Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 16, issue 3

Willy Jou, "Toward a Two-Party System or Two Party Systems?: Patterns of Competition in Japan's Single-Member Districts, 1996-2005," Party Politics, 16 (May 2010), 370-393. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
According to Pempel (1990): 'The ability of citizens to change their government is taken as a major hallmark of democracy. But when governments seem not to change, how genuine is a country's democracy?' One of the main objectives of electoral reform in Japan was to facilitate this outcome through the creation of two parties capable of alternating in government. Four elections1 later, analyses and debates on progress toward this goal (or the lack thereof) continue to command the attention of scholars and practitioners alike. Why has the expected causal relationship leading from electoral reform to a twoparty system, and in turn to power alternation, not materialized? This article examines patterns of competition in single-member districts (SMDs) where election outcomes are determined, and finds that while the patterns in urban districts have consistently moved toward the anticipated equilibrium, the absence of similar movement in rural districts constitutes a major obstacle to any alternation of power.2 These diverging developments between urban and rural areas underscore the limits of altering electoral rules to fashion party system change, and call for additional explanations of continuing single-party dominance.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Single-member district seats and vote-shares for the two largest parties
Table 2. Single-member district number of candidates and losers
Table 3. Single-member district effective number of candidates by level of urbanization
Table 4. Single-member district effective number of losers by level of urbanization
Table 5. Single-member district seats and votes of the two largest parties by level of urbanization
Table 6. Single-member districts without nominated candidates by level of urbanization
Table 7. Single-member district margin of victory
Table 8. Single-member district average margin of victory by incumbency
Table 9. Single-member district margin of victory by level of urbanization

Last Paragraph:
(Next to last paragraph) Returning to the question posed in the Introduction on why the anticipated causal chain between electoral reform, a two-party system and alternation of government has not operated as expected, the preceding pages have shown that while incentives deriving from electoral reform have induced movement toward two large parties, what have also emerged are two distinct party systems. The existence of two divergent patterns of competition, with a two-party system in urban SMDs juxtaposed with a dominant party system in rural areas, impedes the prospect of power alternation. These developments illustrate both the successes and the limitations of institutional reform.

Last updated May 2010