Kishida Cabinet receives 66% approval rating, its highest, amid 6th wave of virus

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, is seen before the Cabinet meeting on Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.

The approval rating of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet was 66%, the highest level since its inauguration in October last year, according to a public opinion poll conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun from Jan. 14 to 16.

The rate was up four percentage points from the previous survey conducted from Dec. 3 to 5, and the disapproval rating remained at 22%.

The experience of former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet showed that the more coronavirus infections spread, the lower the approval rating tends to be. However, Kishida has managed to maintain a high approval rating even amid the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Regarding the government’s response to the spread of the COVID-19, 52% of respondents said they evaluated it well, which is higher than the 41% who said they did not. In particular, 76% of respondents highly rated the policy on people who are asymptomatic or have only minor symptoms, who are allowed to recuperate at home or in accommodation facilities in order to protect the medical system.

Many people supported Kishida’s efforts to help students who were unable to take university entrance examinations because they had been in close contact with COVID-19 patients, and 86% highly evaluated his request for universities to be flexible in helping such students, including allowing them to take a supplementary exam or retake the exam.

The sixth wave of the pandemic is arriving with the omicron variant becoming mainstream. The daily number of newly infected people exceeded 20,000 for the first time in 4½ months on Friday, the first day of the opinion poll. However, the approval rating for Kishida’s Cabinet rose four percentage points from the previous survey.

This is in contrast to the approval rating of the Suga Cabinet during the fifth wave last July-September, when the delta variant was raging. It hit one record low after another, dropping to 35% in the August survey when the daily number of cases surged to more than 15,000, about seven times the previous month’s figure, and plunging to 31% in the September survey, when the number increased even further.

Those who approved of the Suga Cabinet’s countermeasures outnumbered those who did not only twice during the October and November 2020 surveys, when his cabinet had just launched. Since its inauguration, the Kishida Cabinet has continued to have more people rate it highly than those who do not.

The Kishida Cabinet is taking preemptive measures against the spread of the virus, and this seems to be the main point people approve of. This seems to be because Kishida has reflected on the fact that the cabinets of Suga and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were often criticized for being slow to respond.

The number of severe cases caused by the omicron variant is relatively small, which is also believed to have weakened the impact of increasing cases on approval ratings.

However, when asked why they support the Kishida Cabinet, only 15% of respondents said because its policies are promising, down seven percentage points from the previous survey, while 44% said it is because “there are no other good alternatives,” which is up five percentage points.

The reality is that it is hard to say the Cabinet has solid support.