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1 out of 3 young people undecided about presidential candidates

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Both ruling, opposition candidates fail to get support from young generation

By Jung Da-min

With less than four months left ahead of the next presidential election in March, young voters in their 20s and 30s have risen as swing voters who could play a decisive role in selecting the winner.

In recent opinion polls, many in this age group have said they support neither of the candidates of the country's two major parties ― Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

According to a survey of 1,004 adults conducted together by four local pollsters ― Embrain Public, Kstat Research, Korea Research International and Hankook Research ― from Nov. 15 to 17, support for both Yoon and Lee were notably lower among the younger voters than among those in other age groups.

Among those surveyed, 38 percent of people aged between 18 and 29 supported either Lee or Yoon; while among those in their 30s, 58 percent supported one of the two candidates. But 37 percent of the youngest age group and 27 percent of people in their 30s either said they have no favored candidate or didn't answer.

The percentages of the two groups disapproving of any of the current candidates or not answering were much higher than those in older age groups ― 14 percent for those in their 40s, 9 percent for those in their 50s, 8 percent for people in their 60s and 11 percent for those aged 70 and over.

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung takes a photo with his supporters while watching a baseball match with his wife Kim Hye-kyung, second from left, at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul's Guro District, Thursday. Joint Press Corps
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung takes a photo with his supporters while watching a baseball match with his wife Kim Hye-kyung, second from left, at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul's Guro District, Thursday. Joint Press Corps

Political watchers say the lower support rates of the candidates from the two major parties among voters in their 20s and 30s show the young generation's disappointment with established politicians and their so-called "vested rights," especially as both Lee and Yoon are involved in corruption scandals.

For Lee, he is involved in a highly lucrative land development speculation scandal in which he allegedly gave preferential treatment to a private firm, Hawcheon Daeyu, which headed the corruption-ridden project in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, when he was mayor of the city. Yoon is accused of abusing his power when serving as prosecutor general by ordering his aides to lodge defamation accusations against ruling bloc figures.

Main opposition People Power Party's presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl attends a pet fair held at the Korea International Exhibition Center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Friday. Joint Press Corps
Main opposition People Power Party's presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl attends a pet fair held at the Korea International Exhibition Center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Friday. Joint Press Corps

Yoon Byung-soo, 26, a college student in Seoul, said neither Lee nor Yoon represent the interests of young voters.

"From my observation [from the party primaries] and based on what I have heard from friends in my age group, many male voters in their 20s and 30s supported Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, who ranked second after Yoon in the PPP primary. In the DPK primary, many female voters in their 20s and 30s supported former DPK Chairman Lee Nak-yon, but he also came second after Lee Jae-myung. So, the opinions of both young male and female voters were not successfully reflected in the parties' selection of their presidential candidates," he said.

"Indeed, my male friends in their 20s and 30s say they have no one to support or vote for in the presidential race. … For my female friends, they said they would vote for Rep. Sim Sang-jeung of the minor opposition progressive Justice Party, as she represents the political interests of women while Yoon and Lee are failing to do so."

Rep. Sim Sang-jeung the presidential candidate of the minor opposition progressive Justice Party, speaks during a talk show with young women in their 20s at Hyundai U-Plex Department Store in Seoul's Seodaemun District, Thursday. Sim and other participants talked about various factors that make young women's lives difficult. Joint Press Corps
Rep. Sim Sang-jeung the presidential candidate of the minor opposition progressive Justice Party, speaks during a talk show with young women in their 20s at Hyundai U-Plex Department Store in Seoul's Seodaemun District, Thursday. Sim and other participants talked about various factors that make young women's lives difficult. Joint Press Corps

Lee Jee-su, 27, a graduate student in Daejeon, said she dislikes both Yoon and Lee as they both stand at extreme ends. "Lee's welfare policies for the low-income bracket seem to be a populist move, while he himself is involved in a corruption scandal. Lee's strong push for his policies also seem to be dangerous as he could take the wrong path while not listening to advice from people around him. For Yoon, his leadership style seem to be based on elitism," she said. Lee said she has not yet decided whom to vote for.

Lee Yae-ji, 29, an office worker in Seoul, said she wants to vote for a candidate who pursues the public interest, but both Lee and Yoon seem to be pursuing their own interests.

Main opposition People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl, second from right, and Rep. Ha Tae-keung, left, pose for a photo with young supporters while visiting Gyeongui Line Forest Park in Soeul's Mapo District, Nov. 3. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun
Main opposition People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl, second from right, and Rep. Ha Tae-keung, left, pose for a photo with young supporters while visiting Gyeongui Line Forest Park in Soeul's Mapo District, Nov. 3. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun

Kim, 29, a business man, said he would vote for Yoon. "It is not that I support Yoon's political vision, but as there is no one I really want to support in this presidential race, I at least want to contribute to a change in leadership," he said.

Kang Woo-young, 36, an office worker in Seoul, said he is considering voting for Sim of the Justice Party as her election promises include the introduction of a four-day workweek system. "I don't support Yoon or Lee, so I think I should vote for Sim to realize my political interests as an office worker. But I might change my mind and vote for Lee so as not to cast a wasted vote when the competition takes place mainly between Lee and Yoon. Yoon seems to be unprepared to become president considering his lack of political experience, and seeing his inappropriate remarks and behavior in media reports. Compared to Yoon, Lee is relatively a better candidate considering his political experience."

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung speaks during a meeting with young climate activists held at the youth cultural space Shinchon Parang Kore in Seoul's Seodaemun District, Nov. 16. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung speaks during a meeting with young climate activists held at the youth cultural space Shinchon Parang Kore in Seoul's Seodaemun District, Nov. 16. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun

Against this backdrop, both Yoon and Lee have increased activities and meetings which they believe will appeal to the younger generation.

Since early this month, Lee has met young startup owners, young couples, environmental activists and many other people in their 20s and 30s. He also delivered promises such as developing the e-sports industry and supporting young people's job interview preparations.

Yoon has promised to change the college admissions system to one with fairer competition, and lower the age limit for candidates to run in a presidential election, which is presently 40 years old.



Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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