So much for the LDP’s popularity

In recent weeks, some LDP leaders, hinting that the party might be willing to consider calling a general election sometime before September 2009, pointed to the party’s ratings in public opinion polls. Polls have consistently shown the LDP polling higher than the DPJ, even as Prime Minister Fukuda’s popularity has tanked. On this point, I asked last month, “Are the LDP and Komeito really willing to bet their two-thirds majority — which Mr. Ibuki admitted will likely not be retained — on the basis of there being some significance to the polls? I have a hunch that the polls fail to capture the extent of the public’s discontent. I’m not convinced that the public is any less discontent than it was last summer when the LDP was trounced in the HC election. Will the public really be inclined to punish the DPJ more than the LDP?”

After Sunday’s DPJ victory in Yamaguchi, I am more convinced that polls have failed to capture the widespread and growing malaise among Japanese voters — and their willingness to hold the LDP responsible for policy failures that have made their lives more insecure.

Now Asahi has produced a poll showing that the DPJ has topped the LDP in popularity, at the same time that it found that Mr. Fukuda’s favorable rating has fallen to 20%. The DPJ’s support rose six points to 28%, the LDP’s fell two points to 24%. A slim margin, yes, but a margin that deprives the LDP of its claim to be more popular than DPJ. The shift is undoubtedly influenced by the gasoline tax fight, but even so, it is hard for the LDP to argue that it is has the public solidly behind it. In short, it’s hard to tell what exactly the party support figure represents. Does it actually measure the level of public support for the parties?

Regardless of the accuracy of these figures, both make it less likely that the LDP will accept an early election — and less likely that it will be Mr. Fukuda who leads the LDP into the next election.

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