Public Attitudes, Opinion, and
the Conditions for Policy Influence
Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security tests the hypothesis that public attitudes toward security largely explain measurable public opinion on security issues and significantly influence policy in Japan. The main competing hypothesis claims that public attitudes toward security largely result from ruling-elite molding. Thus, ruling-elite molding is the independent variable in this competing hypothesis. A secondary competing elitist hypothesis tested in this book is that public attitudes are so unstable as to be incoherent and uninfluential if not nonexistent.
This chapter develops the theoretical argument of this book in three ways. First, it reviews the existing debates regarding the nature and influence of public opinion in the United States between elite and pluralist schools and considers the parallel but still underdeveloped debate in Japan. Second, it outlines public attitudes toward security and presents a theory of long-term elite influence on these attitudes through demonstration effects. Finally, this chapter identifies the conditions under which public opinion matters most, and matters least, in Japan.
As a leading and mature democracy, Japan is important for shedding light on the role of public opinion versus elites in policy making throughout the democratic world, with potential significance for the United States and elsewhere. Indeed, Japan is important because, as Ole Holsti notes, there is a real paucity of comparative case studies outside the United States.1 The debate between what will be called here elitists versus pluralists is the most important for understanding the role of public opinion in democratic states.
American advocates of the elitist school argue that public opinion is often unstable, uninformed, moody, and even incoherent.2 Public opinion, according to the famous findings of Philip E. Converse, is composed of “nonattitudes.”3 Public opinion is, in short, a factor that, if allowed to be influential,