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Voters coalesce around Moon and Ahn

As Election Day looms, People’s Party emerges as conservative favorite
Apr 12,2017
With People’s Party presidential nominee Ahn Cheol-soo’s fast ascent in the polls, the race is effectively shaping into a two-person contest between Ahn and Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party nominee whose solid lead began showing signs of cracks less than a month before the election.

With the growing prospect of a neck-and-neck race between the two former colleagues, who worked together on the 2012 race in which Moon lost to former President Park Geun-hye, another trend is emerging that will play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the May 9 snap election.

According to five recent approval polls, Moon is strong among liberal voters while Ahn is favored by conservatives, many of whom are apparently choosing Ahn over the two conservative candidates - Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party and Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party - to send who they consider to be more moderate than the Democratic Party nominee to the Blue House.

Of those who identified as progressives in the five polls conducted from Friday through Sunday, 55.7 percent said they prefer Moon to Ahn.

While Ahn is not favored among progressives, he is popular among conservatives. Of conservative voters sampled in the five polls, Ahn garnered 45.6 percent of support while Moon fell short with 15.7 percent.

For moderate conservatives, many of whom who used to support South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung, who lost to Moon in the primary, Moon is seen to hold far-left views, especially when it comes to his stance on North Korea.

Those on the far right are also flocking to Ahn since it seem that neither Hong nor Yoo have any chance of winning the election.

According to a poll conducted by Realmeter on Friday and Saturday, Moon’s popularity among those in their 20s, 30s and 40s is almost twice that of Ahn’s. For those in their 30s, 60.8 percent said they would choose Moon over Ahn, who only garnered 25.8 percent support. But among those aged 60 and older, 54.3 percent said they would endorse Ahn.

With the clear distinction of support base emerging between the two, the key mission of each campaign is to persuade as many supporters, including not-so enthusiastic fans, to come to the voting booths on Election Day.

“Conservatives in the Seoul area and Chungcheong region have already switched to Ahn and they are less likely to change their support to Hong Joon-pyo or Yoo Seong-min [who have more conservative views],” Bae Jong-chan, the chief director of the pollster Research and Research, was quoted as saying by the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday. “The two camps are in a fierce competition now to expand the size of their supporters.”

Kwon Soon-jung, head of the poll opinion department at Realmeter, disagreed, saying conservatives who expressed their support for Ahn could “simply switch to either Hong or Yoo,” both of whom they consider to be more conservative. “The biggest test for the Ahn camp will be to prevent these conservatives from changing their minds.”

Sensing the coalescing of liberal support for his candidacy, Moon has been doling out harsh criticism of Ahn, saying his bid is being backed by a corrupt conservative bloc trying to maintain the status quo in Korean society.

While Moon’s strategy may have worked to cement a sense of loyalty among his liberal supporters, it also angered many moderates and centrist conservatives who support Ahn. They claim Moon’s description is offensive in that it calls them out as belonging to the “corrupt establishment” simply because they endorse Ahn.

“Those who do not support Moon have lived their lives trying to make ends meet and dutifully following the law,” said a 30-year-old voter surnamed Yoon. “I don’t think it is presidential for someone to depict someone as part of the corrupt establishment just because he or she doesn’t support them.”

Yoon said he would vote for Ahn next month.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]