The study also found that the number identifying as conservative or moderate had increased since 2010.
Of the 597 people who responded to the survey in 2010, 29 percent said they were political liberals. In 2013, the tally shrank to 24 percent, while moderates and conservatives had risen from 34 percent to 38 percent and from 30 percent to 35 percent, respectively.
The tallies reflected a worsening national security environment, an aging population, and a divisive domestic political arena, analysts said.
“The changes (in political leanings) can be attributed to several reasons, including the rising sense of the North Korean threat and the negative image of the progressive political parties,” said Yoon Hee-woong, head of the public opinion research team at Min Consulting, a public policy consulting firm.
Progressives are often associated with being doves in South Korea’s North Korea policies while conservatives are associated with taking strong national defense postures against the Stalinist regime.
The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs survey was conducted between January and June of 2013, as North Korea was escalating tensions by conducting a rocket launch in December 2012 and a nuclear test in February 2013. Kim Jong-un then unprecedentedly closed the inter-Korean Gaeseong Industrial Complex in April 2013.
“Our society itself has become increasingly conservative,” said Bae Jong-chan, chief director at Research and Research, an opinion survey company.
“The population has also aged greatly in recent years.”
With dwindling birth rates and improving health care, increasing numbers of voters are senior citizens, who are often resistant toward socioeconomic changes and tend to side with the political right, according to Bae.
Progressive parties’ failure to appeal to voters in recent months is also considered a reason for the falling numbers of liberals according to public opinion experts.
“When certain parties are associated with a specific political color, that party’s approval ratings often correlate with the population’s political sentiment,” Yoon said.
The main opposition Democratic Party struggled in public opinion polls throughout last year, with party approval ratings trailing behind the conservative ruling Saenuri Party by as much as 20 percentage points, according to data from the Korea Society Opinion Institute.
With former presidential candidate Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo readying to create a new political party this year, political analysts expect liberals to vote for what they perceive as a more moderate party.
According to a November 2013 Gallup poll, Rep. Ahn’s projected party is likely to outpace the DP in voter approval ratings, with the new party expected to garner 26 percent of the vote to the DP’s 11.
“Rep. Ahn is seen as a moderate candidate to many voters,” said Yoon. “People jaded with political disputes between the left and right are flocking to the middle.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)