Date Presented:Aug 1, 2005
I propose a new explanation for the dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan using the notion of strategic calibration. Existing theories of LDP hegemony emphasize a favorable electoral system and strong economic performance, but neither of these factors is sufficient to explain the party's recent success. Using public opinion data from 1960 to 2004, I show that the LDP employed a strategy to prevent unpopular prime ministers from tainting the party's image. Time series analyses show that inflation and unemployment have modest effects on cabinet support ratings, but they have no effects on LDP ratings. LDP leaders are sensitive to the relative support levels of the prime minister's cabinet and the party because the former affects the latter, though not the reverse. Duration models demonstrate that when cabinet ratings fall below party ratings, cabinets are more likely to be reshuffled and prime ministers are more likely to be replaced to avoid having the cabinet's negative image “rub off” on the LDP. Although electoral rules, culture, and other factors surely play a role in sustaining the LDP, I reveal for the first time that the party manages it cabinet personnel strategically to maintain suitable party support in the electorate.