Thursday, July 11, 2013

Among The Things We Do Not Know

What is the reason for the second Abe Administration's high support ratings seven months out?

(Click on image to open up full size in another window)

Support for the Abe Cabinet in the NHK poll has dropped these last three months, from a high of 66% in April to 57% last week. However, the cabinet's numbers are down only 7 percentage points from December, when Abe took office.

How aberrant is this stability? One has to go back to the tenure of Obuchi Keizo (30 July 1998 - 5 April 2000) to find a prime minister who was fewer than 7 points down seven months into his tenure.

The figures for the Obuchi Cabinet were truly wild. It started out in deep fried territory at only 38% support, fell to the cabinet collapse level of 20%, then rose up to nearly its starting numbers. The Obuchi Cabinet finished out the year more popular than when it was announced.

Getting back to support numbers for Abe II (look the red lines - Abe I and Abe II started out at exactly the same level) they are simply not comprehensible...unless, of course, there is dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers direct correlation in between equities markets and Cabinet popularity.

But how could that be, if the country has only a weak private equities ownership culture?

Later - The theory that 30% of the voting age population was whisked off the streets in December and replaced with an army of Abe-loving replicants grown and indoctrinated in a vast biocomplex located underneath Liberal Democratic Party headquarters, while improbable, at least has the virtue of being consistent with the polling data.


Anonymous said...

Could it simply be that a very large number of people over the age of 35 or so is hoping in their heart-of-hearts that The Bubble Era will return?

MTC said...

Anonymous -

Hmmm, might be hard to prove...but then again, Ric Ocasek and the boys would say, "If the illusion is real/Let them give you a ride..."

Michael Camilleri said...

If the public are using the strength of the stock market as an 'objective' gauge of the strength of the economy, then it would make sense for support to correlate with stock market swings even though individual wealth has not been broadly affected. (My sense is that people, both here and overseas, have been trained by the media to view the stock market as a scoreboard that we check each weeknight like it was an in-progress baseball game.)

The risk for Abe is surely that if the perception begins to deteriorate so will his support. And deteriorate it will if actual benefits don't start trickling down. I think Abe is keenly aware of this and it's why he's been all but begging Japanese companies to use some of the wealth they've been sitting on to raise wages, increase bonuses and hire more workers.

I think there's a legitimate argument that adjusting expectations through symbolic action is a big part of what needs to be done (eg. central banks setting inflation targets and promising to do whatever it takes) but obviously symbolism only goes so far. You do have to actually do something. I am not knowledgeable enough to offer much of an opinion beyond he doesn't seem to have done much so far.

If I did offer an uneducated opinion, it would only be that the problem for Abe is that he needs political capital to implement some of the reforms that are necessary. Since what capital he has is entirely tied to the public's perception of the economy, if it loses steam (eg. because of slowdown in China), he's in trouble. From the very limited information I've seen, he isn't taking a detailed policy (eg. postal reform) to the electorate and so even if he wins handsomely, the only mandate he'll have will be ongoing public support. That's a dangerous position to be in when you want to implement changes that will, at least in the short term, have negative impacts (trade liberalisation, employment deregulation, etc).