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[Voters &] ‘Young voters’ ask to be taken more seriously

Those in their 20s, 30s question sincerity of pledges targeted to them via social media

By Jo He-rim

Published : Feb. 21, 2022 - 17:15

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Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party raises his fist in the air during a canvassing event in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, Saturday. (People Power Party) Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party raises his fist in the air during a canvassing event in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, Saturday. (People Power Party)

With less than three weeks to go to the presidential election, Kim Min-young, 31, has yet to decide who she will support for the country’s next president, as none of the contenders have been successful in persuading her.

“The many election promises the candidates have made to target voters in their 20s and 30s lack details in how they link with the visions and principles the candidates hold for their government,” Kim, an office worker in Seoul, told The Korea Herald.

“It feels like candidates are trying to appeal to this age group just by highlighting how they are able to respond to the demands. But what I want to see are their honest thoughts on these social issues, and the process of how they develop that into pledges.”

Competition among the candidates to secure support from voters in their 20s and 30s has been fiercer than ever, with the age group accounting for over a third of eligible voters.

Election contenders have stressed in speeches the importance of “young voters” and “those in their 20s and 30s.” They have also been making daily posts on common social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram and releasing short-form videos on YouTube and TikTok -- appearing on channels the candidates themselves are likely unfamiliar with, but which are frequented by many in the target demographic.

Despite these efforts, voters in their 20s and 30s are still unsure about the candidates, as they raise doubts on volatile election promises. 

Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung raps in the behind-the-scene video posted on his YouTube. (Lee Jae-myung's YouTube) Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung raps in the behind-the-scene video posted on his YouTube. (Lee Jae-myung's YouTube)
Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party cooks for guests in the campaign's entertainment program Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party cooks for guests in the campaign's entertainment program "Seok-yeol's kitchen." (Yoon Suk-yeol's YouTube)


Way of approaching the young


The candidates’ efforts to reach out to younger voters have focused on going viral.

In their campaigns to woo young voters, the leading presidential candidates -- Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party -- have been flooding the headlines with pledges aimed at drawing public attention.

Some of the controversial pledges to draw attention include Yoon’s pledge to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and provide a monthly salary of 2 million won ($1,680) for enlisted soldiers, in a country where military service is compulsory for men. These pledges were posted separately to Yoon’s Facebook, each a single sentence without further elaboration.

It also went viral when Lee said he would consider hair loss treatments being covered by the public health care insurance, prompting presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party to beat him to the punch in making it an official pledge of his campaign.

“I see so many populistic pledges trying to hook voters, but it is doubtful if these promises can even be realized. These pledges from the different candidates are not distinguishable, and they do not affect my political opinion,” Park Kyung-sun, 31, told The Korea Herald.

Lee had released 72 policy pledges under the campaign theme of “small-but-guaranteed-happiness” as of Friday, including policies such as removing a ban on tattoos and halving the price of mobile plans for conscripted soldiers.

Yoon has also released a list of some 40 similar pledges under his “heart-fluttering pledge” campaign, and 29 short-form videos under a minute long.

Lee Sun-woo, a Seoul resident, evaluated the candidate’s attempts on social media as positive, but said their promises were not enough for him to decide on a candidate.

“I am positive about how the candidates are paying more attention to people in their 20s and 30s, and their social media approach is appropriate because it is true that those in their 20s and 30s don’t look at conventional media outlets like newspapers as much,” Lee, 33, said.

“But I’m still not sure if all of the pledges can be realized. Like raising the salary for conscripted soldiers already has budget problems.”

Park Kyung-sun was pessimistic about the many social media posts and appearances on entertainment YouTube channels, as she viewed them as attempts to create a “fake” friendly public image.

“Previous evidence of his phone recording with his sister-in-law filled with abusive language, and also the Daejang-dong scandal, show who Lee Jae-myung is. But Lee tries to water down these controversies and create a fake image of himself, appearing as humorous and friendly in online content,” Park said.

In polls, Yoon Suk-yeol appears to have more support from young voters than all other candidates, including archrival Lee Jae-myung. Lee, meanwhile, appears to have an upper hand among voters in their 40s and 50s.

In a survey by Hangil Research commissioned by Kuki News, Yoon posted 41 percent support from the electorate aged 18 to 29, and 44.8 percent from 30-39. Lee posted 36.3 percent for the youngest voter group and 42 percent from those in their 30s.

The overall race was shown to be tighter still, with Yoon and Lee polling at 42.4 percent and 41.9 percent, respectively, among all potential voters.

For Yoon receiving higher support from those in their 20s and 30s, Eom Gyeong-yeong, director of the Zeitgeist Institute, viewed that it could be related to the conservative party’s Chairman Lee Jun-seok being in his 30s, and also Yoon’s campaign involving more young workers in its electioneering activities.

The poll was conducted with 1,009 adults from Feb. 12 to 14, just before the start of the official campaign period began on Feb. 15.

Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung (left) of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea speaks at a dance studio in Seoul on Jan. 20. Lee met with dancers, including those who starred in Mnet's popular dance competition program Street Woman Fighter, to discuss policies for the dance industry. (Yonhap)Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (right) of the main opposition People Power Party poses with his dog in his YouTube channel. (Yonhap/Yoon Suk-yeol's YouTube channel) Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung (left) of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea speaks at a dance studio in Seoul on Jan. 20. Lee met with dancers, including those who starred in Mnet's popular dance competition program Street Woman Fighter, to discuss policies for the dance industry. (Yonhap)Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (right) of the main opposition People Power Party poses with his dog in his YouTube channel. (Yonhap/Yoon Suk-yeol's YouTube channel)

Young voters are serious

To persuade young voters, the candidates should present “sustainable” policies that can change the fundamental structure of society, Eom told The Korea Herald.

“The candidates are presenting pledges and activities targeting young voters almost daily, but a lot of them appear to be promises to give away government money,” Eom said. “And the voters are aware of that.”

Voters in their 20s and 30s are swing voters this year, widely viewed as uninfluenced by traditional factors such as the regionalism, party allegiance or ideology-based politics that have seemed to define older age groups.

Instead, the candidates should be able to present their perspectives on different social issues and provide solutions to appeal to the young voters, Eom said.

Lee Sun-woo, a father of two, said he wants to hear about policies that touch on the “fundamental systems” from the presidential candidates.

“Voters in their 20s and 30s look for policies that can stabilize their living situation and jobs, and if these issues are handled thoroughly, other social problems, such as the low birthrate, would also be resolved,” Lee said.

Shin Jung-hoon, 37, said the candidate who works to resolve divisive conflicts among different social groups, such as on gender issues, will receive his vote.

“For instance, I want to choose a candidate who would be able to declare an end to the Korean War. We would no longer need to conscript soldiers, and I believe that would partly relieve the gender conflict,” said the resident of Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

Kim Min-young pointed out how “lightly” the candidates present their pledges on social media without explanations, and that reflects their level of thought on the issues.

“I want to see a government that is serious about the needs of the people, and one that can capture the diversity of society to come up with policies that can address different needs,” Kim said, adding that she takes issue with the candidates addressing those in their 20s and 30s as a monolithic group of “young people.” 

For more information regarding the survey results go to the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)