Will former prosecutor general keep his lead in polls of presidential hopefuls?

Posted on : 2021-03-09 16:53 KST Modified on : 2021-03-09 16:53 KST
Yoon enjoys a plurality of support among conservatives and moderates
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl leaves the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul after announcing his resignation Thursday. (Yonhap News)
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl leaves the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul after announcing his resignation Thursday. (Yonhap News)

Following his resignation, former South Korean prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl has soared in polls measuring support for potential candidates in the next presidential election. Polls released on Monday placed Yoon in first place.

Yoon enjoys a plurality of support not only among conservatives but also among moderates. But experts are divided about how that support may change in the future.

The Korea Society Opinion Institute (KSOI) asked Friday 1,023 adults aged 18 and above around the country about who was best suited to be president. Commissioned by TBS, the poll had a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of ±3.1 points. Yoon was preferred by 32.4% of respondents, surpassing other candidates by more than the margin of error.

Yoon’s approval rose 17.8 points from a poll conducted by the same organization on Jan. 22, when Yoon’s level of support was at 14.6%.

Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung’s rating stood at 24.1%, down 2.1 points from the previous poll, while Democratic Party leader Lee Nak-yon was at 14.9%, slipping by 0.4 points.

Other contenders in the poll were independent lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo (7.6%), Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun (2.6%), and former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (2.5%).

In a Realmeter poll announced Monday, Yoon claimed the top spot among potential presidential candidates. In a survey of 1,000 adults around the country conducted by Realmeter from Saturday to Sunday, at the request of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper (with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of ±3.1 points), Yoon stood in first place, at 28.3%. Lee Jae-myung received 22.4% of support in the same poll, while Lee Nak-yon had 13.8%.

Compared to the Realmeter poll carried out on Feb. 22-26, Yoon’s approval rating jumped 12.8 points in just ten days, while Lee Jae-myung and Lee Nak-yon fell 1.2 and 1.7 points, respectively.

More details can be found on the website of the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission.

The results of the two polls are taken to mean that conservatives are unifying around the idea of Yoon being the opposition’s contender for the next presidential election. Support for Yoon was found to be higher than the national average among supporters of the People Power Party, people who think Moon is doing a poor job as president, people who lean conservative, people aged 50 or above, residents of Seoul, and residents of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.

Yoon also received more support than ruling party contenders among moderates. In the KSOI poll, 35% of moderates said they supported Yoon, compared to 23% for Lee Jae-myung and 13.8% for Lee Nak-yon. Yoon also had the most support among moderates, at 31.3%, in the Realmeter poll.

Experts’ predictions were mixed. Some analysts think the consolidation of the anti-Moon contingent will only intensify as the presidential election approaches. “Voters who are disappointed with the Democratic Party and moderate voters that would never support the People Power Party seem to be counting on [Yoon],” said Choi Chang-ryul, a professor at Yong In University.

The polls reinforce the view that Yoon will retain some degree of support until the upcoming by-elections, which will take place before the opposition party can carry out a political overhaul.

“The rise in Yoon Seok-youl’s approval rating reflects the ‘convention effect’ resulting from the disappearance of uncertainty about whether Yoon will actually enter politics,” said Yun Tae-gon, senior political analyst for the think tank Moa.

“Yoon has also been helped by the sense of injustice provoked by the speculation scandal at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation. If Yoon actually enters politics, his support will probably sag, but it will probably hold steady for the time being, at least until the by-elections on April 7,” Yun said.

“Since Yoon Seok-youl hasn’t spelled out his actual politics yet, his current support should be seen as a ‘convention effect’ derived from curiosity or expectation,” said Eom Gyeong-yeong, director of the Zeitgeist Institute.

“If Yoon can’t clearly express what his politics are, his support will be cut in half, just as we saw with Ban Ki-moon,” Eom added.

Another variable is the fact that the South Korean public is split down the middle about whether they approve or disapprove of the prospect of Yoon entering politics. That will force the opposition to contemplate potential blowback.

When Realmeter asked whether it would be appropriate for Yoon to go into politics, 47.2% said it would be, while 45.7% said it wouldn’t, with the gap smaller than the margin of error.

By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter

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

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