Dynasties and Democracy: The Inherited Incumbency Advantage in Japan

Although democracy is, in principle, the antithesis of dynastic rule, families with multiple members in elective office continue to be common around the world. In most democracies, the proportion of such "democratic dynasties" declines over time, and rarely exceeds ten percent of all legislators. Japan is a startling exception, with over a quarter of all legislators in recent years being dynastic. In Dynasties and Democracy, Daniel M. Smith sets out to explain when and why dynasties persist in democracies, and why their numbers are only now beginning to wane in Japan—questions that have long perplexed regional experts.

Smith introduces a compelling comparative theory to explain variation in the presence of dynasties across democracies and political parties. Drawing on extensive legislator-level data from twelve democracies and detailed candidate-level data from Japan, he examines the inherited advantage that members of dynasties reap throughout their political careers—from candidate selection, to election, to promotion into cabinet. Smith shows how the nature and extent of this advantage, as well as its consequences for representation, vary significantly by the institutional context of electoral rules and features of party organization. His findings extend far beyond Japan, shedding light on the causes and consequences of dynastic politics for democracies around the world.

Stanford University Press, July 2018. Series: Studies of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center

Sample chapters (Chapters 1 and 2) available via the book's page at Stanford University Press. Also available on Amazon!


"Daniel Smith's Dynasties and Democracy is a triumph of expositional clarity and measurement. It is hard to think of a sharper evaluation of the effects of political institutions on the quality and nature of democratic competition." —Frances McCall Rosenbluth, Yale University

"Smith's book on dynastic politicians in Japan is a gem. He firmly and usefully places Japan into the comparative context through extensive presentation and analysis of data in other countries. His analysis will become the standard explanation for dynastic politicians in Japan. The prolific anecdotes and illustrations will also make this book appealing in classrooms." —Robert J. Pekkanen, University of Washington

"As E. E. Schattschneider put it, 'he who can make the nominations is the owner of the party.' Dynasties and Democracy investigates parties in which such 'ownership' is effectively inheritable, giving rise to political family dynasties. It provides both a fascinating comparative study of nominations and the most compelling analysis to date of democratic dynasties." —Gary W. Cox, Stanford University

"Dynasties and Democracy is destined to be on the syllabi of Japanese politics courses for many years to come, and indeed it should also be required reading for all students of electoral politics. Smith lays out his sophisticated theoretical project with ease while helping us see the people and institutions that populate the world of Japanese politics. Dynasties and Democracy is political science at its very best, and Smith one of the field's sharpest voices." —Sheila Smith, Journal of Asian Studies

"This deep dive into the phenomenon of democratic electoral dynasties is a valuable contribution to the comparative politics literature, not the least because the author makes good use of comparable findings from the Philippines and established democracies beyond Asia, such as the US, Ireland, and Israel. The puzzle presented by the high rate of such dynasties in the Japanese Diet by comparison with other liberal democracies and their implications for governing tie together the book's narrative and empirical findings…Recommended." —J.C. Hickman, Choice

"Finding the right balance between a deep understanding of a given context and a broader perspective on political phenomena is difficult. There is no doubt that Daniel M. Smith succeeds in his book… This is part of a much broader comparative endeavour that has the potential to reinvent the study of institutionalized political actors. Some scholars are better than others at maximizing the output from such data and Smith is among the best." —Marc André Bodet, Cahiers d’Études africaines

"Daniel Smith demonstrates that political institutions, especially electoral systems and candidate selection procedures, influence the dominance of political dynasties in Japan, thereby countering the view that the dominance is merely a reflection of Japan's indigenous traditions and culture....Smith tests the fascinating hypothesis persuasively by using extensive data and sophisticated methods and paints a vivid picture of the reality of Japanese politics." —Yosuke Sunahara, Japanese Journal of Political Science

"Utilizing mixed methods and exploring multiple dimensions of the subject, Smith successfully lays out a comprehensive and in-depth study of democratic dynasties…In addition, as Smith rightly claims, this study provides developing democracies with a number of important implications for fair representation, gender equality, and effective designing of party/electoral systems. Thus, the findings of this book are valuable not just for those who study Japanese politics but also for those who are interested in politics in other areas as well." —Hironori Sasada, Japanese Studies

"The vastness of the Japan data, the features of the country's history, and Smith's mastery of Japanese politics allow the author to examine specific hypotheses of his theoretical framework using a wide variety of empirical methods." —Carlos Velasco Rivera, Political Science Quarterly

"Clearly, this book is important not only for those with an interest in East Asia, but for everyone seeking to understand political dynasties in the world. This book offers a wealth of hypotheses and information for scholars interested in explaining the continued success of dynastic politicians to take to the test in their country of interest. It opens up a wide research agenda for future empirical and theoretical work on understanding dynastic prevalence." —Brenda van Coppenolle, Journal of East Asian Studies

"Smith's book is required reading for anyone interested in democratic politics more broadly and in the puzzle of political dynasties in democracies." —Matthew Carlson, Perspectives on Politics

Japan Decides 2017: The Japanese General Election

This third volume in the Japan Decides series remains the premier venue for scholarly research on Japanese elections. Putting a spotlight on the 2017 general election, the contributors discuss the election results, party politics, coalition politics with Komeito, the cabinet, constitutional revision, new opposition parties, and Abenomics. Additionally, the volume looks at campaigning, public opinion, media, gender issues and representation, North Korea and security issues, inequality, immigration and cabinet scandals. With a topical focus and timely coverage of the latest dramatic changes in Japanese politics, the volume will appeal to researchers and policy experts alike, and will also make a welcome addition to courses on Japanese politics, comparative politics and electoral politics.

Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. Also available on Amazon!


"The editors have skillfully brought together leading experts from across Japanese politics to analyze features of the election and politics and presented this in a highly accessible way. ...I would highly recommend this book to experts and students alike. This new volume, and the whole series, is fast becoming central to the study of Japanese elections." —Gill Steel, Japanese Journal of Political Science