According to the January Yomiuri poll, public opinion is still running 45.6% (December: 52.5%) to 41.6% (35.3%) in favor of the Fukuda administration. However, Mr. Fukuda must act decisively to stanch the alarming drop in his popularity. He can take comfort from the fact that the DPJ failed to capitalize on his travails, as support for the LDP and the DPJ remained virtually unchanged at 35.5% (35.3%) and 16.9% (17.1%) respectively. More ominously for the DPJ, only 29.2% thought that the DPJ was capable of taking over the administration while a healthy majority of 59.8% believed it was not.
According to the January Asahi poll, the beleaguered Fukuda administration may have turned the corner as support edged up, albeit to a still anemic 34% (December: 31%). Still, Mr. Fukuda has a long way to go on his road to recovery, since the public continues to favor a DPJ-led administration over a LDP-led one by 35% (41%) to 27% (28%). The two parties are running neck and neck in public support with the DPJ at 25% (25%) and LDP 26% (27%), but independents are leaning heavily towards the DPJ, which leads the LDP in current voting preferences 36% (38%) to 25% (23%) for the Lower House proportional districts.
There is the usual 5-10 percentage-point Yomiuri-Asashi gap that reminds you that you are still in the multiverse that is the Japanese media. Still, why the anomalous downturn in the Yomiuri results, in contrast to Asahi’s and other polls that have been coming out the last few days with the Fukuda uptick? The answer is simple: Yomiuri conducted its December polling on the 10th and 11th, while the Asahi did it on the 19th and the 20th. And it was on the 11th that the likelihood of 9 million public pension accounts ending up untraceable to their rightful owners hit the media. You may remember that it was the cavalier manner in which Mr. Fukuda and his Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura treated the information and the promise then Prime Minister Abe and the LDP had made during the July Upper House election that truly incensed the public. The ten percentage point drop, more or less, between November and December can be attributed mostly to this incident. The December Asahi poll reflects this, while the Yomiuri one doesn’t. Since Yomiuri did the January polls on the 12th and 13th and Asahi on the 11th and 12th, the January differences mostly reflect the ideological gap between the two media giants. But the trend lines, which usually parallel each other, in this case do not.
There is a subsidiary question here. If my memory serves me right, Yomiuri and Asahi normally conduct their polls during more or less the same period, over two days around the weekend closest to the 10th*. Then why did Asahi conduct its December poll on the 19th and 20th? Here’s what I think: Asahi actually had finished or nearly finished one when the news broke on the potential magnitude of the missing pension accounts and the botched response, and decided not to release the results in the belief that the results would be misleading. Is this manipulation? In a sense, yes, though I don’t think that it is a serious violation of journalistic ethics. Still, I would be happier if they had released the original results with the proper caveats and done the late version as a one-off poll. They all do that when they believe that the occasion warrants.
* I am working from memory here, so I’m not sure. If you can confirm the matter one way or the other, I would be happy to know.