Last week, Associated Press/GfK released the results of a survey on Japanese public opinion and covering a range of issues. While the press releases contain lots of results, they have not been made into more accessible graphs, so I took it upon myself to provide graphs for the results most likely to be of interest to Japan Security Watchers. All graphs were created from poll data gathered and released by AP/GfK (see below for details). Feel free to use them in whatever way you wish.

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Poll Details

With a representative regionally-stratified weighted sample of 1000 respondents, the poll is designed to reflect the views of Japanese aged 18+ living in Japan’s 47 prefectures.The survey was conducted by land-line telephone (accounting for approx. 91% of households) and specifies an error margin of ±3.8 percentage points at 95% confidence. Results were rounded up to the nearest 1, allowing the possibility that results will exceed 100%. Results under 0.5% are recorded as an * in the report, but as 0% in the charts below.

The interviews were conducted between July 29th and August 10th 2011. The poll’s results were released on the AP/GfK website in pdf format in two parts. Six questions (Q43-48) are still unreleased, but will apparently be released in the future.

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Contents

On the problems facing Japan now and in the future

[Q1]: Now, I would like to ask you about current situation. Generally speaking, would you say that things in this country are headed in the right direction or in the wrong direction?
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The majority of the respondents feel the country is moving in the wrong direction. At a time when former PM Naoto Kan was clinging on and Japan’s economy was continuing to suffer from poor exchange rates and a need for stimulus, 59% of the 1000 respondents said that they felt the country was moving in the ‘wrong direction’. This is despite 56% of the respondents being either very or somewhat happy about their own lives.

* * * * *[Q3] What do you think are the most important problems facing this country today?
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The nuclear issue is the most pressing concern for the respondents, with the general recovery effort and unstable politics coming a little further behind. 36% of the respondents felt that the accident at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant was the most important problem facing the country, followed by 20% concerned with the post-quake recovery. This was an open-ended question and the answers were coded into data. Some of the codes could be combined: in addition to the 36% concerned by the accident at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant, another 3% were worried about radiation contamination. This is also true for the 18% concerned by political instability: this could be combined with the 3% concerned by politicians, 2% concerned by Naoto Kan and 1% concerned by the Democratic Party of Japan.

* * * * *[Q15] How serious a problem are each of the following in this country today? For each one, please tell me if it is an extremely serious problem, very serious, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not at all serious problem. How about…
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The respondents recognize the recovery from the March 11th earthquake as the most serious problem facing Japan. The destruction was rated as ‘extremely serious’ by 71% of the respondents, followed by the effects of having an aging population (49%) and the lack of a stable government (50%). Access to energy resources, a traditional Japanese strategic concern, also ranks highly, with 62% of the respondents labeling extremely or very serious.

[Please note that for 'Unemployment', the 'Extremely' and 'Very Serious' results were reduced by 0.5% to cut total bar length to 100% - actual results are "Extremely Serious": 43%, "Very Serious": 27%, but the "Extremely/Very Serious"-combined recorded result in the poll was actually 69%.]

* * * * *[Q17] People sometimes talk about what the goals of the country should be for the next ten years. How important are each of the following goals to you personally?
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Again, we see the recovery from the destruction of the earthquake ranking at the top of the respondents’ priorities. When ensuring the strength of the SDF is at the bottom of the chart, it still scored a rather significant amount of importance: 42% of the respondents identified it as an extremely or very important goal. Traditionally, you could expect the ‘extremely important’ result here to be much lower, with far more results in the ‘somewhat important’ column, but instead we are seeing a rather definite show of recognition of the need for a strong defense force (quite likely in response to the earthquake and nuclear accidents, as opposed to just China or North Korea).

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On Japanese politics

[Q7] Now, I will read out some institutions. For each of the following institutions in this country, please tell me how often you think you can trust each one to do what is right? Just about always, most of the time, only about half of the time, only sometimes, or never?
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The elected officials and civil servants in the ministries and Diet are facing a crisis of confidence. 52% of respondents barely (‘Only Sometimes’ and ‘Never”) trust Japan’s bureaucracy, 59% barely trust the cabinet ministers, and 65% barely trust the Diet. On the other hand, public trust in the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) is 74% (‘Just about always’ and ‘Most of the time’). There is little doubt that this is a knock-on effect from the SDF’s post-quake response, and conversely the ineffectual squabbling in the Diet.

