On June 8th, the Mizuho Information & Research Institute of Japan released the results of a consumer poll taken in February, 2015. One of the questions concerned whether or not the respondent would use nuclear-generated electricity if the costs were the same or less than they were in February. 67% said “yes”. Only 32% replied in the negative.
Over the past year, all, and I mean ALL, Press polls had at least 60% of the respondents saying they opposed restarts. These poll results are used ubiquitously by the Japanese news media when anything having to do with restarts is reported. For example…the PM Shinzo Abe regime says Japan should have 20-22% nuclear generation to reduce the high cost of fossil fuels imported to off-set the post Fukushima moratorium. Abe’s position is constantly followed with a blurb essentially saying “…despite most Japanese opposing… (and etc.)”.
How can Japan’s Press say most people oppose nuke restarts when a scientifically valid poll shows just the opposite? Here’s how.
The vast majority, if not all of Japan’s Press-based polls are not scientific. They are necessarily biased, though it is not necessarily intentional. It is the nature of the beast which makes the biases manifest.
First, Press polls are inescapably voluntary. No matter how large the potential numerical base might be – and with each of the top five Japanese media outlets, we’re talking millions – those who agree to take part are primarily those with the strongest feelings concerning the issue at hand. The decision to participate is largely an emotional judgment. In the case nuclear restarts, those against the idea will certainly have greater incentive to take part in the poll, than those who favor resumption of operations.
As often as not, those who voluntarily participate are in the minority. If a newspaper’s circulation is several million, but less than 2,000 respond to the query (which is typical in Japan), it can only be said that the results merely reflect those in the most-motivated demographic. In Japan, nuclear energy polls tend to prompt participation from those who hold to the antinuclear persuasion. Meanwhile, the pronuclear and nuclear-neutral demographic refrain from participation.
Secondly, the results of Press polls often do not reflect the opinions of the vast majority of their readers/viewers… i.e. in some cases those who choose to not participate can be assumed to disagree with the posted poll outcomes. This is the “nonresponse bias”; those who decline participation may have markedly differing opinions from those who agree to take part. Thus, it is misleading to suggest or imply that the results of voluntary Press polls actually reflect the opinion of the majority of their readers/viewers, when it is possible the results do just the opposite. It does make sense, however, to assume that the majority might disagree with the results of a voluntary Press poll. In addition, Japanese who support restarts are inescapably subject to ridicule from the vocal, numerically significant minority.
It should also be noted that Japanese who support the perceived status quo will usually not get actively involved in any controversy; it’s ingrained in the culture.
There is also what I call the “press agenda bias”. We should ask… what is the Press outlet’s routine perspective on an issue, and what type of readers/viewers does it attract? If the media source is skeptical, it will unquestionably attract a preponderance of skeptics as readers/viewers. If the Press outlet is generally liberal, it will attract liberals (and vice-versa). A 2012 news media survey found that 47 of the 50 most popular Press outlets in Japan said they were antinuclear. However, the few that responded otherwise were only less skeptical than the majority, so they judged themselves to be objective and devoid of bias. However, the fact is that all Japanese press outlets have continually reminded their readers/viewers that most Japanese oppose restarts based on Press polls. The new evidence showing this may not be true strongly suggests a universal antinuclear agenda across Japan’s major news media outlets. They all have nuclear energy biases, regardless of the results of the 2012 survey.
One closing note… I’m continually searching for news outlets in Japan that continually exhibit objective content in their nuke news reports. Sadly, I have only found one (that posts in English) – Fukushima Minpo. It is a local newspaper, distributed only in Fukushima Prefecture. The newspaper’s philosophy is stated thusly, “Fukushima-Minpo Co. aims at creating the best local newspaper in Japan through accurate and speedy news coverage as it works to achieve its mission as a public organ.” In four years, they have demonstrated that they mean what they say. It is not one of the top 50 news outlets in Japan, but it is the one source of Fukushima news to be trusted.