Tag Archive | "polling data"

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.

Posted in Culture, slider, South KoreaComments (0)

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)

The Korean-American Vote: Update on the 2016 Presidential Election

By Junil Kim

Earlier this year, we examined Korean-American voting preferences and the importance of the Korean-American vote in the years to come. A May 2016 survey conducted by three Asian American NGOs showed a significant preference by Korean-Americans for the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. However, the survey also showed that Clinton only garnered 29 percent of the intended primary vote among Korean-Americans. Now, the newly released Fall 2016 National Asian American Survey (NAAS) shows that Clinton has strengthened her support among Korean-American voters since the previous survey.

The May survey, which consisted of telephone interviews with 1,212 registered voters from April 11 to May 17, 2016, reported that 60 percent of Korean-American voters had a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, with 37 percent holding an unfavorable view of the presidential candidate. The NAAS, which interviewed 1,955 registered voters from August 10 to September 29, 2016, showed that Korean-American voters largely maintained their views of the Democratic nominee, with 58 percent of Korean-American voters indicating they had a favorable view of Clinton and 41 percent indicating an unfavorable view. The overall 3.5 percent margin of error of the NAAS and the 3 percent margin of error of the earlier survey shows that the favorability ratings have essentially remained unchanged since this spring.

Korean-American voters also generally retained their unfavorable views of Donald Trump. The May survey indicated that 80 percent of Korean-American voters held an unfavorable view of the Republican nominee and only 10 percent of voters held a favorable view. The NAAS shows a slight uptick in both ratings, with 84 percent of Korean-American voters holding an unfavorable view and 12 percent holding a favorable view.

The primary vote choice results reported in the NAAS suggest that Clinton has taken advantage of her favorable ratings among Korean-American voters since this spring. The earlier survey, which occurred in the latter half of the primary season, reported that 29 percent of Korean-American voters had voted or planned on voting for Hillary Clinton in state primaries. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders garnered 20 percent of the expected primary vote, Republican candidate Ted Cruz held 12 percent, and Donald Trump held 7 percent of the Korean-American vote. In addition, 32 percent of Korean-American voters also indicated they had voted or would vote for “someone else.” The NAAS, which occurred after both Clinton and Trump secured their respective party’s nomination, reported that Clinton actually garnered a much larger share of the Korean-American vote with 68 percent of voters saying they cast ballots for Clinton during the primaries.

Korean Americans Graph 1

Clinton’s sizable increase in her voting share among Korean-Americans raises questions about how she secured greater support. Although some initial Sanders supporters may have switched to Clinton, this does not completely account for the substantial difference in support from the earlier survey results. The likely primary source is from the 32 percent of Korean-American voters in May that reported their primary candidate choice was “someone else.” The option “someone else” likely indicated undecided or uncertain voters, and Clinton’s strong showing in the primary results may be due to the consolidation of these voters.

This gravitation by Korean-American voters to Clinton is also clear in their reported presidential vote choice. Clinton currently eclipses Trump by a massive 61 points among Korean-American voters, which shows a slight uptick in Clinton support among Korean-Americans compared to the primary results. Compared to Americans in general, Korean-American support for Clinton and Trump dramatically differs. In the latest four way RealClearPolitics polling average, Clinton’s holds 44 percent of the general vote and Trump holds nearly 40 percent.

Korean Americans Graph 2

As mentioned in our earlier blog, Korean-American voters and Asian-American voters in general are unlikely to swing the upcoming presidential election, but the rapid population growth of Korean-Americans in swing states like Florida, Nevada, and Virginia will make their vote increasingly important to political candidates. Although the latest survey results show immense Korean-American support for Clinton, the majority of Korean-Americans in the last presidential election did not identify with the Democratic Party and Korean-Americans still self-identify more as conservative than liberal. In an analysis of the 2012 presidential election, Dr. Taeku Lee noted the steady shift of Korean-American voters towards Democratic candidates over the past 20 years and that the GOP would have to moderate their views on issues like health care and immigration to earn a larger share of the Korean-American vote. The 2016 presidential race has done little to break the trend of growing Democratic support among Korean-American and other Asian-American voters, and future Republican nominees would be prudent to consider the importance of their vote.

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. 

