Poll: 28.8% of voters who chose ruling party in general election now support opposition candidate in Seoul by-election

Posted on : 2021-04-02 16:45 KST Modified on : 2021-04-02 16:45 KST
The findings show that the opposition holds a rock-solid advantage in popular support
The Democratic Party candidate for Seoul mayor Park Young-sun and the PPP candidate Oh Se-hoon
The Democratic Party candidate for Seoul mayor Park Young-sun and the PPP candidate Oh Se-hoon

As the by-election for the Seoul mayoral race approaches on Wednesday, public opinion shows a strong undercurrent of disaffection toward the ruling Democratic Party.

The sharp turnaround comes just a year after the public handed the party an overwhelming majority of more than 180 seats in the April 15 National Assembly election in 2020.

A real estate speculation scandal involving the Korea Land and Housing Corporation (KH) and the double standards shown by former Blue House policy chief Kim Sang-jo and other ruling party figures has stirred up deep distrust toward the administration’s ethics and fairness. Some observers suggest that cracks have started to form in the once-robust “candlelight alliance” that took shape after the 2017 impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.

At the Hankyoreh’s request, the polling organization Kstat surveyed 1,012 voters residing in Seoul on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The results, which had a margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points and 95% confidence level, showed Oh Se-hoon, the People Power Party (PPP) candidate for Seoul mayor, holding a support rating of 54.% — over 20 percentage points ahead of the Democratic Party candidate Park Young-sun (33.5%).

Coming at the final allowable polling result announcement date a week ahead of voting, the findings showed the opposition holding a rock-solid advantage in popular support.

Oh was also found to hold overwhelming leads over Park in support across all generations apart from voters in their 40s and across all regions of Seoul.

Among voters in their 20s and 30s, generally thought to be a strong Democratic Party support base, Oh recorded respective support ratings of 48.6% and 51.5%, putting him far ahead of Park’s ratings of 26.1% and 35.5%. In northwestern and northeastern Seoul, Oh enjoyed support margins of 51.4% to 34.8% and 50.6% to 36.6% over Park, respectively.

Among the 40-something voters seen as a key support base for the Moon Jae-in administration, Park had a support rating of 43.9%, putting her neck-and-neck with Oh at 42.8%. Among voters identifying as politically moderate, Oh led Park by a margin of 57.0% to 30.4%; even among self-identified progressives, 24.8% backed Oh.

The public’s disaffection with the Democratic Party becomes even more apparent when the two candidates’ support ratings are cross-analyzed with voting trends during the April 2020 general elections.

Just 60% of respondents who reported voting for the Democratic Party in last year’s elections said they were backing Park this time, while 28.8% said they supported Oh. This means that nearly one-third of voters who pulled the lever for the Democratic Party in 2020 have switched their support to the PPP.

Among respondents who voted for the progressive-leaning Justice Party last year, 27.1% said they supported Oh. Meanwhile, 95.7% of respondents who voted for the United Future Party (the PPP’s previous incarnation) indicated their support for Oh, suggesting a strong rallying trend among conservative voters.

Analysts point to the recent eruption of the LH real estate speculation scandal as an inflection point in the Democratic Party’s loss of support over the past year. When asked what variables they expected to influence the Wednesday by-elections, fully 58.7% of Seoul voters named real estate policy and the LH scandal.

Other variables mentioned, in order, were the sexual harassment scandal surrounding late former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (13.4%), the resignation of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and the friction between prosecutors and the Democratic Party (9.0%), and the issues of COVID-19 prevention and vaccine administration (8.7%).

Further contributing to the public’s negative attitudes toward the Democratic Party were reports that Kim Sang-jo and other figures sharing core values with the Moon administration raised rental fees sharply just before the implementation of three rent control laws.

“In the past, the focuses of criticisms toward the Moon administration were all about partisan bias and things like double standards and forcing people to ‘take sides,’ whereas now it seems to be facing fundamental questions in the wake of the LH scandal and the issues with Kim Sang-jo, where people are asking how they’re any different when it comes to matters of ethics and fairness,” said Ha Dong-gyun, a director at Kstat Research.

Indeed, real estate policies and the LH scandal were named the biggest factors influencing the by-election by most Seoul voters in nearly every generation (48.6% in those aged 70 and up) from every region of Seoul and every party identity and professional class.

Eom Gyeong-young, director of the Zeitgeist Institute, observed, “For the first time since the Park Geun-hye impeachment in 2017, progressives, moderates and the generations that held up candles with the Democratic Party [i.e., people in their 20s to 40s] are now looking at the party and asking, ‘How are you guys any different?’”

“This is an opinion trend that stands to carry over into the presidential election, depending on much the Democratic Party appears to take this warning from an angered public to heart and reflect on itself,” Eom suggested.

By Noh Hyun-woong, staff reporter

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

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