TOKYO (AP) — Five months after the tsunami and nuclear accident, the Japanese people lack confidence in the government's ability to handle another major disaster and generally distrust elected leaders, an Associated Press-GfK poll has found.
The results depict widespread gloom about Japan's present state and its future, and provide sobering insights into the complex set of problems confronting Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, elected this week.
Clear majorities believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and that Japan is a weaker international power than it was 10 years ago. A startling 84 percent of respondents believe the economy, overtaken by China's to slide to third globally, is in poor shape, and 44 percent believe children born today will be worse off when they grow up than people are now.
The poll reflects shaken public confidence in government and in their own safety after the March 11 triple disasters — earthquake, tsunami and ensuing meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, resigned amid widespread criticism that authorities have been slow to provide direction in the disaster recovery and less than forthcoming about the nuclear crisis.
Some 100,000 residents living around the plant remain dislocated with no clear idea when they will be able to return to their homes; authorities have said for some it could be years. Residents in the scores of towns and villages along the tsunami-wracked northeastern coast are still cleaning up and fault the central government for being preoccupied with the nuclear crisis.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the Fukushima plant, received a harsh assessment, with 8 in 10 people disapproving of its response to the disaster, while Kan and the nuclear safety agency got thumbs down from three-quarters of respondents.
However, the Japanese military, which mobilized quickly in relief work after the tsunami, got positive reviews from 9 out of 10 people.
Since the disasters, many Japanese doubt the government's ability to help them in the event of such an emergency — cited as a deep feeling by 82 percent — while a similar 8 in 10 felt that leaders were not telling them the truth about the catastrophes, the AP-GfK poll found. Three quarters reported feeling generally less safe than before March 11, and two-thirds were angry that relief was slow in reaching victims.
Should there be another disaster, nearly three-quarters said they feel only a little confident or not at all confident in the government's ability to handle another major disaster, the results showed.
Americans' emotions following Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans were less intense and focused more on anger (67 percent reporting this as a deep feeling) than fears for their personal safety, cited by 30 percent, or doubts about the government's ability to help them in a disaster (44 percent).
The Fukushima accident has triggered debate in Japan about the future role of nuclear power in this earthquake-prone nation, which got 30 percent of its electricity from atomic power plants before the accident. The government has since scrapped its plan to boost that level to 50 percent by 2030.
The poll found that few in Japan have confidence in the nation's nuclear power plants — only 5 percent were either extremely or very confident, while 60 percent had little or no confidence.
A slight majority, 55 percent, want to reduce the number of atomic power plants, while 35 percent would like to leave the number about the same. Four percent want an increase while 3 percent want to eliminate them entirely.
Overall, 59 percent felt the country was headed in the wrong direction, while 63 percent believe Japan's international power is weaker than 10 years ago.
Still, on a personal level a majority of Japanese, or 56 percent, say they are happy with the way things are going in their lives. Just 11 percent consider themselves mostly unhappy, while a third are neither happy or unhappy.
More women say they are happy than men (65 percent versus 47 percent). Married people also say they are happier than singles (60 percent versus 47 percent).
The AP-GfK telephone poll conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications surveyed 1,000 adults across Japan between July 29 and Aug. 10, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
Recovery from the quake and tsunami is clearly viewed as the top priority for the nation, cited as the most important goal Japan over the next 10 years by nearly all surveyed. Nine in 10 said recovering from events of March 11 was the most serious problem facing the country.
The aging population, which is straining government finances and shrinking its tax base, was viewed as the second most serious problem, cited by 78 percent as either very or extremely serious.
Third was the lack of a stable government, cited by nearly three-quarters — highlighted by Noda's recent appointment as the sixth prime minister in five years. That high turnover has hindered Japan's ability to tackle its problems with any consistency.
But respondents were divided over whether they favored a fixed four-year term for the prime minister, similar to the U.S. president. Thirty percent favored such a change, while 31 percent opposed it, and 38 percent took neither stance.
No branch of the government has the trust of a majority of the Japanese people to do the right thing most of the time. Sixty-five percent trust the parliament to do so less than half the time, and 59 percent hold that view of the Cabinet. Some 47 percent trust the judiciary to do the right thing most of the time.
Also, a whopping 85 percent say elected officials are more interested in serving special interests than the people they represent.
Unemployment was cited as the fourth most serious problem, called extremely or very serious by 69 percent — underlining another huge challenge that Noda's administration faces. The jobless rate rose to 4.7 percent in July.
Seventy percent said that economic conditions are worse today than five years ago, and about a third predicted that conditions would be worse five years from now — although 42 percent believed they would be about the same.
As in the U.S., the Japanese rate their own personal finances more highly than the nation's economy.
Still, just 19 percent rate their finances as excellent or in good shape, 53 percent say they are fair and 28 percent say they are poor. About a third say their family's financial health has declined in the last five years, 13 percent think it's gotten better and 52 percent say it's held steady.
On the Web: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com