TOKYO -- After kicking off his tenure with the third-highest cabinet approval rating in history, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appears to be losing his initial momentum amid a brewing controversy over academic freedom.
The approval rating for Suga's cabinet came to 63% in a Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll over the weekend, down 11 points from the previous poll conducted in September.
New governments tend to do worse in their second opinion polls, with only two prime ministers since 2000 -- Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe in his second stint -- enjoying a boost. Still, Suga has experienced the third-largest drop over this period, beating only Yoshiro Mori and Naoto Kan.
Suga's disapproval rating increased 9 points to 26%. Of those who disapprove, 23% cited his policies, up 10 points from the last poll.
His push to roll back international travel restrictions stemming from the coronavirus outbreak was opposed by 54% of respondents, while 36% supported the idea.
The prime minister appears to be bleeding support from women and younger generations in particular. While his approval rating fell 8 points to 64% among men, it plunged 17 points to 60% among women, and 15 points to 66% among those aged 18 to 39.
In terms of his first month in office, 52% of all respondents said they were happy with his performance, outnumbering the 30% who were unhappy. A total of 55% also said they were happy with the government's response to the coronavirus, topping the 50% mark for the first time since the question was first included in the poll in February.
Still, many appeared concerned about his rejection of new nominees to the Science Council of Japan, which has sparked a debate on academic freedom.
The council is an independent advisory body that represents Japanese scientists. Suga has broken years of precedence by rejecting its nominees. His government has said he has the final say over the nominations because the council is funded by the government and its members are considered civil servants.
Overall, 70% of respondents said Suga's government had not sufficiently explained his decision to reject the nominees. The figure was slightly lower among supporters of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party at 67%, but nearly 90% among supporters of junior coalition member Komeito.
Just 17% of overall respondents were satisfied with the government's explanations.
On the other hand, 62% of respondents supported the government's plan to reevaluate the council's budget and organizational structure as part of its greater push for administrative reform. Twenty-two percent were opposed.
Some within the LDP are frustrated by the council's reluctance to promote academic research in security-related fields. The reevaluation plan garnered a positive response from 77% of LDP supporters, 53% of independents, and more than 30% of supporters of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
The poll was conducted over the phone from Friday to Sunday through random-digit dialing. It received 968 responses from men and women aged 18 and above, for a response rate of 43.8%.