* * * * *[Q28] Now, I would like to ask you about the Imperial Family. On balance, do you think the Imperial Family is an outmoded institution, or do you think that the Imperial family still fits well with modern Japanese society?
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The Imperial Family are still considered relevant by a significant majority of the respondents…

* * * * *[Q29] Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose giving the Emperor some powers to set government policy?
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…but most of the respondents are on the fence about whether the emperor should have a greater policy role. The weight of the answers, however, falls on the side of opposition (43%), which suggests a lasting wartime legacy at work.

* * * * *[Q30] Now, I would like to ask you about politics. Do you favor, oppose or neither favor nor oppose changing the system of government so that the prime minister serves for a fixed term of four years?
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A majority of the respondents are unsure about a fixed four-year term for their prime minister. Given the annual turnover and lackluster performances, I don’t think that is all that surprising. However, fixed-term elections would help resolve the problem of parties calling for snap elections by taking the option off the table.

* * * * *[Q31] Do you think most elected officials are more interested in serving the people they represent, or more interested in serving special interest groups?
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A significant majority of the respondents feel that politicians are more interested in serving special interests than their own constituents. This suggests a similar view of parliamentary politics as Americans have of congressional politics. There is a possibility this result has been boosted by the recent nuclear crisis, especially given Tokyo Electric Power Company’s strong ties to those in power. There is also the historical reality of the construction state to suggest that this is by no means a new phenomenon.

* * * * *[Q36] The United States has maintained military bases in Japan since the end of World War II. Should the United States keep its military presence in Japan, or should the United States withdraw its military presence from Japan?
//
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A majority of respondents support the maintenance of US military bases in Japan compared to an equal split between maintenance and withdrawal in a 2005 poll (also reported in the AP/GfK release). Is this evidence of the ‘Tomodachi effect’ that had to have been at least partly on the minds of US military planners in Japan in the wake of the recent disaster? May it also be a reflection on the absolute failure of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in keeping the alliance on good terms?

* * * * *[Q42] Now, I would like to ask you about Japanese society. Which comes closest to your view?
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Half the respondents felt a mild constraint on their freedom of speech. Do they feel a social constraint, or a more serious political constraint? Does this reflect the long-held social constraint on discussing politics, a thorny issue, or a new trend of political hot topics? It is possible that the LDP’s monumentous fall from grace has plays a part in this sentiment, making poilitical issues far more contestable.

* * * * *[Q49] What political party do you support?
//
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???

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On the March 11th disaster

[Q22]: Now I would like to ask you about the March 11th earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Do you approve, disapprove or neither approve nor disapprove of the way (INSERT ITEM) has handled the impact of the March 11th earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis?
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Again, we see that the SDF’s work in Tohoku received strong approval, while the work of the former Prime Minister and other organizations involved in the nuclear crisis are disapproved of (moderately or strongly) by over 75% of the respondents. The SDF has been untainted by the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company’s inability to get the crisis under control, unsurprisingly so given their lack of involvement of the management of the crisis.

* * * * *[Q23]: I’m going to read some ways that people have been feeling about the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, and I’d like to tell me whether the statement represents your very deepest feeling, a feeling that was somewhat deep, whether the statement had crossed your mind, or whether it never occurred to you.
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A majority of the respondents no longer seem to feel safe after the March 11th disasters. 64% wonder if the government is truly able to help and 56% feel that they aren’t being told the truth by Japan’s leaders. While the former bodes well for disaster relief reform, the latter is particularly worrying and entirely in line with answers given to other questions above. The government will have its work cut out in recovering the trust lost over the handling of the nuclear crisis, from which I believe this lack of trust stems.

[Please note that for 'Wondered whether the government could really help you if you became a victim of a disaster', the 'Very Deep' and 'Somewhat Deep' results were reduced by 0.5% to cut total bar length to 100% - actual results are "Very Deep": 64%, "Somewhat Deep": 19%, but the "Total Deep Feelings"-combined recorded result in the poll was actually 82%.]

