People in their 20s, 30s and 40s were united in Seoul on Wednesday in voting for pan-opposition mayoral candidate Park Won-soon. What brought together two generations was anxiety over their futures. Song Ho-keun, a professor of sociology at Seoul National University, said, "The incumbent administration was popular with young Koreans when it was launched, but it failed to present them with hope for a future and only compounded their anxieties."
Kum Tae-sup (44), a lawyer who was an active member of Park's street campaign, said, "Many young people voted for [President] Lee Myung-bak in 2007, hoping he would be able to create a world where people had a chance if they worked hard, but he not only failed to live up to his promises, but supported only big business and the rich, while refusing to listen to people's concerns. That's how voters in their 20s to 40s feel."
A study by the East Asia Institute early this year of political attitudes across different age groups showed that 65.4 percent in their 20s, 79.7 percent in their 30s and 64.6 percent in their 40s are anxious about the future. Those figures mirror voter turnout in support of Park, with 69.3 percent in their 20s, 75.8 percent in their 30s and 66.8 percent in their 40s.
Twenty-somethings are grappling with record university tuition fees and an extremely tough job market, and many ask themselves whether they will ever be able to earn a stable income. People in their 30s live in fear of being laid off as they try to survive in a highly competitive society, saddled with loans, mortgage payments and skyrocketing home leases. And those in their 40s, once considered the group that enjoys the most stability, now live in fear of being forced to accept early retirement packages at work, soaring educational costs for their children and rising pressure to save more for their old age.
In 2007, these people voted for Lee, the "business president," because he embodied the rags-to-riches story.
But the moment the Lee administration took office, it became seen as representing the rich, and it has been unable to shed that image. The ruling Grand National Party failed to live up to its pledges to lower soaring university tuitions and real estate prices, causing younger voters to turn their backs on it.
Software tycoon Ahn Cheol-soo voluntarily took on the role of listening to and offering advice for these people with his nationwide lecture meetings for young people. Park tapped into the mentality by naming his campaign headquarters "Hope Camp" and referring to his election rallies as "listening tours."
Seoul Women's University professor Joo Chang-yun, who researches cultural trends among young Koreans, said, "It is usually quite difficult for people with a 20-year age difference to come together. People in their 20s are particularly individualistic and usually don't rally around a common cause." But he added Koreans in their 40s who went to university during the democratic movement of the 1980s, including Ahn Cheol-soo, embraced their fears and this, along with their contempt for the Lee administration, brought them together.