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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

'Nationalising' Local Elections and 'Localising' National Elections: Japanese Candidate Manifestos in a Multilevel Context

Local Government
Party Manifestos
Hideo Ishima
Kyoto University
Ken Hijino
Kyoto University
Hideo Ishima
Kyoto University

When faced with multiple elections for different levels of government, voters have difficulty, and politicians lack incentives to, keep policy issues and responsibilities of each level distinct and separate. In most states, the shared nature of many government functions across levels (national, regional, municipal, and supranational) make it difficult for voters to correctly attribute policy responsibility and performance to the right levels of government. National parties also "subordinate" local elections to national elections, with local party branches emphasizing the performance of parties at the national-level in a regional election. In similar dynamic, politicians from one level of government have been observed to claim credit and assign blame for policy successes and failure on another level of government for electoral advantage.

This article seeks to describe how and explain why candidates mobilize voters in election campaigns by referencing issues and actors at another level of government than that being contested. Building on works that focus on the strategic behaviour of parties in multilevel settings, this article shows how individual candidates make "cross-level electoral appeals" (voter mobilization that emphasizes issues and performance of actors in electoral arenas in which the candidate is not contesting). Unlike previous studies on multilevel dynamics conducted for parties, the article demonstrates how individual legislative candidates at both national and local levels selectively adopt "cross-level electoral appeals" under certain conditions.

I hypothesize that the candidate party affiliation and organizational decentralization as well as the popularity of national and local governments shape the nature and tendency towards such "cross-level electoral appeals". I also hypothesize how individual candidate qualities - such as prior terms in office - affect this tendency. The article investigates these "cross-level electoral appeals" by observing candidate manifestos (senkyo kōhō) of national and local elections in Japan. I use an original dataset of manifestos for national and local candidates from a sample of prefectures (Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, Shimane, Toyama and Kyoto) to investigate such candidate strategy. These prefectures are chosen to compare candidate campaigning content in prefectures with competitive urban elections and less competitive rural elections, as well as those in which popular governors with strong agendas emerged against those without such governors.
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