Despite the public outrage at deadly abuse cases in the military and the protracted Sewol ferry disaster, President Park Geun-hye’s approval ratings recently firmed up for the first time in two months.
The Gallup Korea poll, which surveyed 1,004 adults between Aug. 4 and 6, had Park’s favorability at 46 percent positive and 43 percent negative. The positive evaluation of Park’s performance went up 6 percentage points from the previous week, surpassing her negative assessment for the first time in seven weeks. The president’s disapproval ratings have surged since the Sewol disaster. Her negative evaluation stood around at 28 percent earlier this year, but shot up to 40 percent right after the sinking of the ferry. As she continued to disappoint the public with a series of nomination debacles, her disapproval ratings even reached its peak at 50 percent on the fourth week of July.
With her approval ratings showing signs of improving, Cheong Wa Dae appeared relieved. “I guess it (the approval rating) has bottomed out and is on its way to recovering,” a senior official said last week.
Nonetheless, experts played down Park’s polling numbers, saying that it stemmed chiefly from her party’s landslide victory in the July 30 by-elections, not necessarily from her performance.
“It is difficult to say that the president has restored the public’s support,” said Yoon Hee-woong, head of the public opinion research team at Min’s Consulting, in a telephone interview.
“The ruling Saenuri Party’s election victory was fully reflected in the public opinion,” he said, adding her strong affiliation to the party buttressing her popularity. The ruling party won 11 out of the 15 parliamentary seats last month that strengthen the party’s majority, and a boost to Park, who has been pushing her reform drive in the awake of the ferry disaster.
Yoon also pointed out her economic stimulus plan as a positive factor, but stressed that it remains unclear whether the upward trend would be continued, citing mounting criticism against abuse cases in the military and controversial negotiation over the Sewol bill.
Political science professor Kim Tae-il at Yeongnam University noted that not only did the ruling Saenuri Party’s election victory favorably raise public trust in the Park administration, but so has the “feckless” main opposition party.
“The Park administration has shown little change so far, but the powerless main opposition party may have increased the public’s expectations toward Park,” he said.
The pollster also showed the approval rating for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy dived to the lowest level of 21 percent since March, while the approval of the ruling party reached a record high of 45 percent this year.
Of the 462 respondents satisfied with Park’s performance, 19 percent said she had worked off steam while 12 percent said she has shown her determination and remained firm despite fluctuating public sentiment. Another 8 percent of the respondents said her handling of foreign policy was good.
Of the 436 respondents discontent with Park’s job, 15 percent cited “poor communication with the people” and 14 percent “mishandling of the Sewol disaster.” Others said they became negative of Park’s “false nominations” and “lack of leadership.”
Although the disapproval ratings of Park remain high, it is too early to see if Park has entered lame duck status, said Yoon, calling her relationship with the Saenuri leadership strong.
“Lame duck starts when the ruling party turns against the president and refuses to communicate with the president. But it hasn’t happened yet,” said Yoon.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)