Support rate for Cabinet falls to 25.5%

Approval sinks 15 percentage points in only one month

Kyodo News

The approval rating for Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Cabinet has sunk to 25.5 percent, dropping 15.4 percentage points from the previous poll in November, according to a Kyodo News survey released Sunday.

The disapproval rating rose to 61.3 percent, up 19.1 points, with 55.7 percent of the respondents saying the Cabinet’s postponement of submitting a second extra budget to the Diet was inappropriate.

The dramatic fall in popularity is a severe blow to the Cabinet and will make it even more difficult for Aso to decide the timing for dissolving the Lower House and calling a general election.

Respondents to the poll, conducted over the weekend, gave higher marks to Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa than to Aso, though marginally, when asked which they would prefer to see as prime minister.

Ozawa was favored by 34.5 percent, up 10.1 points from the previous poll, while Aso was backed by 33.5 percent, down 17.5 points. It was the first time Ozawa has finished on top since Aso, who also heads the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister in September.

The increase in Aso’s disapproval rating may be due to his administration’s delay in forming a second supplementary budget and his numerous gaffes. The survey was carried on people whose home phone numbers were selected randomly by computer. Valid responses were received from 1,023 eligible voters out of 1,474 households contacted.

Poll results ‘severe’

Responding to the results of the latest poll showing a dramatic fall in the Cabinet’s approval rating, ruling lawmakers expressed pessimism Sunday while the opposition blasted the government as out of touch.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura admitted the poll numbers “are severe.”

“But we should not react emotionally to the results of each (media poll),” he said. “We’d like to put all our strength into compiling fiscal 2009 budget and a second supplementary budget for 2008.”

An approval rating of 30 percent is often regarded by political observers as the critical benchmark necessary to maintain the political strength of a Cabinet. Aso’s rating is now 25.5 percent, according to the Kyodo News poll, down 15.4 points from last month.

“Voters have completely turned their back on the Aso Cabinet,” charged Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Compared with his predecessors Yasuo Fukuda and Shinzo Abe, the fall in popularity is particularly steep.

At the three-month stage after formation, the Fukuda Cabinet was supported by 35.3 percent of the public, while the Abe Cabinet had a 48.6 percent rate.

The rating for the Fukuda Cabinet sank below the 30 percent level only after the government was harshly criticized for massive mismanagement of public pension records.

“Prime Minister Aso will no longer be able to dissolve the Lower House,” a senior member of the Liberal Democratic Party said. “Flip-flops on policy matters affected (the approval rate). Aso’s reputation as an economic expert has cooled,” said a senior lawmaker of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP.