Tag Archive | "polling data"

Korea Unveils Ambitious Plans for “Mooncare”

By Jenna Gibson

While the United States is locked in a fierce debate over Obamacare, South Korea is going through its own deliberations about healthcare reform. On August 9, right before hitting his 100th day in office, Korean President Moon Jae-In unveiled his plan to expand Korea’s already extensive healthcare system, a proposal quickly dubbed “Mooncare.”

Korea currently provides universal healthcare through its National Health Insurance Service. All citizens are required to pay into the fund via taxes, and they are all covered for general medical costs. Private insurance does exist, and people usually purchase those additional policies to cover large medical expenses, such as a major accident or cancer treatment.

One of President Moon Jae-In’s major pledges has been to reform this system, with the particular goal of decreasing costs for low-income patients. Moon’s plan focuses on three major changes: first, he wants to expand the types of procedures covered by the state insurance to eventually encompass all medical treatment except purely optional operations such as non-medically indicated cosmetic surgery. In addition, he plans to lower the cap for out-of-pocket expenses so that low-income Koreans would only have to pay up to 1 million won ($883) per year for their medical care. Finally, he plans to increase emergency financial support for those in the lower half of the income bracket, providing them access to up to 20 million won ($17,663) in case of a major health crisis.

“We will continue to move toward building a fair and just Republic of Korea that will ache when the people ache and will only smile when the people smile,” Moon said at the plan’s unveiling. “We will build a country where every person is free of concern over medical costs and can receive treatment for any disorder without having to worry about expenses.”

However, not everyone is enthusiastic about these sweeping changes. Korea will need 122,164 more nurses, 1,613 pharmacists, and 785 doctors to implement the president’s plan, according to a report from the Ministry of Health and Welfare. And critics have balked at the 30.6 trillion won ($26.9 billion) pricetag for the plan, saying that even if the government covers the increase for now, those costs may eventually be passed back down to taxpayers. This plan fits in with accusations that Moon is becoming a “Santa Claus President” – along with this healthcare plan, Moon has already promised several major welfare reforms including a minimum wage increase and a boost for both pension and child care funding.

Supporters, on the other hand, praise the program’s ambition and its focus on helping low-income Koreans. They also noted that this increased coverage could lead to a boom in the medical and biotech industry.

Moon’s approval rating has remained high, increasing slightly to hit 78 percent in the days following his healthcare announcement. According to a poll conducted on August 18-19, 85.3 percent of Koreans surveys said Moon was doing a good job managing state affairs. According to the Korea Herald, “When asked about having a ‘medium burden, medium welfare’ system in South Korean society, 81.6 percent supported the idea, with more than 75 percent of the respondents saying they are willing to pay more taxes to expand welfare and solve bipolarization issues.”

While Moon will have to carefully manage the significant funding necessary to conduct this and other major upgrades to Korea’s social safety net, it seems he has widespread support among the Korean public to begin moving forward with his ambitious reform agenda.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Image from Republic of Korea Armed Forces’ photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Is Trump Impacting How South Koreans View the United States?

By Kyle Ferrier

Claiming “Korea actually used to be a part of China” and stating “it would be appropriate” if South Korea paid for THAAD are just some of Donald Trump’s comments since his inauguration that have not been well received by the South Korean public. As President Moon Jae-in meets with President Trump this week to discuss new issues as well as longstanding ones such as the North Korea nuclear problem, his flexibility both in Washington and after his return to Seoul depends on public opinion at home. Against this backdrop, the release of two major survey-based reports in the past few days are rather fortunately timed and help to shed light on how South Koreans perceive U.S. political leadership.

The first is the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership: America still wins praise for its people, culture and civil liberties, released on June 26. The second is the Asan Institute’s A New Beginning for ROK-U.S. Relations: South Koreans’ View of the United States and Its Implications, released on June 27. While the Pew report looks at a broader scope of countries and the Asan report focuses solely on the South Korean public, both ultimately provide similar conclusions: South Koreans continue to view the U.S. favorably despite negative views on Trump. However, the two provide conflicting analyses as to whether Trump has already impacted U.S. favorability and how South Koreans view the future of relations with the U.S.

From polls conducted in 37 countries, the Pew study finds that international confidence in the U.S. president has dropped from 64 percent at the end of the Obama presidency to 22 percent at the beginning of Trump’s. South Koreans do not buck the trend. When asked if they have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, 88 percent of South Koreans responded positively during the end of the Obama years while only 17 percent expressed the same confidence in Trump — below the global median of 22 percent. Of the 37 countries polled, this 71 percentage point swing was the fourth largest, behind Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. The 78 percent of South Koreans who definitively answered they had no confidence in Trump is the highest among the countries polled in Asia (the others are Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India) and is above the global median of 74 percent. Further, when asked about Trump’s major policy shifts, 78 percent disapproved of withdrawing from international climate change agreements and 80 percent disapproved of U.S. withdrawal of support for major trade agreements.

Asan presents complementary findings. It shows Trump’s favorability during the campaign was low: on their 0 to 10 ratings scale, where 0 is the least favorable and 10 is the most, Trump was below a 2 up through Election Day.  This is similar to the favorability of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not much higher than that of Kim Jong-un — who hovered around 1 — and dwarfed by Barack Obama — who consistently scored in the low to mid-6 range from at least the beginning of 2014 through 2016. Trump’s election boosted him from a 1.69 in November to a 3.25 in December and a 3.49 in January, but dropped to 2.93 in March before going up slightly to 2.96 in June. This jump in favorability since becoming president has given him a steady lead over Abe, but Trump remains below Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is punishing South Korea economically over the deployment of THAAD.

When asked only about the United States, Pew shows 75 percent of South Koreans view the U.S. favorably, above both the regional and global median. In addition, 86 percent view Americans favorably and 78 percent like American democratic values, both of which are also above the regional and global medians.  Further, those on the political right are more inclined to have a favorable view of the U.S., with 86 percent of respondents who self-identified as politically right favoring the U.S. compared to 64 of those on the left.

Korea Surveys

The favorability rating of the U.S. in the Asan study largely follows the trend of the Obama years, remaining around a 6 out of 10. “This suggests that the United States’ favorability is not determined solely by the favorability of its leader and that American soft power has had a positive impact on South Korean public opinion,” the Asan report states. “It appears that South Koreans have learned to distinguish between the United States, the country, and Donald Trump, the individual.”

Both reports seem to indicate that American soft power has a positive influence on South Koreans, who view the U.S. and its president separately. However, the two present contradictory findings on how Trump has impacted perceptions of the U.S.

While Asan shows only a very minor dip in U.S. favorability since Trump’s election — a drop from 5.92 in November to 5.81 in June, which is termed as “relatively stable” favorability scores — Pew finds a larger drop. The 75 percent of South Koreans who viewed the U.S. favorably in 2017 is down from 84 percent in 2015, the last year Pew data is available, and is at its lowest level since 2008. Pew suggests this follows a larger global trend. Of the 37 countries polled, 30 showed a drop in favorable views of the U.S. in 2017. Other countries experienced a steeper fall though, as South Korea’s drop in positive views of the U.S. is tied for 23rd of the 30.

The two reports are also at odds on how South Koreans perceive relations with the U.S. moving forward. Only 8 percent of Pew respondents thought relations with the U.S. would get better, 45 percent thought they would stay about the same, and 43 percent stated they would get worse. In contrast, 67 percent of respondents in the Asan study thought relations with the U.S. would improve and only 20 percent thought relations would deteriorate.

