Skip to main content Accessibility help

Electoral Reform and the Costs of Personal Support in Japan

  • Matthew M. Carlson


How does the choice of electoral rules affect politicians' incentives to campaign on the basis of personalized support? This article examines to what extent the adoption of new electoral and campaign finance rules affects the incentive of politicians in Japan's Liberal Democratic Party to rely on personal support organizations called koenkai. The core of the analysis utilizes newly collected campaign finance data. The empirical analyses confirm a considerable weakening in the number of koenkai across systems as well as a decreased need for politicians to spend money in the proportional representation tier. These results highlight the importance of previous organizational legacies as well as the efforts of political actors to mitigate the effects of rule change on their election and reelection prospects.



Hide All


I am grateful to Ikuo Kabashima, Gabriella Montinola, Steven Vogel, Ellis Krauss, Robert Pekkanen, Stephan Haggard, and three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions on earlier drafts. I also wish to acknowledge research funding from the Asian Studies Program at the University of Vermont and from the Japan Program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

1. Curtis, Gerald, Election Campaigning, Japanese Style (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 128.

2. See Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties, Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State (New York: John Wiley, 1954); Riker, William, “The Two-party System and Duverger's Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science,” American Political Science Review 76, no. 4 (1982): 753–766; and Cox, Gary, Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

3. See Budge, Ian, Robertson, David, and Hearl, Derek, eds., Ideology, Strategy and Party Change: Spatial Analysis of Post-war Election Programmes in 19 Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Gabel, Matthew and Huber, John D., “Putting Parties in Their Place: Inferring Party Left-Right Ideological Positions from Party Manifestos Data,” American Journal of Political Science 44, no. 1 (2000): 94–103; and Laver, Michael, ed., Estimating the Policy Positions of Political Actors (London: Routledge, 2001).

4. See Carey, John and Shugart, Matthew, “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas,” Electoral Studies 14, No. 4 1995): 417439; and Cain, Bruce, Ferejohn, John, and Fiorina, Morris, The Personal Vote: Constituency Service and Electoral Independence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).

5. Carey, and Shugart, , “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote,” pp. 417418.

6. See, for example, Shepsle, Kenneth, “Institutional Equilibrium and Equilibrium Institutions.” In Weisberg, Herbert, ed., Political Science: The Science of Politics (New York: Agathon, 1986), pp. 5181; and Tsebelis, George, Nested Games: Rational Choice in Comparative Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

7. See, for example, Skocpol, Theda, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); and Steinmo, Sven, Taxation and Democracy: Swedish, British, and American Approaches to Financing the Modern State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).

8. Luong, Pauline, “After the Break-up: Institutional Design in Transitional States,” Comparative Political Studies 33, No. 5 2000): 563592.

9. Carey, and Shugart, , “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote,” p. 429.

10. See Johnson, Chalmers, Japan: Who Governs? The Rise of the Developmental State (New York: Norton, 1996); and Mizuguchi, Hiroshi, “Political Reform: Much Ado About Nothing?” Japan Quarterly 40, no. 3 (1993): 246–257.

11. See, for example, Rae, Douglas, The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); and Mayhew, David, Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).

12. Cain, Ferejohn, and Fiorina, , The Personal Vote, p. 9.

13. Miyake, Ichiro, “Candidate Evaluation and Voting Choice Under the Japanese Electoral System.” In Grofman, Bernard, Lee, Sung-Chull, Winkler, Edwin, and Woodall, Brian, eds., Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan Under the Single Nontransferable Vote: The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), pp. 153180.

14. Miyake, Ichiro, “Seito tohyo to kohosha kojin tohyo no baransu: Shosenkyokusei ikoki no tohyo kettei” [The balance between the party and personal vote: Determinants of the voting decision under Japan's new electoral system], Leviathan 25 (1999): 731.

