By comparative standards, the dominance of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is highly unusual. The party has formed the government for all but four of the past 67 years. Its string of election victories is especially surprising in light of an electoral system shift in the 1990s that was predicted to make single-party dominance less likely. A policy-based explanation is similarly implausible: the LDP's positions are at odds with large segments of Japan’s electorate. In this talk, I argue that features of Japan’s political institutions help LDP incumbents parlay their access to government resources into victories at the ballot box. These features are the ability to discern their vote totals at a small geographic unit within their broader electoral district and influence resource allocations to those same units. This enables LDP politicians to engage in "group-based clientelism", in which the resources groups receive is tied to the level of electoral support they provide. These findings open up new lines of inquiry for scholars interested in clientelism, pork-barreling, the electoral strategies of dominant parties, and the form and function of democracy.
Amy Catalinac is an Associate Professor of Politics at New York University. She is a scholar of electoral systems, distributive politics, and the politics of contemporary Japan. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University, where she was also a postdoctoral fellow at the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations. Her current research seeks to understand how single-party dominance arises in democracies. Her research has appeared in journals such as the American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, World Politics and Comparative Political Studies, as well as in a Cambridge University Press book, Electoral Reform and National Security in Japan. Professor Catalinac has spent almost five years in Japan, during which time she observed the election campaigns of many politicians in different areas of the country and conducted interviews with political actors at different levels of government.