Ken Hijino

Rural populism in nonpartisan environments: Evidence from gubernatorial and mayoral elections

What does it mean to be a “populist” politician or candidate at subnational level? How are “elites” and “the people” defined differently at subnational level compared to the national level, either in urban or rural settings? Moreover, can we meaningfully identify and measure populism in political contexts with limited partisan conflict and cleavages different from the national level?
This talk seeks to consider these questions based on evidence from Japanese gubernatorial and mayoral elections. It will briefly highlight findings from past research: analyses of the political discourse of high-profile governors’ and over key contested policy issues at municipal level which touch upon subnational populism. It will then introduce preliminary analyses of some 650 chief executive manifestos over 270 elections to measure and interpret how certain “populist” terms and phrases are employed by both mayoral and gubernatorial candidates of different local government sizes, partisan affiliation, and urban-ness.
In both rural and urban contexts, there are signs of a populist discourse pitting a corrupt/indifferent elite against virtuous/under-represented local residents. Yet I find little evidence of anti-pluralist, anti-liberal, anti-metropolitan elements. I suggest that one cannot simply transpose ideologies like populism conceptualized at national level onto subnational politics: Doing so overlooks core issues inherent in subnational politics (local autonomy, regionalism, NIMBYism etc.) which lend themselves to uniquely subnational populist worldviews/rhetoric.