Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe edged above 60 percent for the first time in almost two years, and nearly the same percentage want him to stay in the top job until Tokyo hosts the Summer Games in 2020, a media survey showed on Monday.
Voters, however, were split over the premier’s “Abenomics” growth recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and promised reforms, with 47 percent giving a thumbs down to the Bank of Japan’s negative interest rate stance, the poll showed.
Support for Abe’s cabinet hit 62 percent in the Aug 26 to 28 survey by the Nikkei business daily, up four points from earlier this month. The paper suggested the rise could be due to Olympics fever, after a closing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro where Abe appeared dressed as popular video game character Mario.
“I think the bump up was due to the feel-good factor of Japan doing well in the Olympics and ‘Super Mario’ is irrelevant,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.
Japan’s economy isn’t doing terribly, but Abenomics clearly hasn’t had the results its namesake promised. Meanwhile, the right-wing prime minister has been carefully (cleverly, one might say) holding back on a controversial push for remilitarization that pretty much everyone knows is coming.
The reported lack of support for Abe’s signature agenda items and Japan’s continually-stagnant economy has many analysts wondering why the prime minister is so popular. Hence the speculation that it might have something to do with the Olympics.
Tobias Harris, the Vice President for Teneo Intelligence and an expert on all things Japan, figures that Abe is as strong as ever:
Looking at the poll in more detail, I think the major takeaway is that Abe truly stands alone now.
— Tobias Harris (@observingjapan) August 28, 2016
With the opposition in shambles, and Abe cleverly arranging things so that no one else in the LDP can challenge him, Harris’s analysis seems spot-on.
Many in the West—and some in Japan—seem to think Abe’s nationalism could be his undoing, but the poll suggests that this is a premature and shallow judgment. With 55 percent of respondents saying they want a harder line against China and 49 percent opposed to Tokyo’s billion-yen settlement with South Korea, Abe’s hawkishness is looking shrewder and shrewder. Remilitarization might not be popular (yet), but the cornerstones needed for it to be accepted look to be firmly in place.
And, in any case, Abe has room to put a lot of political capital on the line.