deep dive: Minjoo approval rate hits a new low as election closes in

deep dive: Minjoo approval rate hits a new low as election closes in

With the local election taking place in less than two weeks, the dip in the approval rate will be a significant blow to its runners.

While there are few updates in the polls for individual constituencies, one poll for the Gyeonggi governor released on Friday shows PPP’s Kim snatched a lead beyond the margin of error for the first time.

Even greater fall on hot battlefield

One shocking detail of the Gallup Korea weekly poll is the plummet in the Chungcheong area, which is considered one of the hottest battlefields in the election.

Minjoo’s approval rate nosedived to 13 percent from last week’s 30 percent. The fall is primarily attributed to the sexual misconduct case as the expelled lawmaker has his constituency in the area, but I suspect there’s more than that.

It’s not gonna be easy for Lee

Things don’t look good either on Incheon, another hot battlefield. 

PPP is slightly leading in the race for the mayor even though the incumbent Minjoo mayor is running for his second term.

Minjoo’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, now running for the vacant seat representing Gyeyang district in the Assembly, had been enjoying a lead for a while, but his competitor PPP’s Yoon Hyeong-seon overtook him in a poll released today.

PPP head Lee June-seok (center) and Yoon Hyeong-seon (on Lee’s right)

Though within the margin of error, the turnaround indicates that Lee’s journey to the Assembly will not be as easy as he and the Minjoo leadership previously thought.

Apparently, the voters don’t like the political heavyweight who ran for the next President months ago now reaching for low-hanging fruit.

It is often said that an election is all about the flow. While ex-Minjoo head Song Young-gil served the five Assembly terms here, the gap between Minjoo and the PPP has been narrowing down.

May 21 poll45.8%49.5%
May 18 poll50.8%40.9%
2022 Pres election (Gyeyang only)52.31%43.52%
2020 general election58.6%38.7%
2018 local election – mayor (Gyeyang only)61.16%31.5%
2018 local election – Gyeyang dist head68.85%21.64%
2018 local election – Gyeyang dist council(more than 70% in all four constituencies)
Track record of the recent polls and votes in the previous elections

There will probably be another poll release by next Tuesday (releasing poll results within a week before the election day is prohibited by law), and it will be more certain where the flow is heading.

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What’s behind Minjoo’s plunge?

Pondering why Minjoo is plunging so fast, I came to recall the famous passage from Thomas Mann:

Ich weiß, daß oft die äußeren, sichtbarlichen und greifbaren Zeichen und Symbole des Glückes und Aufstieges erst erscheinen, wenn in Wahrheit alles schon wieder abwärts geht. Diese äußeren Zeichen brauchen Zeit, anzukommen, wie das Licht eines solchen Sternes dort oben, von dem wir nicht wissen, ob er nicht schon im Erlöschen begriffen, nicht schon erloschen ist, wenn er am hellsten strahlt …

—Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie

The 2020 general election was the greatest victory ever for the parties of the Minjoo lineage. Amid the waves of the pandemic, public sentiment was firmly on Pres Moon and the ruling party’s side.

In a way, however, it was also the beginning of its demise.

Moon’s inner circle distributed the party nomination tickets to more extremist candidates. Being extreme in this sense isn’t related to their political views—sadly, many of them apparently don’t have one—but to their avowed loyalty to prominent figures like Pres Moon/Roh (now Lee, too, though he didn’t get elected) and, notably, Cho Kuk. (Did you know a documentary film about Cho is being released next week?)

Extremists holding sway

The so-called Cheoreomhoi (처럼회) party circle is exemplary in this sense. Started as the red guards for Cho Kuk, they now hold sway over the party’s initiatives.

They are incompetent, as we’ve seen their performance during Han’s confirmation hearing. Some of them are under suspicion of breaking the law.

The circle’s leader Choi Kang-wook was again found guilty in the appeal court last Friday for forging a certification for the son of Cho Kuk, who was then Pres Moon’s senior secretary for legal matters. (After the forging, Choi was appointed Moon’s secretary for public office discipline.)

One key member Hwang Un-ha is a prime suspect in the Ulsan mayor election meddling case. He is also a zealous champion of the prosecutor reform, which I can’t help but consider related to his investigational status.

Ostracizing moderates

In a crisis, extremists attempt to overcome it by getting more extreme. Moderates are often persecuted and ostracized in the process. That’s precisely Minjoo’s reaction to the Cho Kuk crisis, during the run-up and the follow-up of the Presidential election, and we’re seeing it again now.

Let’s take Park Ji-hyun, the co-chair of the party emergency committee. She’s more like a voice of reason in the party taken hostage to the red guards.

Park Jihyun campaigning in front of the Gyeyang station

Most recently, she led the expulsion of the sex offender lawmaker and requested a disciplinary measure for Choi Kang-wook, who reportedly spoke of indecent things in a party video meeting.

Some hardline supporters of Minjoo and Lee held a protest against Park last Friday: 

The problem is that the party also seems to be moving against her. Reportedly the party leadership held an undisclosed meeting on the confirmation of Han Seung-soo, the Prime Minister nominee, without Park’s knowledge.

It remains to be seen what awaits Park as a politician, but I don’t expect it to be for the better of the party. 

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