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Stronger Military, Economy May Lure Japanese Voters to Abe

Stronger Military, Economy May Lure Japanese Voters to Abe

by Justin McCarthy and Nicole Naurath
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Four in five Japanese confident in military
  • Residents more optimistic in 2017 about health of local economies
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approval rating at 50%

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hawkish goals of building up the country's military may find traction with some voters in snap elections this weekend. But even the institution's current defense-focused form receives high marks from most Japanese -- four in five express confidence in the military (80%), consistent with the levels of confidence seen across Abe's most recent tenure as prime minister.

Japanese Confidence in the Military

Since World War II, Japan has been prohibited from having an army for offensive purposes, though a Self-Defense Force is constitutionally allowed to protect the nation if it is attacked. But continuing threats from North Korea may encourage Japanese voters to side with Abe's goals of changing the military's status from purely self-defense to offensive. The move would require amending the country's constitution -- which would be a first in Japanese history -- and could alter international relations throughout the region. The change in Japanese military stature would send a particular shock to neighboring China.

Japanese Adults More Optimistic, Yet Mixed on Health of Local Economies

In addition to concerns about international threats, Abe may benefit from the slightly sunnier outlook Japanese have for their local economies. Thirty-eight percent of residents say their local economy is "getting better" -- one of the highest percentages for this measure in Gallup's decade-long trend, and the highest in Abe's most recent term. Still, a slight majority of Japanese say the economy is "getting worse" (29%) or staying the same (22%).

Japanese Economic Outlook for Their Local Economy

Since assuming office in late 2012, Abe has embarked on an ambitious economic plan, often dubbed "Abenomics," which aims to boost the economy through consumer spending. The International Monetary Fund declared Abenomics a success in June, though inflation remains too low according to economic observers.

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Half of Japanese Approve of Abe

Abe's decision to call for a snap election was a bold move, but one that could pay off. Half of Japanese (50%) approved of his job performance earlier this summer. This is a full 10 percentage points lower than his 60% rating in 2013 -- his first full year back in office after a brief stint as prime minister in 2006 and 2007. However, it is somewhat higher than his 42% approval rating in 2015.

Japanese Approval of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Other domestic political polls conducted after the 2017 Gallup World Poll show Abe's approval has increased since sinking this past summer, with analysts pointing to various reasons -- including continued threats from North Korea, which has test-fired two missiles that flew directly over Japanese territory. Additionally, Abe maintained his political stature by swiftly removing several cabinet ministers wrapped up in a corruption scandal. Further, the prime minister's political opposition is in a bit of disarray, having recently formed a new party; the snap election's short notice gives them little time to consolidate into a unified front.

Bottom Line

While some voters may be disenchanted with Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, the opposition party led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is newly formed and perhaps too early in its infancy to garner much support in the pending election. Koike, in fact, has asserted that she will not run for a seat; rather, she will keep her job as governor of Tokyo, a sign that some say points to her doubts about her newly formed party's ability to succeed this Sunday.

Abe, on the other hand, has had fairly stable approval ratings since 2015, and the recent missile launches from North Korea may have enhanced the hawkish prime minister's standing with voters wary of Pyongyang. Abe's goal of building up the country's military could come to fruition if his political gamble pays off. Likewise, his program of Abenomics is paying off, and voters may vote for his party in a show of support for the economy in recovery.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on landline and mobile telephone interviews conducted April 5-July 9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,002 adults, aged 15 and older, in Japan. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3.7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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