This chapter introduces the puzzle of "democratic dynasties" and Japan's unusually high level of dynastic politics compared to other democracies. The chapter briefly reviews the existing explanations for the causes of dynastic politics, and then summarizes the new theoretical argument that is offered in the book, as well as the background context of the case of Japan and the research design used to test the argument. Finally, the chapter discusses the potential positive and negative consequences of democratic dynasties and provides an outline of the book's remaining chapters.
This chapter gives a descriptive overview of the empirical record using the book's two original data sets. The first aim is to situate the case of Japan in a broader comparative context and highlight some of the puzzles in the aggregate variation in dynastic politics across countries, parties, and time. The second aim is to explore the empirical patterns in Japan in order to establish that these patterns provide insufficient insight into the sources of Japan's high level of dynastic politics. There are few differences between legacy candidates and non-legacy candidates in terms of personal characteristics, experience, education, or background—apart from their legacy ties—which might explain their greater electoral success. The third aim is to demonstrate that alternative theories based on history or culture do not provide credible explanations for the empirical differences between Japan and other democracies.
This chapter introduces a comparative theory of dynastic candidate selection based on a framework of supply and demand within the institutional contexts of electoral systems and candidate selection methods. On the supply side, incumbents who serve longer terms in office, and who are themselves part of an existing dynasty, will be more likely to have family members who select into politics. However, relative demand for their potential successors will be higher where electoral institutions generate candidate-centered elections, and in parties where candidate selection processes are exclusive and decentralized, leaving much of the decision up to local party actors—in Japan's case, primarily the support groups of exiting candidates. Demand for legacy candidates should also be higher in parties with weak organizational linkages to groups in civil society and when the previous incumbent dies in office. Comparative evidence is presented in support of the theory.
This chapter examines dynastic candidate selection in Japan under the single nontransferable vote (SNTV) electoral system and the changes that have occurred since the adoption of a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system, which combines first-past-the-post and closed-list proportional representation. Dynasties under SNTV were more common in larger, decentralized parties—especially the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The MMM system shifted the focus of elections from candidates to parties. Subsequent party reforms within the LDP have expanded the pool of candidates and placed greater control over nominations with national-level party leaders, who have selected a more diverse range of candidates. Legacy candidates are still nominated, but recently, only the most powerful and longest-serving incumbents are likely to be succeeded in politics by a family member. This suggests that demand-side incentives have changed, leaving mainly supply-side incentives to explain the continued persistence of dynastic politics.
This chapter explores the inherited incumbency advantage in elections, the mechanisms behind the advantage, and how it differs in the prereform and postreform electoral environments of Japan. New legacy candidates are decidedly advantaged over non-legacy candidates in both SNTV and FPTP elections. However, there is also a selection effect in terms of where legacy candidates emerge. In the prereform period, legacy candidates followed strong incumbents, whose exit freed up votes and encouraged the entry of competitive challengers. In the postreform period, legacy candidates are most likely to get nominated in party strongholds where any new candidate might be similarly successful, and challengers tend to be weaker. Evidence from traditional surveys and a conjoint survey experiment suggests that voters in Japan do not like the idea of dynasties in the abstract sense, even as they continue to elect specific legacy candidates in their own local districts.
This chapter evaluates the advantage of dynastic ties in promotion to cabinet. Before 1970, legacy members of parliament—particularly those whose predecessors had served in cabinet—were overrepresented in most cabinets. From 1970 to 1993, seniority rule and factional balancing functioned as informal institutions constraining the choices of LDP prime ministers, and legacy MPs enjoyed no apparent advantage. In the years since electoral reform, legacy MPs are again dramatically overrepresented in LDP cabinets. For those whose predecessors never served in cabinet, this advantage is due in large part to seniority. Legacy MPs with a family history in the cabinet, conversely, enjoy a significant advantage in promotion that cannot be explained simply by seniority. It is likely that the relatives of former cabinet ministers benefit from internal party networks or other informational advantages within the party. The advantage of cabinet legacies is evident in several of the comparative country cases.
This chapter considers several potential downstream effects of dynastic politics on the functioning of democracy and the quality of representation, including effects on gender representation, the representational style of candidates, and legislative behavior. There is a clear pattern across democracies and in Japan of a gender bias in dynastic politics. However, this bias tends to decrease over time. An analysis of the policy content of candidate manifestos suggests that dynasties provide some continuity in representation for voters, which may be part of their appeal. There is less evidence that legacy MPs are any more active in the legislature than non-legacy MPs. Although cabinet legacies tend to speak more in plenary sessions of the Diet since electoral reform, there are no other obvious differences in the legislative activity of legacy and non-legacy MPs.
This chapter concludes the book by drawing together the key empirical findings and reflecting on the lessons that Japan's experience with dynastic politics might hold for other democracies, such as India and the Philippines, where dynasties have been viewed as a growing problem in recent years, and Ireland, where politics is still in many ways a family affair. The key challenge is how to transform party organizations from decentralized cadres of local notables into coherent vehicles for programmatic policies. The experience of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, viewed through the lens of dynastic politics, sheds important light on the possibilities and challenges involved in institutional design and reform.