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The Peninsula

Polarization Shapes Electoral Politics

Published February 26, 2022
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Merger talks between two opposition candidates, Ahn Cheol-soo and Yoon Seok-yeol, broke down.
  • A recent poll suggests Yoon is still leading the race overall despite the merger falling apart.
  • However, Yoon’s lead is within the margin of error and the merger with Ahn would have more safely secured his position.

Implication: Hyperpolarization among partisans may make political compromises less likely in Korean elections. The unsuccessful merger between candidates from the leading opposition party and a third-party party is consistent with recent findings that conservatives are more motivated by hostility towards progressives than solidarity with co-partisans. Ahead of the talks, proponents of the merger within the conservative camp recognized that absorbing Ahn’s base would form a winning coalition of electorates who are disappointed with the incumbent administration. Yoon’s failure to capitalize on the offer to form a united front may have been partly motivated by complacency – but it may also reflect how the core of the conservative base does not see sufficient commonality with Ahn’s centrist supporters who are not as adamantly hostile to the Moon government.

Context: The 2011 Seoul mayoral election reminds observers what political compromises in Korean elections looked like before hyperpolarization. People’s frustration over the economy and traditional politics led to overwhelming support for Ahn Cheol-soo over mainstream party candidates. In the end, an independent candidate won the election after receiving the endorsement of not only Ahn but also the leading progressive opposition party.

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 Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of moreska – from Ahn Cheol-soo’s 2017 bid at the presidency

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