Faltering support for Japan's ruling party, and the lack of a late surge by newer parties that make up the so-called third force, have combined to give the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party a seemingly insurmountable edge in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.
An analysis of voting trends by The Asahi Shimbun shows the LDP headed toward more than doubling the number of seats it held before the campaign.
And yet, there is an anomaly here as the support rating for the LDP stands only at 21 percent.
Not only is that sharply lower than the 33-percent support it had in 2005 when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi focused on postal privatization to create a landslide win for the LDP, it is also down from the 22-percent support in 2009 when the LDP was driven out of government after a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Democratic Party of Japan.
The Asahi survey shows that among respondents who had decided on which party to vote for in single-seat districts, 48 percent gave the LDP candidate as their preference. There is very little difference over age groups and, besides the Kinki region where the Japan Restoration Party has strong support, LDP candidates are supported by between 40 to 60 percent of respondents in the other regions.
Only 23 percent of respondents said they would vote for a DPJ candidate, less than half the LDP figure. While a simple comparison is difficult because the Japan Restoration Party is not running nearly as many candidates as the LDP and DPJ, only 10 percent of survey respondents said they would vote for a Restoration candidate.
The DPJ figure is less than half the 52 percent of respondents in the 2009 survey who said they would vote for a DPJ candidate. Male voters from their 30s to 50s who had been the core DPJ support group have switched support to the LDP this time around. Unaffiliated voters who had previously supported the DPJ at similar or greater levels than the LDP have also moved away from the DPJ.
With support for the DPJ withering and the third force still a gathering of smaller parties, the single-seat district structure gives the LDP an overwhelming advantage in sweeping to a landslide victory.
The telephone survey also asked respondents to choose the issue that most concerned them in deciding who to vote for. They were given three issues to choose from.
Measures to stimulate the economy was picked by 61 percent of respondents, making it the issue that most resonated with voters. Only 16 percent cited nuclear energy, and 15 percent picked foreign affairs and national security.
Among those who said economic measures were the priority issue and who had decided on who to vote for in single-seat districts, 51 percent said they would vote for the LDP candidate. For those living in cities with less than 100,000 inhabitants, 55 percent said they would vote for the LDP candidate. In smaller towns and villages, 59 percent said they would vote for the LDP.
Expectations of bold programs to stimulate the moribund economy is helping the LDP, especially in smaller regional areas.
Meanwhile, the survey results paint a totally different picture in the proportional representation constituencies.
Among respondents who have decided which party to vote for, 35 percent were with the LDP all the way. That translates into the two-thirds or so of all seats in the constituencies that the LDP is expected to win.
But among unaffiliated voters, who make up about half of all respondents, there was a major difference. In the proportional representation constituencies, 26 percent of unaffiliated respondents said they planned to vote for the LDP. The same percentage supported the Japan Restoration Party.
Fifteen percent opted for the DPJ; 10 percent said Your Party; 7 percent each said New Komeito and Tomorrow Party of Japan; and 5 percent said the Japanese Communist Party.
In the 2009 Lower House election, a number of veteran LDP lawmakers were defeated in the DPJ landslide win. A similar result could affect such DPJ heavyweights as Naoto Kan, the former prime minister, Makiko Tanaka, the fiery education minister, and Yoshito Sengoku, a former chief Cabinet secretary, in the election this weekend.
In the previous Asahi survey, carried out Dec. 4-5, of the 37 candidates who are either sitting or former Cabinet ministers, 24 were not in a leading position. In the latest survey, seven of those candidates faced dismal election prospects. They include Kan, Tanaka and Sengoku.
Other Cabinet ministers who are still struggling include Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Finance Minister Koriki Jojima and Ikko Nakatsuka, the state minister in charge of financial services.
About the only Cabinet minister who has made a turnaround is Yukio Edano, the economy minister.
A look at those districts where the DPJ did well in the 2009 election shows why the party is struggling this time.
The DPJ won about 90 percent of the seats in major urban areas. This time DPJ candidates are only leading in nine such urban districts. In the 2009 election, the DPJ also won in 37 of the 47 No. 1 districts where the prefectural capital is located. This time the DPJ candidate is ahead in only two No. 1 districts.
The survey results also show the parties making up the third force facing a tough battle to defeat the LDP and DPJ in single-seat districts.
Of the 300 single-seat districts, a candidate from either the Tomorrow Party, Japan Restoration Party or Your Party is running against LDP and DPJ candidates in 204 districts. Of those districts, there are 123 where only one of the three third force parties has a candidate.
That means there are 81 districts where there are third force parties competing against each other. Because candidates from those parties offset each other, the LDP candidate is leading in 63 such districts, or close to 80 percent.
The only districts in which third force parties are besting LDP and DPJ candidates are in the Osaka No. 1 and No. 17 districts where Japan Restoration Party candidates are ahead.
Even in districts where there is no competition among third force parties, candidates who defected from the DPJ are facing a tough time. About the only such candidate who is now ahead is Ichiro Ozawa, the wily political veteran who merged his party with the Tomorrow Party.
Yorihisa Matsuno, who joined the Japan Restoration Party even after serving as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, is struggling, as is Sakihito Ozawa, who served as environment minister under Hatoyama.
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