In This Review

Dynasties and Democracy: The Inherited Incumbency Advantage in Japan
Dynasties and Democracy: The Inherited Incumbency Advantage in Japan
By Daniel M. Smith
Stanford University Press, 2018, 384 pp

The ability of prominent politicians to pass their government positions on to their wives, children, and grandchildren is a phenomenon found everywhere, but understanding why it occurs in democracies as well as autocracies is something of a puzzle. Part of the answer is that legacy politicians in democracies are able to exploit their families’ name recognition and local networks in their campaigns. Smith tests this insight by looking at how legacy candidates fared in Japan before and after 1994, when the country reformed its system for electing delegates to the lower house of the Diet. Under the pre-1994 system, each district elected more than one representative to the lower house, which enabled candidates to win with less than a majority and thus advantaged those with strong networks based on family connections. Legacy candidates became less numerous after the switch in 1994 to single-member districts. Even so, political dynasties still have an advantage, because local politicians have resisted the efforts of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s central party apparatus to nominate candidates with broader national appeal. And legacy candidates who make it to the Diet still have a better chance of being promoted to cabinet posts.