* * * * *[Q24]: How confident are you in the government’s ability to handle another major disaster in
the future? Are you…

//
The respondents are not confident that the Japanese government can handle another such disaster. 73% of the respondents said that they were ‘only a little confident’ or ‘not confident at all’, even more than the 64% in [Q23] (above) who wondered whether the government would be able to help them in the event of another disaster.

* * * * *[Q25]: Do you think the government needs to give more information to the public about important issues and concerns, or do you think the government already gives enough information to the public?
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The public wants more information from the government. This desire for greater transparency is also clear in earlier questions in which respondents were asked if they trusted their leaders. Would more information increase public trust? Perhaps not. It does raise questions about the Democratic Party of Japan, who promised greater transparency in their initial victory in 2009.

* * * * *[Q26] Now, I would like to ask you about nuclear power plants. Do you think the number of nuclear power plants in this country should be increased, decreased, or left about the same?
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There is a clear desire among the respondents to cut the number of nuclear power plants in the country. 55% want the number decreased, and 3% volunteered an answer calling for the elimination of nuclear power plants in Japan. 35% want the number to remain the same.

* * * * *[Q27] How confident are you in the safety of the nuclear power plants still in operation in Japan? Are you…
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The respondents are a little confident about the safety of nuclear power plants in Japan. The most common response was “Only a little confident” at 37%, but “Moderately confident” received 33%, more than “Not confident at all” at 23%. Following a disaster like that in Fukushima, there was always bound to be a hit on public confidence, but this result suggests that reports of the safety checks ordered by the government have come over quite well with the public, regardless of their lack of trust in these institutions.

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On Japan in the world

[Q21-1] Compared to 10 years ago, is Japan a stronger international power today, a weaker international power, or is Japan’s international power about the same as it was 10 years ago?
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A significant majority of the respondents feel that Japan is a weaker international power than 10 years ago. This comes after a decade that has seen Japanese military power (at the least) venture out into the world more than at any other time. Does this result stem from the sense of political failure that comes from having prime ministers resign year after year, or is there something deeper going on here? It’s not clear.

* * * * *[Q39] Do you favor, oppose or neither favor nor oppose changing the constitution to permit an increased international role for Japanese defense forces?
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Most respondents are on the fence about constitutional reform towards a more active role for the SDF abroad. 31% “neither favor nor oppose” the idea, and the majority of the respondents fall into this category or moderate support (23%)/opposition (16%). On balance, however, support for a greater international role (38%) is slightly larger than opposition (28%). This suggests that at the grassroots level, there is no chance of a successful constitutional reform movement at this time, and that the current movements are supported by a minority of the population (if we assume generality).

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On Japan’s neighbors

[Q34] Now, I would like to ask you about world situation. Do you think North Korea poses a threat to peace in the world, or not?
//
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The poll results include the 2005 results for comparison, and they do make for an interesting contrast. The perception that North Korea poses a threat to international security has increased by 21%. This increase is undoubtedly partly to do with the nuclear test in 2009, plus Taepodong-II missile tests in 2006 and 2009, and indirectly through the sinking of the South Korean destoryer Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong.There is also a probable impact on public opinion from the awareness-building of Shinzo Abe, who became prime minister not long after the 2005 poll.

* * * * *[Q35] Do you think China poses a threat to peace in the world, or not?
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Nearly 3 in 4 respondents believe China is a threat to world peace. That the majority think so is unsurprising, but how widespread that belief has become is quite surprising. Many may have concreted this belief after the incident in the Senkaku islands last year.

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On international politics

[Q5]: Now, I will read out some countries. For each of the following countries, please tell me if you have a favorable, unfavorable or neither favorable nor unfavorable view of each of the following countries?

//

49% of the respondents had favorable views of the United States, on par with Germany (48%). With the exception of China and North Korea, most of the responses were on the fence (‘Neither’). China received only a trace (less than 0.5%) percentage of responses indicating a strongly favorable view, and North Korea received no strongly favorable views and trace results for somewhat favorable views.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch