Abe Popularity Hits Three-Year High After Pearl Harbor Trip

  • Poll by Nikkei and TV Tokyo showed 64 percent approval
  • Most respondents approved of visit to site of 1941 attack

Shinzo Abe visits Pearl Harbor on Dec. 27.

Photographer: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s public approval rating has risen to a three-year high following his visit to Pearl Harbor, according to a survey by the Nikkei newspaper and TV Tokyo.

The rating rose six points from a month earlier to 64 percent, the highest level since October 2013, according to the poll taken on Dec. 28 to Dec. 29. Most Japanese supported Abe’s trip to the site of the nation’s 1941 attack, with 84 percent in agreement and 9 percent opposed, the survey showed.

Abe and Obama greet veterans at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 27.

Photographer: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The strong public support and a weak opposition may convince Abe to call a snap election next year, giving him a chance to become Japan’s longest-serving leader since World War II. But with no need to call a poll until 2018, he said earlier this month he wasn’t considering dissolving parliament for an election.

"I wouldn’t bet against an election late in the year," Jun Okumura, a former trade ministry official and now a visiting scholar at Meiji Institute of Global Affairs, said in an interview this month. But Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party "did so well in the last election and it’s hard to top that. I don’t think the optics are good, and an election brings the risk of the LDP losing seats rather than gaining seats."

The prime minister’s LDP was a long way ahead of other parties in the survey, gaining support from 44 percent of respondents, while the main opposition Democratic Party was in second place with just 7 percent. Thirty-one percent said they supported no political party.

Abe’s popularity comes despite the LDP pushing through two unpopular bills during the final days of this year’s parliament session. The survey showed 63 percent of respondents opposed the passage of legislation to legalize casinos in Japan, and 55 percent were against a bill to reform the nation’s pension system.

No Apology

At Pearl Harbor, Abe didn’t apologize for the bombing, which killed more than 2,000 Americans and drew the U.S. into World War II. Instead, he offered his condolences and pledged to uphold Japan’s vow to never wage war again, similar to President Barack Obama’s gesture when he stopped short of an apology while visiting Hiroshima earlier this year.

Japan and the U.S. are “taking responsibility for appealing to the world about the importance of tolerance and the power of reconciliation,” Abe said in a speech through a translator. “We must never repeat the horrors of war again.”

The Nikkei and TV Tokyo surveyed 937 people by phone and obtained valid responses from 44 percent.

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