The Korea Herald


Looming election has Yoon advocating harder for everyday South Koreans

Faltering ratings, Seoul election defeat flash warning signs for ruling party

By Kim Arin

Published : Oct. 22, 2023 - 16:55

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Yoon presidential couple arrives at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday. (Yonhap) Yoon presidential couple arrives at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday. (Yonhap)

With next year’s general election for the National Assembly looming, President Yoon Suk Yeol and his People Power Party are pledging to do more to make lives better for everyday South Koreans.

In the latest briefing from the presidential office, Yoon was quoted by his press secretary as telling his staff to focus policy agendas to build economy that puts middle class and low-income earners first. “The South Korean people are always the priority,” the president said, asking his advisors to “stay in touch with the economic reality of everyday South Koreans.”

The message from the Yoon office was followed up by the People Power Party leaders playing up their advocacy for the middle-class and working South Koreans. “The People Power Party is the party that fights for average South Koreans,” the party’s chief spokesperson Rep. Park Jeong-ha said in a statement on Sunday.

For the first time in nine months, the People Power Party and high-level government officials called a meeting on this day at the National Assembly over expanding unemployment benefits for young people and protecting small business owners and families hurting from inflation and rising interest rates.

“In this difficult economy, the chief concern for the ruling party and the government should be to make sure the most vulnerable South Koreans will not bear the burden alone,” the ruling party floor leader Rep. Yun Jae-ok told reporters ahead of the meeting.

The stress on the middle-class security in the messaging by the president and his party comes amid growing warning signs, half a year away from the general election slated for April 2024.

Since taking office, the conservative president’s ratings have consistently been subpar, sinking to a six-month low on Saturday.

According to a Gallup Korea poll of 1,000 eligible voters aged 18 and above, conducted Oct. 15-17. The poll showed just 30 percent of Korean adults approving of the president’s job performance, dropping 3 percentage points from the week prior. Many who disapproved picked the economy and jobs as their top policy concerns, while those who approved pointed to foreign policy and national security.

Yoon’s 30 percent approval rating is the lowest since April, when he hit 27 percent amid controversies surrounding his administration’s plan to compensate Korean victims of Japanese colonial forced labor through a locally funded foundation.

Even in areas such as North Gyeongsang Province where the conservative party traditionally has a strong foothold, more disapproved than approved of Yoon’s performance as president.

No significant changes were observed in Koreans’ opinions of the two major political parties, both of which have been receiving roughly similar ratings for the past several months. The ruling People Power Party and its rival Democratic Party of Korea were assessed support ratings of 33 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

The slump in ratings for the ruling party is on top of a painful defeat earlier this month in Seoul, where the Democratic Party enjoys a large advantage of about 10 percentage points over the People Power Party in favorability ratings.

In a by-election held Oct. 11, the People Power Party lost a Seoul district of western Gangseo to the Democratic Party by a shocking margin of 39 percent to 56 percent.

Winning in Seoul, considered a key swing city in general elections, will be critical to claim the majority of the National Assembly. The capital city is being closely watched by analysts of both parties for clues about the sentiments of voters and other trends.