Japan Prime Minister’s Dangerously Low Cabinet Approval Rating a Shocking Blow to Ruling Party

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo at 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

The approval rating of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet has plummeted to a dangerously low level of 24%. For the first time since the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in 2012, a Yomiuri Shimbun poll has recorded an approval rating in the 20s.

Kishida’s recent Cabinet reshuffle and tax cut announcements have not worked as he had hoped, putting the prime minister in a difficult situation.

“We humbly accept the results,” said LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, indicating that there are no quick ways to buoy the support. “We will tackle internal and external challenges one by one to restore public trust.”

The poll result shocked the government and the ruling LDP. Cabinet ratings for the previous two polls had been low but steady.

“The bottom seems to have dropped out,” an LDP heavyweight said. “The figure is abnormal.”

The public’s critical sentiment is believed to have come from the Cabinet’s poor choice of personnel, exposed when two state ministers and a parliamentary vice minister resigned in succession. This was on top of the unpopularity of a series of Kishida policies, such as an income tax cut.

“Resignation after resignation, ministers falling like dominoes, are a direct cause of the decline in support,” said Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito.

“The government’s policies and personnel appointments are in total collapse,” said Kenta Izumi, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Izumi added that he had been gearing up for Monday’s start of Diet deliberations to question Kishida and his ministers on the fiscal 2023 supplementary budget.

Like 2009?

Since the LDP regained power, the Yomiuri poll has recorded cabinet approval ratings above 30%, even when an administration was facing headwinds from policy implementation or scandals.

In September 2015, when security-related laws were enacted under then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to allow the Self-Defense Forces the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense, Abe’s Cabinet approval rating was 41%. In July 2017, when scandals involving the sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen aroused public criticism against the Abe Cabinet, its approval rating dropped 13 percentage points from the previous month, but still stood at 36%.

The rating this time was not even close to the low of 31% for then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet in the poll right after Suga announced his resignation in September 2021.

“Rejection of Kishida that stems from strongly disliking his Cabinet is the trend even among LDP supporters,” a senior LDP official said. “There is an untenable mood.”

There are fears the situation resembles that of then Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Cabinet, the unpopularity of which paved the way for the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan to take over the reins of government.

The Aso Cabinet implemented economic stimulus measures, such as fixed-sum cash handouts, in response to the economic downturn triggered by the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers. Its approval rating in August 2009, just before the House of Representatives election, was only 22%.

Looking ahead

Moves are afoot in the ruling LDP by some individuals to position themselves for the party’s presidential election next September. Sanae Takaichi, who has previously sought the post, has formed a study group, for example.

Lower house members’ terms expire at the end of October 2025, while Kishida’s term as LDP president runs through September 2024. At this point, there are no strong candidates openly challenging Kishida, with the three largest factions in the LDP continuing to back the prime minister, who heads his own faction.

The latest poll showed a slight drop in support for the LDP, while support for opposition parties remained relatively unchanged.

“The public will be even more critical of us if we get carried away at a time like this,” said a senior lawmaker of the largest LDP faction once led by Abe. “We must not have any intraparty quarrels.”

Causes of concern remain, however. Five LDP factions are under suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law. If Kishida is unable to break out of the doldrums in his approval rating from next spring, a former Cabinet member said, “There is a possibility that Kishida will be ousted before the LDP presidential election.”