The public approval rating for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet edged up, but a larger group of respondents are against revising the pacifist Constitution under his leadership, a Kyodo News poll showed Sunday.

The nationwide telephone survey conducted Saturday and Sunday also shows 49.0 percent of respondents are in favor of immediately halting the operation of nuclear power plants in Japan, an initiative championed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi whose remarks still carry weight. Some 42 percent oppose the plants being shut down.

The support rate for Cabinet rose 2.5 percentage points from the previous poll in December last year to 49.7 percent, while the disapproval rate sits at 36.6 percent.

On a possible amendment to the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 under Abe, 54.8 percent are against, up 6.2 points from the previous poll, while supporters of change stand at 33.0 percent.

Abe has been eager to rewrite the supreme law, which conservatives decry as a product of the U.S.-led occupation after Japan's defeat in World War II.

The premier indicated during a New Year press conference that he would like to see the Diet initiate amendments to the supreme law by the end of the year. Any constitutional amendment must be eventually approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum, for which two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Diet are required.

The premier has proposed adding an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9. But the idea drew a negative response from 52.7 percent of respondents, while only 35.3 percent back the prospect in the latest survey.

In defense policy, 46.7 percent are against the government's plan to acquire long-range cruise missiles, despite the threat posed by North Korea, while 41.7 percent are in favor.

The government stresses the missiles are purely for defense and not for striking enemy bases, but concerns have been raised by some observers that acquiring such capabilities would constitute a shift in Japan's exclusively defense-oriented policy under its war-renouncing Constitution.

Japan's nuclear policy could emerge as another topic of debate in the upcoming ordinary Diet session from Jan. 22, with a civic group advised by Koizumi urging ruling and opposition lawmakers to adopt its draft bill to immediately halt nuclear power plant operations.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest force in the House of Representatives, is also aiming to submit a draft bill to move Japan away from nuclear power as Abe's Liberal Democratic Party continues to promote atomic power generation even after the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

With a leadership race for the LDP scheduled in September 2018, 47.5 percent said they do not want Abe to win a third consecutive term, while 45.2 back him to stay in the role, giving him the chance to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

On the question of North Korea's participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea in February, 58.9 percent of respondents back Pyongyang's inclusion and 31.9 percent oppose it.

Regarding political parties, the LDP is supported by 38.4 percent of respondents, up 1.3 points, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was chosen by 12.7 percent, up 0.2 point.

The Party of Hope, launched by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, sees just 1.2 percent support, down 2.0 points. Unaffiliated voters account for 35.4 percent of respondents.

The survey, covering 739 randomly selected households with eligible voters, as well as 1,122 mobile phone numbers, obtained responses from 507 and 506 people, respectively.