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Does NHK Make You Smarter (and Super News Make You ‘Softer’)? An Examination of Japanese Political Knowledge and the Potential Influence of TV News*


A fundamental component of liberal democracy – citizen knowledge – has only recently been examined in Japan; rarer still are assessments of the impact of media consumption on political awareness. In this paper, we utilize two recent sources – the Japanese Election Studies III (JESIII) and GLOPE2005 – to address two related questions: (1) what factors influence Japanese political knowledge? and (2) is the changing media environment in Japan having an influence on what citizens know about political affairs? With regard to the first question, we find, in line with previous studies in the US context, that knowledge is explained by education, gender, and politically impinged employment as base factors, with interest, efficacy, and civic duty playing a role as second-stage behavioral factors. Evidence of other traits presumed to distinguish the more informed Japanese – dissatisfaction with politics and community mobilization context (living in urban areas, districts with higher voter turnout, and having larger social networks – remains mixed. Regarding the second question, we find that the effects of media exposure on knowledge vary. Where the GLOPE2005 finds an influence of regular newspaper reading, the JESIII indicates that watching a TV news program ‘often’ also boosts knowledge. The JESIII results reveal further that, ceteris paribus, regular exposure to NHK contributes to higher levels of knowledge at a rate that is comparable to a one unit increase in educational attainment. Conversely, we find that softer news programs (e.g., Fuji TV's Super News) have a depressive effect that appears to decrease knowledge as exposure accumulates. The direction of the causal arrow is not entirely clear. At the same time, our findings lend credence to previous work that raises concerns about the ‘infotainization’ of Japanese (and US) news programming (e.g., Taniguchi, 2007; Prior, 2005). Rather than demystifying or democratizing Japanese politics, softer programs may simply be perpetuating extant gaps between elites and the public.

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The authors kindly acknowledge the generous support of the Social Science Research Institute, International Christian University, and thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. The Japanese Social and Political Attitudes in the 21st century (GLOPE2005) data used in this paper (Bailor: Waseda University 21st Century COE ‘Constructing Open Political-Economic Systems’) are provided by The University of Tokyo Institute of Social Science, Social Science Japan Data Archive (SSJDA). The Japan Election Studies III data are the result of the JES III Research Project (Participants: Ken'ichi Ikeda, University of Tokyo; Yoshiaki Kobayashi, Keio University; and Hiroshi Hirano, Gakushuin University), a part of ‘The Nationwide Chronological Studies on Voting Behaviors in the Early 21st Century’ supported by ‘Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research 2002–2006’ from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The authors are responsible for all the analyses and conclusions based on these studies; the research groups collecting the data, and SSJDA which provided the data, are not responsible.

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Japanese Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 1468-1099
  • EISSN: 1474-0060
  • URL: /core/journals/japanese-journal-of-political-science
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