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Do the young lean right? Mainichi polls show strong youth support for Abe, LDP

The National Diet Building (Mainichi)

In the summer of 2016, Japan's voting age was lowered to 18, and according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, teen voters showed their political sway by tying middle-aged voters with a 46.78 percent turnout in the last House of Councillors election. With the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election looming, the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed 10 teen voters about growing conservative tendencies among younger voters.

    Two national telephone opinion polls conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun on Sept. 2 and 3 and 26 and 27, found that the approval ratings for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are higher among teen voters and those in their 20s and 30s than among voters over 40, indicating a conservative tack in young people's views.

    In the first poll, roughly 40 percent of those over 70 and in their 40s, and less than 40 percent of respondents in other age groups said they supported the Cabinet. Meanwhile, nearly half of teen voters and those in their 20s said they backed the Abe administration. In the second poll as well, roughly 40 percent of teens and people in their 20s and 30s supported the Cabinet, as compared to less than 40 percent of those aged 40-plus.

    The LDP's approval rate was also highest among teens and those in their 20s, standing at nearly 40 percent in the first survey and around 30 percent in the second. This stood out from the less than 30 percent in the first and roughly 30 percent in the second survey among those aged 30 to 69.

    Regarding this trend, some of the teens interviewed highlighted a lack of political knowledge among many members of their age group, with one respondent saying, "If they don't know anything, they just pick the most famous candidate."

    "They (teens) don't know anything, and because they are unaware, they probably just think there is no problem with maintaining the status quo," a 19-year-old university student in the city of Fukuoka explained.

    While making harsh comments about their generation such as, "People who aren't interested in politics just vote for the people whose names they know" and, "They don't have their own political beliefs, so they just go with the candidate with the most support," the teens' comments also included, "The government led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to achieve what it pledged in its manifesto, and thanks to the internet, they can't cover up their failures," and, "Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe's performance as Super Mario at the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympic Games was cool."

    "We have experienced the job crisis since we were young," a 19-year-old university student from Hokkaido said. "With Abe's government improving the economy and job opportunities, many people in our generations apparently don't think it's necessary to go out of our way to change the party leading the government," he added, pointing to a gap in the experiences of different generations of voters.

    "My grandparents' views align with the opposition parties, but younger people haven't experienced political movements like the demonstrations against the Japan-U.S. security treaty (in the 1960s and '70s)," an Osaka cram school student, 18, said. "The policies of the opposition parties are idealistic in places, while the LDP seems more likely to handle things realistically."

    According to professor Masao Matsumoto, head of the Saitama University Social Survey Research Center and an expert in political awareness and voter behavior, other polls have also found high approval rates for the government and the LDP among young voters -- including teens and especially young men.

    "Prime Minister Abe's frank retorts and attitude leave a favorable impression on young people, and I believe he must have something of a solid fan base," said Matsumoto. "Hopes for a continued seller's job market, especially for regular employment at major companies, and high stock prices are surely strongest among younger generations."

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