There is clearly a wide gap between the sentiments expressed in both polls, but this is likely because of how the questions were worded.  Pew framed their question around Donald Trump (“Now that Donald Trump is the U.S. president, over the next few years do you think that relations between our country and the U.S. will ___?”) and Asan framed theirs around Moon Jae-in (“ROK-U.S. Relations under President Moon Jae-in will___”.) Considering the negative views on Trump expressed in both polls and Moon Jae-In’s high domestic popularity, this disparity makes a certain amount of sense. Additionally, as no exact date is provided for when the Pew poll was conducted — the report only states spring 2017 — their findings may not reflect changes based on Moon’s election and thus may leave out any boost in confidence it might have engendered for relations with the U.S.

It may still be too early to definitively claim that Trump is impacting South Korean perceptions of the United States. But this does not mean Trump’s controversial statements, should they continue, will not influence how South Koreans view the U.S. in the future. If the outcome of the U.S.-ROK summit this week does not meet expectations or Trump makes controversial remarks in the future, South Korean public opinion of the U.S. could be pushed lower.

Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Images from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Poll of Polls: Final South Korean Presidential Polls

By Juni Kim

May 2nd marked the last day for polls to be conducted before the South Korean presidential election on May 9th. With only four days remaining until the election and early voting already over, the odds are looking increasingly favorable for frontrunner Moon Jae-in despite a recent surge in the polls from conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo. Moon maintains a 20 percent lead over his closest rival Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, who has fallen in the polls nearly congruently with Hong’s rise.

Although Ahn and Hong’s poll numbers have shifted dramatically in recent weeks, Moon has enjoyed relatively stable support. From our first poll of polls the week of April 11-17, Moon’s numbers have only decreased by 1.4 percent.

Poll Average Graph Final Day

A strong early voting turnout also works against Moon’s rivals. The National Election Commission reported that 26 percent of voters have already cast their ballots after early voting ended earlier today. In comparison, 12 percent of voters turned out for early voting in last year’s parliamentary elections. Of interesting note, the typically liberal Jeolla provinces had some of the highest early turnout, while the conservative Gyeongsang provinces experienced some of the lowest.

With little time remaining, it is difficult to see a scenario where any of the other remaining candidates could stage an upset again Moon. Either Hong or Ahn would have to decisively win over moderate and conservative voters over the weekend. Politics can be notoriously unpredictable, but that has not stopped some from calling the election early. The May 15th issue of the Asian edition of TIME magazine features Moon on the cover, and it is only a matter of days to see if he indeed does become South Korea’s next president.

The polls included in our aggregate poll are from listings on the South Korean National Election Commission’s website. The aggregate poll includes any polls conducted on May 2nd. For more information, you can visit this page and see the polling data (in Korean) from each research organization. Our aggregate poll includes polls conducted by Realmeter, Gallup Korea, ResearchView, Research & Research, Hankook Research, Jown C&I, MetriX, Kantar, Embrain, and Yeouido. Last week’s poll of polls was updated with polling information from the week of April 25-May 1 that has been released since the prior blog was published. The updated numbers for last week’s polling results are as follows: Moon Jae-in (41.4), Ahn Cheol-soo (22.4), Hong Joon-pyo (15.5), Sim Sang-jung (7.9), and Yoo Seung-min (4.7).

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 hjl’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Poll of Polls: South Korean Presidential Polls April 25-May 1

By Juni Kim

With the South Korean presidential election a little over a week away, frontrunner Moon Jae-in has maintained his lead while his closest competitor Ahn Cheol-soo continues to fall in the polls. Ahn, who nearly matched Moon’s polling numbers in early April after a surge in support, has dropped off considerably in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo continues to rise in the polls with the largest increase in support (4.2% over last week’s poll of polls) among the presidential contenders.

The shift in support between Ahn and Hong is likely due to conservative voters turning towards Hong’s more traditionally right-wing appeal and Ahn’s underwhelming performance in televised debates. Although the conservative vote is still split, Hong is now the most preferred candidate among self-identified conservatives at 36% (compared to Ahn’s 29%) according to the latest Gallup Korea poll, and 42% of conservative voters indicated they had a more favorable view of Hong after watching the television debates.

