Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boy Was I Wrong about the Election!

I prided myself over a forecast of a likely LDP majority (241 seats or more) with just 30% of the popular vote in the proportional regional districts (PRD), which is the best measure of the underlying national support for a political party, when conventional wisdom was looking at a LDP-Komeito coalition majority. It turns out that the LDP won 294 seats (296 if you count Kunio Hatoyama and another independent whose name escapes me at this moment) with just 27.6% of the popular vote, down slightly from 2009, when they dropped to 119 seats with 27.73% of the popular vote. That’s right, the LDP got a smaller proportion of the popular vote this time and won in a landslide than they did in 2009, when they lost in a landslide. The difference was that the Third Force movements took the better part of the volatile floater voters away from the DPJ. I was merely less wrong than most people.

Now, there is no way that the LDP can claim to have gained a popular mandate. They have to earn the public’s confidence and claw back some of those floaters before they coalesce under a single countervailing movement. And I think that the LDP leadership understands that. (Shinjiro Koizumi, who I think is evolving into a leader very quickly, certainly understands the seriousness of the situation.) That means that Abe must shed his natural caution and be willing to buck vested interests for causes that enjoy broad media support. Specifically, I believe that he should kick off his policy agenda by launching Japan into the TPP negotiation process when he visits Washington next January—seriously, what else does he think he can get out that trip if he fails to go there?—and go on from there.

And what of the DPJ? Assume that their bedrock, habitual-voter support is around 15%—they won 16% of the PRD vote. That puts tehm at a significant disadvantage against the LDP, which has bedrock support of, say, 25% and an extra 11% courtesy of Komeito/Sokagakkai (which is somewhat like running a 40-yard dash with a 10-yard head start). But it’s something to build on. Moreover, most of the core policy leadership in their 40- and 50-somethings was reelected, most of the members by winning their single-member districts. I’ve been telling people that their best bet is to go with Goshi Hosono, the articulate, telegenic 41 year-old, a uniter who came out unscathed from the post-3.11 process.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking and some listening, and my thoughts have been evolving from those two notes that I put up the last couple of days and I’d like to share them here, but that’s all that I have time for now.

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