Japan Campaign Offices Struggle to Attract Votes over the Phone

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A device to detect fraud connected to a land-line telephone

A series of high-profile break-ins in which culprits phoned ahead of time to get private information on assets and family situation has left people skittish about talking on the phone or even answering it in the first place.

For campaign offices aiming to solicit votes for the upcoming unified local elections, the heightened consciousness about crime has made them scramble for other ways than over the time-tested method of phoning.

“How did you get my phone number? I don’t remember ever telling you.”

That was the angry response from an elderly man to a female campaign staff member in her 40s of an incumbent running for a Hokkaido prefectural assembly. She had called from a list of the candidate’s supporters.

The exchange came in mid-February, just after four suspects were deported from the Philippines to Japan for allegedly masterminding a string of robberies around the nation involving the use of “dark” part-time jobs solicited on social media.

Under the Public Offices Election Law, phoning people to appeal for votes is allowed during the campaign period, while calls related to the activities of supporters’ groups are allowed even before the period.

The camp of the incumbent male candidate running for a seat in Sapporo has encountered trouble with phone solicitations more than a few times. Calls often go directly to voicemail, or are disconnected via security functions.

“This is because of the recent series of robberies,” the candidate said with a downtrodden look. He and his staff had called voters to solicit their support during past campaigns, but has abandoned doing so this time.

The campaign office of another candidate in Sapporo for the prefectural assembly election said calls have provoked responses such as “I don’t recall joining the supporters’ group,” or “Why are you calling me?” far more than they did four years ago during the previous unified local elections.

The Hokkaido prefectural police said that since early February, there has been a rash of suspicious phone calls meant to determine if a resident was home. By March 31, 477 such calls were confirmed mainly in Sapporo in which the caller said, “I’m on my way home” or “I’ll visit you now.”

Police said these calls could have been made by a criminal group doing the prep work for a break-in or robbery, or could be part of a fraud scheme.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, there were 51.11 million fixed telephone land lines as of the end of December 2022, a decrease of about 10% over the past 10 years due to the shift to mobile phones.

“Phone calls to voters are an important means for solidifying our base, but it may be no longer suited to the times,” said the incumbent candidate who has stopped making calls.