Last month, the Asahi Shimbun polled the 50 major News Media outlets in Japan and found 95% admitting they were antinuclear. After Prime Minister Noda “dissolved” the Diet’s lower house to make way for the national election on December 16, the Press has done its best to make it seem that Japan’s nuclear energy policy issue is the one of greatest importance. The Japanese press at-large reported that new antinuclear parties have a real chance to win enough congressional seats which would keep any single party from winning a majority. This would place the Diet in a coalition state and make the new Prime Minister a compromise figure, all of which would allow antinuclear politicians to have significant influence over Japan’s energy future. However, the Press seems to have failed in their mission to put the nuclear issue at the head of the political pack.
Despite the Press focusing on “third party” antinuclear figures since campaigning officially began this past Monday, it now seems the nuclear-neutral Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) will win a majority of seats in the December 16th election, making a coalition government appear unlikely. New polls run by Kyodo News and Yomiuri Shimbun reveal that the now-ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will experience a demoralizing defeat and the new antinuclear parties will suffer even worse. Currently, the DPJ holds 230 seats in the lower house of the Japanese Diet, which is similar to America’s House of Representatives. However, the new polls show that the DPJ will only win somewhere between 50 and 70 seats. On the other hand, both polls indicate that the LDP could win as many as 300 seats, if not more, making them a clear majority party in the 480-seat house. As a result, DPJ party leader and current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will be swept out of office and replaced by conservative LDP head Shinzo Abe. Most Press outlets were surprised at these results, which contradicted their previous election news emphasis. But, diehards literally die hard. The Mainichi Shimbun, arguably the most ardently antinuclear of Japan’s major newspapers, reported the poll results while adding that the LDP seems poised to win “…despite its lack of commitment to phasing out nuclear power in the wake of last year’s Fukushima disaster.” It seems that at least some of the Japanese Press will continue to promote antinuclear issues regardless of public opinion.
The LDP held sway in Tokyo for more than 50 years before the DPJ came into power in the last national election of 2009. It seems that after three years of experience with a strongly-liberal regime, Japan may be poised to bring conservatism back to the political fore-front. One of the new “third parties”, the Japan Restoration Party created by Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, looks likely to win less than 50 seats – merely a third of the 150 its party leaders have been projecting through the Media. And, the brand-new antinuclear Tomorrow Party, created by Shiga governor Yukiko Kada, can only hope to win no more than 15 seats instead of Ms. Kada’s projections for 50-to-100 repeatedly reported by the news media.
Should the new survey’s results be taken seriously? The Kyodo News poll contacted nearly 125,000 eligible voters, selected randomly from across Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun randomly telephoned nearly 160,000 “households”. Unlike many other recent News Media polls appealing to only the most politically-determined subscribers, Kyodo and Yomiuri followed scientific protocols and came up with results that fly in the face of the Japanese Press’ intent. Could it be that Japan’s Press has skewed the reality relative to the political direction the public will actually take in two weeks? Is it possible that the future of Japan’s energy policy is not the most important election issue in the public mind? Has the nuclear energy issue been blown out of proportion by the Japanese Press? It seems the answer to all three questions is a qualified “Yes”.
What is a “qualified yes”? Kyodo News reports that some 55% of the people contacted said they had yet to make up their minds about who they will vote for. Yomiuri says 30% of those contacted have not decided as yet. The Asahi Shimbun says there is a 40% rate of undecided voters. Japan has twelve official political parties, a half-dozen of which have a significant number of supporters. Thus it should be expected that a significant percentage of voters need time to wade through the available slate of candidates and issues before making a decision. Campaigning began just this past Monday, so the finding of a significant percentage of undecided voters should come as no surprise. Consider the final month of incessant political campaign ads, phone calls, and internet politicking we experienced in America before the recent national election…concentrated into but two weeks! Japan’s political media-blitzing will surely be omnipresent and oppressive.
Historically, the undecided demographic can be unpredictable, but not numerically earth-shattering. The undecided voters can have a major impact come election day, as they did last month when Barak Obama literally won by a near-landslide. All pre-election guestimates said it was too close to call, so a small percentage “swing” by undecided voters had a huge impact on the American election’s outcome. However, when scientific pre-election polling reveals a powerful likelihood, the undecided demographic has relatively little impact on the outcome. This suggests that the two major poll’s findings may very well be prophetic come December 16th. It looks likely that the LDP will win a majority in the Diet greater than the one now held by PM Noda’s DPJ, and Shinzo Abe will be the new prime minister.
The bottom line seems to be this – focusing on the Japanese who have made up their minds, numbering more than 155,000 eligible voters, it is clear that the people want a return to political conservatism. It is also clear that nuclear energy is not the most important issue in in the public mind, ranking behind the state of the economy, potential tax increases, and the military tensions between Japan and China. What happens to the current regime’s no-nukes policy if-and-when the nuclear-neutral LDP wins the election should be very, very interesting.