15. Fukui, Haruhiro and Fukai, Shigeko, “Campaigning for the Japanese Diet.” In Grofman, , Lee, , Winkler, , and Woodall, , Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan Under the Single Nontransferable Vote, p. 127.

16. See, for example, Reed, Steven and Thies, Michael, “The Consequences of Electoral Reform in Japan.” In Shugart, Matthew and Wattenberg, Martin, eds., Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 380403; Hideo, Otake, “Overview.” In Hideo, Otake, ed., How Electoral Reform Boomeranged (New York: Japan Center for International Exchange, 1998), pp. vi–xxxi; Christensen, Ray, “The Effects of Electoral Reforms on Campaign Practices in Japan: Putting New Wine into Old Bottles,” Asian Survey 38, no. 10 (1998): 986–1004; and Reed, Steven, ed., Japanese Electoral Politics: Creating a New Party System (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003).

17. Shugart, Matthew and Wattenberg, Martin, “Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: A Definition and Typology.” In Shugart, and Wattenberg, , Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? p. 2.

18. Herron, Erik and Nishikawa, Misa, “Contamination Effects and the Number of Parties in Mixed-Superposition Electoral Systems,” Electoral Studies 20, No. 1 2001): 6386.

19. See, for example, Gschwend, Thomas, Johnston, Ron, and Pat-tie, Charles, “Split-Ticket Patterns in Mixed-Member Proportional Election Systems: Estimates and Analyses of Their Spatial Variation at the German Federal Election, 1998,” British Journal of Political Science 33, No. 1 2003): 109127; Reed, Steven, “Strategic Voting in the 1996 Japanese General Election,” Comparative Political Studies 32, no. 2 (1999): 257–270; Cox, Karen and Schoppa, Len, “Interaction Effects in Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: Theory and Evidence from Germany, Japan, and Italy,” Comparative Political Studies 35, no. 9 (2002): 1027–1053; and Carlson, Matthew, “Electoral Reform and the Evolution of Informal Norms in Japan,” Asian Survey 46, no. 3 (2006).

20. Alternatively, because parties may rank their candidates at the same PR list positions, some candidates are selected through the use of a “best-loser” provision, which is calculated on the basis of their performance in the SMD tier by taking the number of votes the candidate receives divided by votes won by the first-place finisher.

21. McKean, Margaret and Scheiner, Ethan, “Japan's New Electoral System: La Plus ça Chang',” Electoral Studies 19, No. 4 2000): 447448.

22. Reed, and Thies, , “The Consequences of Electoral Reform in Japan,” p. 395.

23. Information on amounts from Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications' homepage, at (accessed May 1, 2006).

24. Kerbo, Harold and McKinstry, John, Who Rules Japan? The Inner Circles of Economic and Political Power (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), p. 98.

25. See, for example, Pempel, T. J., Regime Shift: Comparative Dynamics of the Japanese Political Economy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998); and Curtis, Gerald, The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions, and the Limits of Change (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

26. For two of the first studies, see, for example, Hideo, Otake, “How a Diet Member's Koenkai Adapts to Social and Political Changes.” In Hideo, , How Electoral Reform Boomeranged, pp. 132; and Yamada, Masahiro, “Nukaga Fukushiro: Climbing the Ladder to Influence.” In Hideo, , How Electoral Reform Boomeranged, pp. 33–58.

27. Krauss, Ellis and Pekkanen, Robert, “Explaining Party Adaptation to Electoral Reform: The Discreet Charm of the LDP?Journal of Japanese Studies 30, No. 1 2004): 134.

28. Ibid., p. 28.

29. Luong, , “After the Break-Up,” p. 589.

30. For example, I concur with Krauss and Pekkanen's claims that there is a path dependence to organizational development and that politicians are likely “to adapt familiar forms to new rational purposes in the new system” (Krauss, and Pekkanen, , “Explaining Party Adaptation to Electoral Reform,” p. 28).

31. See, for example, Hideo, , “How a Diet Member's Koenkai Adapts to Social and Political Changes”; Pempel, , Regime Shift ; and Curtis, , The Logic of Japanese Politics.

