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Japan Opposition LDP Still Ahead in Polls, But Ruling DPJ Closing Gap

12/02/2012 | 11:55pm US/Eastern

TOKYO--With a general election only two weeks away, national opinion polls show the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party is still ahead of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan, though the gap between the two parties has narrowed amid signs of weakening support for the LDP.

The LDP came out on top in an opinion poll released Monday by Japan's largest daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, with the backing in an election of 19% of respondents compared with 13% support each for the DPJ and the recently formed Japan Restoration Party. But the poll showed that the gap between the parties has narrowed since the newspaper's last survey, in which 25% said they would vote LDP, 10% opted for the DPJ, and 14% chose the JRP.

"There's no doubt that it'll be a difficult race," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said of his party's prospects Monday, one day ahead of the official start of the campaign.

"Numbers show that we're catching up (to the LDP)," Mr. Noda added, saying that the DPJ will strive to remain the party with "most seats'-- more modest than the LDP's goal of gaining a majority with its junior coalition partner.

But political watchers were skeptical as to whether shifting support levels meant the tables have genuinely been turned. "The narrowing of the gap is likely within the margin of error," said Jun Iio, professor of politics at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

"Even if it accurately reflected the slight changes in LDP and DPJ support, the number of undecided voters is most telling," Mr. Iio said. The policy flip flops, party mergers and disbandments raise the question of what is being contested, and political instability is likely to last for months following the Dec. 16 outcome.

The results of Yomiuri telephone poll, conducted from Friday to Sunday with 1,071 respondents, also showed that the recently formed anti-nuclear Japan Future Party, led by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, was only backed by 5% of respondents.

The survey showed a slight narrowing of the support gap between the leaders of the LDP and DPJ, with 28% saying they thought LDP President Shinzo Abe was best suited to be prime minister, compared with 21% who backed the incumbent Mr. Noda. A similar poll conducted from Nov. 23 to 25 indicated that 29% of respondents backed Mr. Abe against 19% for Mr. Noda.

The newspaper cited criticism of Mr. Abe for failing to clearly explain his fiscal, foreign and security policies as a possible reason behind the fall in his party's support.

The hawkish former prime minister has been rocking the markets with calls for "unlimited" easing and cooperation with the Bank of Japan to realize a 2% inflation target.

The LDP also led an opinion poll published Monday by the Asahi Shimbun, another of Japan's largest daily newspapers. In the Asahi poll, 20% of respondents said they would vote LDP in an election, down from 23% in last week's previous poll.

The results of the Asahi's weekend telephone poll showed 15% supporting the DPJ in the proportional representation vote, up slightly from 13% in the previous poll, while 9% backed the JRP, unchanged from the last poll. The Asahi survey had 926 respondents.

Both polls showed that a large proportion of voters were still undecided. The Yomiuri poll showed 36% of those surveyed had yet to decide which party they would vote for in the election or did not give a response, while the corresponding figure in the Asahi poll was 41%.

They also showed that the Japan Restoration Party, led by hawkish former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, is running neck-and-neck with the DPJ.

Neither poll gave a margin of error.

Write to Alexander Martin at alexander.martin@dowjones.com and Toko Sekiguchi at toko.sekiguchi@dowjones.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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