Japanese have become more welcoming to the U.S. military presence in their country over the past six years as fears spread that neighboring China and North Korea are threats to peace, an Associated Press-GfK poll has found.

The survey released Monday on Japanese views of other countries, security and the imperial family also showed that while about half of Japanese are positive about the U.S. and Germany, they are overwhelmingly negative or neutral toward immediate Asian neighbors China, Russia and North Korea. Opinions about South Korea are mixed.

Those attitudes, as well as results showing Japanese are reluctant to allow more foreign workers into the country, suggest a general wariness of outsiders. Some 46 percent are opposed to increasing the number of immigrants — more than double the share in favor of boosting their numbers — even though doing so would help offset the shrinking labor force as the population ages.

And while they gave their own elected leaders low marks, most Japanese think highly of the emperor and military.

Tokyo has cast a cautious eye toward China’s increased military spending and more assertive stance on disputed islands in the region. Ties between the two countries deteriorated to their worst point in years last autumn when a Chinese fishing trawler and Japanese patrol vessels collided near islands controlled by Japan but claimed by both in the East China Sea.

China’s state-run media have already issued warnings to new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for past statements suggesting that Beijing’s military buildup is a regional security threat.

For protection, Japan relies on its own military and nearly 50,000 U.S. troops based in the country under a 51-year-old joint security pact. That arrangement received extra scrutiny last year when former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sought — and ultimately failed — to move a controversial U.S. Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa.

American forces were also actively involved in humanitarian relief efforts after March’s tsunami disaster.

Amid public alarm about China’s assertiveness, support for the American military bases in Japan has grown to 57 percent, while 34 percent want them withdrawn. In a similar 2005 poll, Japanese were evenly divided on the issue at 47 percent.

“The U.S. military presence has received a greater acceptance, apparently because people think this region has grown more unstable than before,” Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said Monday in response to the results.

China is viewed as a threat to world peace by nearly three-quarters of respondents, and about as many have a negative impression of the country — which is also Japan’s largest trading partner. Unfavorable views of Chinese leader Hu Jintao outweigh favorable views by more than 11-to-1, the AP-GfK poll showed.

North Korea, meanwhile, is viewed as a threat by even more Japanese — 80 percent, up from 59 percent in 2005. The country, which fired missiles into waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan in 2005 and again in 2006, is viewed negatively by 94 percent. Its leader, Kim Jong Il, is disliked by nine in 10.

Many Japanese are supportive of their own military, called the Self-Defense Forces, with 74 percent trusting it to do the right thing all or most of the time.

But people were mixed over changing the constitution to give the military a greater international role, although more favored such a change — 38 percent — than opposed — 28 percent. About a third were neutral.

The Japanese Constitution, drawn up by a U.S. occupation force after World War II, prohibits the creation of an armed force that can be maintained for offensive purposes. But under pressure from the U.S. to play a larger role in regional security, Japan has become more involved in peacekeeping operations abroad. It also sent refueling ships to the Indian Ocean to help with the Afghan war.

Most Japanese continue to hold Emperor Akihito, who lacks any political power, in high esteem: 70 percent view him favorably and 65 percent feel the Imperial family still fits well with modern Japanese society.

Still, just 22 percent would favor giving the emperor power to set government policy, while 43 percent oppose such an expansion of imperial power. About a third are neutral.

President Barack Obama is seen positively by 41 percent of respondents, with the same number viewing him in a neutral way. Some 16 percent see him unfavorably. As a country, the United States is seen favorably by 49 percent, neutrally by 36 percent and unfavorably by 14 percent.

Germany garnered the smallest unfavorable rating — just 4 percent — with 48 percent giving the country a thumbs up. Chancellor Angela Merkel garnered a neutral rating from just over half the respondents, while 28 percent view her positively and 7 percent negatively.

Neighboring South Korea, whose television dramas and “K-pop” singers have become increasingly popular in Japan, isn’t so popular itself, with 31 percent viewing the country positively and 27 percent negatively.

Russia, meanwhile, is viewed positively by just 11 percent and negatively by 44 percent.

Japan has come under fire internationally for its whale hunting, but the Japanese public narrowly favors whaling for commercial purposes, the survey showed. Fifty-two percent favor it, 35 percent are neutral and 13 percent are opposed. Far more men are in favor than women.

However, few — 12 percent — are deeply interested in eating whale meat themselves. Most — 66 percent— have little or no interest in dining on whale.

Commercial whaling is banned under a 1986 moratorium but various exceptions have allowed Japan, as well as Iceland and Norway, to hunt whales anyway. Japan claims its hunts are for research purposes, though the meat from the killed whales mostly ends up in restaurants, stores and school lunches.

The AP-GfK telephone poll conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications surveyed 1,000 adults across Japan by landline telephone between July 29 and Aug. 10, and has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.




How the AP-GfK poll on attitudes and opinions of Japanese public was conducted


By The Associated Press


The Associated Press-GfK Poll on the attitudes and opinions of Japanese was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from July 29 to Aug. 10. It is based on landline telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults.

The survey sample frame includes Japanese households that have at least one fixed telephone landline, or about 91 percent of all Japanese households, and represents the national population of Japan aged 18 and older living in the 47 prefectures (states).

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed numbers. The sample was stratified by region with targets set for the number of complete calls per region.

Interviews were conducted in Japanese by live interviewers in a Tokyo-based telephone interviewing center.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s composition. That included Japan’s mix by age within sex, city or region, and by education.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.8 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in Japan were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at


AP-GfK Poll: Clerks must issue gay marriage licenses
WASHINGTON (AP) — Linda Massey opposes gay marriage. But she was incensed last summer to see that Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, was refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

“If the government says you have to give out those marriage licenses, and you get paid to do it, you do it,” says the 64-year-old retiree from Lewiston, Michigan. “That woman,” she said of Davis, “should be out of a job.”

Americans like Massey are at the heart of a shift in public opinion, an Associated Press-GfK poll has found. For the first time, most Americans expect government officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even over religious objections.

It’s partly a matter of expecting public servants to do their jobs. But more broadly, the issue touches on a familiar dispute over which constitutional value trumps which: religious freedom, or equality under the law?

The question in recent months has entangled leaders with political sway, among them Pope Francis and the 2016 presidential contenders. But it’s not a new conflict for a nation that has long wrestled with the separation of church and state.

Where Davis’s answer was the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom — and she served jail time to back it up — a majority of respondents don’t buy that argument when it comes to public officials issuing marriage licenses. That’s a shift since an AP-GfK survey in July, when Americans were about evenly split. Then, 49 percent said officials with religious objections should be exempt from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and 47 percent said they should be required to issue them.

Now, just 41 percent favor an exemption and 56 percent think they should be required to issue the licenses.

That shift was especially stark among Republicans. A majority of them —58 percent — still favor religious exemptions for officials issuing marriage licenses, but that’s down 14 points since 72 percent said so in July.

The timing of the surveys is important, coming during rapid developments in the politics of gay rights and religious freedom.

Public opinion has favored same-sex marriage in recent years and some politicians — President Barack Obama, 2016 presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton and some members of Congress among them — have come around to that view. In June, the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

The cultural change has influenced the governing bodies of some of the most conservative religions, including the Catholic Church under Pope Francis and the Mormon Church, which last week called for compromises between protecting religious liberties and prohibiting discrimination. Both institutions are trying to accommodate society’s shifting views while keeping a firm grip internally on their own doctrines against gay marriage and homosexual activity. And both churches steered clear of the appearance of backing Davis. The Vatican said the pope’s brief meeting with her in Washington should not be construed as a sign of support.

Mormon leader Dallin H. Oaks last week told a closed gathering of judges and clergy in Sacramento, California, that when conflicts between religion and law rise and are decided, citizens of a democracy must follow court rulings.

Davis, a Democrat, Apostolic Christian and clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, became the face of religious Americans who bristle at government requirements that conflict with their beliefs, whether those mandates cover gay marriage, contraception or abortion referrals. On June 27 — the day after the high court ruling — Davis refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In September she spent five days in jail for defying a court order to issue the licenses. Affixing her name to the certificate, she wrote in a statement, “would violate my conscience.” After serving her jail sentence, Davis returned to work — but her name no longer appears on marriage licenses for gay couples.

Nick Hawks, a business consultant in Ararat, North Carolina, agrees with Davis.

“We’ve got to decide at some point who’s going to be protected first,” said the father of three boys, 50, who says he’s a Republican-leaning independent. “It doesn’t seem quite fair” to allow a minority such as gay people to “control the policy.”

More generally, the poll offers evidence that Americans remain slightly more likely to say that it’s more important for the government to protect religious liberties than the rights of gays and lesbians when the two come into conflict, 51 percent to 45 percent. But that, too, is a slight shift since July, when 56 percent said it’s more important to protect religious liberties.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online Oct. 15 to Oct. 19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.



Poll results:

AP-GfK Poll: Americans still feeling economic gloom

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are more likely than they were a year ago to have positive views of the nation’s economy, but they’re still feeling more pessimism than optimism, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll conducted ahead of CNBC’s GOP primary debate on Wednesday.

The candidates will attempt to impress Republicans in particular, who the poll finds feel much gloomier about the economy than Democrats.

Here are some things to know about opinions on the economy from the latest AP-GfK poll:



A majority of Americans — 54 percent — say the nation’s economy is poor, the new poll shows. Just 45 percent call it good. Still, views of the economy are slightly rosier than they were over the summer, when a July AP-GfK poll found 41 percent of Americans described the economy as good, and more positive than they were a year ago, when just 38 percent said so.

Half of men, but just 4 in 10 women, describe the economy as good.

Americans are even less likely to see the nation heading in a positive direction overall. Just 36 percent think the country is heading in the right direction, while 63 percent think it’s headed in the wrong direction.

More than 8 in 10 Americans in the new poll described the economy as an extremely or very important issue, down slightly since July. Still, the economy rates higher in importance than any other issue in the poll.



The candidates will aim their messages at a Republican Party that has a particularly negative view of the economy.

While 65 percent of Democrats describe the economy as good, just 29 percent of Republicans say the same. Seven in 10 Republicans say the economy is poor, including more than 8 in 10 GOP supporters of the tea party. Eight-five percent of Republicans say the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Independents, too, are unhappy with the economy, with 33 percent seeing it as good and 62 percent poor.



Few Americans — just 17 percent — think the economy has improved over the past month, while 21 percent think it has gotten worse and the bulk — 60 percent — think it’s stayed about the same.

Most Americans don’t expect to see improvement in either the nation’s economy or their own financial situations in the next year, either.

Thirty-one percent say they expect the general economic situation to get better, 32 percent expect it to get worse, and 34 percent expect it to stay about the same. Likewise, 29 percent expect their household financial situation to get better, 25 percent expect it to get worse, and 44 percent expect it to stay the same.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the economy has gotten worse in the last month, 31 percent to 13 percent. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to expect it to get better in the next year, 40 percent to 21 percent.



Whichever GOP candidate emerges victorious in next year’s presidential primaries will need to convince Americans that the party can do a better job than Democrats at handling economic issues.

Americans are slightly more likely to say they trust Democrats than Republicans more on handling the economy, 29 percent to 24 percent, the poll shows.

But neither party’s a clear winner on the issue — 15 percent say they trust both equally and 30 percent say they trust neither party.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they trust neither party, 29 percent to 17 percent. A majority of independents — 55 percent — don’t trust either party.



Americans are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, 52 percent to 46 percent, according to the new poll. But that’s an apparent rise in his approval rating on the issue since July, when just 42 percent said they approved.

Americans’ rating of Obama on the economy is nearly identical to how they feel about how he’s handling his job overall, with 46 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online from Oct. 15 to 19. The sample was drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel without Internet access were provided it for free.



Poll results: