Photo/IllutrationThe only candidates in the LDP presidential election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Shigeru Ishiba, a former party secretary-general, speak at a news conference in Tokyo on Sept. 10. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Thirty-nine percent of the general public prefer Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the ruling party’s election, mainly because he “seems better” than his sole challenger, Shigeru Ishiba, who was picked by 27 percent.

The results of an Asahi Shimbun survey showed that while many voters are unsatisfied with Abe’s policies and explanations for related scandals, he is still the preferred choice in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election.

Only LDP lawmakers and registered party members and supporters can vote in the Sept. 20 election.

The nationwide telephone survey was conducted on Sept. 8 and 9 to see how general voters view the election, which will ultimately decide the next prime minister of Japan. Valid responses were received from 2,102 voters.

Abe’s 39-percent support rate represented an increase from 32 percent in the survey taken in August, when respondents could choose from among three LDP members: Abe, former LDP Secretary-General Ishiba and Seiko Noda, the internal affairs minister who later decided not to run in the election.

Ishiba’s support rate for the election gained 1 percentage point from 26 percent in August.

Thirty percent of respondents, down from 34 percent in the previous survey, chose none of the candidates.

The Abe Cabinet’s approval rate was 41 percent in the latest survey, compared with a disapproval rate of 38 percent. It was the first time since February for the approval rate to top the disapproval rate.

Among LDP supporters, 65 percent prefer Abe in the election, up from 59 percent in August, while Ishiba received support from 19 percent, down from 20 percent.

But Ishiba is apparently more popular than Abe among unaffiliated voters, gaining the backing of 29 percent of them, up from 27 percent in August. Twenty-two percent of these voters chose Abe, an increase from 16 percent.

Forty-two percent of unaffiliated voters, down from 46 percent in August, cited “none of the above” for the LDP candidates.

Pro-Abe respondents were asked to pick one of four choices on why they prefer the incumbent in the election.

The most popular choice, at 46 percent, was “seems better than the other candidate,” while 20 percent cited “leadership skills” and 18 percent picked “appreciation of his policies.” Thirteen percent selected “personality and words are reliable.”

When the same choices were given to Ishiba supporters, 54 percent picked “personality and words are reliable,” 31 percent chose “seems better than the other candidate,” 8 percent cited “leadership skills,” and 5 percent said “appreciation of his policies.”

Seventy-six percent of all respondents said they are not convinced by Abe’s explanations over the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution that raised allegations of cronyism against the prime minister and his wife.

Only 14 percent said Abe’s words are convincing.

Even among respondents who prefer Abe in the election, 57 percent are unsatisfied with his explanations, nearly double the 29 percent who are satisfied.

The respondents were also given a choice among six subjects they want to see debated upon in the LDP election campaign.

The biggest group, 26 percent, chose “social security,” while 23 percent picked “economic policy, such as business conditions and employment,” 15 percent selected “financial reconstruction and tax policy,” 13 percent pointed to “diplomacy and security,” and 11 percent chose “disaster management.”

Only 8 percent choose “constitutional revision,” which is expected to be a key theme in Abe’s election campaign.

The constitutional revision category was picked by 5 percent--the least popular choice--among respondents who want Abe to win the election. Thirty-three percent of them would rather the election focus on “economic policy.”

When asked about the LDP’s constitutional amendment plan, including spelling out the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9, 49 percent of all respondents oppose it, while 32 percent are in favor of the changes.

The Abe Cabinet did receive higher marks for its disaster measures following Typhoon No. 21 that devastated western and central Japan and the deadly earthquake that struck Hokkaido. Fifty-two percent gave positive evaluations of the government’s responses, exceeding 32 percent who gave negative evaluations.

Sixty-nine percent support the government’s active involvement in trying to reduce cellphone fees, while 20 percent oppose it.

However, 56 percent are against the government’s plan to introduce daylight saving time during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a measure against the summer heat. Thirty-one percent support the idea of setting the clocks forward for the Games.

Regarding the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture, 45 percent oppose the plan while 31 percent are in favor of it.

According to the survey, Abe is winning over younger voters.

Those between 18 and 29 account for Abe’s biggest supporters by age group, at 55 percent. He received support from only 30 percent of those between 50 and 59, according to the survey.

The trend was reversed for Ishiba, who is backed by 11 percent of the 18-29 age group, and 37 percent of those between 60 and 69.

Among all respondents, 53 percent said they are interested in the LDP election, while 43 percent said they have no interest in the poll, the survey showed.

Although the survey method was different, 61 percent said they were interested in the 2008 party election in which Taro Aso, now the deputy prime minister, was selected as LDP president, while 37 percent showed no interest.