Monday, August 27, 2012

Is the Gradual, Steady Incumbent Upswing Finally Under Way for Noda?

It may be a dead-cat bounce, but I’ve believed for some time that a personable but seemingly down and out incumbent will enjoy a gradual but steady upswing once exogenous shock wears down.* And by riding the wave of indignation against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and minimizing the political fallout from the most recent Senkaku Islands incident, Prime Minister Noda appears to have gotten over the latest hump. The Nikkei-TV Tokyo polls (taken August 24-26, published 27) have support for the Noda cabinet at 31%, up from the July low at 28%, while the DPJ is at 21%, up from 18%, and the LDP at 25%, down from 27%. In case you’re wondering, Ozawa’s People’s Life First polled a fringe-party 1%—likewise the SDP—behind Your Party at 6%, Komeito at 4%, and JCP at 3%. 27% were undecided, as Hashimoto’s Ishin no Kai—the Tokyo and Nagoya-Aichi movements won’t really count in the big picture—loomed large in the background.

This must be heartening to Noda and the DPJ, since it puts the LDP within striking distance, and the pace can quicken dramatically one way or the other when the media turns its full attention to the looming lower house election and the politics and policy choices around it. There’s little chance that he’ll be unseated in the DPJ representative election a month from now, and a reasonably good showing in the September polls, particularly just before the leadership vote, will add a layer of positive coverage for the lead-up to the main event.

Now one swallow does not make a summer, but I think it also helps Noda that the media apparently has decided that Sadakazu Tanigaki, who is also up for reelection next month for the LDP leadership, is a wimp. After all, you only have to outrun the other guy, at least until the third party movements get their act together. If this is the onset of a trend rather than a one-off road bump for the LDP and the September polls show it slipping behind the DPJ, I would bet on the party leadership being tossed, Hail Mary style, to Nobuteru Ishihara or, less likely, Shigeru Ishiba.

That’s it for now. A heavy workload awaits me this week. May not be coming back until Friday, if then.
* I got this idea after Ross Schaap at Eurasia Group pointed out to me years ago the secular rise in Prime Minister Fukuda’s popularity in the latter part of his regime before he unexpectedly passed the baton to Taro Aso. And we know how that turned out.

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