Monday, December 21, 2009

Poll shows perception gap between U.S. and Japan

Each November, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily newspaper, and the U.S. pollster Gallup carry out a joint opinion survey in Japan and the United States of views toward each other’s country and pending bilateral issues.

The 2009 poll (appended below), released December 11, shows a return to rising mutual good feelings toward each other in both countries, after a recent period of sharp decline. Trust between the two allies is also rising.

But there remains a noticeable perception gap between Japanese and Americans not only in the level of optimism, or pessimism, about the current and future states of the relationship, but also on the handling of such alliance issues as U.S. base realignment and contributions to the war on terror.

U.S.-Japan relations again on the rise

The centerpiece of the annual Yomiuri-Gallup poll has been the assessment of mutual perceptions of Japanese and Americans toward each other’s country. In the 2009 survey, 48% of Japanese said U.S.-Japan relations were in good shape, an impressive 14 point jump from last year’s low of 34%. Only 26% of Japanese said the bilateral relationship was in bad shape.

In contrast, 51% of Americans said that relations were good, and a mere 8% thought they were not. However, on the question of whether relations were good or not, a significant 34% of Americans answered that they could not say, perhaps a sign of confusion about the advent of the new Democratic Party of Japan administration, after over 50 years of Liberal Democratic Party rule, and critical reporting in the U.S. media about its policy intention to revamp ties.

Over the long run, Japanese views toward the U.S. seem to have returned to a trend seen between 2000 and 2006, when the positive evaluation of the relationship rose from the 40 to the 50 percent level, reflecting in large part the era of good feelings under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The figure was 53% in 2006. In 2007, it plummeted to 39%, believed to have been influenced by the Iraq war, base and force realignment issues in Japan, and the seemingly insolvable North Korea problem.

It fell again in 2008, to a low of 34%, largely due to the belief in Japan that the U.S. had “betrayed” Japan in its North Korea policy by removing it from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, and reaction to the international financial crisis sparked by Wall Street. The jump to 48% in 2009 that puts the trend until 2006 back on track can be attributed in large part to the popularity of President Obama in Japan and respect for his global policies. For example, the survey found 96% of the Japanese public supporting President Obama’s advocacy of a world without nuclear weapons. The poll was taken in mid-November, overlapping with Obama’s much publicized trip to Japan, Nov. 13-14, but prior to the recent strain in relations over the issue of relocating a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa.

Although the perception by Americans that relations with Japan were good remained about the same in 2008 (53.2%) and 2009 (51%), the figure has plummeted 15 points in 2007 to 46% from the 61% level in 2006. This may have reflected bilateral issues that arose in that year and the sudden resignation in September of the deeply unpopular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was portrayed in the U.S. media as inept in handling relations with the U.S. His remark in the spring that there was no evidence the Japanese military had forced women into sexual slavery during World War II caused a furor in the United States.

Critical issue of trust in the U.S.-Japan relationship

The striking new development in the 2009 Yomiuri-Gallup poll is the recovery of Japan’s confidence in America, after a long period of decline in which distrust consistently outpaced trust. Those Japanese who said they trusted the U.S. jumped from 32% in 2008 to 49% in 2009, undoubtedly reflecting in large part a favorable reaction to the Obama administration’s management of ties with Japan during his first year in office.


Trust of the U.S. in Japan in 2001 was a healthy 50.9%, with distrust at 35%. The figure dropped to 48.8% in 2002, 41% in 2003, 37.8% in 2004, 36.6% in 2005, rose to 41% in 2006, and then dropped again in 2007 to 33.8%. It reached a record low for the poll in 2008, an abysmal 31.7%. Distrust in turn rose from 35% in 2001 to 39.1% in 2002, 45% in 2003, and 52.7% in 2004, and then reached a plateau of 52.5% in 2005, before sliding to 47% in 2006. It rose again in 2007 to 53.8% and reached a shocking 59.5% in 2008.

Rising Japanese distrust of the U.S. since 2001 can be attributed to several factors including the unpopular Iraq war and its aftermath, contentious U.S. base issues in Japan, including incidents involving U.S. personnel and the relocation of Futenma Air Station in Okinawa. The ban on U.S. beef due to BSE suspicions, U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and other perceived displays of American unilateralism, and a general negative image of America transmitted by the Japanese media all contributed to distrust in America.

