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Polls on Abe's desire to revise Article 9 of Constitution produce mixed results

Mixed results have emerged from opinion polls on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's stated desire to change Article 9 of Japan's Constitution to include a reference to the nation's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) while retaining the article's first and second paragraphs, which renounce war and state that war potential will never be maintained.

Several news organizations conducted polls on the issue, but the results cannot easily be compared because the style of the questions and the choices respondents were offered were different. It thus appears too early for advocates or opponents of constitutional revision to rejoice or despair over the results.

The most recent figures come from polls conducted on May 21 and 22 by The Mainichi Shimbun and Kyodo News. The Mainichi Shimbun asked respondents for their position on revising Article 9 with three options. The top answer was "not sure," at 32 percent, followed by "oppose" at 31 percent, and "support" at 28 percent.

The reason the Mainichi included the option "not sure" was that the prime minister has not provided a concrete draft for revision. Furthermore, it is not easy to figure out how a clause on the SDF as an "armed organization limited to the smallest possible degree to defend Japan" would line up with the second paragraph of Article 9, which states that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."

Is Abe's will, as he says, to amend the unconstitutionality of the SDF, or is it to expand the role of the forces? The Mainichi Shimbun concluded that without such clarification, some voters would waver over their answer.

Public broadcaster NHK similarly provided three options. The most common response was "cannot say either way," at 41 percent, followed by "support" at 32 percent and "oppose" at 20 percent.

Kyodo, meanwhile, asked the question, "Do you think it is necessary to revise Article 9 to clarify the SDF?" To this question, 56 percent replied "it is necessary," far more than the 34.1 percent who said it was "not necessary." Polls conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper from May 12 to 14, and the Sankei Shimbun and FNN on May 13 and 14 produced similar results.

These figures contrast significantly with a poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper on May 13 and 14, to which 41 percent said there was a need to revise Article 9 and 44 percent said there was no need.

So why were the results so different? It is believed that the way the questions were worded affected the answers. The Asahi asked, "Do you think there is a need to make this kind of revision to Article 9 of the Constitution?" The focus was therefore more on whether it was right or not to revise Article 9 of the supreme law itself -- differing from the question asked by Kyodo,

Ryosuke Nishida, an associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, commented, "The prime minister's proposal on the 70th anniversary of the Constitution's establishment, amid unprecedented uncertainty in the international situation, touches on the delicate point of the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, which produces divided opinions even among liberals. At the same time, the discussion was not one initiated by the public, so understanding among voters has not progressed, and if things continue this way interest could wane. We need to continue to focus on whether the public's understanding has progressed."

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