South Korea’s political parties appear to be renewing their focus on identifying key voting blocs. The Democratic Party’s (DP) promotion and removal of 26-year-old women’s rights activist Park Ji-Hyun may reflect this effort in action. However, the identity of the leader still plays an outsized role while bottom-up demands often go unaddressed.
2022 marked the first time 18-year-olds were eligible to vote in the presidential election and run in local elections. Both the DP and People Power Party (PPP) eyed these young voters as a key constituency. As the PPP consolidated support among young male voters with the elevation of Lee Jun-Seok and his claim of “reverse discrimination,” DP promoted Park as part of a broader effort to appeal to young female voters.
Despite the DP’s loss in the presidential election, the party retained Park in a leadership role as the youth turnout proved critical. However, she was ousted following the DP’s loss in the June local elections when youth turnout was low. These moves showcase the party’s focus on strategically catering to key constituencies.
While this reflects greater institutionalization of parties and their ability to respond to the weakening salience of traditional voting blocs such as regional divisions, they might still be overemphasizing identity over policy. Some observers point out that the DP did not put forward any explicit policies ahead of local elections that would appeal to young voters other than the elevation of Park.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Jae Chang, Kaitlyn King, Yu Na Choi, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Jens-Olaf Walter