The seeming reversal of this trend in 2009 can only be explained by the effect on public opinion of President Obama and his policies. Since the election of President Obama, trust in the U.S. by Japanese thus has risen dramatically by 17.3 points to 49% and distrust has fallen almost 20 points to 41% -- the first time since 2002 that trust has been stronger than distrust in Japan.

For Americans, in contrast, trust in Japan has always remained high, much higher than in Japan, with only slight slippage over time. In 2009, 66% of Americans expressed trust in Japan in the Gallup poll, about the same as in 2008’s 67%. The high point for American trust in Japan was reflected in the 2006 poll, when the figure was 76%.

Japan‘s contributions to the war on terror, including the dispatch of troops to Iraq and the Indian Ocean, and strong personal ties between President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi undoubtedly influenced Japanese positive views of their ally. The figure plummeted 15 points in 2007 to 60.8%, a sure sign of unhappiness with Koizumi’s successor Abe, his handling of the relationship, and a perceived rise in nationalism in Japan.

Uncertainty about future of U.S-Japan relations

Responses to a key question in the poll on whether the bilateral relationship would get better, worse, or remained unchanged under the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reflected indirectly awareness of the difficulty lying ahead in resolving such tough issues as the Futenma relocation. (In a separate question on pending issues, the most picked response by 31% of Japanese was U.S. force realignment in Japan, of which Futenma is a key component.)

Only 17% of Japanese saw relations getting better, another 16% saw them worsening, and a whopping 63% felt they would remain unchanged. The large percentage of Japanese seeing relations unchanged may reflect confusion or uncertainty about exactly where the relationship is heading at the start of the new DPJ administration, so a reluctance to predict either positively or negatively. The figure also can be interpreted to mean that most Japanese do not desire the kind of changes in the bilateral relationship that the DPJ has promised during the election campaign, such as a review of the alliance and base realignment, the host-nation-support budget, and status of forces agreement.

Americans were clearly more positive than Japanese on this question, with 30% seeing improvement in the relationship under Prime Minister Hatoyama and only 12% fearing things will worsen. A significant 42% felt the relationship would remain unchanged.

Alliance appreciated in both countries

Another key question in the survey each year is whether respondents think the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty contributes to security in the Asia-Pacific region. In Japan, an overwhelming 75% answered yes, up 15 points from 59.7% in 2008. Japanese were more supportive than Americans, 60% of whom seeing the treaty as positively contributing to regional security. The U.S. figure, though still at a healthy level, plummeted from 77% in 2008 -- perhaps reflecting in part U.S. disappointment with Japan for pulling out of Iraq and soon the Indian Ocean, and in part a zero-sum-game perception of Japan starting to distance itself from America and the alliance as it builds new ties with Asia.

Gap also on pending bilateral issues and Japan’s international role

The questionnaire for the 2009 added specific questions about the key issues of Futenma, the role of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) in the Indian Ocean, and assistance to Afghanistan. The Futenma question revealed a substantial erosion for the existing bilateral agreement to relocate the Marine base to a site off Nago City in Okinawa, with only 22% of Japanese content to implement the plan as is. A total of 68% wanted it changed, 33% significantly and 35% with minor alterations. Americans, too, were unsure of the current relocation plan, with 12% willing to see substantial revisions, 28% favoring minor alterations, and 39% preferring no change at all.

On the question of approval of ending MSDF refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in January, 56% of Japanese said yes, and 32% replied no. In sharp contrast, 71% of Americans wanted Japan to continue such activities, and only 21% supported the MSDF withdrawal. Asked about a switchover by Japan from the refueling mission to civilian assistance in Afghanistan, 88% of Japan expressed their approval, although 56% said it should depend on the local security situation. Americans were more circumspect, with 22% saying yes, 34% conditioned civilian aid to the local situation, and a solid 39% against substituting civilian aid for the military support.

Japanese and Americans were near unanimous in agreement about the need for the two countries to work together to address the North Korea problem. But neither side had much faith in Six-Party Talks succeeding in convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and development plans.

On China, 43% of Japanese felt relations with China were currently in good shape, 31% thought they were bad, and 21% could not say which. Only 34% of Americans considered U.S. ties with China to be in good shape, 13% felt they were bad, and 50% could not say which. But the gap between the two countries on trust in China remains wide, with only 20% of Japanese saying they trusted that country, and 42% of Americans, or more than double the percentage, feeling trust.

Conversely, an overwhelming 73% of Japanese said they distrusted China, compared to 56% of Americans who felt that way. Interestingly, both peoples registered strong approval of Prime Minister Hatoyama’s advocacy of the creation of an East Asian Community, 76% in the case of Japan, and 70% in the U.S.

Appendix
Yomiuri-Gallup poll, December 11, 2009

Questions & Answers
(Figures shown in percentage)

Q: Do you trust any of the following organizations and public entities in particular in your country? If any, pick as many as you like.


Japan
U.S.
Prime minister
48
---
Diet
34
---
Police, prosecutors
54
---
Courts
66
---
Self-Defense Forces
58
---
Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, churches
46
---
Central government offices
25
---
Local governments
46
---
Schools
53
---
Hospitals
68
---
Newspapers
66
---
Television
46
---
Major corporations
30
---
Labor unions
32
---
Other answers (O/A)
2
---
Nothing in particular (NIP)
5
---
No answer (N/A)
0
---


Japan
U.S.
President
---
56
Congress
---
37
Police, prosecutors
---
74
Courts
---
60
Armed services
---
89
Churches
---
76
Federal government offices
---
42
Local governments
---
57
Schools
---
69
Hospitals
---
80
Newspapers
---
50
Television
---
45
Major corporations
---
31
Labor unions
---
36
O/A
---
10
NIP
---
0
N/A
---
---

Q: Do you think Japan-U.S. relations are currently in good shape, or do you think Japan-U.S. relations are in bad shape?


Japan
U.S.
Very good
2
8
Good
46
43
Can't say which
21
34
Bad
24
6
Very bad
2
2
N/A
4
6

Q: What do you think is the problem now between Japan and the U.S.?


Japan
U.S.
Relationship of trust between the two countries' leaders
10
9
Response to trade, economic issues
18
27
U.S. force realignment in Japan
31
5
Response to North Korea
13
19
Cooperation in the war on terror
8
12
Response to global warming
17
14
O/A
0
0
NIP
1
2
N/A
3
12

Q: Do you trust the U.S.?


Japan
U.S.
Yes, very much
7
---
Yes, somewhat
42
---
No, not very much
34
---
No, not at all
7
---
N/A
11
---

Q: Do you trust Japan?


Japan
U.S.
Yes, very much
---
14
Yes, somewhat
---
52
No, not very much
---
20
No, not at all
---
11
N/A
---
3

Q: This September, Democratic Party of Japan President Hatoyama was elected prime minister. Do you think Japan-U.S. relations will improve, worsen, or remain unchanged under his government?


Japan
U.S.
Improve greatly
1
3
Improve
16
27
Remain unchanged
63
42
Worsen
15
8
Worsen greatly
1
4
N/A
4
14

Q: If there is a country or area that you think will become a military threat to your country, pick as many as you like from among those listed below.


Japan
U.S.
U.S.
23
---
Japan
---
20
South Korea
16
25
China
64
56
ASEAN
12
28
EU
10
14
Russia
40
42
Taiwan
6
12
North Korea
81
75
India
14
12
Middle East
33
81
Oceania
5
5
Africa
4
15
Central and South America
8
20
O/A
0
19
NIP
6
3
N/A
3
1
(Note) ASEAN = Association of Southeast Asian Nations; EU = European Union; Oceania = Australia, New Zealand, etc.

Q: Do you think the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty contributes to security in the Asia-Pacific region?


Japan
U.S.
Yes, very much
25
13
Yes, somewhat
50
57
No, not very much
12
13
No, not at all
2
5
N/A
12
11

Q: The Hatoyama government is seeking to review the current plan to relocate the U.S. military's Futenma airfield in Okinawa Prefecture. Do you think it would be better to review it substantially, make only minor changes, or not change it at all?


Japan
U.S.
Review it substantially
33
12
Make minor changes
35
28
Not change it at all
22
39
N/A
10
20

Q: Do you support President Obama's advocacy of a world without nuclear weapons?


Japan
U.S.
Yes
92
46
Yes to a certain degree
4
17
No to a certain degree
1
7
No
2
28
N/A
1
2

Q: The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to President Obama for his efforts to abolish all nuclear weapons. Do you think he deserves to be awarded?


Japan
U.S.
Yes
47
35
No
44
62
N/A
10
3

Q: Japan has sent Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to the Indian Ocean, where they are refueling multinational force ships. The Hatoyama government will end this refueling mission by next January when the law expires. Do you approve of ending the refueling activities?


Japan
U.S.
Yes
56
20
No
32
71
N/A
12
9

Q: (Only for those who answered "yes" to the foregoing question) The Hatoyama government plans to end the refueling mission and switch to civilian assistance in Afghanistan, such as agricultural guidance and vocational training. Do you approve of this switchover to civilian aid, or would you approve of it depending on the local security situation?


Japan
U.S.
Yes
32
26
Yes, depending on the local security situation
56
34
No
9
39
O/A
0
---
N/A
4
1

Q: What do you think the Japanese and U.S. governments should work together to address on a priority basis among issues over North Korea? If any, pick as many as you like from among those listed.


Japan
U.S.
Stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons
96
92
Stop North Korea from developing and launching missiles
94
89
Resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea
93
76
Normalize diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea
51
---
Normalize diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea
---
74
Extend economic cooperation to North Korea
28
30
Change North Korea's political, economic systems
57
63
O/A
0
5
NIP
0
3
N/A
1
---

Q: Do you think North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons and nuclear development programs at the Six-Party Talks among Japan, the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, and North Korea?


Japan
U.S.
Yes
11
2
Yes to a certain degree
9
8
No to a certain degree
16
22
No
55
65
N/A
9
3

Q: Do you think Japan-China relations are currently in good shape?


Japan
U.S.
Very good
1
---
Good
42
---
Can't say which
21
---
Bad
29
---
Very bad
2
---
N/A
5
---

Q: Do you think U.S.-China relations are currently in good shape?


Japan
U.S.
Very good
---
3
Good
---
31
Can't say which
---
50
Bad
---
11
Very bad
---
2
N/A
---
2

Q: Do you trust China?


Japan
U.S.
Yes, very much
2
3
Yes, somewhat
18
39
No, not very much
47
30
No, not at all
26
26
N/A
7
2

Q: Do you think the U.S. or China will be more important to Japan on the political front in the future?


Japan
U.S.
U.S.
52
---
China
36
---
Both countries
6
---
N/A
6
---

Q: Do you think Japan or China will be more important to the U.S. on the political front in the future?


Japan
U.S.
Japan
---
36
China
---
57
Both countries
---
1
N/A
---
6

Q: Do you think the U.S. or will be more important to Japan on the economic front in the future?


U.S.
U.S.
18
---
China
73
---
Both countries
3
---
N/A
6
---

Q: Do you think Japan or China will be more important to the U.S. on the economic front in the future?


Japan
U.S.
Japan
---
25
China
---
69
Both countries
---
1
N/A
---
6

Q: Prime Minister Hatoyama has advocated building an East Asian Community to step up multilateral cooperation in economic and other areas centering on Japan, China, and South Korea. Do you approve of this initiative?


Japan
U.S.
Yes, very much
30
12
Yes, somewhat
46
58
No, not very much
10
15
No, not at all
5
11
N/A
9
4

Q: Concerning greenhouse gases that cause global warming, Japan has set a high goal to reduce 25% of its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Do you approve of this goal?


Japan
U.S.
Yes, very much
40
25
Yes, somewhat
36
47
No, not very much
13
12
No, not at all
8
13
N/A
3
4

Polling methodology: The survey was conducted over the telephone on a computer-aided random digit dialing (RDD) basis both in Japan and in the U.S.

Japan
Date of survey: Nov. 20-23.
Subjects of survey: Voting population aged 20 and over.
Number of valid respondents: 1,024 persons.
Breakdown of respondents: Male—47%, female—53%.

U.S.
Date of survey: Nov. 14-20.
Subjects of survey: Voting population aged 18 and over.
Number of valid respondents: 1,044 persons.
Breakdown of respondents: Male—48%, female—52%.


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