Generation 2040’s public opinion .. “anti-MB, to the core”

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <SisaIN> on December 5, 2011, covering the result of a poll conducted on November 24, 2011, about KORUS FTA to Koreans just 2 days after Grand National Party passed the KORUS FTA ratification consent bill in a shoddy way at National Assembly. Admittedly, public awareness of KORUS FTA was not still high even at that day and the poll described in the article may not reflect the truth right now. In fact, the evolution afterward proved the incendiary nature of the whole issue. However, the poll may provide very important insight on the change of political fabric in Koreans these days. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of original article or <SisaIN> and this post will be scrapped immediately with their request accordingly. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

Generation 2040’s public opinion .. “anti-MB, to the core”

<SisaIN> performed a poll just after the forcible passage of KORUS FTA ratification consent bill. The result indicates that the opinion gap between pro or against KORUS FTA is narrowed within the error margin. It is a direct consequence of generation 2040 who accepts political circumstances surrounding KORUS FTA as ‘anti-MB’ issue rather than ‘open-vs-close’ issue.

Reporter Cheon Gwan-yul 천관율 (

“We appreciate most of people who have showed absolute support to KORUS FTA all the time.” This was the first response from Blue House on November 22, the day Grand National Party (GNP) forcibly passed the KORUS FTA ratification consent bill, which reflected the opinion of the President who considers anti-KORUS FTA opinion as ‘a habitual objection by extremely small number’. There was not even a hint of ‘lip service’ to warm the frozen political situation.

That was natural. When the political frame was about ‘opening or closing the country’, people favor opening the country. Since 2007 when KORUS FTA was settled under President Roh Mu-hyun’s government, the public opinion has been always 6:4 in favor of supporting the agreement for 4 years. That’s the ground why Blue House showed such a confidence on public opinion even after such an unreasonable action.

In November 22 evening, citizens staged a protest shouting slogans like ‘denounce KORUS FTA’ at Seoul square. ⓒ <SisaIN> Cho Nam-jin 조남진

It was outright misjudgement. As soon as President Lee Myung-bak (MB) maneuvers himself and GNP appears in front, the public opinion restructured from ‘open vs close’ to ‘pro-MB vs anti-MB’ all of a sudden. The circumstance where favorable opinion had outnumbered opposing opinion by 6:4 was overturned in a moment and both opinions compete with each other within the error margin. “People’s absolute support” Blue House mentioned evaporated without a trace. The public sentiment that had stayed firm over 4 years swayed in a flashing moment, something very extraordinary. That’s the result of telephone interview poll conducted jointly by <SisaIN> and Korea Social Opinion Institute (KSOI) on November 24 to about 800 people over 19 years of age all over the country.

To the question whether they are pro or against KORUS FTA, 49.5% of respondents said pro and 46.9% said against it, respectively (first panel left graph below). 75.7% of respondents who said MB was doing fine in national agenda were in favor of KORUS FTA but 66.5% of respondents who said MB was not doing fine were objecting it, respectively.

In Korean politics, a generation gap has emerged sharply since 2010 regional election where generation 2040 supports the opposition while generations older than 50 support the ruling (<SisaIN> No.216 cover story, 2040 is not a generation alliance, it’s a class alliance). Then, what it would be like on KORUS FTA issue? As expected, objection opinion was dominant in generation 2040 but favorable opinion was dominant in generations over 50. In particular, 68.4% of respondents in 30s opposed KORUS FTA, revealing a huge bias (first panel right graph below).

White collars oppose more to KORUS FTA than farmers and fishermen

GNP, abruptly occupying the National Assembly plenary session hall, passed the KORUS FTA ratification consent bill on November 22. ⓒ <SisaIN> Cho Nam-jin 조남진

It is especially notable that generations between 20s and 40s express opposition to KORUS FTA. They are the main force of economic activity right now and, at the same time, will be affected by KORUS FTA the longest. College students or graduates (54.5%) among different levels of education and white collars (61.3%) among different walks of life marked the highest opposing groups.