32. Seiji shikin zensho [Complete book of political funds] (Tokyo: Nihon Kokusei Chosakai, various years).

33. Politicians only needed to disclose contributions over ¥1 million. By creating multiple funding groups, they could instruct donors to contribute up to the maximum limit for each group without disclosure. For a discussion of the old campaign finance loopholes in Japanese, see Hirose, Michisada, Seiji to kane [Politics and money] (Tokyo: Iwanami Press, 1989).

34. Cox, Gary and Thies, Michael, “How Much Does Money Matter? ‘Buying’ Votes in Japan, 1967–1990,” Comparative Political Studies 33, No. 1 2000): 44.

35. The figures for 1996, 2000, and 2003 were gathered from Kanpo [public registrar] (Tokyo: Ministry of Finance Printing Press) and the Koho [prefectural gazette].

36. Reed, and Thies, , “The Consequences of Electoral Reform in Japan,” p. 395.

37. The Japanese campaign finance book did not report complete figures for the year 1993. I opted to estimate the missing data for specific organizations and total income using 1992 figures. For this reason, the 1993 figures reported here are likely to be slightly lower than if actual complete data had been used.

38. The means comparison tests used the t-test command in Stata 9. In 1986, the means of income for incumbents and newcomers are statistically different from each other at any level greater than 7.3 percent. However, the test did not find a statistically significant difference for the number of support groups. In 1990, the means for the number of groups and income are different at any level greater than 0.0 percent. In 1993, the means for the number of groups are different at any level exceeding 0.3 percent and income at 0.7 percent.

39. Included in this figure are the fund agents.

40. A means comparison test showed that the means for the number of groups and income for incumbents and new candidates are statistically different at any level greater than 0.0 percent for 1996, 2000, and 2003.

41. See, for example, Cox, Gary and Niou, Emerson, “Seat Bonuses Under the Single Non-transferable Vote System: Evidence from Japan and Taiwan,” Comparative Politics 26, No. 2 1994): 221236; and Cowhey, Peter and McCubbins, Matthew, “Conclusion.” In Cowhey, Peter and McCubbins, Matthew, eds., Structure and Policy in Japan and the United States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 253–260.

42. The fund agent was originally limited to a maximum annual contribution of ¥500,000 from corporations and ¥1.5 million from individuals. In 1999, the law was revised to prohibit contributions from corporations (and labor unions). In contrast, there are no restrictions on donations from corporations, organizations, or individuals to the party branch. These regulations would seem to favor the creation and use of local party branches at the expense of the koenkai and fund agent.

43. This trend, of course, is complicated by contamination effects from the mixture of PR and SMD rules. Many pure PR candidates are incumbents who are unlikely to disband their koenkai as they may anticipate returning to the SMD tier in a future election.

44. The nonsignificant result may be related to the smaller number of pure SMD candidates in the LDP, which may have made it more difficult for statistical significance to be achieved.

45. Krauss, and Pekkanen, , “Explaining Party Adaptation to Electoral Reform,” p. 28.

46. This is possible through the parties' use of a best-loser provision, which is calculated by taking the number of votes the candidate receives divided by votes won by the first-place finisher.

47. Indeed, if politicians have less funds to devote to personalized support, they may have opted to focus on a fewer number of koenkai in their constituency—devoting their attention to koenkai subunits that have enough vote-gathering potential to justify their continued use.

48. It is also possible to argue that the effects of campaign finance laws and electoral rules are interactive and to demonstrate their interactive effects across a variety of electoral systems.

49. Carlson, Matthew, “New Rules, Old Politics: Electoral Laws and Campaign Strategies in Japan” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Davis, 2003), p. 84.

50. Curtis, , The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions, and the Limits of Change, p. 166.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Electoral Reform and the Costs of Personal Support in Japan

  • Matthew M. Carlson


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.