Old Political Fault Lines on N.Korea, U.S. Disappearing

      May 28, 2013 13:11

      The traditional lines between progressive Koreans as anti-American and conservatives as anti-North Korean are disappearing, a survey suggests.

      The East Asia Institute recently published a poll about attitudes to politics and national security and found that among progressive voters, the proportion of those who are in favor of the Korea-U.S. alliance rose from 29 percent 10 years ago to a whopping 62.4 percent this year. Meanwhile among conservative voters, the proportion who want South Korea to give aid to North Korea rose from 33.9 percent a decade ago to 47.6 percent this year.

      Experts say fierce confrontation between the groups over the two issues seems to be calming down.

      ◆ Views About U.S.

      The institute polled 1,004 adults across the country in April and found that more people who consider themselves progressive want Seoul and Washington to maintain strong ties. The trend is evident across all age groups. Remarkably, there was a three-fold increase from 22 to 66.9 percent among people in their 20s, and the proportion also rose from 27.4 to 62.4 percent among those in their 30s.

      In contrast, there was a sharp drop in the number of people across the political spectrum who feel South Korea should distance itself from the U.S. and become more independent.

      Among progressives, the proportion fell from 31.7 to 24 percent. Among those who consider themselves politically neutral, it slid from 15.4 to 12.8 percent and among conservatives from 11.9 to 11 percent.

      Anti-American sentiment was at its peak in 2003, when the institute conducted its last opinion poll, mainly due to the deaths of two junior high school girls under the wheels of a U.S. armored vehicle. The election win of progressive President Roh Moo-hyun also contributed.

      But public opinion about the U.S. has improved drastically over the last decade. "We can see an increase both among conservatives who feel the need for increased exchanges and also among progressives who understand the importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance." said Kim Young-soo at Sogang University. "The fault line dividing conservatives and progressives is no longer so distinct." 

      ◆ Attitudes to N.Korea

      There was also an increase in the number of respondents who feel South Korea should continue providing aid to North Korea. Among progressives, the proportion remained more or less the same over the past decade at around 53 percent, but there was a marked increase among conservatives from 33.9 percent to 47.6 percent.

      Even among conservatives in their 50s, the proportion soared 14 percentage points.

      Ten years ago, only 25.9 percent of supporters of the conservative party (then the Grand National Party) supported aid to North Korea, but that has risen to 38.8 percent.

      However, conservative respondents in their 20s bucked the trend, with the proportion down from 53.5 to 40.3 percent.

      As North Korea developed its nuclear weapons over the last 10 years, there was a huge rise in the number of both progressives and conservatives who want South Korea to get its own nuclear arms.

      The proportion rose from 49.6 to 76.1 percent among conservatives and from 53.1 to 73.1 percent among progressives.

      "It looks like the public has realized that the dichotomy -- either pro-North Korean or anti-North Korean views -- does not help address national security," said Jung Ha-neul at the institute. "We're seeing an increase in the number of progressives who support strengthened ties with the U.S. and conservatives who favor dialogue with North Korea."

      And Kang Won-taek at Seoul National University said, "South Koreans used to view the U.S. and North Korea through ideological lenses, but now they've have become more realistic due to North Korea's nuclear weapons drive. I believe this change in attitude will spread to the political sphere as well."

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