A poll revealed Monday that public support for embattled Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso was just over 20 percent, the lowest since he took office in September, fueling speculation that his administration may be too unpopular to survive.
The survey by the Nikkei, Japan's top business daily, found the approval rating for Aso's Cabinet nose-dived 10 percentage points since November.
It is now far below the 30 percent of public support considered critical for a Cabinet's survival, the paper said.
Aso, who is facing sharp calls from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to step down for elections, has repeatedly come under fire for verbal gaffes and a lack of leadership during the global economic crisis.
"Aso seems unable to handle the current economic crisis, and more and more voters are questioning whether he is really up to his job," said Tetsuro Kato, a political science professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. "The low approval rate means his government is near its end."
"But the Aso Cabinet may survive for a few more months since the Liberal Democratic Party cannot find an alternative," he said.
Aso has resisted calls for snap elections because many in the ruling party feel they cannot win.
His public support stands at around 20 percent in other newspaper polls.
The disapproval rating for his government in the Nikkei poll soared to 73 percent in December from 62 percent in November.
Among respondents who disapproved of Aso, nearly 50 percent said he lacked leadership. Another 48 percent said they disapproved of his policies. The survey gave no further details.
The world's second-largest economy _ mired in recession _ shrank 1.8 percent in the third quarter at an annual pace.
The Nikkei telephone poll interviewed 1,416 randomly selected households with eligible voters from Dec 26-28. It received 922 responses. It gave no margin of error, but a survey of that size would generally have a margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.