Photos from US Embassy New Zealand and Gage Skidmore on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in sliderComments (0)

Public Perception between South Korea and Japan Improves

By Juni Kim

Notoriously chilly relations between South Korea and Japan received encouraging news this week. In a new joint survey conducted by the South Korea-based East Asia Institute and the Japan-based Genron NPO, fewer South Koreans and Japanese hold negative impressions of each other than in previous years. South Korean unfavorable impressions of Japan decreased by 11.5 percentage from 72.5 percent in 2015 to 61 percent this year, while Japanese unfavorable impressions dropped by 7.8 percentage  from 52.4 percent to 44.6 percent. The drop in negative views for both countries also corresponded with a slight bump in favorable views from a year ago (21.3 percent from 15.7 percent for South Korea, 29.1 percent from 23.8 percent for Japan).

The poll is in its fourth year, with 1,010 South Koreans and 1,000 Japanese participating in 2016.This year’s results mark the lowest unfavorable ratings South Koreans have had for Japan since the survey started. The think tanks touted, “The figures mean momentum is building up for a change in bilateral relations, although there still remains high levels of negative perception.”

Although the decrease in unfavorable views is hopeful, the survey results suggest there is still an uphill climb to mend mutual perceptions between South Koreans and Japanese. Controversial historical issues remain the main driver of negative perceptions for South Koreans. In the survey, 76.3 percent of South Koreans indicated that “Japan’s lack of remorse for historical invasions of South Korea” is the reason they hold a negative impression of Japan. This figure is similar to 2015 (74.0 percent) and 2014’s (76.8 percent) results. Likewise, the main driver for negative Japanese views of South Korea is “criticism of Japan over historical issues,” which 75.3 percent of Japanese respondents indicated was the reason they have a negative impression of South Korea.

Graphic for Japan Korea 2

Despite these steady rates, fewer South Koreans and Japanese attribute their negative perceptions to the “badwill” expressed by politicians of the neighboring country. Both countries saw a drop of over 10 percentage points (14.6 percent from 24.7 percent for South Korea, 17.9 percent from 28.1 percent for Japan) from 2015 to 2016 in those citing “badwill expressed by some politicians” toward their own country as the reason for holding negative impressions against the other country.

This drop may have been encouraged by reconciliation efforts made by the top political leaders of South Korea and Japan in 2015. South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held their first summit in over three years last November. The two countries also reached an agreement last December regarding the controversial issue of comfort women, though the decision is still hotly debated among South Korean and Japanese circles.

Historical issues are unlikely to be resolved overnight, but the survey results reveal a small but positive step in the right direction for bringing these two neighboring countries closer together.

The full results of this year’s survey can be viewed here (in Korean). Last year’s results can be viewed in English here.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). Jiwon Nam, an Intern at KEI and graduate student at the University of Maine, also contributed to this blog. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Moyan Brenn’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (0)

The Meaning of Brexit

By Mark Tokola

To be clear, the United Kingdom has not yet left the European Union.  The June 23 referendum in the UK was an expression of the will of the people (by a majority of 52 percent to 48) that the British government should begin the process of negotiating an exit from the EU.  The EU Treaty allows for such a process.  British government officials have said that negotiation may take a decade because of its complexity.  The Brexit decision, however, marks a historic turning point that will have ramifications in expanding circles from inside the UK, to the EU, and to the rest of the world, including the United States and the Republic of Korea.

Our blog, “The Peninsula,” has a boilerplate disclaimer that the views expressed by authors are their own and should not be taken as representing those of the blog’s editors or of the Korea Economic Institute.  I would underline that with red ink in this case because I have strong views on the subjects of the EU and the UK, having spent a large part of my professional life while in the U.S. Foreign Service working in that area: eight years at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, six years at the U.S. Embassy in London, and two years in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Along with my attachment to Korea, my commitment to Europe (in which I would include the UK) has been a large part of my life.  Europe and Korea, and their relationships to the U.S., and to one another, are not separate issues.  The U.S., Korea, and EU are all part of the democratic, market-oriented, group of countries that must for their own sakes work together to promote the rule of law, liberal economic policies, collective security, and human rights.  Anything that happens in one makes a difference to the others. Now, that said, what is the meaning of Brexit?

