The Liberal Democratic Party’s lead in voter support over the Democratic Party of Japan is diminishing in the runup to the Sept. 11 election, and the approval rate for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet has edged down, according to a Kyodo News tracking poll taken over the weekend.

The DPJ gained ground in the telephone poll ahead of the start of official campaigning Tuesday, with the gap in support between the two major parties narrowing by about 5 percentage points from the previous poll a week ago.

The Koizumi Cabinet’s approval rate fell by 1.7 points to 47.4 percent while disapproval decreased by 0.3 point to 40.9 percent.

Some 42.2 percent of the 1,250 respondents said the main issue of concern was social welfare policies such as pensions and medical services, up 6.4 points from the Aug. 20-21 poll. Meanwhile, those who chose postal privatization fell to 20.6 percent from 22.8 percent.

The result suggests Koizumi’s aim to focus the election on his defeated bills to privatize Japan Post may be losing steam, while the DPJ’s strategy of highlighting pension reform as the most important issue seems to be succeeding in attracting voters’ support.

Asked which party they would vote for in the proportional representation sector, 29.7 percent of the respondents chose the LDP, down from 31.5 percent in the previous poll. Those supporting the DPJ rose by 3.1 points to 18.3 percent.

In single-seat districts, support for the LDP remains almost the same at 30.6 percent, up 0.3 point, but backing for the DPJ leaped from 12.2 percent to 17.5 percent.

With two weeks to go before voting day, 36.1 percent were undecided on which party to vote for in the proportional representation sector, down from 41.2 percent in the last poll, and 37.0 percent in single-seat districts, down from 46.1 percent.

Voters will be casting ballots for individual candidates in single-seat districts and for political parties in the proportional representation blocks.

The gap in support for the LDP and DPJ among those who do not usually back any specific party, about two-thirds of all respondents, also narrowed.

If they had to choose one party to support, 29.7 percent of the floating voters would choose the LDP, down from 33.5 percent, while 24.1 percent would decide on the DPJ, up from 20.5 percent.

Some 88.0 percent of the respondents expressed interest in the election, up from 85.1 percent in the previous poll.

Kyodo News conducts three pre-election surveys at regular intervals to analyze changes in voters’ opinion of political parties and their degree of interest in the election. The same questions are posed in all three surveys.

The final poll will be held Sept. 8 and 9.

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