Assumption: The Liberal Democratic Party is likely to get 60 seats in the various local Proportional Representation blocs – It is hard to see them doing worse than they did in 2009, their worst defeat ever, even if they fail to get back a lot of the pre-2009 vote. The Japan Restoration Party (JRP) will instead likely eat away at those who would have swung back from the DPJ to the LDP in this election if the JRP was not contesting the local PR blocs. If there is evidence of the JRP eating into core LDP support then this prediction will change, but I have yet to see this evidence.
However, that Ishihara is running in the Tokyo PR bloc, and Higashikokubaru (probably) in the Kyushu bloc, is smart and enhances the ability of the JRP to do this by freeing these two prominent individuals to campaign across these broad districts without engaging in a Single Member District (SMD) race. The main areas to prioritize for the JRP in terms of going for the PR vote would be Hokkaido, Tokyo, Southern Kanto, Kinki (of course) and Kyushu. Right now the opinion polls are all over the place regarding how much support the post-merger JRP actually has, so I will refrain from a prediction on the JRP’s likely PR seat haul for now.
New Komeito is however likely to improve on its 21 seats from 2009 as it regains some PR vote back from the DPJ from those who would not vote for the conservative LDP or populist JRP. It is also likely, in deals with these two parties, to pick back up a few SMD seats from the DPJ in Kinki and Tokyo. With 30 or so Komeito seats and the LDP’s likely 60 PR seats, the key to the LDP-Komeito getting a majority (241) would be the LDP getting 150 of the 300 SMD seats. If this was a straight LDP-DPJ election then this would be very likely, and in fact the LDP gaining 170-180 seats or more, and perhaps even getting a simple majority on its own without the Komeito, would be plausible.
Thus the JRP’s entry into the election, and particularly the alignment with other “third pole” parties, is critical for changing this dynamic. First, Ishihara, Hashimoto and Noda are all arguably better campaigners than the sometimes prevaricating (and often too talkative, as noted by Jun Okumura) Abe. Abe has already seemingly backtracked on his BOJ statements as well as his TPP statements. This may have an overall effect in terms of bringing the LDP brand down by complicating the narratives around who is responsible for whatever it is someone needs to be responsible for in modern Japan. If Abe could focus just on Noda and the DPJ then these prevarications might no be so much of an issue given the DPJ’s own track record, but with the media focusing on the enigmatic third pole candidates the construction of a coherent and winning narrative is going to be more difficult. Also, with this prominent JRP presence, and potential threat, Abe and the LDP will be forced to attack, rather than ignore this grouping and focus on the DPJ, as they would have otherwise done.
However more important than this is the strategy towards the SMDs the JRP in particular is going to adopt. An important part of making strategy for the JRP in this case is balancing short and long-term objectives. It would seem obvious that the objective for the JRP is to gain as many seats as possible. However, arguably preventing the LDP (and Komeito) from regaining a majority should be given even greater priority, although the two objectives are not mutually exclusive.
What I mean by this is that, in terms of how to focus its resources, the JRP should concentrate on the SMDs where its presence can turn the race into a genuine three way contest. In other words, those electorates where the LDP won in 2005, lost in 2009 to the DPJ, and would be likely to swing back to the LDP in 2012 without a third option. There is likely to be around 120 or so of these type of seats. They will not win all of these or even most, and they may even throw a few to the DPJ, but if they manage to deprive the LDP of the magic 150 SMD seats, then that would be the price to pay for relevance and influence in 2013. In this sense, getting 30 seats is as good as 100 if the LDP will be forced to rely on another party. If they compete in what would otherwise be safe DPJ districts in a two-horse race, and only succeed in turning over the SMD to the LDP, they will be further from what should be their objective. Of course, in their campaign rhetoric the DPJ will probably be the easy target, but ultimately it is the LDP that is the true “enemy” for the JRP and others in terms of electoral strategy.
The JRP also needs to vigorously court LDP votes in the SMDs and not just focus on picking up some of the “easy” votes leaving the DPJ. To do this however the JRP will need to work with Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party by not overlapping in SMD districts, even if they compete for regional PR votes. Voters will need to be convinced that a vote for a third party will not be a wasted vote.
There are some signs that the JRP and YP are coordinating in this fashion. On the 19th November Your Party and the JRP endorsed their first mutual candidate (日), Your Party’s Ishii Ryouma, a candidate interestingly enough running in Osaka #12 inside the JRP’s home base. Originally Ishii was going to run in Osaka #2 but was moved out of consideration for the JRP candidate. The JRP also went back on their initial plan to run a candidate in every PR bloc’s symbolically important number one district, out of consideration for YP who announced (日) they would run candidates in 10 out of the 11 #1 SMDs. However the next day it became clear that the two were also overlapping. When YP announced their initial tranche of candidates they named a candidate to run in Hokkaido #2 where the JRP is also running a candidate. Your Party did however postpone a decision on Tokyo #23 where the JRP is also running a candidate, but followed it up a few days later by announcing a new face to run in Tokyo #23. Tokyo #4 also seems to overlap. In the YP and JRP’s respective announcements of their third trance of candidates, the Kanagawa area, an area where the LDP is likely to do well compared to 2009, is notable in that both sides have committed candidates to the same five SMD districts. One has to question the wisdom of this.
Anyhow, I will be keeping an eye on this particular facet (coordination between the YP and the JRP) as events unfold over the next few weeks, and hopefully some consistent opinion polls with a regional breakdown will appear allowing more informed decisions. After the election season officially starts on December 4, I will also highlight some key SMD races and whether the YP/JRP is likely to to deprive the LDP of 150 SMD seats.