By Juni Kim
Last Friday’s historic meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was enthusiastically received by the South Korean public. According to a Realmeter poll conducted the day of the summit, nearly 65 percent of South Koreans trust North Korea will denuclearize and maintain peace, a stunning reversal from only 14.7 percent before the summit.
Large increases of 25 to 55 percent were seen across all age, geographic, and ideological demographics. While previous polls have indicated that young South Koreans in their 20s are more skeptical and indifferent towards North Korea compared to the general population, young Koreans likewise had a hefty 48.9 percent increase in trust from 9.8 percent (the lowest number among measured age ranges) to 58.7 percent. Respondents that self-identified as conservative, who typically lean towards a hawkish stance on security issues, saw an increase of 25.8 percent from 13.8 percent to 39.6 percent.
President Moon also enjoyed a significant bump in his approval ratings post-summit. In the latest Hangil Research poll, Moon’s ratings jumped 12.9 percent to 85.7 percent. Moon saw his numbers dip in the lead up to the Pyeongchang Olympics (though reports of online opinion manipulation cast doubt on the true poll values), but his numbers have since rebounded.
The significant shift in poll numbers highlight how impactful the summit was for South Koreans and their hopes for a peaceful resolution on the Korean peninsula. The startling images of the two leaders holding hands, sharing jokes, and warmly embracing made a profound impression for a nation that has endured the prospect of war with its northern neighbor. The next critical test will be the pending U.S.-North Korea summit, which will also have substantial implications for the future of the peninsula.
Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from berlinrider’s photosteam on flickr Creative Commons.