Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Political Science, University of California / San Diego

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Assistant Professor, Political science, University of California / San Diego
Mobilizing Consumers: The Politics of Food Safety in the Global Economy

This project asks three inter-related questions on the role of consumers in trade policy making in Japan and the United States since 1990. First, under what circumstances do consumers, who should be the primary beneficiaries of free trade, become protectionist? More specifically, when do consumers’ concerns about food safety issues override the apparent benefits of free trade (i.e., lower price and more options)? What are the socio-economic and political determinants of consumers’ sensitivity to the food safety issues and hence protectionist attitudes? Second, under what conditions do politicians and political parties align with consumers to propose more stringent regulations such as obligations to report a product’s country of origin or increased import product inspections? Do patterns of alignment or coalitions differ depending on whether product safety issues arise with respect to domestic or foreign manufactures or Chinese vs. other foreign manufactures? In other words, do politicians care about food safety issues merely to protect consumers’ interests, or do they use the issue instrumentally to protect domestic producers’ interests in their district, or as bargaining leverage for bilateral or multilateral trade diplomacy? Finally, how do different electoral institutions in the U.S. and Japan shape politicians’ incentives to align with consumers? Are their positions on food safety issues divided along a partisan line (i.e., Democrats are pro-consumers and Republicans are pro-producers in the U.S., the DPJ are pro-consumers and the LDP are pro-producers) or geographic line (urban representatives are pro-consumers and rural representatives are pro-producers)? Has the proportional representation (PR) system adopted after the 1994 reform in Japan changed the pattern of alignment? Has the PR system empowered producers over consumers as Rogowski and Kayser (2002) have conjectured, or, has it empowered consumers over producers since PR can represent diffused interests more strongly than a majoritarian electoral system (McGrivllay 2004)? To answer these inter-related questions, this project will use two-levels of comparison between Japan and the United States: societal-level comparison of the determinants of consumers’ attitudes toward trade and food safety issues and elite-level comparison of politicians’ responses to consumer vs.producers’ interests. The two-level comparison allows us to see (a) how consumers’ preferences are shaped by their economic, political, and social attributes and (b) how electoral institutions shape politicians’ incentives to mobilize and form coalitions with consumers to secure reelection. In addition to conducting a survey as described below, I will collect information on politicians’ positions on the food safety issue looking at major food crises and food safety legislation in the United States and Japan since 1990. I will use roll-call votes and legislators’ testimony before the committees as core evidence for the U.S. case and the Diet testimony by lower-house members and interviews for the Japanese case.