Divided society model and social cleavages in Japanese politics: No alignment by social class, but dealignment of rural-urban division

Chiavacci, David GND

In recent years, Japan has been marked by fundamental changes. From the late 1990s onward, a new model of Japan as a divided society has replaced the former model of Japan as a general middle class society with a very high degree of equality regarding chances and outcome. Moreover, the national elections of 2007 and 2009 resulted in a historical defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and in a new government led by the Democratic Party Japan (DPJ). Using the framework of social cleavage theory, this paper analyses the relationship between these two changes in a historical perspective. It raises the questions of whether and how the new divided society model is connected to the recent change of power. Has the ascendance of the divided society model and its establishment as the dominant model and common sense played a role in the crushing defeat of the LDP and the change in power in the two recent elections? The main argument is that postwar Japanese politics and over five decades of LDP dominance were marked by a social cleavage between urban and rural areas. While a social cleavage by social class never fully developed in Japanese politics, stable and strong support by rural voters was the main pillar on which the LDP’s long success story was based. The new model of Japan as a divided society has played an important role in the change in power in the two recent elections. Although this new divided society model has not led to an alignment by social class – as one may have expected – it has resulted in a dealignment in the rural-urban division. The demise of the LDP was primarily due to its recent electoral defeat in rural areas, where it had once been invincible.