Latest election polls show Moon Jae-in rising, Ahn Cheol-soo fading

Posted on : 2017-05-02 16:28 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo also seeing a rise, as voters turn back to their traditional loyalties
 at the National Assembly on the night of May 1. On the morning of May 2
at the National Assembly on the night of May 1. On the morning of May 2

Just eight days before South Korea’s 19th presidential election, the race has abruptly shifted from a showdown between Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo to a situation in which Moon enjoys a comfortable lead over Ahn and Hong Joon-pyo. Moon, candidate for the liberal Minjoo Party, is maintaining a solid support base of 40%, while Ahn, candidate for moderate the People’s Party, and Hong, candidate for the conservative Korea Liberty Party, are vying for second place amid volatility among conservative voters. 

 13 Bareun lawmakers left the party to return to the Liberty Korea Party. (Yonhap News)
13 Bareun lawmakers left the party to return to the Liberty Korea Party. (Yonhap News)

Recent public opinion polls have shown a clear slide for Ahn and rise for Hong. A survey of 1,000 adults nationwide conducted by The Opinion, commissioned by the newspaper Naeil, on Apr. 29-30 showed Moon first in support at 37.3%, followed by Ahn at 20.5%, Hong at 15.8%, left-wing Justice Party candidate Shim Sang-jung at 6.9% and conservative Bareun Party Yoo Seong-min at 4.9%. A Christian Broadcasting System/Real Meter survey on Apr. 27-29 similarly showed Moon at 42.6%, Ahn at 20.9%, Hong at 16.7%, Shim at 7.6%, and Yoo at 5.2%. The numbers suggest Moon has consolidated his position far ahead of the pack, while Ahn and Hong are competing within the margin of error.

Analysts attributed Ahn’s support tumble - after being in competition with Moon for first place just two weeks earlier - to the re-emergence of two frames that have swayed past presidential elections, namely ideology and regionalism. A contest between Moon as a progressive and Hong as a conservative leaves fewer options for Ahn, who has hewed to a moderate line without a solid support base of his own.

“Ahn has tried to surmount his weaknesses by appealing to the ‘future’ and ‘unity,’ but he’s still inexperienced when it comes to seizing a frame, and the major issues he has come out with, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution, are things the public is a bit vague on perceiving,” explained Myongji University professor Kim Hyung-joon.

Ahn also ended up sacrificing progressive and moderate votes with the “right face” posture he adopted on major security issues to appeal to conservatives. Many see the five televised debates as the key factor in Ahn‘s support slide. A Gallup Korea survey on Apr. 25-27 showed 44% of respondents reporting their image of Ahn as having become less favorable after the debates - the largest loss for any of the five major candidates.

“With this election is taking place in such a compressed fashion, the TV debates have become the decisive standard for candidate selection,” explained a polling expert on condition of anonymity.

“[Ahn’s] decline became apparent after the third debate on Apr. 23, with the remarks about him being ‘1% Cheol-soo’ and an ‘MB [Lee Myung-bak] avatar,’” the expert added.

A source with Ahn’s camp remained confident the candidate would rebound.

“Opinion surveys don’t capture ground-level sentiments,” the source said.

Liberty Korea Party presidential candidate Hong Joon-pyo smiles as he leaves a meeting with Bareun Party lawmakers
Liberty Korea Party presidential candidate Hong Joon-pyo smiles as he leaves a meeting with Bareun Party lawmakers

Meanwhile, Hong’s rapid rise appears to be the result of a wedge strategy. His repeated remarks about “pro-North Korea leftists” and the “3% of militant aristocratic labor unions” have resonated deeply with conservatives and residents of the Daegu/North Gyeongsang area, a conservative stronghold. Recent foreign affairs and national security issues have also united his support base, analysts said. Hong’s camp believes their candidate will score a “silver cross” by passing Ahn during the so-called blackout period of May 3-9, when announcement of election opinion survey results is prohibited.

“Hong Joon-pyo is very capable about setting frames. He may have a habit of making outrageous remarks and blunt, vulgar statements, but they leave a mark after they’re done,” said Kim Hyung-joon.

“As the multi-candidate race drags on and flux grows in the election, there’s a greater chance voters will vote their convictions and choose the candidate they want rather than voting strategically for the one they think will win,” Kim added, hinting that Hong‘s rise in support may continue.

By Choi Hye-jung, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

 

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