Thursday, August 07, 2008

We Have Learned Nothing

I will admit it: I was wrong about the bump the government would get from the reshuffle of the Cabinet and the top executive positions in the LDP. Far from being insignificant, the bump was historic, sending all the polls higher by solid margins -- save, unsurprisingly, the poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun *.

Kyōdō News 080802
26.8% -> 31.5% +4.7%

Yomiuri Shimbun 080803
26.6% -> 38% +11% (caveat regarding methodology)

Mainichi Shimbun 080803
22% -> 25% +3%

The Asahi Shimbun 080803
24% -> 24% +0%

Nihon Keizai Shimbun 080804
26% -> 38% +12%

Sankei Shimbun 080805
21.7% -> 29.3% +7.6%

The relative significance of the jump can be seen in this rundown of the shift in the Cabinet popularity numbers in the immediate aftermath of previous reshuffles printed in the morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun on August 1. While admittedly these number come from but a single news organization -- and one with a definite bias -- the overall message is that 1) reshuffles can lead to a decline in popularity almost as often as a rise, and 2) the effects on popularity tend to be small.

( ) = number of changes in makeup of the Cabinet

90.12.29 Second Kaifu Cabinet (17)
49% -> 47% -2%

92.12.22 Miyazawa Cabinet (18)
20% -> 22% +2%

95.08.08 Murayama Cabinet (16)
35% -> 36% +1%

97.09.11 Second Hashimoto Cabinet (17)
56% -> 44% -14%

99.01.14 Obuchi Cabinet (1)
24% -> 35% +11%

95.10.05 Obuchi Cabinet (16)
56% -> 52% -4%

00.12.05 Second Mori Cabinet (11)
18% -> 20% +2%

02.09.30 First Koizumi Cabinet (6)
66% -> 66% +0%

03.09.22 First Koizumi Cabinet (9)
58% -> 65% +7%

04.09.27 Second Koizumi Cabinet (11)
48% -> 47% -1%

05.10.31 Third Koizumi Cabinet (11)
59% -> 61% +2%

07.08.27 Abe Cabinet (12)
27% -> 29% +2%

While I would love to be able to retrieve more data and do a comparative study across news organizations (while I am at it I would love to be smarter and physically more attractive) the from 3% to 12% jump in popularity looks, in context, fairly significant.

What is the reason for the shift in the popularity numbers despite a Cabinet containing a whole lot of familiar faces? I would have to attribute the bump to the appointment of Aso Tarō as LDP Secretary General. The incorporation of one of the core members of the revisionist right, and his installation at the threshold of the prime ministership itself, surely jolted some of the LDP's disaffected right wing supporters to give the party one more chance. It could also be that Aso's prefrontal-cortex-straight-to-the-lips (i.e., without secondary processing in the brain's judgment centers) style appeals just enough folks to kick the support numbers up a few notches. Or both.

A reaction I did not anticipate, due to my own prejudices.

All of which may be for naught, however, if the public reacts in a predictable manner to the news that the government has, in an effort to protect the Chinese government from embarrassment in the runups to the Toyako Summit and the Beijing Olympics, been hiding what it knows about the JT/Tianying gyoza poisoning incident.

China 'gyoza' poisonings hushed up: same pesticide, processor tied to Japan outbreak
The Japan Times

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- The same pesticide found in frozen Chinese "gyoza" dumplings that caused food poisoning in Japan early this year caused a recent outbreak in China among people who ate the same manufacturer's fare — a revelation Japan kept under wraps since before the July Group of Eight summit.

An unknown number of Chinese suffered food poisoning in June from the pesticide methamidophos after eating frozen gyoza once recalled by Tianyang Food in Hebei Province but later redistributed on the Chinese market. The Chinese Foreign Ministry admitted Wednesday the dumplings caused a food poisoning outbreak in mid-June...
Newly minted Minister of State for Consumer Affairs Noda Seiko was incredulous that she had not briefed about the June poisonings in China and their likely implications. She learned about what the government knew the way everyone else did: from press reports.

I know that given the delicacy of Sino-Japanese relations the temptation was strong to keep the information about the pesticide poisoning under wraps until after the summit and the Olympics Games. Nevertheless, how could the government be more fearful of the consequences of hiding the information from the public? Was nothing learned from the pension debacle, where the public's anger came not the failure of the bureaucrats to do their jobs but from the government's trying to pretend the problem did not exist, and once it became known that it did exist, at the government's pretending that it had everything under control?

Right now it seems that the short answer is no, nothing was learned.

Which means that the Cabinet can pretty much kiss goodbye the hardwon slight change in the public's willingness to give the government the benefit of the doubt.

* I am a believer in Okumura Jun's theory -- that the consistent skewing of poll results in a direction convergent with the editorial stance of the news organizations sponsoring the polls must be the result of pollsters identifying the news organization for which they are conducting their polling. A significant number of target voters, upon hearing who is sponsoring the poll skew the sample by choosing to answer the questions from news organizations they patronize and/or refusing to answer the question from those they do not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's a pity leaders have to govern with opinion polls those days...