Major Japanese newspapers are projecting that the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party will win a majority of seats in next Sunday's election - but with polls showing nearly half of voters still undecided, the results are still far from certain.
The projections by the Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers published Thursday were based on telephone polls and their own reporting, analysis and prediction methods.
A survey by the Asahi newspaper estimated that the LDP, which ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era, could win 257 to 285 seats in the 480-seat lower house, while the ruling Democratic Party of Japan was seen winning 68 to 95 seats, far below its current strength of 230.
The Yomiuri newspaper projected similar results.
If the LDP wins an outright majority in the Dec. 16 election that would almost certainly make party president Shinzo Abe prime minister. The hawkish Abe held the top job for a year in 2006-2007.
However, the Asahi said its poll showed that about 40 to 50 percent of voters are undecided - a number that is consistent with other recent polls - meaning the actual election results could be quite different.
The Asahi said it polled an impressive 115,604 people on Tuesday and Wednesday through random computer dialing, but made it clear the election projections were also based on their reporting from each voting district and its own analysis. The newspaper wouldn't disclose the methods by which it reached its predictions.
Experts cautioned about giving too much weight to the projections given that the results are based partly on educated guesswork.
"This is what the newspapers always do (before elections), and very often they are fairly accurate but sometimes it may not be that true," said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University. "This is really not very scientific."
Nakano said such projections could have a self-fulfilling effect in that voters sometimes go along with the party they perceive is getting the most support.
A Kyodo News agency poll conducted this past weekend asking voters to pick the party they plan to support showed the LDP had backing from 18.4 percent, while the Japan Restoration Party, led by ex-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, came in second at 10.4 percent.
The DPJ was third with 9.3 percent. The New Komeito party, backed by the large lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, was fourth with 4.8 percent and the new, staunchly anti-nuclear Tomorrow Party was fifth with 3.5 percent.