Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2001
CHANGE IN THE SPATIAL DIMENSIONS
OF PARTY CONFLICT: The Case of
Japan in the 1990s
Herbert F. Weisberg and Aiji Tanaka
The political landscape of Japan changed drastically in the early 1990s with new parties
forming, the main government party losing power temporarily, and the traditional rival
parties forming a coalition government. This article examines how the spatial dimensions
of party conflict changed according to surveys of the mass public. Contrary to theoretical
expectations based on the stabilizing effects of party identification, we find that the
structure of public attitudes toward the parties changed considerably as the party
system changed. Abrupt changes in the party system were reflected in changed cleavage
patterns. Independence increased during this period and changed from being perceived
as a separate dimension to being seen as part of an anti-politics-as-usual dimension.
Key words: Japanese party system; political party change.
Partisanship among the mass public is usually seen as a stabilizing factor in
politics. Citizens identify with parties over the long term, ensuring stability of
party cleavages. Yet, there can be shocks to a system that lead to changes in
the cast of parties and consequently in cleavage patterns. This article examines
change in the Japanese party system during the 1990s, as a test of how party
change can be reflected in the party competition space.
The Japanese party system broke down in the early 1990s amidst cries for
political reform due to scandals involving the role of money in politics and
controversies on tax legislation. Many people became increasingly dissatisfied
with conventional politics, or “Nagata-cho” (the address of the most important
national political institutions in Tokyo). This was a period of rapid party change
and realignment. Several new parties were formed, old parties splintered, and
Herbert F. Weisberg, Department of Political Science, The Ohio State University, Columbus,
Ohio 43210 (Weisberg.firstname.lastname@example.org); Aiji Tanaka, School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda
University, 1-6-1 Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169-8050 Japan (email@example.com).
0190-9320/01/0300-0075$19.50/0 2001 Plenum Publishing Corporation