Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The FNN-Sankei Shimbun Poll of August 11

Tobias Harris of Observing Japan has been hammering away at the keys during my visit to the old country, to good effect. However, his post on the FNN-Sankei Shimbun poll fails to present the results in a proper perspective.

The FNN-Sankei poll is massive, providing a complex view of the psychology of the electorate just 20 days prior to the election. You can learn, for example, that a only 9.7% of those polled find the leadership of Prime Minister Asō Tarō to be worth a damn, while a murderous 85.9% find his leadership without merit*. This would seem to presage disaster for the Liberal Democratic Party were it not for the finding in another part of the poll that only 4.9% of those polled intend to use the identity of the party leader as a guide when they vote for their district representative.

(The factors more likely to guide the voter's choice of district representatives? "The party's policies" with 49.7% and "the identity of the candidate himself/herself" with 31.9%.)

"Whew!" the LDP candidate might say. "At least the party's having stuck with Asō is not going to kill me."

Actually, that is probably not true. The poll indicates the LDP probably blew it when it failed to dump Asō after the Tokyo Metropolitan elections. The man at the time identified as Asō's most likely successor -- Health, Labour and Welfare and Minister Masuzoe Yōichi -- is pulling away from the pack in the race for "the person best suited to be the next prime minister."** Masuzoe (16.9%)is well ahead of Hatoyama Yukio (12.8%) despite the lead Hatoyama's party holds in the general support ratings. Of course, some of what might have been Hatoyama's support is probably being bled off by Okada Katsuya (10.8%) the man Hatoyama beat in the closed Democratic Party leadership election in May.

It is a measure of the LDP's and Japan's dearth of leadership that retiring former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō still hangs on in fourth place with 7.8% support, ahead of Ishihara Nobuteru (5.0%) the man who led the Tokyo LDP to its thundering defeat in July and Prime Minister Asō, who slithers in sixth place (4.1%).

Questions on the images the populace has of the parties offer some interesting perspectives also on the potential effectiveness of certain campaign slogans and media strategies. Probably of greatest concern to the LDP is the finding that despite multiple snide references to the accounting troubles at Hatoyama Yukio's political funds office and the very public arrest of the former party leader Ozawa Ichirō's political secretary for the acceptance of illegal donations, the DPJ is still seen as the cleanest party (18.0%) of the bunch, ahead of even the dour and sober Communists (16.4%). Painting the DPJ as the party of corruption has simply not worked out for the LDP, which has managed to convince only 6.3% of those polled that the LDP is the "clean" party.

Better foci for the LDP's energies might be to continue pounding away at the DPJ for being untested, vacillating and vapid. The LDP still prevails when compared to the DPJ on the basis of "possessing experienced/qualified personnel" (30.2% to 24.9%) and "reliability" (27.6% to 26.5%) though the difference between the perceptions of the parties in the latter case is close to nil.

As for trying to appeal to the voters with positive messages, such as projections of warmth, likability and growth potential, the LDP had best give up now, as the gap in the perceptions of

which party you feel a personal closeness to
LDP = 24.3%
DPJ = 38.0%

which party has the better policies
LDP = 19.3%
DPJ = 31.1%

and which party has a likable leader
LDP = 15.6%
DPJ = 26.6%

seems unbridgeable.

There is a lot more of value in the survey, such as the seeming hopelessness of the LDP's plans to rely on fear of the DPRK or China as a wedge issue, as only 2.4% of those polled thought "the DPRK problem and other security issues" the main issue the election should be fought over.

[What came out ahead of "the DPRK problem and other security issues"?

Medical programs and pensions = 30.8%
Economic countermeasures to the current slump = 20.1%
The possibility of change in ruling parties = 15.0%
Child rearing and education issues = 10.7%
Fiscal issues, including the consumption tax = 6.6%
The ability to carry out policies = 6.1%
Administrative reform = 4.1%
Agricultural policies = 2.9%

In other words, practically everything else. The only response getting a lower response rating than "the DPRK problem and other security issues" was "I don't know" with 0.5%.]

As duty calls, I will cut short my pontificating to correct one error in Harris' post. He states:

The reason, however, for not reading too much into these polls is that they simply say nothing about the DPJ's support in particular areas of the country where it needs to do well (Kyushu, Shikoku, Chugoku, etc.). Is DPJ support in those areas consistent with the national figures?
In fact, the article on the FNN-Sankei poll printed on the front page of today's Sankei Shimbun does answer this question -- and the answer is terrible news for the LDP. In every one of the 11 regional blocs with the exception of the Chūgoku Region (Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi Prefectures) the DPJ is polling ahead of the LDP. The biggest gap is in the economically distressed Shikoku region (6 seats) where the DPJ (56.3%) is pounding the LDP into the dirt (15.6%). In the Kinki bloc (29 seats) the richest bloc in terms of seats, the DPJ (42%) is sitting pretty, well clear of the LDP (23%).

Aside from in the Chūgoku, the "home of the prime ministers," the LDP is facing the possibility of near annihilation.


* I apologize in advance to Janne Morén for reproducing these numbers without rounding. It is duplicitous to report "eighty five point nine" ratings without providing a margin of error that can make such precise figures reasonable.

** Or translated literally, "Who among politicians is most appropriate to become prime minister of Japan?" ("Ima, Nihon no shushō ni ichiban fusawashii seijika wa dare ka")


Jan Moren said...

Welcome back!

Tobias Samuel Harris said...

Indeed, I'm certainly glad to have you back. It's good to have someone pointing out when I'm wildly off the mark.

Thank you in particular for calling attention to the numbers on DPJ support in the regional blocks.