Voters in their 40s turn away from GNP

Posted on : 2011-10-28 11:25 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Increased hardship under Lee administration cited in dissatisfaction with GNP

By Kim Jong-cheol, Senior Staff Writer and Kim Hyo-jin 
 
Yoo, a 49-year-old Seoul-based businessman and primary income earner for his family, considers himself a conservative. A native of Daegu, he cast his vote at the last presidential election for President Lee Myung-bak. He also opposes the public provision of free school lunches, saying it is populist in character. On Oct. 26, at the Seoul mayoral by-elections, he voted for unified opposition candidate Park Won-soon.
Yoo explained, “I had high expectations that life would get better if Lee Myung-bak became president. But nothing has become better. On the contrary, all he has done is come up with policies that protect the vested rights of privileged people. Why should I give [his party] my vote? Most of the people I know that normally vote for the Grand National Party (GNP) turned to Park Won-soon this time, saying that the world had to change.”
The “revolt” among those in their 40s at Wednesday’s Seoul mayoral by-election was striking. Exit poll results from the country’s three major broadcasters show that 66.8% of voters in this age group supported Park Won-soon. Support for the GNP (i.e. candidate Na Kyung-won) amounted to only 32.9%, meaning that those in their 40s cast more than twice as many votes for the opposition as for the ruling party. Compared to the 2007 presidential election, when exit polls by broadcaster SBS indicated that 50.6% voters in their 40s chose GNP candidate Lee Myung-bak and only 27.1% supported Democratic Party Chung Dong-young, Wednesday’s vote represented a complete reversal in public sentiment in this age range.
The biggest reason for this quadragenarian about face was a fall in quality of life, including housing instability, increased child education costs and job worries.
“Since the MB (Lee Myung-bak) government came to power, most small and medium enterprises that are not sub-contractors of big businesses have gone under or are floundering,” said 48-year-old Na, who works in construction. “I wanted to pass judgment on those in power.”
Unlike Yoo and Na, 47-year-old Kim is an executive at a finance company and belonged to the so-called “386 generation,” which was involved in student campaigns and protest movements during its university years. His motivation for voting for Park lay not in problems of basic livelihood, but of social justice. “If you are going to be conservative, you have to orient yourself toward a proper form of conservatism that swells the ranks of the middle classes, but the current powers that be are using policies that worsen polarization,” he says. “It seemed there was a need for some kind of new change, even if it did not mean the ideal society I dreamed of in my student days, so I was busily advising people around me to vote for Park.”
In any society, those in their 40s are not only a middle generation, but a core one that plays a pivotal role when it comes to level of activity and the right to speak. At the local elections on June 2 last year, they accounted for 22.4% of all voters and constituted the widest stratum in the age pyramid. This is why those in their 40s are regarded as a trend-setting generation in terms of public opinion, which sways election results and the direction in which society proceeds. Victory in next year’s general and presidential elections, too, is unthinkable without the support of this age range.
“As the sense of expectation regarding MB of four years turns to disappointment, it seems that those in their 40s, who lead active lives in society, feel betrayed,” said Seoul National University Professor Kang Won-taek. “Without large-scale change on the part of politicians, especially those in power, it appears that next year’s general election will go the same way. Depending on its result, this could continue to the presidential election.”
  
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