NARA -- The Nara Prefectural Government has come under fire for a political awareness survey it conducted covering 2,000 voters in the prefecture this autumn, asking questions such as the likeability of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and which candidates they voted for in past elections.
Even though the survey was anonymous, academics are decrying the move as many of the survey's question items included matters that deeply concern individual voters' political ideologies and creed. "The data is inappropriate as something a local government would collect," said one expert.
The survey, the first of its kind in the western Japan prefecture, was planned by the prefectural government's municipal development division, and seven people including a university professor specializing in politics and public administration studies devised the question items. On Oct. 16, the prefectural government began sending out the survey forms to 2,000 residents in the prefecture aged 18 or older, who were randomly selected from voter rosters of each municipality, and asked them to return their responses by Nov. 8.
In the questionnaire, voters are asked to grade their fondness of Prime Minister Abe, Nara Gov. Shogo Arai and other politicians on a scale of 1 to 100, as well as the conservative regional party Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association) -- the only political party cited in the survey.
Furthermore, the survey also asks voters to specify which candidates they chose in the Nara gubernatorial election and prefectural assembly poll this past April, as well as in the House of Councillors election in July. It also questions which political party they support.
Other items in the survey ask voters about the pros and cons of amendments to the Constitution of Japan, increasing the consumption tax to 10% implemented in October, raising of the pensionable age, and the Osaka metropolis plan to convert the western Japan prefecture of Osaka into a metropolis and reorganize the city of Osaka into special wards like Tokyo.
The prefectural government explains that the survey, which is estimated to have cost some 7 million yen, is aimed at clarifying the characteristics of the region and utilizing them to raise voter turnout in elections and implement other local revitalization measures. The prefecture insists that it has considered privacy protection, saying it processes the survey results statistically so individual respondents won't be identified.
However, a voter awareness survey conducted by the Ishikawa Prefectural Government in central Japan in 2013 did not include questions regarding political ideologies and creed, nor voters' ballot destinations in elections. "In less-populated communities, the survey results could identify who voted for which candidates," said an official at the prefectural government.
Mitsunori Sato, a member of the Nara Prefectural Assembly belonging to the conservative opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), slammed the Nara Prefecture survey, saying, "The prefectural government failed to examine whether the contents of the question items are appropriate."
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, who serves as acting leader of the Osaka Restoration Association, posted a tweet saying, "It's incredible in a sense that this awareness survey was conducted by the prefectural government using taxpayers' money."
Professor Masao Matsumoto, head of the Social Research Survey Center at Saitama University who specializes in political awareness studies, said, "It's as if the government is conducting a Cabinet approval rating survey on its own. It is extremely unusual for a local government survey.
"Even though the survey is anonymous, it is problematic for a local government to get a grasp of data connected to voters' residential areas, age, ideologies and creed," he said.
(Japanese original by Yusuke Kato, Nara Bureau)