Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approval rating fell to less than 50 per cent in at least the sixth survey this month after his effort to ease restrictions on the military sapped his popularity.
Support for Abe's cabinet fell five percentage points to 48 per cent, the lowest since his election in December 2012, in a poll published on Monday in the Nikkei newspaper. The cabinet's disapproval rating rose two points to 38 per cent, the newspaper said. No margin of error was given.
The slide in Abe's popularity accelerated this month after his cabinet on July 1 passed a resolution to reinterpret the pacifist constitution to allow the military to defend allies. The move prompted rare street protests and added to public discontent over a sales tax increase in April.
"The reinterpretation inflamed public opinion," said Liu Jiangyong , professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing who specialises in Japan studies. "The poll results serve as a warning, but won't do much to undermine Abe's ruling position."
That's because Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition holds majorities in both the chambers of parliament, and national elections are not due before 2016. Support for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan was at 6 per cent in the Nikkei poll.
"His frog marching the nation rightwards seems to carry few risks as the political opposition is fragmented and in disarray," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo. "Voters have no alternative to the LDP."
The softening support for Abe and his party may still hurt him at the local level. In the first election since the passage of the collective self-defence resolution, LDP-backed candidate Takashi Koyari lost a July 13 vote for governor of the western prefecture of Shiga to a former DPJ lawmaker. Abe and the LDP face higher-profile elections in Fukushima and Okinawa before the end of this year.
Abe won in a landslide election in 2012. The initial success of his economic policy pushed his approval rating as high as 76 per cent in a Nikkei survey in April of last year.
"His support rate is diminished because the public had such a high expectation of him when he took power," Liu said. "But it's not that low compared to that of the several short-term prime ministers before him."