Returning to this book’s original questions: Is Japanese public opinion stable, coherent, and composed of identifiable attitudes? Does Japanese mass opinion matter for policy?
Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security finds that Japanese public opinion is influential because it is stable, coherent, and, regarding attitudes about the utility of military force, not easily or quickly swayed by elite attempts to influence it. Japanese public opinion matters because it has a significant influence on Japanese foreign and security policies. When actual outcomes are compared with the counterfactual scenarios presented in the case study chapters dealing with the Gulf War, overseas deployments within the context of U.N. peacekeeping, and the Afghan and Iraq wars, it becomes clear that Japanese public opinion thwarted the ambitious plans of hawkish leaders such as Koizumi and Abe to play a military role in international politics. Consistent with V. O. Key’s “dikes” model, public opinion has instead “channeled” Japanese policy toward initiatives more relevant for territorial defense, such as missile defense and enhanced capabilities for the coast guard.
In sum, the combination of survey data on fundamental attitudes presented in Chapter 3 plus more than fifty years of real-world-event-driven media and government survey data presented throughout the book all point to a broad attitudinal defensive realism on the part of the public: growing support for the SDF as the guardian of national territory combined with robust skepticism about the utility of strategic offensive military force projection. This book further finds that these attitudes have in turn imposed defensive realist—like constraints on Japanese policy makers.
Overall, this study demonstrates the value that qualitative methods can have for analyzing an area traditionally dominated by quantitative methods, namely public opinion and the relationship with policy.1 Indeed, given that public opinion research has always had a qualitative soft underbelly in the form of the question wording with which respondents interact in complex