Kyodo has a new poll out the this morning. Taken over the last few days, it delineates the increasingly tight confines within which the Kan government can function.
The headline number is that support for the Cabinet has fallen to 17% from 23% a month ago (June 28-29). Normally this would be a cause for predictions of catastrophe and petitions to the prime minister to step aside. However, with Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s pledge to resign following the passage through the Diet of three bills – the second supplementary budget, the bill raising the amount of bonds the government can issue to fund its activities and the renewable energy bill – the normal linkages between sub 20% readings and Cabinet collapses has been broken. Kan has already said he is on the way out, only he has parlayed his promise to leave into a little bit of leverage on leaving something of a legislative legacy.
Whether or not Kan will succeed in securing that legacy is an open question due to the really important numbers in the Kyodo poll: the party support numbers. I have seen it written elsewhere that the opposition Liberal Democratic Party despairs that the travails of the Hatoyama and Kan Cabinets have not led to huge shifts in support away from the Democrats and to the LDP, leaving the LDP uncertain about whether or not it should be so recalcitrant in the House of Councillors as to provoke Prime Minister Kan in to dissolving the Diet. While this may have once been true, it is so no longer. According to the latest Kyodo support numbers, the dissolution of the Diet and a House of Representatives election would result in a smashing electoral victory for the LDP.
Which party do you support? (Results of June 28-29 poll in [ ])
DPJ 14.7 [21.9]
LDP 25.9 [22.8]
Your Party 6.6 [5.3]
New Komeito 3.8 [3.6]
Japan Communist Party 3.0 [2.7]
Socialist Party 1.9 [1.2]
Sunrise Party 1.4 [1.4]
People’s New Party 0.4 [0.4
Other 0.4 [1.2]
Support No Party 40.9 [39.1]
Don’t Know 1.0 [0.8]
Back in the days when the Democratic Party of Japan was in the opposition, the size of the uncommitted electorate – let us call it 41% - would have been interpreted as an immense opportunity. However, since it is now the party in power, the members of the DPJ understand quite well that the uncommitted voters, if they show up at the voting booths at all, will vote for someone other than the DPJ, just to spite the government.
As a consequence, unless Prime Minister Kan has a Samsom-like desire to bring destruction upon himself and all those around him, he is not going to call a snap election. The results for the DPJ, some of whose members he still counts as friends, would be simply devastating.
Not having the threat of calling a snap election in his hand, however, makes it extremely unlikely Kan will achieve his goal of the passage of his three beloved bills. While the second supplementary budget is safely through the House of Representatives and predicted to pass smoothly through the House of Councillors (for who wants to be seen as holding up aid for those suffering from the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and loss of four reactors at Fukushima), the other two bills are in serious trouble. This is so even despite the whittling away of budget items promised in the DPJ Manifesto of 2009 in order to reduce the total bond request – the most prominent of which are pullbacks on the government payments to families with children and to farmers.
As for the renewable energy bill, it had been given new life by Prime Minister Kan’s promise to resign if it were passed. Without the extra push the possibility of a snap election provided, however, the prospects for the bill are now relatively poor. This is despite a public primed for a radical reworking of Japan’s energy mix, with 71% in the Kyodo supporting the prime minister’s call for a non-nuclear future and 78% supporting the passage of the renewable energy bill.
It is these numbers on energy policy that have some pundits thinking that Kan might be tempted “to pull a Koizumi.” In this scenario, Kan waits for the energy bill to become completely locked up in the Diet. At this moment, he dissolves the Diet, calling the House of Representatives elections a referendum on a post-nuclear energy future, in the same way that Koizumi turned the election of 2005 into a referendum on postal reform.
Now it is difficult to imagine a prime minister as media hostile as Kan trying to repeat the success of a master of television like Koizumi. However, unlike Koizumi, who had to, in the space of single month, turn the country around from majority against postal reform to majority in favor of it, Kan already has nearly three quarters of the electorate on his side. It is possible that all he would have to do is keep pounding away with a “No More Fukushimas!” message, despite the unpopularity of his anti-nuclear shift within the DPJ itself, to lure in some of the uncommitted voters currently dissatisfied with all the parties, securing a victory for his party against the institutionally pro-nuclear LDP.