Thursday, February 21, 2008

Yomiuri Polls Worrying for LDP; Even More So for Mr. Fukuda

Yomiuri Polls Worrying for LDP; Even More So for Mr. Fukuda

The latest Yomiuri polls are out, and it shows the ruling coalition, LDP and Prime Minister Fukuda all slipping.

Mr. Fukuda fares poorly, with his support numbers dropping from 45.1%in January to 38.7% in the February 16-17 polls. Non-support jumped from 41.6% to 50.8%, overtaking support for the first time during his reign.

68.8% think that he does not demonstrate leadership within the Cabinet and towards the coalition parties (while only 24.9% think he does). 69.5% think that his beliefs and strongly-held views are unclear (13.7%). 80.0% think that he fails to explain his policies to the public sufficiently (13.7%) 74.9% think that he does not have a clear attitude towards undertaking reform (74.9%). Basically, the public sees the mild-mannered, conciliatory Prime Minister as a wuss, an anti-Koizumi if you will.

The LDP is suffering as well, as its support has slipped from 35.5% to 32.6%. The DPJ has improved slightly, from 16.9% to 20.1%, but obviously has a way to go before it can overtake the LDP. It is notable that only 41.4% think that the DPJ has been doing a good job during this Diet session while 53.2% think that it hasn’t.

Support for an LDP (6.7%) or LDP/New-Kōmeitō coalition government (22.0%) adds up to only 28.7%. The saving grace for the ruling coalition is that a DPJ (5.2%) or DPJ-led coalition government (17.5%) fares even worse, with 22.7%. A Grand Coalition has 19.0% support, while 17.2% prefer a reorganization of the existing political parties. Add the 0.1% opting for “others”, and you have a total of 37.2% calling for a third way.

On more specific issues, 74.9% think that Mr. Fukuda is not dealing appropriately with recent changes in the state of the economy, while only 19.3% think that he is. 62.2% favor the abolition of the gasoline tax surcharge for road construction purposes*, while 29.4% think that it should be extended. Curiously, the public is almost evenly divided between those who think that the Upper House should vote on the bill by the end of March (45.2%) and those who don’t (452%). Moreover, 60.4% think that the two sides should seek a compromise (while 30.3% oppose that.)

The (Yomiuri) poll finds a public that is dissatisfied with the LDP/LDP-New Kōmeitō, but is even less enamored with the DPJ. The public wants what I’ll call constructive engagement. The will not look kindly on any side that goes for a mini-max solution.

This leads to two, admittedly tentative conclusions. First, the public does not have an appetite for a snap election. If the DPJ try to force a snap election at all costs, it will suffer a public backlash. Second, the public will look most favorably on a gasoline tax compromise that falls somewhere between an outright cutoff and an unconditional extension. The DPJ cannot stand pat and hope that the public will support it. Conversely, the LDP road tribe (the New Kōmeitō and DPJ roadies too, for that matter) cannot hope to keep continuing to tear down the Koizumi reforms**. All this is something that will clearly be in the minds of both sides as the March 31 deadline approaches.

One more thing. Mr. Fukuda is showing some chronic shortcomings. He is seen as lacking in leadership and decisiveness in these times of growing uncertainty and insecurity, and a poor communicator as well. This is a perception that is not tied to a single incident, and is therefore difficult to correct. If his predicament continues - and there is no reason to believe that he can change his personality, his operation mode, at 71 - he will increasingly be seen as a liability as a front man for the ruling coalition. I now think that an internal coup, or half-willing abdication, to be followed by a snap election under a new Prime Minister is no longer a farfetched conjecture.

* The questionnaire pointedly does not ask about an extension as general budget revenue source.

** Needless to say, this makes imminent sense for the public interest.

No. I don’t think that Mr. Fukuda is hearing Mr. Koizumi’s footsteps at all. But then, I have a knack for saying stuff, only to have the opposite happen.

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