Toward a two-party system or two party systems? Patterns of competition in Japan's single-member districts, 1996-2005

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This article examines whether electoral reform in Japan replacing a single non-transferable vote (SNTV) system with a parallel mixed system has led to two-party competition in single-member districts (SMDs) in House of Representative elections from 1996 to 2005. While nationwide figures suggest declining numbers of effective candidates and losers, distinguishing SMDs by levels of urbanization reveals that this trend is largely limited to urban areas. Instead of converging toward a two-party system as many proponents of electoral reforms had anticipated, elections under the SMD portion of the new system have witnessed the emergence and continuation of two distinct patterns of competition: urban constituencies featuring contests between two major parties, and rural constituencies dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The persistence of the latter pattern diminishes the prospect of power alternation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-393
Number of pages24
JournalParty Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010 May 1



  • Bipolar competition
  • Electoral reform
  • Japan
  • Single-member districts
  • Urban-rural differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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