Show Your Flag or Be Everyone's Friend?: The Effects of District Magnitude on Vote-Securing Strategies

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Research has shown that a candidate’s appearance affects the support he or she receives in elections. We extend this research in this article in three ways. First, we examine this relationship further in a non-Western context using 2015 local elections in Japan. Next, we show that this positive relationship is more complicated depending on the characteristics of the election under consideration. Specifically, we distinguished election contests by levels of turnout and found that despite a positive relationship between turnout and the extent to which smiling increases a candidate’s support levels, the marginal increase in support declined as turnout increased and, in fact, became negative when some high-turnout threshold was crossed. Finally, we show that the number of candidates competing in an election is negatively related to the impact of a candidate smiling, confirming research conducted by the Dartmouth Group.
Traditional explanations for the electoral strength of independents (non-partisan candidates and seat-winners) both in Japan and elsewhere have focused on electoral rules, socio-demographic factors, and political culture. These analyses do not adequately address why Japanese local candidates, particularly conservatives, have tended to actively avoid partisan labels despite being affiliated to national parties. Nor does it explain the considerable variation in the number of independents over time where institutional and sociological factors remain largely constant. The article identifies two other factors, under-developed theoretically in existing literature, which discourages partisan affiliation at local level in Japan: (a) the effect of the unpopularity of parties at the national level on the behavior of local candidates; and (b) the partisan affiliation of directly elected local chief executives. These claims are substantiated by observations of local candidate behavior when the party in national government is unpopular and when the local chief executive is non-partisan.