Public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, battered by a smoldering scandal and a perception that he is taking voters for granted, has fallen below 30 percent, the lowest since he returned to power in 2012, a survey released on Friday showed.
The suspicion of scandal over alleged favoritism linked to a friend’s business and missteps by his Cabinet ministers have taken a toll on Abe, who until recently was favored to win a third three-year term as a leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and hence, prime minister when his term expires in September 2018.
Support for Abe’s government sank 15.2 points from a month earlier to 29.9 percent, according to a July 7 to 10 survey by Jiji Press. The biggest reason cited for not backing the Cabinet was lack of trust in the prime minister.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the government would take the drop “sincerely as the voice of the people”.
“While aiming for economic recovery as our top priority, we want to strive to solve various problems in and outside Japan one by one in a steady manner,” Suga said.
Natuso Yamaguchi, the leader of Komeito, the junior partner in Abe’s ruling coalition, earlier on Friday urged the prime minister to focus on regaining public trust.
Abe is considering a wholesale shake-up of his Cabinet on Aug. 3 that would replace more than half of his 19 ministers but retain his key allies, media have reported.
The Cabinet changes, however, may well have only a limited impact on Abe’s ratings, politicians and analysts said.
“When support rates fall like this, it becomes a negative spiral,” said Nihon University political science professor Tomoaki Iwai.
“All Abe can do is take a humble stance and keep apologizing. It will take time.”
Abe’s first term as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007, ended in tatters when he quit abruptly after a year plagued by Cabinet scandals and gaffes, a furor over lost public pension payments, a devastating election loss and ill health.
Some experts said that for now, though, Abe’s job looked safe.
“I think this is a shock to the government,” said independent analyst Minoru Morita.
But Abe’s support is still above the single-digit level that has forced some past leaders to resign.
“There is the view that depending on his response, his ratings can recover,” Morita said.
Suga, however, said the conservative LDP’s goal of revising the pacifist, post-war Constitution remained unchanged.
Abe said in May he wanted to achieve his cherished dream of amending the U.S.-drafted charter — seen by many conservatives as a humiliating symbol of Japan’s defeat in World War II — by 2020.
Achieving the goal that soon, however, looks increasingly tough in view of Abe’s sagging popularity, a key LDP lawmaker said Wednesday.
Although support for the LDP slipped to 21.1 percent, the main opposition force, the Democratic Party, has failed to benefit.
Instead, the ratio of voters who said they back no party at all rose 4.5 points to 65.8 percent, the survey showed.