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In Session: Japan's "Peace Constitution": Utilization, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation
1: Constitutional Revision Debates as Vehicles for Criticism of Postwar Public Opinion
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Durham University, United Kingdom
This paper brings together supporters and opponents of constitutional revision in order to show how intellectuals from across the political spectrum engaged in criticism of efforts to gauge public opinion from the 1950s to the 2010s. I argue that this convergent criticism must be understood with reference to the postwar rise of public opinion polling, transwar changes in the media, and particularities related to the topic of constitutional revision that made it an ideal vehicle for such criticism. After 1945, Allied Occupation authorities promoted governmental and private initiatives to quantify public opinion, providing technical assistance to pollsters and conducting their own in-house surveys. This was part and parcel of a democratization program that included the promulgation of a new constitution. After the Occupation ended, social scientists and literary critics of different political persuasions cast doubt on these attempts to measure public opinion. A recurrent theme was that the results of polls were susceptible to manipulation by the mass media. Controversy over proposed revisions to the postwar constitution – a common topic of opinion polls – became a conduit for much anxiety over the mass media and public opinion, in part due to the difficulty of relating the shifting Cold War geopolitical issues it impinged upon to the everyday experiences of an imagined national audience. More recent changes in polling techniques and new initiatives to gauge public opinion through deliberative discussion in the twenty-first century further illuminate the role played by constitutional debates in Japanese political culture throughout the postwar era.