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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves to supporters at a campaign rally in Nagoya on Oct. 21. (Photo by Takuya Imai)
Politics

Japan's risk-averse youth lean heavily conservative

Generation that favors job security and frugality votes cautiously, too

KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei Asian Review chief desk editor | Japan

TOKYO -- Japan's youth showed strong support for the establishment and voted heavily for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday's election -- the first lower house poll since the voting age was lowered to 18 from 20 -- Kyodo data reveals.

Exit polls put support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's LDP at 39.9% among 18- and 19-year-olds, almost four times higher than their second-favorite choice, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's Party of Hope.

Hope cobbled together 10.7% support from these voters. The Constitutional Democratic Party, which pulled off a small upset by gaining more seats than Koike's party, garnered only 7% among first-time ballot casters. 

The LDP's appeal extended to 20-somethings, too, with 40.6% saying they voted for the party. 

One 22-year-old university student in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward told The Nikkei that she voted for the LDP because she was worried about the future. "I chose a party that I thought would think in the long-term and improve society."

She admitted that her decision was a process of elimination, rather than a strong endorsement of the ruling party. "But I did feel that I must clearly express my opinion," she said.

Fumihiko Nishiwaki, a principal at Bain & Co. Tokyo, said he sees commonalities between the youth vote and the way Japan's risk-averse youth tend to choose jobs. "For today's youth, having a stable job is much more important than, say, having a job that can lead to greater things or is rewarding," he said. Nishiwaki said that the way Japanese youngsters prefer to save money rather than spend it also stems from the same mentality.  

Nishiwaki tied this thinking in with their upbringing. "These 18- and 19-year-olds experienced the Lehman Brothers crisis and the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster in their elementary school days. They do not believe that the economy will grow any faster, and first seek to establish a foothold rather than be adventurous."

Abe's policies are also providing young people with a favorable economic environment that had seemed so elusive, according to Jakob Edberg, president and CEO of GR Japan, a Tokyo-based public policy and government relations advisory firm.

"The manifestation of Abenomics is the abundance of job opportunities -- close to 98% of students got jobs directly after graduating from university this spring, the highest rate ever," Edberg explained. "The LDP used to be the party for the elderly and tired, but Shinzo Abe has changed that perception, a possible reason behind the decision to lower the voting age."

Young voters listen in to candidates in central Tokyo during the election campaign.

Young voters even seemed receptive to Abe's proposal to revise the constitution. 

Yusuke Tsuda, an 18-year-old university student in Kyoto Prefecture, in western Japan, told The Nikkei that he thinks the Self-Defense Forces should be mentioned in the constitution. He said he voted for an LDP contender based on the candidate's stance on revising the document's pacifist Article 9.  

This generation's detachment from any war experience may explain the trend.

Conversely, the Constitutional Democrats, who oppose revising Article 9, polled the highest among voters in their 60s, at 17.8%, followed by those aged 70 and up, at 16.7%.

Trepidation

Still, several young voters who spoke with The Nikkei did express concern about Abe becoming too strong after his fifth straight election victory.

Akari Shibata, a 19-year-old university student in the western prefecture of Hyogo, said the Abe government plunged into the election campaign without sufficiently explaining the Moritomo and Kake Gakuen scandals over alleged cronyism. She voted for the Constitutional Democrats, lest the ruling coalition become too powerful.

Even with a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house, Shibata said she wants the ruling coalition "to listen to criticism from the opposition."

A 23-year-old man in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward, who said he is overworked at a company he had pushed hard to join, sounded unenthusiastic about the whole field. He said he listened to candidates' speeches but "could not tell the difference" between them.

The man ended up comparing party websites in search of one that would put pressure on exploitative "black companies," and finally voted for an opposition group. He said politicians should have done a better job of conveying what their policies could achieve, rather than just attacking other parties.

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