 Poll Average Graph Week 2

Although the shift in the polls is promising for Hong’s camp, an upset election result by either Hong or Ahn is unlikely at this point. Both candidates had the lowest marks among general voters for their performances in the debates, and Moon has maintained his polling lead over the past few weeks. 221, 981 votes have already been cast in last week’s overseas voting, including over 48,000 ballots cast in the United States, and early voting starts in South Korea this Thursday. Politics, especially in recent years, is subject to stranger than fiction twists and turns, but barring a monumental “May Surprise,” South Korea is likely to have its first progressive president in nearly a decade.

The polls included in our aggregate poll are from listings on the South Korean National Election Commission’s website. For more information, you can visit this page and see the polling data (in Korean) from each research organization. Our aggregate poll includes polls conducted by Realmeter, Gallup Korea, ResearchView, Hankook Research, R&Search, KSOI, MetriX, and Ace Research. Last week’s poll of polls was updated with polling information from the week of April 18-24 that has been released since the prior blog was published. The updated numbers for last week’s polling results are as follows: Moon Jae-in (41.3), Ahn Cheol-soo (30.6), Hong Joon-pyo (10.1), Sim Sang-jung (4.2), and Yoo Seung-min (3.6).

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.

Images created by Juni Kim. Photos from 박근혜 공식앨범‘s flickr page, Chihoon Byun’s flickr page, 철수 안’s flickr page, ddeohee’s Twitter page.

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Poll of Polls: South Korean Presidential Polls April 18-24

By Juni Kim

The start of the South Korean general election campaign on April 17th marked the final stretch of the shortened election season. With absentee voting set to start this week, voters have until Election Day on May 9th to make their final decisions and fill the presidential vacancy created by the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. The race, which was largely led by liberal candidate Moon Jae-in for much of the election season, tightened in recent weeks with a surge in support for People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo.

Our aggregate poll, which is an average of national polls conducted between April 18th and 24th, shows little overall change for candidate support compared to polls from the previous week, with the notable exception of a 3.9% decrease in support for Ahn Cheol-soo. All other candidates experienced a gain of support of 1.2% or less.

An interesting trend to keep watch on is Hong Joon-pyo’s small but steadily increasing support in recent weeks. In early April, Hong was polling consistently in the mid-single digits, but some recent polls show his numbers cracking double digits. His poll numbers are still a far cry from the two leading candidates, but increasing support for Hong may be to the detriment of Ahn Cheol-soo, who will need to consolidate the conservative vote to win the election.

Poll Average Graph

Although Election Day is two weeks away, overseas voters will be casting absentee ballots this week and how the overseas vote tilts will be an important factor to consider. Nearly 300,000 Koreans overseas have registered for the upcoming election, and if polls tighten in the coming weeks the overseas vote may have a determinant impact on the election outcome. Last week’s polls and prior election results indicate a favorable overseas vote for Moon Jae-in. He had performed noticeably better overseas compared to the overall South Korean vote when he ran for the presidency in 2012, and his party similarly earned a larger share of the overseas vote in last year’s National Assembly elections compared to the general vote.

The polls included in our aggregate poll are from listings on the South Korean National Election Commission’s website. For more information, you can visit this page and see the polling data (in Korean) from each research organization. Our aggregate poll includes polls conducted by Realmeter, Gallup Korea, ResearchView, Research & Research, EMBRAIN, Hankook Research, R&Search, KSOI, Kantar, Joongang Ilbo, JoWon C&I, and Time Research.

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. Gwanghyun Pyun, an intern at KEI, also made contributions to this blog.

Image created by Juni Kim. Photo from Ji-ho Park’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Why do 12 percent of Americans like North Korea?

By Jenna Gibson

Twelve percent of Americans have a favorable view of North Korea, according to a new poll from Pew Research Center.

It is unclear who these 12 percent are, but the survey does give some clues. Breaking the numbers down by demographics, 19 percent of those with a high school degree or less see North Korea favorably compared with 11 percent of those with some college education and only 3 percent of those with college degrees. Women are more likely than men to say they’re favorable (15 percent vs 9 percent). Finally, those over 50 years old are least likely to be favorable at 8 percent, compared with 17 percent of 20-49 year olds and 12 percent of those aged 18-29.

