Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Abe Administration’s Post-Yasukuni Poll Recovery (?)

The Sankei-FNN joint opinion poll (Jan. 4-5) put the Abe administration’s approval at
52.1% up a comfortable 4.7 percentage points from the 47.4% in the preceding post-Special Intelligence Protection Law (SIPL), pre-Yasukuni visit poll (Dec. 14-15). Other media groups will weigh in with their own polls later on, but it’s safe to say that, barring some unforeseen political setback, they will show similar upticks from their respective post- SIPL levels. So should I just claim victory and move on?

Actually, there’s no way of telling if the Kyodo poll (Dec. 28-29) showing a modest 1 percentage point rise, is not the more representative of the immediate effects of the December 26 visit. In fact, it could be argued that the level of support for the Abe cabinet would have been higher as the result of the secular rise following the SIPL hit if the Yasukuni visit had not happened. Specifically, SIPL was a one-off event that had no significant lasting effect on the Japanese perception of the Abe administration’s competence. Once media attention waned, most people promptly forgot SIPL, which has no effect on their daily lives, causing its effect to wear off almost immediately. Something similar could have happened in the wake of the Yasukuni visit*. The Chinese response to the Yasukuni visit has been tightly controlled, with some harsh official statements but no public action on the streets, while South Korea’s response, particularly from President Park after the turn of the calendar year, has also been measured. From this perspective, the apparent recovery in the Sankei-FNN poll (Dec. 14-15~Jan. 4-5) is a composite of the effects of the hit from Yasukuni and the recoveries from the SIPL and Yasukuni hits, whereas my prediction was based on the assumption that Yasukuni would actually have a positive effect on public opinion in Japan.

Conclusion: Inconclusive.

* BTW if you are looking a prototypical example of lasting effects, look no further than the 3.11 nuclear disaster, whose aftereffects simmer to this today. Luckily for the Abe administration, the DPJ and the Kan administration took the political fall for that one, leaving the LDP nearly unscathed despite its political domination throughout all but the last year’s and a half of the nuclear power industry’s decades-long development. Political life is unfair. Likewise, a former TEPCO executive served out his full term on the board of directors at the Bank of Japan, presumably fully pensioned. The fates of METI officials involved in nuclear administration diverged dramatically between those who were in charge on 3.11 (some of them could not show themselves in public for some while after retirement in 2012) and those who came before and after. There must be behavioral scientists who can explain this.

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