South Korean Public Opinion on the North 1

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Jaesung Ryu (East Asia Institute)
October 20, 2011 7:15 AM

A colleague in Seoul passed along an interesting paper to us on public opinion with respect to the North, based on a survey of 1,092 respondents. The work has been done by Kang Won-Taek, a professor of Political Science at Seoul National University (SNU) and presented at a symposium run by SNU’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies (IPUS).

We have blogged on some parallel work by the East Asia Institute, focusing on the public’s response to the management of the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong-do shellings. With elections loom (National Assembly in April 2012, presidential elections in December), the issue could gain salience.

Or not. As a North Korea watcher, we always think that we do is important. But the South Korean public disagrees (Table 1 below; the table numbers are from the document and thus not in order.) A scant 4 percent of those surveyed thought that North-South relations was the most significant political issue the country faced. This rises to 25.4 percent if you include respondents first, second and third choices. But this is still dead last among the issues listed, with the economy far-and-away the most important.

We have suggested that the recent changes in GNP policy toward the North might stem from a perception that the electorate is unhappy with the meager results of LMB’s “principled approach.”  In particular, we took note of Park Geun-hye's mildly revisionist Foreign Affairs piece. But Table 6 suggests that disaffection with LMB’s policy toward Pyongyang is no less unfavorable than his overall job rating or the feeling of voters that LMB represents them (“representation.”) To the contrary, his ratings with respect to North Korea are less bad.

Finally, we were quite surprised by the stability of opinion on LMB’s handling of the Cheonan incident and the credibility of the government report (Table 9). Clearly, partisanship matters: those on the right were more likely to see the report as credible than those on the left. But these opinions did not budge between 2010 and 2011, despite what seems to us overwhelming evidence that the North Koreans were the culprits. As we say in political science, party ID matters.

In the next post, some sense of the muddled state of opinion on what to do.

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Thank you for the interesting survey!
Was this survey done recently?
I would very much appreciate if you could show us when this survey was carried out.


The survey was carried out as part of an annual project conducted by the the Institute for Peace Unification Studies at Seoul National University ( According to their press release, this year's survey was carried out from July 26 to August 15 (20 days) 2011, interviewing 1200 respondents over the age of 19. Unfortunately, there is no online link to the published results for now. Thank you for your interest. SH


Do you have any numbers of how many percent of N are "progressive" moderate and conservative?


The paper does not directly address the issue of what portion of the South Korean society constitutes as progressive, moderate, or conservative. Something similar to that categorization may be whether you support a certain political party, in which case the paper provides some scale: GNP (291), DP (184), and Independent (617). [According to the website, the total sample size was 1,200]
In a very broad sense, the Grand National Party (GNP) is known to be conservative while the Democratic Party (DP) is progressive. There are other parties, however, that are known to be on the farther sides of the political spectrum. The Liberty Forward Party is considered to be more conservative, while there are more progressive parties such as the Democratic Labor Party, the New Progressive Party, and People's Participation Party. Please note that this is my personal opinion and it can be wrong under greater scrutiny. Thank you.


Also note the high share of respondents (in data provided in the second post0 that does not reveal a partisan identification; the uncommitted swing-voters are substantial.

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