The last point is also reflected in views of the North Korean threat – 78 percent of those over 50 are very concerned about North Korea having nuclear weapons, compared with 63 percent of 30-49 year olds and only 42 percent of 18-29 year olds.

US Views of DPRK

In a blog back in 2015, I tackled this issue from the other side of the peninsula. Pew had released a poll that showed only 60 percent of Americans had a favorable view of South Korea. Considering some of the rhetoric about South Korea’s trade and security relationship with the United States both before and after the election, it’s doubtful this number has increased. But another, perhaps more problematic issue, is that some people connect the two Koreas in their mind.

As I wrote at the time: “One of the biggest obstacles to positive views about South Korea is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the looming presence of its northern neighbor. The two halves of the peninsula may be physically separated but in many ways they remain connected in the minds of foreign publics – anyone who has ever lived in Korea can tell you how sick they are of answering the question ‘North or South?’”

While only 60 percent of Americans have a favorable view of South Korea, they do tend to show support for Seoul when the issue is attached to the North Korean threat. In a summer 2016 Chicago Council survey, for example, 70 percent of Americans favor keeping U.S. military bases in South Korea, higher than those who favor keeping bases in Australia (46 percent), Germany (61 percent), and Japan (60 percent).

Similarly, the Pew survey shows that 64 percent of respondents said that if an Asian ally got into a conflict with North Korea, the United States should use force to defend that ally. This is actually higher than the 56 percent who said in a previous Pew survey that the United States should step in to defend a NATO ally against Russia.

This could be in part because Americans view the North Korean threat as more critical than Russia – when the Chicago Council asked people to name the top threats to the United States, Democrats, Independents and Republicans all names North Korea in their top five threats. Russia did not appear once.

This type of opinion poll is interesting, and gives a baseline to look at how Americans see North Korea. Hopefully future surveys can dig more into the details of these opinions – and why 12 percent of Americans say they see the DPRK in a favorable light.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Graphic by Jenna Gibson. Photo from Clay Gilliland’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Who will Conservative Voters Choose in the South Korean Presidential Election?

By Juni Kim

The fallout from President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment has dramatically altered the state of conservative politics in South Korea. Despite two successive conservative presidencies and holding majority control of the South Korean National Assembly over most of the past decade, conservative politicians are now dealing with two fractured parties and no clear presidential contender to rally around. Conservative leaders had hoped former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn would enter the race and help unite the conservative vote, but both Ban and Hwang ultimately decided against running for office.

With the South Korean presidential election less than a month away, conservative Korean voters face an unclear voting dilemma. Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party (formerly known as the Saenuri or New Frontier Party) and Yoo Seung-min of the breakaway Bareun Party have polled in the single digits in recent weeks with no clear signs of gaining traction. With an increasingly tightening presidential race between frontrunners Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo, how the conservative vote tips could be the deciding factor in the May 9th election.

The fractured state of the conservative parties has not appeared to dampen election enthusiasm among conservative voters. According to a Gallup Korea poll conducted last week, 94% of self-identified conservatives indicated they will or will likely vote in the upcoming election, which is also true of general Koreans polled. The actual participation rate is likely to be lower based on data from prior elections, but the intended participation for the upcoming election is similar to rates before the 2012 election, which had 75.8% participation of registered voters.

Conservative Preference for Candidates Intention

Among conservative voters, no single candidate holds a majority of the vote, though a majority of conservatives prefer either liberal candidate Moon Jae-in or centrist candidate Ahn Cheol-soo.  Both Hong Joon-pyo (22%) and Yoo Seung-min (5%) also lag behind the support for Ahn Cheol-soo (42%), who holds the largest share of conservative support. Although both conservative candidates expectedly polled better among conservatives, Ahn likewise experienced a bump in support compared to the overall poll numbers.

