Cabinet approval rating falls to 57%

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An artist illustration : Approval rating for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet

The approval rating of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet stood at 57%, a recent Yomiuri Shimbun national opinion poll found, down eight percentage points from 65% in the previous survey conducted in July, just after the House of Councillors election.

According to the poll conducted from Friday to Sunday, the Cabinet disapproval rating rose to 32% from 24% in the previous July 11-12 survey.

Several lawmakers including members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party received election support and donations from the religious group called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, widely known as the Unification Church. On this issue, 87% of all respondents — and 82% of LDP supporters — said they did not think political parties or lawmakers concerned had fulfilled their responsibility to explain.

Meanwhile, 52% gave a positive evaluation to government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, down from 64% in the previous survey, while the percentage of respondents giving a negative evaluation rose by 10 percentage points to 41%.

Those with a low opinion of the government’s approach to rising prices, at 71%, was unchanged from an earlier opinion survey conducted on June 22 and 23.

Dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of issues related to the Unification Church, the coronavirus pandemic and rising prices apparently led to the decline in the approval rating. However, given that the approval rating of 57% is the same seen in the June 22-23 survey conducted just after the official start of the upper house election campaign, which the ruling parties won by a large margin, it would be safe to say that the latest approval rating is still high.

As for the government decision to hold a state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, public opinion was divided, with 49% evaluating it positively and 46% evaluating it negatively.

When asked which party they support, 38% named the LDP (down from 44% in the July survey), 6% picked the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, (unchanged from July), and 36% said they supported no particular party (up from 25%).

The Yomiuri Shimbun used random digit dialing to conduct the poll, calling landline and mobile phone numbers of eligible voters 18 and older nationwide. The latest poll obtained 1,035 valid responses from 420 landline phone users and 615 mobile phone users.

Elderly cooling on Cabinet

The eight-point decline in the Cabinet approval rating is partly due to a loss of support from respondents aged 60 and older. Looking at the Cabinet approval rating by age group, the approval rating among those 60 and older fell by 16 points from the previous survey to 58%, which is the largest decline among all age groups. The approval rating among respondents aged 18 to 39 fell by two points to 52% and among those aged 40 to 59 it dropped by four points to 59%.

There was a significant difference among age groups in the view of the government decision to hold a state funeral for Abe. Fifty-four percent of elderly respondents had a negative view, exceeding the 40% with a positive one. In contrast, 65% of respondents aged 18 to 39 saw the decision positively, far exceeding the 28% with a negative view. Opinion on the issue was divided among respondents aged 40 to 59, with 46% favoring the decision and 50% not.

As for the government’s handling of rising prices, 69% of elderly respondents had a low opinion, up five points from 64% in the June 22-23 survey. The percentage declined among the 18-39 age group to 68% from 78% and was almost unchanged among the 40 to 59 age group at 77% in the latest survey compared to 76% in the June survey.

Dissatisfaction with the government responses to the coronavirus and with the Unification Church’s ties to politicians is high among all age groups. Together with negative views on rising prices and the state funeral, this apparently led to the decline in the approval rating.

Reshuffle aimed at turnaround

With the Cabinet approval rating falling by eight points to 57% in the latest poll, more and more LDP members are concerned about strong criticism of the connections between the Unification Church and some Cabinet members and others. Kishida, the president of the LDP, hopes to turn the situation around by reshuffling the Cabinet and key LDP executives.

Concerning the religious group, Kishida said at an extraordinary meeting of LDP executives on Monday: “We should be very careful about having relationships with organizations seen by society as problematic. I would like each member to check their respective relationships with such entities and review them in an appropriate manner.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno instructed Cabinet members to review their respective ties with the Unification Church at a meeting of Cabinet members Monday. He will ask vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries to do the same.

The LDP has so far insisted that the party itself has no ties with the Unification Church. Even so, the party has again made clear that it would sever any ties with the group due to the public’s harsh view on the issue, which was seen in the latest Yomiuri Shimbun poll results.

In the reshuffle of the Cabinet and key party executives, Kishida is planning to select members carefully, while taking into account their connections with the Unification Church. However, connections with the religious group have been pointed out in regard to many members of the Abe faction, the largest faction in the LDP. For example, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda, whom Kishida intends to appoint to a key position in the party, has been found to have delivered a speech at a meeting related to the religious group in the past.

A middle-ranking member of the Abe faction said, “If Hagiuda is assigned to any key position, it would be difficult to completely get rid of the influence of the group.” Some LDP members have voiced concerns that, if newly appointed Cabinet members are found to have connections with the group, it would inevitably deal a blow to the government.

The latest poll found that 52% of respondents positively evaluated the government responses to the coronavirus and that 49% were positive about the decision to hold a state funeral for Abe. “The future approval rating depends on how the government will handle the issue of the Unification Church,” an experienced LDP lawmaker said.