The bounce to Prime Minister Fukuda appears to have been somewhere around five percentage points, excluding Yomiuri‘s freakish poll recording a fourteen-point increase (a poll that can’t be compared with earlier Yomiuri polls due to a differing methodology).
What I found interesting, however, is that both the Yomiuri and the Asahi polls recorded widespread approval of the prime minister’s decision to name Aso Taro LDP secretary-general.
In the Yomiuri poll, 66.3% of respondents approved of the decision, while only 24.3% disapproved. By comparison, only 32.9% of respondents approved of the decision to bring Yosano Kaoru, Mr. Aso’s fellow post-Fukuda contender, into the cabinet, with 42.8% disapproving.
In the Asahi poll, 51% approved of Mr. Aso’s appointment, while only 29% disapproved.
There is no doubting that Mr. Aso’s appeal across broad swathes of the Japanese public is genuine.
But Mr. Aso’s taking the position was a risky decision on his part. His political future will rest on the results of the next general election. Serving as LDP secretary-general might be the worst possible position for Mr. Aso. It will make him directly responsible for the LDP’s performance, but gives him little control over policy; he is at the mercy of a prime minister considerably less popular than himself. If the LDP loses badly, badly enough to fall from power, it is unlikely that the party will turn to Mr. Aso to save the LDP; if the LDP manages to hold on to power, there is no guarantee that he will be rewarded for loyal service (although there are apparently rumors that Mr. Fukuda offered to designate Mr. Aso his successor in exchange for the latter’s service). The prime minister’s hoe, of course, is that he can hitch his wagon to Mr. Aso’s star and pull off an unexpectedly strong showing in the next election.
But voters’ affinity for Mr. Aso might not make all that much difference in how they vote when the election comes.
Given that as MTC wrote last month, “…In some districts the opposition could put up a dog as a candidate and win” (Yomiuri recently wrote about LDP candidates in urban districts trailing in polls despite the DPJ’s having not yet selected a candidate for their district), Mr. Aso certainly has his work cut out for him. He will have to use his personal appeal to convince the public that the LDP can be trusted to fix the mess it created. His presence might make the difference in a handful of districts, but on the whole the election will rest on the Fukuda government delivering tangible progress in tackling the issues of greatest concern to voters, which according to Yomiuri countermeasures for high prices, the pensions problem, eldercare, and global warming.
Mr. Aso and Mr. Fukuda deserve credit for taking a chance, but ultimately it might make little difference in the outcome of the election.