Conservative Preference for Candidates

Similarly, Ahn Cheol-soo currently holds a much higher 65% favorability rating over both conservative candidates, though Hong Joon-pyo and Yoo Seung-min hold higher favorability ratings than their progressive counterparts Moon Jae-in and Sim Sang-jung.

Conservative Preference for Candidates Graph

Conservative voting confidence has clearly been shaken by the fallout of President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. The Liberty Korea Party (then the Saenuri Party) went from being South Korea’s most supported party a year ago to polling in the single digits in last week’s Gallup Korea poll. Although Hong Joon-pyo has called for the Bareun Party to “come home” and create a unified conservative party with the Liberty Korea Party, the poll numbers suggest that even a party merger may fail to bring together the conservative vote. The damage may be too recent for the conservative candidates to overcome the prevailing political winds even in the unlikely scenario that a unified party is created.

The more significant question is if Ahn Cheol-soo can successfully court enough conservative voters to swing the election in his favor. Despite starting his political career among liberal circles, Ahn has campaigned as a centrist candidate, and his differences in security policy compared to Moon Jae-in may broaden his appeal among conservatives. With continuing North Korean provocations, security issues including the debate over THAAD deployment are likely to remain a prominent election topic in the weeks ahead, and one that conservative voters will pay close attention to.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.  

Graphics created by Juni Kim. Photo from travel oriented’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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U.S. Bilateral Relationships in Asia: Public Perceptions and Uncertainty

By Juni Kim

Despite being only February, 2017 has already had an eventful new year. Japan recalled its ambassador from South Korea over the ongoing “comfort women” controversy, the South Korean field of presidential candidates is starting to take shape, and the new Trump administration has signaled potential shifts in the status quo of U.S. bilateral relationships. All of these developments amount to a great deal of uncertainty over key relationships in Northeast Asia, and the coming months should prove to be interesting, to put it mildly.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in association with other policy institutes worldwide, recently released a new study examining public opinions in America and Northeast Asia. Although the surveys in the study were conducted before the U.S. presidential election and the South Korean presidential impeachment, they provide a snapshot into global public opinions that will likely be affected by the significant events of the past few months.

With the Trump administration signaling the stabilization of U.S.-Russian relations and the fallout from President Trump’s contentious phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, it will be worth watching how American public opinion regarding both bilateral relationships may change in future polls. The Russian relationship had previously been seen by Americans as souring, with a majority of survey respondents believing that U.S.-Russian relations were worsening in 2016, while only a scant 5% of Americans thought so of U.S.-Australian relations. Unlike these two divergent examples, the new administration has made efforts to reassure South Korea of the strength of the U.S.-South Korean relationship, with President Trump even calling the relationship “ironclad” on a phone call with acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Chicago Council Numbers 2 (002)

The importance of U.S.-South Korean relations is underscored by similar threat perceptions of North Korea. The overwhelming majority of both the U.S. and South Korean public believe the North Korean threat is either critical or important. The U.S. presidential transition and the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye have not prevented the administrations of both nations from understanding this threat. It was no mistake South Korea and Japan were the first overseas destinations selected for newly confirmed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, which indicated that both Asian allies remain vitally important to U.S. security interests. Both the U.S. and South Korea would be wise to continue to signal to North Korea the continuing strength of the relationship and deter any potential provocations.

Chicago Council Numbers 3

Still, North Korea may decide to throw a wrench into an already uncertain global situation for its own political purposes. The recent events of Iran’s missile test and the ensuing announcement by the Trump administration to put Iran “on notice” are undoubtedly being closely watched by the North Korean regime. Their calculus on when to conduct provocations will likely be affected by the severity of the U.S.’s response. Even with the uncertainty present in both the U.S. and South Korea, North Korea remains a highly volatile wild card that could test the new presidencies at any time. Regardless of how North Korea acts, both the general public of America and South Korea are likely to continue to place high priority on North Korea’s weapons programs.

