What Middle-Class Disaffection Means for Political Parties

      April 29, 2011 10:56

      White-collar workers in their 30s and 40s who make W3-5 million a month played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Grand National Party candidate in the ruling party's stronghold of Bundang in Wednesday's by-elections (USS$1=W1,072), a political scientist says.

      These middle-class voters in the satellite town north of Seoul cast their votes in favor of the opposition Democratic Party's candidate Sohn Hak-kyu because they are disaffected with the government and ruling party for failing to stabilize housing and consumer prices and narrowing a gap between rich and poor. The assessment comes from Prof. Kang Won-taek of Seoul National University.

      ◆ Clear Division Among Voters

      According to a Gallup poll on April 21, six days before the by-elections, voters were clearly divided along generational lines. Among people over 60, 81.4 percent supported GNP candidate Kang Jae-sup, while 83.9 percent of voters in their 30s preferred Sohn. Among those in their 20s and 40s, 58.8 percent each said they would vote for Sohn, and among those in their 50s, 53.4 percent backed Kang and 45 percent Sohn.

      According to another poll by Research & Research on Sunday, 66.9 percent of voters who make W3-4 million a month backed Sohn, as did 56.4 percent who make W4-5 million. In contrast, Kang had a lot of support from voters earning less than W2 million a month and a slight lead among those who make more than W5 million a month.

      In the actual election, Gallup said, 66.7 percent of white-collar workers and 57.1 percent of the self-employed voted for Sohn, while Kang won 68.5 percent votes among the jobless.

      ◆ The End of Regionalism?

      The Gallup poll shows that 42.7 percent of voters in Bundang who hail from the traditional GNP strongholds of Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province voted for Sohn, as did 31 percent from Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, which are also bastions of the ruling party.  

      Among voters from the traditional DP stronghold of South Jeolla Province, 29.8 percent backed Kang. "Economic conditions prompted voters to shift their preferences," said Kim Hyung-joon, a political science professor at Myongji University. "The votes do not reflect a marked leaning toward a particular party, but shows that voters have become more flexible in their political choices."

      According to Gallup, 15.7 percent of GNP supporters chose Sohn but only 1.9 percent of DP supporters backed Kang.

      ◆ Prospects for Future Elections

      Noh Kyu-hyung of Research & Research said, "It became clear that voters will not support just any candidate based on the party they belong to, and this means that parties will win or lose elections depending on who they nominate."

      Kim at Myongji University said that the GNP's victories in Jung-gu and Gimhae, the hometown of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, show that young, capable and dynamic candidates have what it takes to win. "If the GNP continues to nominate candidates based on party affiliation rather than ability, it will also taste bitter defeat in its other traditional strongholds including Songpa, Gangdong and Seocho" in Seoul, he added.

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