Tokyo Notes

Kan Should Ignore Polls

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Tokyo Notes

Kan Should Ignore Polls

Naoto Kan should ignore a new opinion poll that shows support for his Cabinet at under 20 percent.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said he won’t quit—even if his approval rating falls to one percent. But while a new opinion poll puts support for his Cabinet at less than 20 percent (down more than 12 points from last month), the figure shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Opposition parties will no doubt seize on the Kyodo News poll as an excuse to impede any chances of mature debate on key budget bills, and will instead go for the jugular and press for a snap general election. Broadcasts of parliament this week will likely be painful viewing for anyone who believes politicians should constructively discuss the big issues of the day.

A major reason cited for Kan’s low score is his failure to take strong action against Ichiro Ozawa, a highly influential ruling party lawmaker who has been indicted on corruption charges. Another is Kan’s perceived dearth of leadership skills.

Yet, while the poll shows that just over half of those surveyed want Ozawa to resign as a Diet member, reports haven't made the point clearly that about half of the respondents also seem to not want him to quit.

And while Kan doesn’t come across as the most articulate of leaders, if voters spent a moment reflecting they might see that he’s actually making an audacious attempt to reform the nation. The Economist, for example, recently described Kan as a leader who has ‘put together a package of proposed reforms more radical than anything attempted during two decades of economic malaise.’

He certainly seems to be trying to regenerate Japan by raising a sales tax to steady the fiscal ship and, more pertinently, campaigning for the country to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone and taking on the parochial yet powerful farming lobby.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is rumoured to be sending its henchmen out to rural areas to perform a hatchet job on free trade and rally support among country folk for its protectionist stance. Unfortunately, this tactic appears to be working.

But there's perhaps a problem with the polls themselves. Major news outlets in Japan tend to conduct polls using the random digit dialling method, meaning that people are only called on landlines. Young adults and urban dwellers (who are more inclined to vote for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan) prefer mobiles and are so less likely to be asked their opinion. This means that many polls have a conservative slant—especially if the well-oiled LDP machine sends its lackeys out to the provinces.

All this means that Kan will be best served trying to ignore the polls to focus on what he describes as ‘opening up the nation.’