Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet saw its approval rate fall to 48.6 percent in an opinion poll conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, the figure dipping below 50 percent for the first time since Abe took office in September.
The fall follows Abe's decision to readmit 11 "postal rebels" to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a move that was formalized Monday, reversing last year's move by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to expel them for opposing his postal privatization bills.
Support for Abe's Cabinet fell 7.9 percentage points in the latest Kyodo News telephone poll from the previous survey on Nov. 25 and 26, a sharp decline from the 65.0 percent approval rate he had shortly after taking over from Koizumi.
Meanwhile, disapproval for the Cabinet surged 11.2 points from the November survey to 35.3 percent.
The telephone poll was conducted on 1,023 households selected at random.
Of those asked, 67.9 percent said they do not support the LDP's readmission of the rebel lawmakers, underlining public disappointment with the about-face only 15 months after the party won an overwhelming victory, largely by campaigning against postal reform opponents in the September 2005 Lower House election.
Of those expressing dissatisfaction with the move, 40.5 percent said they do not support the readmission because it is a blatant effort to gain an electoral edge, while 39.7 percent said they see it as disregarding the result of the 2005 election.
The LDP is believed to have allowed the return of the postal rebels because the party wants the lawmakers, who have strong support in their districts, to boost the party's chances in the House of Councilors election next summer.
Nevertheless, 34.1 percent of pollees said the move will backfire.
Commenting on the survey, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference, "All we can do is respond humbly to public opinion polls and seriously address each reform policy on the menu – we have pledged to the public, and attain results.”