The Fumio Kishida administration celebrated its first new year roughly three months after its inauguration on October 4 2021. According to opinion polls conducted by media outlets, the administration’s approval rating has shown a steady trend throughout this period.
Typically, approval ratings follow a pattern where they begin to decline after an initial “honeymoon” period. But the Kishida administration’s ratings have done the opposite, remaining on a gradual upward trend.
Successive administrations have generally leaned toward a certain characteristic of supporters, which has been reflected in the image of these administrations. The Kishida administration is now beginning to show its colors in this area, too.
According to joint public-opinion polls by The Sankei Shimbun and FNN (Fuji News Network), the current administration’s approval rating stood at 63.2% in both October and November 2021. It rose to 66.4% in the December poll, 3.2 percentage points higher than at the administration’s outset.
Although the characteristics of various media outlets and the way questions are asked result in some variation in the numbers, similar surveys conducted by other companies show the same trend.
In a comparison of the administration’s approval ratings immediately after inauguration and for the most recent survey, the Asahi Shimbun indicated figures of 45% and 49% respectively. The Yomiuri Shimbun’s poll showed 56% and 62% approval for the same periods, while the Mainichi Shimbun’s figures were 49% and 54%, respectively. All of these polls showed an upward trend.
Assessing the Support Base
The character of an administration can be seen in its support base.
In recent years, the Shinzo Abe administration was known for the existence of its “bedrock supporters”. Staunch Abe supporters, who identified with his conservative political stance, purportedly accounted for about 30 percent.
Even in times of crisis, such as the enactment of peace and security-related laws and the MoriKake scandal (named for the Moritomo and Kake education institutions), the administration’s approval rating rarely dipped below 30 percent. When approval ratings did fall below 30%, the Abe administration demonstrated the ability to recover. It’s resilience over time was the source of its long-lasting seven years and eight months.
Another notable characteristic of the Abe administration was its consistently higher approval ratings among men compared to women.
Yoshihide Suga’s one-year administration, largely spent dealing with COVID-19, faced a consistently declining approval rating. Although the existence of any “bedrock supporters” was hard to see, one thing it had in common with the Abe administration was its relatively strong support from the younger generation.
On the flip side, Suga’s support from the older generation was weak. Looking at the average approval rating by age group for Sankei/FNN joint polls from February to September of 2021 when comparisons are possible, the highest approval rating was 54.1% for those aged 18-29, while the lowest was 40.4% for those in their 60s, a gap of about 14 percentage points. This gap is thought to reflect a generational difference in the perceived level of threat from COVID-19.
Prime Minister Kishida came out on top in the September 2021 party presidential election, running against candidates with more conservative political beliefs like Sanae Takaichi. In the outcome, Kishida established the first administration in 30 years for the Kochikai faction he leads.
The Kochikai has traditionally been characterized by its liberal political stance. How the conservative base, including Abe’s “bedrock supporters”, would greet such a Kishida administration has been a point of interest.
Looking at the administration’s approval rating among LDP supporters only in the November and December polls, 90.2% and 86.4%, respectively, said they support the Kishida Cabinet. These figures are much higher than the highest rating of 79.2% in polls conducted for the Suga administration (January to September 2021).
Among the opposition parties, 59.3% of the supporters of the Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai) said they support the Kishida administration in the December 2021 poll. Although conservatives harbor deep-rooted concerns over the liberal tone of the Kishida administration, at this stage support from the conservative base seems to be strong.
Likewise, in the December poll, 56.8% of independents and even 43.8% of Constitutional Democratic Party (Rikken-minshuto) supporters responded in support of the Kishida administration.
From conservatives to some liberals, this administration gives the impression of having a broad base of support.
Kishida’s Broad Support
Looking at trends by gender, the average approval rating (January to September 2021 polls) for the Suga administration was 47.2% for men and 43.4% for women. This showed a strong tendency for support from men, a trait shared with the Abe administration.
According to the Sankei/FNN December 2021 poll, the Kishida administration garnered a 63.8% approval rating for men and 68.8% for women. While it is still too early to see a clear trend, support from women is high.
The Suga administration had strong support among the younger generation, but only weak support from older Japanese. In comparison, support for the Kishida administration spans all generations, without leaning toward any one age group.
In the December 2021 poll, the Kishida administration’s approval rating among those aged 70 and over stood at 70.5%, the highest among all age groups. This was followed by 69.3% support among the youngest age group, 18-29 year-olds. Other figures were 63.4% for those in their 30s, 66.0% for those in their 40s, 61.8% for those in their 50s, and 64.5% for respondents in their 60s.
In terms of numbers, the Kishida administration is off to a smooth start. Kishida is said to have a kind personality and few enemies, which could explain the widespread nature of his support base.
However, the public’s assessment of him will ultimately depend on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. He will be put to the test in dealing with the new Omicron variant as Japan enters its sixth wave.
- Q & A | What Omicron Means for Japan’s Pandemic and Travel Policies
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(Read the report in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Tomoyuki Chiba