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 Dickson Phua’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


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South Korea’s Dad Dilemma: More Fathers Take Paternity Leave but Large Gap Remains

By Jenna Gibson 

The South Korean government has been pretty creative in its search for a solution to their rock bottom birth rate – from subsidies for fertility treatment to encouraging employees to go home without saying goodbye to their boss. But one of the country’s giant conglomerates is taking a more drastic step by mandating that their male employees take a month off after having a child.

Lotte Group, which employs 180,000 people in Korea, announced at its recent “Way of Women” forum that they will start mandating paternity leave next year. They will also pay for the difference between the government’s subsidy of 1 million won ($853) and the employee’s full salary for a month of leave. They will also extend maternity leave from one year to two, and guarantee full pay for at least a month.

With this policy, Lotte is ahead of the curve – while South Korea guarantees a year of paternity leave for those that wish to take it, very few men choose to do so. Changing corporate culture and expectations could be key – in interviews conducted by Munhwa Daily this fall, men cited perception as one of the main reasons they chose not to take advantage of parental leave. One said he would be labeled a “weirdo” at work for being the only one in his office to take paternity leave. Another said he feared he would have a harder time moving up in his career and providing for his family afterwards.

Uphill Battle

South Korean fathers are notorious for spending very little time on household chores, including childcare. According to a 2014 OECD study, South Korean men spend the least amount of time in the OECD on “unpaid work,” setting aside only 45 minutes a day for routine housework, shopping and childcare. In contrast, Korean women spend nearly four hours per day on these types of tasks.

Korea’s strict work culture certainly plays a role. When Korean workers are spending an average of 347 hours longer at work each year than their OECD peers, something’s got to give. And, more often than not, the burden falls to women. While more women are trying to reset the work-life balance, they still often feel pressure to put their careers on hold after starting a family, leading to a noticeable dip in women’s workforce participation among 20-40 year olds.

But work culture also affects men who would otherwise like to spend more time with their families. Despite Korea providing a generous 52 weeks of paternity leave for new dads, only 4,872 men took advantage of leave in 2015, just 5.6 percent of the 87,339 people who took childcare leave last year.

The imbalance in which parent provides childcare has caused more than marital strife – experts have pointed to the issue as one of the root causes for Korea’s chronically low birth rate. Without the guarantee of a reliable parenting partner, Korean women have continued to delay marriage and childbirth. South Korean has made father-targeted programs a priority, aiming to increase the number of fathers taking paternity leave and spending time with their children.

Paternity Graphic Draft 2

Signs of Progress

While the wide gap remains, men are participating more in child-rearing than ever before. While the number of men taking paternity leave in 2015 is still minuscule, it does represent a steady increase. In fact, five times more Korean men took paternity leave in 2015 than in 2010.

Part of this could be due to the explosive popularity of television shows that revolve around fathers. One, called “Dad! Where are We Going?” followed a group of celebrity dads taking their kids on camping trips around Korea. The show got great reviews, and has been remade in China, Vietnam and Japan.

Another, “Return of Superman” shows the daily life of celebrity dads when they’re left alone with their kids. The key here is the growth of these fathers over time – when they first appear on the show, many of them have no clue how to cook basic meals or change their babies’ diapers. Viewers can relate to these struggles, and also learn some parenting techniques along with the dads on screen.

The families that appear on these shows have become household names – the Song triplets, three adorable toddlers who appeared on “Return of Superman” for two years with their actor father, were rated the fifth most popular celebrities in Korea in 2015. The kids raked in $4.26 million from appearing in 11 different ad campaigns in 2015.

But these super dads may be influencing more than just viewer’s shopping habits – they may be pushing more Korean fathers to up their parenting prowess.

While it may seem like a stretch to say that a TV show could influence viewers’ behavior so drastically, there have been plenty of cases around the world that show otherwise. In India, for example, a hyper-popular soap opera led to an increased interest in marrying for love. And a South African show increased awareness in HIV/AIDs prevention among its viewers.

