Hanno Jentzsch/Kostyantin Ovsiannikov

Socio-economic decline and voting behavior in rural peripheries: In search for Japan's rural populist potential

A growing body of literature investigates the link between rural peripheralization and (right-wing) populism. Japan is curiously absent from this debate: Although large parts of rural Japan have been facing a multi-dimensional process of peripheralization, there seems to be no rural populist counter movement – if anything, the most recent general election in October 2021 confirmed that populism in Japan is more likely to take the form of “neoliberal” metropolitan movements, while the LDP remains successful in more rural constituencies. Most explanations for this peculiar pattern highlight the traditional rural orientation of the LDP, which has long been catering to the interests of well-organized and overrepresented voters in rural and semi-urban areas. Since the electoral reform in the mid-1990s and a wave of municipal mergers in the mid-2000s, however, there are more and more signs that the LDP is gradually growing apart from its rural base. This paper asks whether the image of the LDP as the party of rural Japan still holds up. Based on a detailed analysis of municipal-level electoral and socio-economic data, we investigate voting behavior in peripheralized rural areas – so called depopulating regions, or kaso chiiki – in the four general elections since 2012 to identify electoral trends (a “populist potential”) that so far remain hidden behind the LDP’s continuous success.