Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has a 9 percentage point lead over the upstart Kibo no To (Party of Hope) led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, a Kyodo News survey showed Sunday, three weeks ahead of the Oct. 22 general election.
In the two-day telephone survey conducted from Saturday, 24.1 percent of respondents said they would back the LDP while 14.8 percent said they planned to vote for Kibo no To in the proportional representation section of the Lower House poll.
The fledgling party reached a deal last week with the Democratic Party to have some of its members run on the Kibo no To ticket in a bid to unify voters in a showdown with the ruling bloc.
Meanwhile, the approval rating for the Abe Cabinet stood at 40.6 percent, down 4.4 points from the previous survey conducted on Sept. 23 and 24, while the disapproval rate stood at 46.2 percent.
The survey was the first since Koike launched her new party on Sept. 25, the same day Abe announced his intention to dissolve the Lower House for a general election.
It also comes after Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara’s decision to effectively disband his struggling party and let its members run with Koike’s party. In the survey 62.3 percent of respondents disapproved of the decision, while 28.1 percent expressed approval.
Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP, and the Japanese Communist Party each secured 4.9 percent support.
The election outcome remains uncertain, with 42.8 percent of respondents undecided.
When asked whether Abe or Koike should be selected as prime minister by the Diet after the general election, 45.9 percent said Abe and 33.0 percent backed Koike. Around 21.1 percent did not know or did not respond.
A majority of respondents — 53.4 percent — were opposed to amending the war-renouncing Constitution under Abe, while 34.0 percent were supportive.
The voters’ trend survey, covering 893 randomly selected households with eligible voters as well as 1,312 mobile phone numbers, received responses from 611 and 608 people, respectively.
As for the election outcome, 27.4 percent said they hope the ruling coalition will win more seats than the opposition parties, down 5 points, 16.9 percent said they hope to see opposition parties overtake the ruling parties, up 8.5 points, and 48.6 percent said they want the election to bring about a more balanced distribution of seats between the ruling and opposition parties, down 0.7 point.
A total of 465 seats will be up for grabs in the upcoming election. The ruling coalition currently holds 320 seats in the Lower House, including the one occupied by the speaker.
Abe had hoped to capitalize on the opposition’s disarray to further solidify his conservative LDP-led coalition’s majority in the Lower House, where it held a two-thirds supermajority before dissolution.
However, his gamble now appears increasingly shaky, given growing support for Koike’s new party and Abe’s own baggage, including two favoritism scandals that have continued to dog him.
A key focus of this month’s election is likely to be whether political coalitions wanting to revise the pacifist Constitution, including Abe’s LDP and its junior partner, Komeito, will be able to retain more than two-thirds of the 465-seat chamber.
The Abe Cabinet’s approval rating — a critical indicator for the arguably populist prime minister — have rebounded significantly in recent media polls after suffering a sharp plunge in the wake of scandals over alleged government favoritism involving school operators Kake Gakuen and Moritomo Gakuen in recent months.
In the previous Kyodo survey, conducted Sept. 23 to 24, respondents were asked about a new party being organized by those close to Koike, with 6.2 percent expressing support. The LDP’s support rate at that time stood at 27.0 percent.
In the latest survey, Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party each secured 4.9 percent support, with 42.8 percent of respondents undecided.