refugees; likewise Your Party. But Hashimoto lost momentum when he recruited a motley crew of opportunists from the Your Party, DPJ and LDP, and compounded his problems by muddling the RP policy platform when he engineered the mancrush merger with the pro-nuclear (and anti-TPP) Shintaro Ishihara and his (political) generational cohorts. Ozawa sweet-talked Yumiko Kada, the anti-nuclear Shiga governor, and her squeaky-clean political persona into fronting his movement, but it merely exposed Kada as an artless, not-ready-for-primetime, one-issue phenomenon. And Your Party never managed to reach escape velocity. And, the (sorta) pro-nuclear LDP is winning by a landslide. Kudos to Chris Winkler.
The Cassandra Award goes to Ozawa, who reluctantly left the DPJ only because his followers were panicking. His innermost premonitions have been vindicated so to speak; his minions are likely to do worse than the DPJ, relatively speaking. That’s understandable. The preponderance of rookies and undead in their midst meant that they would have hit below average if they’d stayed. Still, you have to think that both they and the DPJ would have done better overall if they’d stayed together, since they would not have had to run against each other in the single-member districts and Noda would have been able to project a stronger sense of leadership.
Short of resigning and handing the reins to Goshi Hosono—and not to some retread—Noda had no choice, once Ozawa and his minions defected. A gradual but steady recovery in the opinion polls is always likely in a politically uneventful environment, but how do you keep that up until the HoR term ends in September when your majority is slipping away and you don’t even control the HoC? As it is, he caught the Third Force movements ill-prepared; that benefited the DPJ more than the LDP, which relies less on the floater vote and more on its fixed support base (including the Sokagakkai vote that can mostly be swung to the LDP’s SMD candidates). To repeat, Noda should have passed the torch, but politicians are a famously optimistic lot.
And no, I didn’t think that the LDP would be doing nearly as well as it is doing in the media surveys. It took what little courage I have to forecast a likely LDP majority after it took a dive in the Dec. 1-2 polls. I’m not going against the flow in the other direction now and take a punt on the LDP being disappointed with a result well short of the high 280s, the minimum necessary for a chance at a coalition supermajority. The undecided have, if anything, moved in the LDP’s favor and I can’t see how the remainder will shift significantly in the other direction—if they bother to vote at all.