Newspapers and political accountability: evidence from Japan


This study examines the effects of local and national newspapers on local political accountability. Local newspapers are expected to monitor local governments’ behavior. However, national newspapers could also contribute to local governments’ accountability by attracting nationwide attention to a local policy issue. Using the method developed by Snyder and Strömberg (J Polit Econ 118:355–408, 2010), I construct a variable that measures the weighted market share of locally circulated newspapers in an administrative district in Japan. I find that an increase in the market share of local newspapers is associated with a reduction in local public works spending (seen as rents for local interest groups), which indicates an improvement in political accountability. In addition, the accountability effect of local newspapers becomes greater one year after national newspapers focus readers’ attentions on the issue of unnecessary public works. This result suggests that national newspapers serve as an agenda setter and complement local newspapers for strengthening local political accountability.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Prat and Strömberg (2013) and Strömberg (2015) provide detailed surveys of this topic.

  2. 2.

    Using Japanese prefecture-level panel data, Yamamura and Kondoh (2013) find that the Information Disclosure Ordinance, which requires the disclosure of official government information, is negatively associated with public works spending.

  3. 3.

    Snyder and Strömberg (2010) also use the variation in Congruence across counties within congressional races, entering a district-by-year fixed effect. That specification also provides some exogenous variation because it can control for the unobserved effects that remain constant within congressional elections, such as incumbents’ characteristics.

  4. 4.

    Owing to Japan’s local administrative system and limited data availability, I cannot use the identification strategy employed by Snyder and Strömberg (2010).

  5. 5.

    Rausch (2012) provides a detailed description of the recent developments of the newspaper market in Japan.

  6. 6.

    Previous empirical studies argue that public investment has been allocated inefficiently among regions and sectors (e.g., Okuno et al. 1994; Yoshino and Nakajima 1999).

  7. 7.

    Although prefectural governments do not receive grants for such projects from the central government, they can receive intergovernmental transfers from the central government in future years, depending on those projects’ costs.

  8. 8.

    The central government selects national projects based on local demands. Thus, spending for national public works is not constant over time across prefectures.

  9. 9.

    Until the end of the 1990s, public works spending was much higher in Japan than in other developed countries; for example, public investment as a percentage of GDP in 1998 was 7.4% in Japan, 1.8% in Germany, 1.4% in the United Kingdom, and 3.0% in the United States (OECD Economic Outlook).

  10. 10.

    Those newspapers do not sell evening editions separately (they bundle the evening edition with the morning edition).

  11. 11.

    Collecting data on each newspaper’s coverage regarding the issue of local public works is not straightforward. Therefore, the statistical examination of the relation between ReaderShare and newspapers’ coverage in Japan is not addressed in this paper and represents a venue for future research.

  12. 12.

    A simple variable such as local newspapers’ reach per household cannot take into account the effect of such large local newspapers, thereby failing to describe newspaper markets adequately, as in Gifu prefecture.

  13. 13.

    Newspapers’ circulation per household fell from 0.99 in 1998 to 0.82 in 2010.

  14. 14.

    I define local newspapers’ reach as total circulation minus the circulation of the five national newspapers in a prefecture.

  15. 15.

    Czernich (2012) finds that the Internet diffusion increases voter turnout in Germany, whereas Falck et al. (2014) find the opposite result. Internet diffusion lowers the cost of political information gathering. It also expands entertainment consumption, which crowds out news consumption as provided by the existing media (e.g. newspapers and television). Thus, the effect of the Internet is ambiguous.

  16. 16.

    Doi (2000) and Yamashita (2001) find that more LDP members in the national Diet and in the local assembly, respectively, are associated with higher public works spending.

  17. 17.

    Most of the circulation data for Congruence are averaged from January to June. Public works spending is based on the Japanese fiscal year, running from April to March. Local governmental budgets normally are discussed between January and March. The data for Congruence, thus, overlap the period when the budget for public works is proposed, debated and finalized. However, prefectural governments consider supplementary budgets in September, criticized often as containing wasteful spending. Congruence is predetermined when the supplementary budget is adopted. Entering the one-year lag of Congruence, thus, may result in underestimating the political accountability effect of newspapers on wasteful public works spending.


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I am grateful to an anonymous referee whose comments considerably improved the paper.

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Correspondence to Yukihiro Yazaki.

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Yazaki, Y. Newspapers and political accountability: evidence from Japan. Public Choice 172, 311–331 (2017).

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  • Local newspapers
  • National newspapers
  • Local political accountability
  • Public works

JEL Classification

  • D72
  • H72
  • L82