The latest Yomiuri poll (May 17-18) has come out, as the excitement whipped up by the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance rollout and the gasoline tax reinstatement has worn off and talk has turned to trimming some of its rougher edges or reverting to the old insurance system (the opposition); [ and divvying the gas money between roads and other objectives or simply getting rid of the surcharge and making up the difference for local governments from the national budget (the opposition)]. The results show a slow but steady slide in public esteem for the Fukuda administration and the LDP-Komeito coalition. The changes appear to be within or near the margin of error. But when all the numbers trend in the same direction, they’re harder to explain away.
If you really want to get a good view of the Fukuda/coalition dip-DPJ lift right after the gasoline tax surcharge reinstatement and the subsequent fallback, there’s no better place to go than the weekly Fuji TV polls and compare the numbers for the past four weeks. I hope you’re not a coalition fan though, because the DPJ has consistently been beating the LDP-DPJ numbers for some time. The silver lining if you are is that your trend-lines appear to have steadied since February despite taking more major hits in the form of the insurance rollout and the gasoline tax surcharge reinstatement.
Where diplomacy is concerned, the poll also confirms that Hu Jintao’s visit had little effect on the Japanese public—no surprise, what with no visible breakthrough on the East China Sea gas fields and the 2millon-dollar price tag on the giant panda “gifts (according to unofficial reports—neither side has actually mentioned it). Looking ahead, beyond the polls, there’s no downside for the Prime Minister in the July G-8 Summit in Hokkaido. On the other hand, there’s not much upside to what has become over the years something of a giant photo-op. (Are they going to dress up in kimonos? Better than the clown suits that Jiang Zeming gave his colleagues. ) The Fukuda administration and the ruling coalition should not expect anything more than a small, momentary blip in popularity. Be thankful, instead, that botching the LTEMCI rollout and reinstating the unpopular gas tax surcharge have done limited damage.
Which brings us to the real political issue—the fiscal reform package, coming to us this autumn. You know that I have grave doubts on this about both sides. Now Ross approaches this from a different angle. He believes that an LDP loss, any LDP loss, will break the stranglehold that vested interests have on policy making, and that Ichiro Ozawa knows this and is willing to do anything to make it happen. The trillion-yen price tags on the DPJ promises are worth it.
I dunno, Ross, here’s hoping: You’re right, I’m wrong.
PS: And yes, there is the economy. There’s precious little that the Fukuda administration can do on its own in the event of a serious economic downturn. And if it’s really serious about fiscal reform , it will come up with a big tax bill. But I don’t think that the Japanese public trusts the DPJ with economic management either.