Japan's new Prime Minister Naoto Kan is enjoying a jolt of public support, with major newspaper polls out Thursday giving him approval ratings of between 60 and 70 percent - good news for his party heading into next month's elections. That's a dramatic turnaround from the dismal support for his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned a week ago with approval ratings falling below 20 percent because of broken campaign promises and perceived weak leadership.
Kan, a grass-roots populist known for standing up to bureaucrats, is drawing support from undecided voters, and "favorable winds" are blowing for the Democratic party, said The Nikkei, Japan's top business newspaper.
The approval rating for Kan's Cabinet, installed Tuesday, came to 68 percent, according to the Nikkei's survey.
Support for Kan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan rebounded to 47 percent from 25 percent in a previous survey in May. The Nikkei's survey got responses from 888 people Tuesday and Wednesday through random telephone interviews. A margin of error was not provided, but a poll of that size would generally have a 5 percentage point margin.
Kan retained many of the same figures in his Cabinet, but added several strong advocates for government reform and a finance minister with a reputation for fiscal discipline. Other polls had similar results. A survey by the Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's largest, gave Kan's Cabinet a 64 percent approval rating, while the Asahi newspaper's poll gave him 60 percent support. The sample sizes were slightly larger than the Nikkei poll, giving these surveys margins of error in the four-to-five point range.
The straight-talking Kan, who gained fame 15 years ago for exposing a government cover-up of tainted blood products, appears to be restoring confidence in his party, which came to power in last August's lower house elections amid high hopes for change and more transparency in government. Hatoyama squandered that support after he got entangled in a financial scandal and failed to keep a pledge to move a U.S. Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa. Unlike the last several prime ministers, Kan also comes from an ordinary background.
Such newspaper polls tend to carry a great deal of weight in Japan, and can influence the longevity of a leader's tenure. Prime ministers whose support rating remains persistently low sometimes face internal pressure to step down.