Winning Elections with Unpopular Policies: Valence Advantage and Single-Party Dominance in Japan

60 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2023 Last revised: 3 Apr 2024

See all articles by Shusei Eshima

Shusei Eshima

Harvard University

Yusaku Horiuchi

Dartmouth College - Department of Government

Shiro Kuriwaki

Yale University

Daniel M. Smith

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: April 1, 2024


An enduring puzzle in comparative politics is why voters in some democracies continuously support dominant parties in elections, and whether their support is based on policy preferences or non-policy factors like valence. We consider the preeminent case of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and investigate whether voters’ support for its policies can explain its recent landslide electoral victories. We first introduce a new measurement strategy to infer individuals’ utility for parties’ policy platforms from conjoint experiments. Estimating a model of vote choice with this utility reveals that many voters support the LDP despite preferring the opposition’s policies. To understand what accounts for this disconnect, we then experimentally manipulate party label and decompose its effect, finding that trust is an important non-policy factor motivating LDP voters. Together, our findings support the argument that the LDP’s continued dominance is due to its valence advantage over the opposition rather than voters’ support for its policies.

Keywords: spatial voting, policy voting, valence, conjoint analysis, dominant parties, Japan

JEL Classification: D72, C91

Suggested Citation

Eshima, Shusei and Horiuchi, Yusaku and Kuriwaki, Shiro and Smith, Daniel M., Winning Elections with Unpopular Policies: Valence Advantage and Single-Party Dominance in Japan (April 1, 2024). Available at SSRN: or

Shusei Eshima

Harvard University ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Institute for Quantitative Social Science
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Yusaku Horiuchi

Dartmouth College - Department of Government ( email )

204 Silsby Hall
HB 6108
Hanover, NH 03755
United States


Shiro Kuriwaki

Yale University ( email )

493 College St
New Haven, CT CT 06520
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.shirokuriwaki.coim

Daniel M. Smith (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

133 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States


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