TOKYO (AP) — Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Cabinet received an initial support rating of 62.8 percent, a Kyodo News agency poll showed Saturday, a day after he announced his Cabinet and promised to guide the nation through its disaster recovery.
New prime ministers typically start out with relatively high approval ratings, but usually see them decline steadily after an initial honeymoon as the public grows impatient.
Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, started out with an approval rating of just over 60 percent, but that had fallen to below 20 percent near the end of his 15-month tenure amid widespread criticism of his administration's handling of the tsunami disaster and nuclear crisis.
The poll also found that respondents were divided over a possible hike in Japan's 5 percent sales tax, with 49.7 percent favoring the idea and 47 percent saying they opposed it.
A fiscal conservative, Noda is viewed as a supporter of raising the tax to help rein in Japan's bloated national debt and pay for disaster reconstruction, although he has made no specific commitments about tax policy so far.
Noda chose two relatively young, unknown lawmakers for key posts in his Cabinet: 49-year-old Jun Azumi as finance minister and 47-year-old Koichiro Gemba as foreign minister.
Azumi will have little time to settle into his new office. He travels to France next week to represent Japan at a Group of Seven meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan received far from a ringing endorsement in the poll, with just 27.2 percent backing Noda's party. The main opposition, the conservative-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, which had led Japan for most of the post-war period until it was toppled by the Democrats in 2009, won approval from 23.6 percent, the Kyodo poll showed.
Japanese closely watch public opinion surveys, which are compiled regularly by the Japanese press. Some experts argue that such polls — and by extension the media — wield too much influence in determining a prime minister's longevity. Many say that once a leader's approval rating falls below 30 percent, it seldom recovers and it is only a matter of time before the leader resigns.
Recent history bears that out, and, as such, experts say these polls have been a contributing factor in the rapid turnover in Japanese politics.
The absolute nature of the poll's top question — do you approve of the job the prime minister is doing, yes or no — makes it very hard for leaders to stay popular. If people are the least bit dissatisfied with the government, it's easy to respond in the negative.
"Public opinion polls, the way they word questions here, seem more or less designed to discredit whoever is in power," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus. "I'm not sure it's an accurate reflection of popular opinion. But it becomes self-fulfilling because the questions are designed to elicit strong anti-prime minister views."
The poll surveyed just over 1,000 people on Friday and Saturday. A poll of that size would have a margin of error of 5 percent.Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.