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Calling campaigns less effective amid increasing use of voicemail, smartphones

TOKYO -- Political calling campaigns are struggling to succeed as many homes in which elderly family members reside are using voicemail to fend off potential scammers, and households without landline telephones are increasing amid the widespread use of smartphones.

Campaign teams backing candidates in the July 21 House of Councillors election face difficulties making effective use of this traditional election campaign tactic.

An executive of a camp supporting a female candidate in the Tokyo constituency lamented, "The number of households that do not answer phone calls began increasing from around the spring nationwide local elections. Compared to the past, it is becoming difficult (to conduct calling campaigns)."

Under the Public Offices Election Act, campaign teams for candidates can seek to influence the decision-making process of voters via phone calls. Because explanations on policies and other information can be directly provided through a phone call, it's believed to have greater effect than handing out flyers or other methods, and thus many campaign teams used this tactic.

But recently, there are increasing cases where people do not answer calls from numbers they do not recognize, and calls go to voicemail even if the person on the other side is at home.

It is assumed that so-called "special fraud" cases using phone calls are the reason behind this trend. According to statistics from the National Police Agency, 16,496 cases of special fraud were acknowledged in 2018 -- 2.4 times more than in 2010 when the figure stood at 6,888.

There has also been a series of robbery cases in which victims received "appointment calls" asking if they had cash at their homes. In one case, an 80-year-old woman was found dead in her apartment in Tokyo's Koto Ward in February 2019 after receiving such a call. For this reason, local police and governments are urging people to use voicemail even if they are at home, as a measure to avoid coming into contact with scammers.

The number of landline telephones is also decreasing. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' White Paper on Information and Communications in Japan, landlines had a 90.9% penetration rate as of 2008, but decreased to 64.5% in 2018. On the other hand, mobile phones including smartphones had reached a penetration rate of 95.7%. But it is not viable to call up many unspecified numbers via mobile phones since one cannot tell which constituency phone users belong to.

Campaign teams have been forced to come up with measures to overcome this situation. A camp supporting a female candidate in the Kinki region in western Japan asked volunteers to call their acquaintances via cell phones.

Another camp backing a female candidate in the Tokyo constituency decided to first give out the name of the party or the candidate when their calls go to voicemail, so it will not be considered suspicious.

A separate camp siding with a male candidate in the Tokyo constituency is making calls mainly to supporters who have offered to volunteer or provided donations. An individual close to the campaign team stated, "Political calling campaigns may not have that much effect anymore, but we will try not to overlook any (potential) ballots."

(Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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