Exit Polls: Refugee Assessments of North Korea's Transition

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Marcus Noland (PIIE)
Working Paper
January 2008

Results from a survey of more than 1,300 North Korean refugees in China provide insight into changing economic conditions in North Korea. There is modest evidence of slightly more positive assessments among those who exited the country following the initiation of reforms in 2002. Education breeds skepticism; higher levels of education were associated with more negative perceptions of economic conditions and reform efforts. Other demographic markers such as gender or provincial origin are not robustly correlated with attitudes. Instead, personal experiences appear to be central: A significant number of the respondents were unaware of the humanitarian aid program and the ones who knew of it almost universally did not believe that they were beneficiaries. This group's evaluation of the regime, its intentions, and accomplishments is overwhelmingly negative-even more so than those of respondents who report having had experienced incarceration in political detention facilities-and attests to the powerful role that the famine experience continues to play in the political economy of the country.