July 2021 Political Update

As we move towards both the LDP Presidential Elections (definitely September) and the House of Representatives election (before November), I will use this blog to post a few updates on polling trends. At this point, which contest comes first still seems to be a point of vigorous contention. Various personalities in both ruling parties have mentioned the possibility of delaying the lower house election until after the LDP leadership race. Deputy Prime Minister Asō Tarō yesterday even went as far as saying (jp) the possibility of an October national election was, in fact, ‘very high’.

The first two figures below are an update of how the public views the government’s COVID-19 response. The small bounce from the rapid improvement in vaccination numbers from mid-May into June appeared to be rather short-lived.

The next figure shows proportional representation vote intention at the next lower house election under Prime Minister Suga. Incremental deterioration of support for the LDP after a very positive start continues. While the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly results might point to such a trend imperiling an LDP-Komeito majority in the national election, the continuing inability of the opposition to capitalize on deteriorating sentiment (the story of the last 9 years) remains a major mitigating factor. The point of contention at this point in time remains the size of LDP and Komeito’s majority.

The seeming lack of enthusiasm for Suga to stay on as prime minister past September’s LDP election (including amongst LDP voters themselves) remains a problem for the incumbent, however. With ambitious leaders waiting in the wings, and an internal party struggle over control of the LDP Secretary General role and party funds also playing out (jp) in the background, the situation remains volatile and unpredictable.

Finally, who could throw their hat into the ring should Suga be forced to step down or simply internal ambitions prevail? Both Kōno and Ishiba Shigeru remain ahead of other potential replacements in overall popularity. This dynamic will affect the first round of voting in the LDP leadership race assuming it is contested. The favourite throughout this year has been Kōno Tarō, but there does appear to be a hint of softening of support for the minister responsible for vaccination roll-out. Certainly remains in the discussion but he is not pulling away and creating some kind of fait accompli. Currently, it points to no candidate having distinguished themselves as an obvious candidate to rally around in order to displace the prime minister—inertia and caution in the party remain the current prime minister’s best friend for now.

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