Unsettled by unpredictability
From February to March, NHK sent a postal survey on views on the United States to 3,600 people, 18 and older. More than 2,100 responded.
57% said the re-election of Donald Trump would have a negative impact on Japan. 10% said it would have a positive impact.
Nakayama Toshihiro, an expert on US politics and a professor at Keio University, says the poll reflects concern about Trump's unpredictability, a sentiment which has grown as he has pulled his country out of one international agreement after another.
"I think most people feel that international cooperation is important," Nakayama says. "So it's difficult for them to accept Trump's vision of America First."
But he adds that this feeling is not shared by some members of the Japanese political class. Nakayama says policymakers appreciate Trump's tough approach to China and see him favorably in a way the public does not.
Majority believe alliance with US should be maintained
Over half of the respondents said the Japan-US alliance, based on the security pact between the two countries, should be maintained at current levels. 22% said cooperation should be decreased, while 18% said it should be strengthened.
About 40% said the US nuclear umbrella is necessary now and for the future. 25% said it is necessary now but not for the future, and another 25% said it is unnecessary now and for the future.
Nakayama says the fact that an overwhelming majority believe Japan needs its alliance with the US is a result of the current geopolitical uncertainty in Northeast Asia.
"There's relative consensus on the idea that America is Japan's most important and effective partner in dealing with this situation," he says. "So while the impression of the president himself isn't good, the impression of the US-Japan alliance as a whole is still relatively strong."
Despite the heavy media focus on the pandemic, 70% of respondents said they are still interested in the upcoming election. And Nakayama says the coronavirus will naturally play a huge role in determining the outcome.
"The de facto Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, has been making appearances from his home, trying to stay visible amid the pandemic," Nakayama says. "But I think the election will be more of a referendum on Trump's handling of the crisis. It's going to be, in some ways, the coronavirus election."
Nakayama thinks this could be good for Biden, given the public perception of him as someone with a reassuring amount of experience.
But Nakayama adds that there is one choice Biden can make that could have an influence on the election: his pick for running mate.
"There's this idea that the vice presidential pick isn't really that important, that it won't win or lose an election. But I think it's different this time, I think people are paying more attention to it, given how old Biden is."
"He says he's going to pick a woman. I think he'll focus on the Midwest, a crucial area for the electoral college that Trump did well in four years ago. Someone like Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota, or Governor Gretchen Whitmer, from Michigan."
The China factor
In recent weeks, Trump has ramped up his criticism of China's handling of the pandemic. Nakayama says this is part of a larger strategy with the election in mind.
"Trump wants to appear tough on China," he says. "Biden does too. But being tough for the sake of appearances is unproductive. It will be interesting to see what policies they come up with on that front."
But Nakayama says that no matter who wins the election, he doesn't foresee any changes to Japan's relationship with the US.
"One of the main responsibilities for the leader of Japan is to maintain good ties with America, given the situation in Northeast Asia," Nakayama says. "Prime Minister Abe had good relations with Obama. He has good relations with Trump."
And he suspects the Prime Minister will have good relations with whoever is next.