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Moon’s support among youth shows decline

Jan 20,2018
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President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating has fallen as his traditional supporters, liberals in their 20s and 30s, oppose government attempts to regulate cryptocurrencies and form an inter-Korean team for the upcoming Winter Olympics.

According to a Gallup Korea poll released Friday, Moon’s approval rating was 67 percent, down by 6 percentage points from the previous week. It was the second time in 6 months that the rating fell below 70 percent. “The drop was particularly severe among people under 40,” Gallup Korea said.

In another survey, announced by Realmeter on Thursday, Moon’s approval rating was 67.1 percent, 3.5 percentage points down from last week. In the weekly poll, the rating fell for two consecutive weeks, dropping below 70 percent.

“Controversies surrounding cryptocurrencies, the government’s flip-flopping on the English education ban at kindergartens and day care programs and the aftermath of the minimum wage hike prompted the supporters to withdraw their backing,” the polling company said. “Inter-Korean issues such as the plan to form a joint team and march together with the Korean Peninsula flag also caused Moon supporters to change their hearts.”

A petition was filed to the Blue House on Jan. 12 to oppose the government’s plan to create a joint women’s ice hockey team with North Korea, and it has received more than 34,000 signatures as of Friday, as a joint team would rob South Korean athletes of the precious opportunity.

The petition became the country’s ninth-most popular. Among the top eight petitions, three were to protest the government’s plan to regulate cryptocurrencies, including the top one, which won more than 220,742 signatures as of Friday. “The government may think they are protecting the people,” it read, “but the people think the government is taking away our dreams.”

Many of these signatures are those of people in their 20s and 30s, many of whom voted for Moon in the May 2017 presidential election and were considered enthusiastic supporters of the administration. In particular, many young supporters now question the fairness of Moon’s policies, because “fairness” was one of the keywords he strongly promoted. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said that adding a few North Korean players will not have a serious impact on the women’s ice hockey team, since the team is not competitive enough to medal anyway. That fueled the public criticism, and Lee apologized on Friday.

Many younger voters also reacted to the government’s clear-as-mud view of cryptocurrency trading, as evidenced by its flip-flopping on whether to regulate it or shut down markets, sending prices plummeting. Their anger exploded when it was reported on Thursday that officials of the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) may have sold cryptocurrencies ahead of the government’s announcement of a tough policy toward trade.

“The younger generation sees no new hope in the new administration as the employment crisis continues,” said Yoon Jong-bin, a political science professor at Myongji University. “They are crying foul at the cryptocurrency policy and the plan to form an inter-Korean Olympic team. Because they are particularly sensitive to fairness and foul play, their disappointments must have been great.”

The generation gap between the key members of the administration and younger voters was also seen as a key factor in the falling approval rating, particularly on the North Korea issue. Main members of the Moon government are in their 50s, and were university students in the 1980s.

But those in their 20s are not old enough to remember the first inter-Korean summit in June 2000. For them, memories of the Cheonan sinking and Yeonpyeong Island shelling in 2010 are more vivid, as are the latest series of North Korean missile and nuclear provocations.

Moreover, a report by the Korea Institute for National Unification in July of last year showed that while 47.3 percent of people over 60 support unification, only 20.5 percent in their 20s do.

“It shows that unification based on homogeneous identity no longer works,” said Park Ju-hwa, director of the research division of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Younger voters also have a negative view toward North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who inherited the regime through a third-generation power transfer. Kim, born in 1984, is often considered just a lucky young man with a powerful grandfather.

“Contrary to the stereotype that young students are liberal, they are actually more conservative toward North Korea issues,” said Hong Kwan-hee, professor of North Korea studies at Korea University. “My students and their friends have to fulfill military duty and they are also struggling to find jobs. So it’s natural for them to not want to help the North.”

Many are also upset that the government neglected to communicate with athletes before agreeing with the North to create a joint team. The plan was announced by government officials, while the ice hockey players learned about it when the discussion progressed. Even the women’s ice hockey head coach, Sarah Murray, said Tuesday that she was “shocked” to hear about the joint team so close to the Games.

As criticism continued, Moon visited the athletes’ training center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong, on Wednesday to seek the athletes’ understanding by stressing the importance of improving ties with the North.

BY HUH JIN, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]