A Kyodo News survey showed Sunday that 48.1 percent of respondents oppose allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, against 39.0 percent who expressed support.
The survey also found that 51.3 percent of those polled opposed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to make it possible to exercise the right by reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution, in lieu of amending it, while 34.5 percent support the plan.
The approval rating for Abe's Cabinet stood at 54.7 percent, down 5.1 percentage points from the previous survey in April, according to the nationwide telephone survey conducted Saturday and Sunday.
The poll was taken after Abe on Thursday expressed his desire to lift the nation's self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an allied nation under attack, by reinterpreting the Constitution.
For decades, the government has maintained that Japan possesses the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it due to limits imposed by Article 9 of the Constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.
As for the ruling coalition's debate on the issue of collective self-defense, 79.3 percent said the discussions should be held without regard to the goal set by the government and Abe's Liberal Democratic Party of wrapping them up by fall.
Although the ruling bloc of the LDP and the New Komeito party are expected to officially launch the debate on Tuesday to find common ground, New Komeito is wary of departing from Japan's security policy long symbolized by the war-renouncing Constitution.
Meanwhile, 67.3 percent said it was necessary to consider the legal framework for handling "gray zone" incidents that stop short of full-fledged attacks, such as armed groups taking over remote islands, against 19.5 percent who said it was unnecessary.
Of the respondents, 55.3 percent said the Cabinet should place priority on economic and employment measures rather than the right to collective self-defense or revisions to the Constitution.
On the economic front, 38.8 percent supported the planned consumption tax hike in October next year to 10 percent from 8 percent, up 2.6 points from the previous survey, while 56.6 percent were opposed.
In the survey, 1,449 households with eligible voters were contacted by phone, of which 1,021 responded.