NATIONAL

[News Focus] Ruling party, main opposition race to lure young voters

By Kim Bo-gyung
  • Published : Jun 11, 2019 - 16:58
  • Updated : Jun 11, 2019 - 16:58

With less than a year left until the general election slated for April next year, South Korea’s two largest political parties have their sights set on voters in their 20s and 30s.

Young liberal and conservative voters are increasingly losing interest in politics -- whether due to disappointment with the ailing economy under the Moon Jae-in administration or incendiary language and actions by the leadership of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

Polls from previous elections have shown that the liberal Democratic Party tends to attract more young voters than the conservative Liberty Korea Party. Therefore, the main opposition is seeking to gain young voters’ support in a variety of ways.

During the opening ceremony of a party-run program aimed at nurturing young political leaders, Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn highlighted the importance of young people for the party.

“Since I took the post as party leader, I have tried to make a party that creates the future. Young people are one of the central factors for the future. … I plan on making a party that embraces young people and women,” Hwang told a group of some 40 participants in their 20s and 30s at the ceremony at the party’s headquarters last week.

Shortly after the event, Hwang visited the Songpa district in southeastern Seoul, a constituency led by the party’s 33-year-old council member Kim Seong-yong. There, he urged young voters to support the party and join its shift toward becoming friendlier to young people.

“Young people’s approval rating for the Liberty Korea Party stands at 5 to 6 percent at the lowest and at 15 to 16 percent at the most. We are trying to reach young people and garner support from the public,” Hwang said.

Out of 160 surveyed people aged 19-29, 16.5 percent backed the Liberty Korea Party compared to 42.3 percent who support the Democratic Party, according to local pollster Real Meter.

The survey was conducted at the request of TBS from May 27-29 and has a 2.5 percent margin of error. 

Liberty Korea Party leader Hwang Kyo-ahn (right) attends an event hosted by the party for young couples on June 9 at its headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul. (Yonhap)

The stark contrast in support from young voters could mean a higher possibility of the Liberty Korea Party losing the 2020 general election, said Yoon Yeo-joon, a former environment minister and lawmaker of the then-Saenuri Party.

“Voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s make up about 55-60 percent of total voters. The ruling party is clearly taking the lead over the Liberty Korea Party in terms of support ratings. … There is a chance a large number of them may not vote due to disappointment in the current administration, resulting in abstention,” Yoon said in a radio interview.

“If the ruling party handles this carefully (encourage votes), it will be difficult for the Liberty Korea Party to win in a big election because of the large gap in the support rating.”

As part of efforts to expand its support base, the Liberty Korea Party has launched a center dedicated to transforming the party based on young people’s opinions.

The center is to be led by young officials, including party council member Park Jin-ho, 29, who has been tapped as head the center.

Vowing to transform the conservative party into one that can “easily communicate with voters in their 20s and 30s, those that live in metropolitan areas and the moderate” Kim Se-yeon, the head of the Liberty Korea Party’s think tank Yeouido Institute, recently partially changed the party’s color from red to “millennial pink.”

Last weekend, the conservative party held a “parenting party” for young couples at its headquarters, where party leader Hwang promised to roll out education and child care policies to help working parents, though he did not mention detailed policies or plans to improve child care.

“Many young conservatives like myself do not feel comfortable openly expressing our political views. This has been the case since the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. It would be a big confidence booster to see the Liberty Korea Party speak with its policies. Right now I don’t follow politics as much as I use to,” said Lee Ha-na, 31, who works at a family-run business. Lee is pregnant with her first child.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the Democratic Party and Cheong Wa Dae are sparing no efforts to keep young voters from drifting away.

The Democratic Party is preparing to launch a group of young party members tasked with overseeing policies for young people, similar to that of the Liberty Korea Party’s center for young people.

The ruling party’s supreme council member Kim Hae-young, 42, is widely expected to lead the 20-member group in drafting a wide range of policies -- such as those related to employment and housing -- concerning young people, on top of gathering their opinions.

The latest change is line with Cheong Wa Dae’s plan to set up a policy management team for young people that will be led by Lyuh Sun-woong, 36, managing director of car-sharing app SoCar. 

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)