How Older Voters Swung Election for Park

      December 21, 2012 10:34

      Park Geun-hye won the presidential election on Wednesday partly thanks to the massive turnout of older voters, pundits say. Turnout of voters in their 50s was 89.9 percent and of those over 60 it was 78.8 percent, far higher than among voters in their 20s through 40s.

      Exit polls showed that 62.5 percent of 50-somethings voted for Park, making them the determining factor in the election.

      ◆ Anxiety

      Pundits point to a widespread sense of anxiety among older voters. They tend to worry more about current affairs than other age groups, said Prof. Lim Seong-ho of Kyunghee University. "They voted for the candidate who made them feel safer about the economy and North Korea,” he added.

      Pundits also speculate older voters were uncomfortable about the influence of so many old confidants of former president Roh Moo-hyun in Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in's camp. Some say they feel anxious about national security, including well-timed claims from the Saenuri Party that Roh was willing to give up the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border with North Korea.

      "The North Korean issue, and especially Roh's alleged remarks, was one of the deciding factors, whether the story is true or not," said Prof. Yoon Pyung-joong of Hanshin University. "Older voters have more vivid memories of North Korean provocations than those in their 20s and 30, who didn’t experience the Korean War, so they are keen on national security."

      ◆ Nostalgia

      There is also speculation that harsh attacks by United Progressive Party candidate Lee Jung-hee's on Park during their first TV debate backfired and motivated older voters, who put a premium on respect for elders and are nostalgic about the regime of her father, Park Chung-hee, when they stood together for the development of the country.

      Prof. Yoon Jong-bin of Myongji University said, "Many elderly voters said they couldn't sleep after they saw the way Lee attacked Park." Park is 60.

      Many in that age group seem to have perceived the election as a proxy confrontation between Park’s father and president Roh. Moon was Roh’s law partner.

      Prof. Han Kyu-seok of Seoul National University said, "Older voters seemed to feel they were being treated as relics of the authoritarian era in the way Moon and Lee criticized Park Chung-hee, even though they worked hard for the country's industrialization and may have opposed Park's rule."

      And Prof. Kwon Young-joon of Kyunghee University said, "Those in their 50s and 60s are the last generation who still have some sort of yearning for the Park Chung-hee era."

      ◆ Who Are They?

      Some 7.78 million people in Korea were born between 1952 and 1962, accounting for 14.5 percent of the population of 50.93 million. Due to the baby boom between 1954 and 1963, their number increased 70 percent over the past decade and their proportion of the voting public rose from 12.9 percent in 2002 to 19.2 percent.

      According to a survey by Seoul National University in 2010, people over 50 grew up with an average number of 5.2 siblings in their home and spent their teenage years when frantic economic development was underway. They studied in jam-packed classrooms at school.

      They went to college between 1971 and 1981, and most of them spent college years during the oppressive "Yushin" era of Park Chung-hee's rule. They entered the workforce in the late 1970s and 80s, watched the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and gave birth to 1.9 children on average.

      More than half, or 65 percent, missed out on the educational opportunities they would have liked due to economic difficulties. But they did not hesitate to spend money on their own children, whom they sent to private crammers as well as putting them through school and university.

      Considering the rapidly aging society, any political party that fails to appeal to this age group will lose future elections, experts say. Prof. Yoon Sung-yi of Kyunghee University said, "It'll be difficult for progressive parties to take power if they rely on young voters alone."

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