As Democratic Labor Party (DLP) Representative Kim Sun-dong (front) blew up a tear gas canister, lieutenants of National Assembly security were protecting the vice speaker Jeong Eui-hwa (center in the row behind). ⓒ Newsis 뉴시스

We also asked who should bear the responsibility for the KORUS FTA ratification consent bill havoc on November 22. The opinion that it had been the responsibility of GNP almost doubled the opinion that it had been the responsibility of the opposition by 58.4% to 30.5%. (2nd panel left graph below) Split from the opinion on KORUS FTA, voices to ask responsibility to ruling party was much stronger.

Starting from November 22 unilateral passage, public opinion identifies KORUS FTA as ‘a brand that MB and GNP share’. Then, groups that exhibit ‘anti-MB & anti-GNP’ inclination such as generation 2040, highly educated people and white collars show distinct signs of gathering under the flag of opposing KORUS FTA. In particular, yeas and nays among different walks of life reveal very interesting tendency.  Rather than farmers and fishermen (53.1%) or self-employed business people (45.4%) who are expected to hit hard by KORUS FTA, white collars (61.3%) opposed more. This can mean that people accepted KORUS FTA issue as a ‘pro- or anti-MB issue’ rather than a livelihood issue. These were the core supporting groups that handed victory to the opposition in the past 2010 regional election and in Seoul mayoral by-election last October.

The opposition Democratic Party (DP) who were taken by surprise from the ruling party’s move are at a loss how to ride the wave of ‘anti-MB public sentiment’. Contrary to DLP who went to streets from the start, showing off their ground vividly, the anti-MB overshadow on KORUS FTA is a very troubling issue to DP where huge internal disputes concerning the unification of the opposition broke out . Some uphold an opinion “to secure the unification force through the single enemy line of anti-FTA” but several eye on the general election next year and want to attend National Assembly to grab some parts of next year’s budget to their favor. They voice cacophony whether to stage an all-out street struggle or to go back to National Assembly.

At the same time, they seem like cautious to entirely join the street struggle expecting the overwhelming candlelight rally like 2008. Simply based on the poll result, it is really hard to predict the possibility of something like ‘the 2nd candlelight situation’. We asked a question ‘What the opposition should do to the KORUS FTA’ to the respondents. Only 7.5% asked fights outside National Assembly. 36.9% responded that they should request renegotiation inside National Assembly and mounting 52% responded that they should acknowledge that KORUS FTA ratification consent bill was passed and prepare measures to compensate for damages (third panel). The request to fight outside National Assembly was consistently low irrespective of whether they would support the opposition in next year’s general election (12.3%) or they opposed KORUS FTA (14.4%).

People don’t think KORUS FTA as a livelihood issue that can rattle their lives yet

Although public sentiment opposing KORUS FTA has gathered forces, their request to DP is still very lukewarm. Why would it be like that? It might be in the response to next question. We asked respondents to think about what their livelihood would be like when KORUS FTA would finally take effect. More than half of all respondents, 56.7%, said ‘there would not be any difference’ (2nd panel right graph), which means they don’t think KORUS FTA as a livelihood issue that can rattle their lives yet.

In the 2008 candlelight rally, the whole issue started to catch fire around ‘US beef’, something that bears not-so-small impact on people’s livelihood, and blew up when people without any supporting party or of general opposition inclination that had given up the presidential election vote since they had not liked MB but had had no alternative joined the movement. Compared with that time, the political anger current citizens feel now in 2011 is higher but the issue does not seem closely associated with people’s livelihood.

But, among those who responded their lives would be affected by KORUS FTA, those who answered ‘it will get worse’ outnumbered those who answered ‘it will get better’; 26.6% answered ‘it will get worse’ while 14.2% answered ‘it will get better’. As a whole, although not many take KORUS as a livelihood issue, more were pessimistic than optimistic among those who are sensitive to this issue. This is the opposite of what government and ruling party allege that more people support KORUS FTA under the expectation that ‘it will solve their livelihood problem’. Except for those who were in favor of KORUS FTA from ‘a vague impression’, we could observe more reservations than expectations from those who were sensitive about this issue.

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