Published : 2013-10-02 19:32
Updated : 2013-10-02 19:32
The parliamentary by-elections set for Oct. 30 will draw attention as a test-run for local polls in June, which are to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in 2016 and 2017, respectively. In preparing for the electoral showdowns, election strategists of the main political parties may have to take into account a new phenomenon: 20-something voters who have been increasingly tilted toward conservative stances.
A recent series of polls shattered the conventional perception that young people are more inclined to gravitate toward liberal views. According to the surveys by Gallup Korea, the approval rating for President Park Geun-hye among voters in their 20s climbed to nearly 60 percent in September from slightly over 32 percent recorded shortly before she won last December’s election on the ticket of the conservative Saenuri Party. Their support for the ruling party also increased from 22 percent to 31 percent over the cited period.
Some political observers argue it is an overstatement to say 20-somethings have become conservative, indicating it may be more accurate to say they have increasingly distanced themselves from reckless progressivism. It seems that the recent arrest of a left-wing lawmaker and his followers on rebellion charges has strengthened young people’s support for the conservative president and her party. A poll showed that 64 percent of respondents in their 20s believe the charges of insurgency might be true, compared to the average 61 percent of all age groups surveyed.
The shift in the young generation’s stance is seen to reflect their inclination to pay more attention to practical matters that affect their everyday life than ideological causes. Born after democracy took firm root in the country, 20-something people have grown without witnessing or experiencing political turmoil. Unlike their preceding generations, they don’t share a memory of protesting the military-backed authoritarian rule, which often looked to conservative values to quell challenges from liberal and progressive forces.
In an era of slowing economic growth and intensifying competition, their attention is naturally riveted to difficulties in everyday life, nurturing a realistic attitude that puts top priority on securing a stable livelihood. Their sensitive reaction to security issues, including the alleged plot to stage an anti-state rebellion, appears to stem from this practical tendency.
The changing stance of young people, many of whom have lacked a clear political identity or ideological orientation, can be interpreted as implying that they have been expressing discontent with irrational and extreme progressivism by turning to conservative sentiment. This phenomenon mirrors the deepening dysfunction of politics in Korea. Notwithstanding their place in the ideological spectrum, the major parties have remained incapable of or uninterested in easing hardships that have weighed on younger citizens.
The rival parties’ chances of winning the elections in the years to come will depend considerably, if not decisively, on how and whether they will strike the right chord with the young pragmatic electorate. At the moment, the current shift in their stance, coupled with a growing number of aged voters, is seen to favor the ruling conservative party. But this is certainly not meant to rule out the possibility that liberal and progressive parties will come to power by appealing to the youth more successfully by appearing more competent and rational. In this sense, the vague ideological configuration being shaped by 20-something voters may contribute to enhancing politics beyond being held hostage to partisan confrontation.