The Abe cabinet is mired in scandals. Cabinet support ratings, which used to be above 50%, have suffered a sharp decline.
However, what the political insiders are interested in is rather the fact that support ratings remain above the 30% line.
The sense in Nagata-cho is that cabinet support rating at the 30% level is a “warning sign,” at the 20% level the cabinet enters “dangerous waters,” and below that, it has to step down. The Hatoyama cabinet was forced to resign after it marked a 17% support rate and the Kan cabinet did so after its support rate went down to 14%. Support for the Mori cabinet dived to 9%.
Even though there is now a “warning sign” for the Abe cabinet, support ratings have not sunk further into the 20% level. This is due to the power of the “30% solid support” that keeps the administration afloat. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will only move to unseat Abe if a serious sense of crisis spreads after the party is unable to win in the simultaneous local elections and House of Councillors election next year. If support ratings actually manage to inch up gradually, it is fully possible that Abe may win a third term in the LDP presidential election.
It is a given in the political circles that “the Japanese society is 30% rightist, 20% leftist, and 50% middle-of-the-road.”
A close confidant of Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) leader Yukio Edano gave the following analysis: “The LDP under Abe has the solid support of 30%. On the other hand, support for the CDPJ remains around 10% even after the sharp drop in cabinet support ratings. Total support for all the opposition parties is below 20%. If this situation remains unchanged — with 30% supporting Abe’s LDP, 20% voting for the opposition, and the remaining 50% not voting — the LDP will continue to win no matter how many times elections are held.”
Over the last five years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed the “failures of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration” to dodge attacks on him each time he was in political straits. The most important strategy for prolonging his administration has been to make the middle-of-the-roaders resigned to the fact that, “even if the Abe cabinet is bad, there is no alternative.”
Since the LDP was driven out of power in 2009, it has stepped up efforts to consolidate the support of the “rightist 30%.” Its constitutional revision proposal in 2012 calling for creating a national defense army was a symbolic move. The shift to the right became even more pronounced after Abe’s comeback as LDP president.
On the other hand, the DPJ lost the support of the political neutrals amid the chaos in its political governance.
Voter turnout in the 2012 general election dropped to 59%, which resulted in the LDP’s return to power. Since then, the LDP under Abe has won consecutive landslide victories in five national elections with voter turnout remaining at the 50% level. Its strategy of retaining the support of some middle-of-the-roaders through its coalition with Komeito and by buoying the economy with Abenomics while continuing to criticize the failures of the DPJ administration has worked well to prevent a significant shift of the neutrals to support the opposition.
The above aide to Edano observed that the situation at present is that, “While the middle-of-the-roaders are deserting the LDP as a result of the Moritomo and Kake scandals, solid support of the rightist 30% remains intact, while support for the opposition has not increased.”
A Party of Hope Diet member says that the reason his party is merging with the Democratic Party (DP) without the CDPJ is that, “Mr. Edano alone can only consolidate the leftist 20% and will not be able to expand support among the unaffiliated voters.” However, the Party of Hope and the DP together enjoy only less than 2% support. There is also no sign of the rise of a charismatic leader.
Since the CDPJ alone will not be able to expand support, Edano is leaning toward forming a coalition of opposition parties, but the greatest obstacle to his crusade is the Party of Hope and the DP, which still aspire for a two-party system. Rengo (Japan Trade Union Confederation) is also supporting them out of its desire to maintain its influence.
Will Edano be able to force the Party of Hope-DP alliance into disintegration and move to a multi-party system? Or will there be a return to a two-party system under Rengo’s lead after the CDPJ loses steam? As long as the direction of the realignment of opposition parties remains uncertain, the LDP supported by the “rightist 30%” will continue to have an advantage and moves to unseat Abe will not gain momentum. (Abridged)