Even in Korea it’s easy to see the impact of celebrities – after actress Song Hye Kyo was seen applying a Laneige lipstick in the powerhouse drama Descendants of the Sun, the product began flying off shelves. And sales of the Hyundai Tucson SUV rose 10 percent in the month after it appeared on the show.

Of course, choosing which lipstick to buy is a long way from changing your parenting style, but there is some evidence that Korean parents are taking note of these celebrity dads. In a recent survey of Korean women with children under the age of 3, for example, the moms indicated that “Return of Superman” did have some impact on their husbands’ behavior.

When asked if their husbands are similar to those shown on TV, 40 percent of moms said “My husband is somewhat different from the ones presented on TV shows, but he tries really hard.” The second most common response, at 25.8 percent, was “My husband tries to spend spare time with the kids, and resembles the hero daddies on TV from time to time.” Still, 21.8 percent of the women agreed with the sentiment that while their husbands take some responsibility for child-rearing, the example shown by celebrity dads on TV are somewhat unrealistic for the average husband.

At the same time, when asked which “Return of Superman” star is their favorite, the most popular answer was actor Ki Tae-young, who was described as a father who diligently educates himself on parenting techniques. We may find that the only force powerful enough to overcome workplace stigma might be Korean entertainment.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. KEI interns Sungeun (Grace) Chung and Min Tae Chung assisted with research and translation for this post.

Image from Photo and Share CC’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Despite Questions Raised in Campaign, Americans Remain Supportive of Troops in South Korea

By Juni Kim

Although not a focal point of the ongoing presidential campaigns, U.S. policy regarding the Korean peninsula has come up from time to time with both major party candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With scant information on American public opinion regarding Korea and its importance, a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs provides valuable insights into public views. Part of the survey, which was conducted from June 10 to June 27 among 2,061 adults, asked Americans about their thoughts on the U.S. military in South Korea, the North Korean threat, and South Korea’s influence in the world.

Multiples times earlier in the election campaign, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned the U.S. military commitment to South Korea and other U.S. allies. Despite Mr. Trump’s comments that he would be willing to withdraw U.S. troops from the peninsula, the survey shows that 70 percent of Americans support a long-term U.S. military presence in South Korea, while 72 percent of Trump supporters also favor U.S. military bases in South Korea.

American support for U.S. bases in South Korea also ranked higher than overall support for a U.S. military presence in Australia (46 percent), Germany (61 percent), and Japan (60 percent), which were the three other countries asked about in the survey. Trump supporters are higher than the overall average for all four countries in support of long-term U.S. military bases abroad.

Chicago Council Numbers

The higher support for U.S. troops in South Korea compared to the other  countries asked about in the survey may be related to the perceived North Korean threat to the United States. Survey respondents were asked to list what they considered was a critical threat to American vital interests in the next 10 years, and North Korea made the top five list for Democrats, Republicans, independents, and core Trump supporters. In particular, North Korea was the second most listed threat for Democrats at 64% behind international terrorism, which was the most listed threat for all surveyed groups. With most Americans viewing North Korea as a significant threat, the higher support for U.S. military bases in South Korea compared to other U.S. allies is unsurprising.

American opinions of South Korea’s global influence have remained relatively unchanged in recent years. When asked to rate South Korea’s influence on a 0 to 10 scale (with 0 meaning not at all influential and 10 meaning extremely influential), survey respondents rated South Korea 4.6. This rating is roughly in line with South Korea’s previous ratings of 4.7 (2014), 4.4 (2012), and 4.7 (2010) in previous iterations of the survey. South Korea’s rating may be a far cry from global powers like the United States (8.5) and China (7.1), but it is similar to the ratings of India (4.8) and Iran (4.5). Although not included in the survey, a comparison of South Korea’s ratings to regional neighbors like Japan and Taiwan or other middle power nations would have been interesting to see how American perceptions of these nations differ.

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 UNC – CFC – USFK on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Korea Abroad, North Korea, slider, South KoreaComments (0)

About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.