Japanese Values Today 2019 (The full report is now available)

Executive Summary of Japanese Values Today 2019

Yamaneko Research Institute, Inc. conducted a survey of 2060 men and women over the age of 18 using an Internet panel. The survey covered various values related to security, the Constitution, economic policy, social policy and women’s issues. It also included general values and opinions such as nationalism, anti-establishment sentiment, and distrust towards media. The survey aimed to identify the population’s preferences and ideologies and the link to people’s morals and values.

Key Findings

■ In the 2017 House of Representatives election and the 2019 House of Councillors election, ideologies related to national security and the Constitution had the greatest influence on voting behavior.
■ The economic policy divide, or value gap in Japanese society has only secondary importance in elections. Social values do not have much effect on voter’s behavior.
■ Unlike conservative parties in other advanced democracies, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) does not represent any class or economic status.
■ Distrust of the existing elite is strong among voters in general, and elements of this distrust have a negative impact on the LDP.
■ There is a bipartisan consensus on the values of the Japanese people on many issues such as perceptions towards China and South Korea, free trade, privatization, acceptance of foreigners, women’s issues, and LGBT issues.
■ There is a gap between media coverage of structural reform “fatigue” and the reality of public opinion.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the 2019 upper house election as it did in the last four national elections. The largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) strongly advocated for social liberalism during its campaign, but as the survey shows, it could not effectively mobilize socially liberal voters. The survey data also suggests that people’s voting behavior in the 2019 upper house election was not motivated by economic or social values.

The reason is because more important factors affect people’s voting. Attitudes towards the Constitution and the Japan-U.S. alliance affect the voting behavior most, those two issues divide the public and serve as an important factor in choosing which political party they vote for.

On the whole, Japanese people feel that they face a severe security threat in East Asia, therefore are positive about the current Japan-U.S. alliance, and majority of the respondents support realistic security policy. It is difficult to see the possibility of reconciliation in history issues with South Korea, when overwhelming majority of respondents do not seek such compromise. When it comes to diplomacy and national security, it turns out that the policy preferences are converging on many issues except those related to Constitution and the alliance.

The division of economic values over growth and redistribution in Japan is only of a secondary importance compared with the Constitution and the alliance. In Japan, the wealth gap is relatively moderate and there are fewer visible billionaires. The survey suggests that it seems difficult to obtain enthusiastic support from liberals for the additional expenditure for the poor. Japanese public opinion is greatly influenced by the values of the middle class. Respondents overall have moderate economic values and less aware of fiscal discipline. Free trade, high stock prices, and privatization are welcomed regardless of party affiliation. The fact that the idea of privatization is welcomed across various political segments cast doubts about the media’s report of fatigue from structural reform that began under the Koizumi Administration in the early 2000s.

In terms of social policy, the values of the average Japanese are moderate and somewhat liberal. Except for nuclear power policy, many social values tended to converge and do not form along party lines. The value gap in social values is more generational. Social issues have not served the opposition to drive up support. At present, it is difficult to assume that there is a clear liberal orientation among opposition supporters.

With regard to women’s issues, many respondents were aware of where the problem is, and although they directionally agree with social and institutional reform, the results indicated that about half of the people have reservations over certain sexual harassment accusation, since it tends to cause “ bigger trouble.” In sum, the Japanese public at large have liberal values in women’s issues, but some skepticism remains to treat women “favorably.”

Anti-establishment sentiment was widely observed regardless of party affiliation. 81.4% of the respondents think that elites never understand “people like me.” The reason of stability of Japanese politics seems to be that anti-elite sentiments are not galvanized under one populist party or leader. However, relatively speaking, distrust towards elite institution such as the government, Diet, bureaucracy, and media disproportionately affect the LDP in elections. The unique phenomenon in the 2019 Upper House election was that Reiwa-Shinsen-gumi (Reiwa) got two seats in proportional representation against the forecast of the mainstream media. Albeit at a small scale, economic populism movement emerged in Japanese politics, and the overwhelming majority of respondents who said they cast their votes in Reiwa was strongly anti-establishment and had negative view towards the state of this country.

However, majority of respondents (74.0%) including Reiwa supporters value self-help before seeking public aid, and there is no momentum to promote an extremely large government.

The stability of Japanese politics is based on the conclusion that even if supporters of ruling parties do not approve of the current state of politics, they have no choice but to support the LDP, based on the policy values of security and economic growth.

An outcome of the survey “Japanese Values Today 2019” shows a balanced distribution in both economic and social values. Japanese constituencies are not as skewed as those in the United States (which was seen in a 2016 Voter Study Group’s survey by democracy fund), Japan has enough social liberals both on the economic left and right. However, due to the intense conflict of values regarding the Constitution and the alliance, it is difficult for the political parties to package and mobilize the combination of certain economic and social values.

When the leading opponents change their positions in the debate over the Constitution and national security, there is a possibility that a change of government will take place and take root. With the introduction of the single-seat constituency system for the House of Representatives election from 1996, the role and presence of political parties have increased. Thus, it is possible that party ideology and values stand out more in future elections. External factors or pressures might have a role in it, for example, the current discussion over the amendment to Article 9, change in US credibility, or China exercising more military power in the East China Sea.

In summary, the biggest factor that ruling LDP gains stable support is security realism. Core supporters of the LDP include an amalgam of corporations, small business owners and farmers, and specific interest groups, but looking at the majority of voters who cast their votes to the LDP, it is clear that it does not represent any class or economic segment. When the Japanese society overcome the political divide in the Constitution and the alliance, the ruling party will likely lose dominant support. That may be why conservative political parties in Japan are beginning to approach socially liberal agenda such as women’s issues and child abuse. And partly due to the administration’s effort to focus on women’s economic independence, liberal values in women’s issues are supported more widely regardless of age.

It is important to closely watch the change that is undergoing in Japanese society which is also coping with globalization and low growth like other advanced democracies. This survey is the first attempt to thoroughly research values of Japanese citizens, and we continue to research more.

Please also see the full-report.