Winning Elections with Unpopular Policies: Valence Advantage and Single-Party Dominance in Japan
77 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2023 Last revised: 12 Dec 2023
Date Written: December 9, 2023
An enduring puzzle in comparative politics is why dominant parties exist in liberal democracies and whether their success is because of popular policies 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 labels 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 support for its policies.
Keywords: spatial voting, policy voting, valence, conjoint analysis, dominant parties, Japan
JEL Classification: D72, C91
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation