Nearly 78 percent of respondents called for a general election if the government is to raise taxes to cover a substantial increase in Japan's defense spending, a Kyodo News poll showed Sunday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has come under pressure, with 77.9 percent urging him to seek voter approval on the issue, as Tokyo is aiming to forge ahead with its biggest defense buildup program since World War II amid China's rise and North Korean threats. Meanwhile, 19.3 percent said they see no such need.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a House of Councillors plenary session in Tokyo on Jan. 27, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

In the telephone poll held Saturday and Sunday, the support rate for Kishida's Cabinet stood at 33.4 percent, compared with 33.1 percent in December, the lowest since its launch in 2021. The disapproval rating was at 49.9 percent, down 1.6 points.

The survey also found 62.0 percent support the recent government decision to downgrade the legal status of the novel coronavirus in May to the same category as seasonal influenza and other common infectious diseases, a major shift that will help normalize social and economic activities.

But 34.0 percent opposed the decision that will likely result in relaxing existing intensive COVID-19 measures such as limiting the movements of infected people and their close contacts and also enabling non-residents to enter Japan without PCR test or quarantining.

With the government now leaving it up to individuals whether to wear face masks, indoors or outdoors, to prevent infection, 64.8 percent said they worry about it, while 35.2 percent do not.

While Kishida has said he will enhance government steps to address the nation's plunging birthrate, 62.9 percent regarded the stance as appropriate. But 63.6 percent disapproved of any increased burden to finance his policies, including a potential consumption tax hike, with 32.6 percent accepting it.

Kishida has called on businesses to raise wages at a pace that matches the recent sharp inflation that has hit households. Only 16.5 percent believe such an increase will come true, significantly lower than 80.7 percent who believe it is unfeasible.

The survey called 516 randomly selected households with eligible voters on landline phones and 1,899 mobile phone numbers. It yielded responses from 423 households and 621 mobile phone users.

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