Monday, February 10, 2014

The Might-Have-Been of the Tokyo Gubernatorial

…some doodling for which I find no immediate practical use…

The pro-nuclear media is taking Yoichi Masuzoe’s landslide victory over antinuclear candidates Kenji Utsunomiya and Morihiro Hosokawa as an endorsement of nuclear power by Tokyo voters. Not necessarily. In fact, the election appears to have had the potential of being even more of a toss-up than I had guessed. A few things turning out differently for Hosokawa, and he could have been another example of a governor of a key prefecture using his bully pulpit to affect an issue on the national agenda*.

First, the voting outcome.

Yoichi Masuzoe:       2,112,979 votes
Kenji Utsunomiya:    982,594.767** votes
Morihiro Hosokawa: 956,063 votes
Toshio Tamogami:    610,865 votes
(The most any of the other 12 candidates received was 88,936 votes.)

(982,594.767 + 956,063) ÷ 2,112,979 = 0.91749977969

Is an eight-percentage point difference—a four-point swing—that unlikely in a Japanese election? Remember that most pundits believed that the 2003 “postal reform” election would end in a decisive defeat for the LDP at the time that Prime Minister Koizumi called it. And gubernatorial and mayoral elections in metropolitan areas are even more volatile***. And look at the negatives that Hosokawa carried (in descending order of importance): the disastrous non-launch of his campaign, the moment of truth when the media and voters define the candidate and his candidacy; the failure to dispel the lingering clouds of the circumstances around the 100 million yen loan and his 1994 decision to resign as prime minister instead of fully accounting for it; and his opposition to the highly popular 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Yes. Change a few conditions, and the outcome of the election could have been very different even if the public’s support or lack thereof for nuclear power had been the same. A single-issue candidate can prevail even in an election where that issue is seen as secondary, especially when there is little perception of distinction on other issues between candidates.

What would have been the effect on the national debate on nuclear power? More to the point, how would that have affected the return of nuclear power units to the regional grids, commissioning of the units under construction, and the construction of others planned and yet-to-be planned? There would be even less practical use to any answers to that question. For now, I’m satisfied to have reached the conclusion that Hosokawa’s campaign would have had realistic hopes of winning with a better candidate and a better-prepared campaign.

A few caveats and/or unknowns.

First, we do not know enough to confidently say that Utsunomiya would have abandoned his campaign under strong public pressure. I believe that if the Communist and Social Democratic Parties had threatened to abandon him for Hosokawa, he would have gone along instead of hanging on as a true fringe candidate. I’m assuming that his idealism is leavened by a strong streak of pragmatism nurtured through a successful career as a leading member of the bar. But you never know.

Second, some of the Utsunomiya votes would have gone to candidates other than Hosokawa. Some of the progressives would have voted to the fifth-place candidate, a youthful internet entrepreneur/social activist, some would go for Masuzoe, and some with a maverick mindset would cast their votes for the hard-right (and only firmly pro-nuclear) candidate Tamogami. With the same voters, the real swing required was probably larger than four percentage points.

Second, we do not know what the effect on voter turnout, at 46.15% the third lowest in Tokyo history, a more competitive two-man race would have been. I suspect that interest and therefore turnout would have been higher. Moreover, obviously less committed, abstainers are more likely to be the “floaters,” who produce wild swings, particularly in urban districts. They would at least have injected a significant measure of uncertainty to the outcome.

Third, the Hosokawa camp puts part of the blame on the Sochi Olympics and the record snowstorm on the day before the election for the low turnout. Too busy watching the Olympics to vote? Perhaps. But I am of two minds about the Hosokawa camp’s spin on the weather. The sky had cleared up well before the voting stations opened, but any snow remaining—enough snow remained on some side streets to pose an obstacle to pedestrians—would have deterred some people from every voting bloc except Sokagakkai, which went overwhelmingly for the Komeito’s candidate of choice Masuzoe. Another point of note is that the elderly, presumably more inclined to support the conservative candidate, particularly someone like Masuzoe, who has a reputation as a social welfare expert and on a more personal level someone who cared for his aging mother, are more likely to be cautious in venturing out in the face of unfavorable weather or its aftereffects. All things considered, there is no way of gauging the impact of the voters who stayed home because of the effects of the weather the day before without detailed statistics.

Fourth, Masuzoe was lucky that this was Japan, not the United States. Masuzoe has some serious issues from his personal history—charges of domestic violence from his first wife, who now happens to be an LDP Diet member, and allegations of insufficient financial support for one of two children of his sired out of wedlock—that would have doomed him under American media rules, which consider such matters fair game as revelation of the candidate’s character. The tabloids are willing to venture into such territory, but the mainstream media ignores those stories unless they are relevant to policy issues or involve misuse of public office****.

Fifth, an argument could be made that Tamogami could have been convinced to give up his candidacy in favor of Masuzoe if Utsunomiya had thrown his support to Hosokawa. Possible, but unlikely. Masuzoe hedged his bets by saying that he wanted to minimize reliance on nuclear power. That surely did not go down well with Tamogami. More importantly, Tamogami would have been loath to support a pragmatist who, as drafter of the LDP proposal for a new constitution, eschewed most of the nationalist trappings that are so dear to nationalist conservatives. Tamogami may voice thoughts that many LDP politicians hold dear but are afraid to articulate, but Masuzoe does not appear to be one of them. Tamogami would have put the support from his constituency in jeopardy if he had held his nose and supported Masuzoe. A movement figure who is not angling for a political appointment cannot afford that.

*Case in point: Toru Hashimoto, whose domination over the Osaka electorate as Osaka governor and later as mayor of the city of Osaka, took the city to the brinks of dismemberment in line with his vision for an Osaka renaissance. Prospects for that outcome turned south, though, when he tried to take his local movement to center ring. Progressives also had some success in the 1960s and 70s in leveraging their prefectural and municipal footholds to influence the national agenda.
** The fraction .767 is the sum of Utsunomiya’s prorated share of the votes cast simply for “Kenji,” the given name he shared with another candidate.
*** Case in point: Yukio Aoshima, who entered the Tokyo governor’s race in 1995 with the promise to cancel the World City Expo Tokyo ’96 less than a year before it was scheduled to be held, and left Japan during the campaign period, only to return to realize that he had won. Ironically, his lackluster regime was seen as generally under the control of the bureaucracy.

**** For example, a governor can sleep around all he (or she) likes when off-duty, but must not use public property in doing so. Do not use the official car in tending to an assignation. And the governor’s mansion is off-limits for sex with anyone other than one’s spouse. 

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