Even though polls in the UK had shown for months that the referendum would be narrowly won or lost, the outcome still came as a surprise.  Many, probably most, observers believed that with Prime Minister David Cameron, the opposition Labour and Liberal-Democrat party leaders, the Confederation of British Industries, the major labor unions, the Bank of England, and a vast majority of economists arguing to remain in the EU, the public would find staying in the safer choice.  However, the UK has had an uneasy relationship with the EU ever since it joined in 1975, and there have been waves of opposition to membership ever since. These sentiments have crested in the last five years as British citizens found themselves in a time of European slow growth, high unemployment, economic crises in Greece and other member states, and an ongoing refugee crisis.

What happens next?  In the immediate future, not much.  The economic agreements between the U.S. and the EU, and the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement remain intact and the UK remains part of those agreements until the terms of its departure from the EU can be agreed and implemented.  Even then, it is imaginable that that the UK will remain part of an economic relationship with the EU that keeps it within international trade agreements.  If, for example, the UK became a member of the European Economic Area, along with Norway and other non-EU member states then, for all practical purposes, the U.S. and ROK would continue to relate to the UK as a member of the European trading bloc.  At a more extreme case, it is conceivable that the EU may reconfigure itself into a different type of organization, with a European Political Union consisting of a smaller set of member states, and a European Common Market consisting of a different set.  In that case, countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, or Ireland might join the UK in a reformed Common Market, with themselves departing from the Political Union.  Or, if the break is complete, then the U.S. and ROK would need to conclude economic agreements with the UK separately from the EU.  It is worth noting that the UK only comprises 17 percent of the overall economy of the EU.  It would be an important trading partner on its own, but for the U.S. and Korea, not in the same league as China or the rest of the EU.

All of the above assumes that there will remain a United Kingdom with which the U.S. and Korea will have a relationship.  That may not be the case.  Although the UK as a whole voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU, there was a dramatic split in the vote between England and Scotland.  The Scots voted 62 to 38 percent to remain in the EU, with the “remain” vote carrying every district in Scotland.  During the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence, one of the biggest arguments made to persuade the Scots to remain within the UK was that if they voted for independence, that would necessitate their leaving the EU and it would then be tough for Scotland to negotiate its way back into the group.  With Scotland being pulled out of the EU by Brexit, apparently against the will of its people, the Scottish independence movement will reawaken with renewed force.  Indeed, the morning after Brexit, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Nicola Sturgeon, began laying out the case for a new Scottish referendum.  The U.S. and Korea may find themselves negotiating trading arrangements with an EU that includes Scotland but not England or Wales.

Some commentators simply do not believe that the result of the Brexit will be a UK departure from the EU.  They believe that during the years ahead, the British public will change its mind and decide to stick with an EU that may have reformed itself in the meantime.  There are many uncertainties ahead.  One of the issues that will soon surface will be that Brexit from the EU does not mean that the UK would leave the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  That is part of the Council of Europe legal framework, which is not part of the EU.  What will the British public (and the Scots in particular) think of burning yet another bridge with Europe?

The main point to be taken from the Brexit vote is that it is part of the tide running against globalization everywhere.  While being very different phenomenon, Putinism in Russia, Chinese international assertiveness and its crack down on domestic dissent, violent religious extremism, and populist nationalist movements within democratic societies (not excluding the United States and Republic of Korea) have in common their rejection of globalization.  There is a strong strain within global society and politics of people who want to live within traditional communities, stop having to compete in a global market, maintain traditional attitudes and cultures, and to have a pride in the groups to which they belong, which are often defined by which people do not belong.  People in the UK who voted for Brexit often said in interviews that they just wanted “to live the way we used to.”  It is hard to think of any society that has succeeded in recreating a past in which to live.  And in the end, the problem with building walls to keep the world out is that they also keep you in.

 Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Posted in Economics, Korea Abroad, sliderComments (2)

South Korean Millennials’ Attitudes About the Future

By Jenna Gibson

While millennials around the world have generally optimistic views of their future, Korean youth are more cynical. A new survey of millennials by Manpower Group found that around the world, two thirds are optimistic about their job prospects, and 62 percent feel that if they lost their job they could find a similar or better position within three months.

Further, a similar Deloitte survey found that millennials generally feel less loyalty to their employers than previous generations did – 66 percent of those surveyed said they planned to leave their current job within five years, and only 16 percent said they would stay more than 10 years with their current employer. In Korea, these stats become even starker. Korean respondents to the Deloitte survey were more likely to say they would leave their current employer within five years (74 percent) and were slightly below the OECD average in optimism about their country’s economic situation.

Sampo Infographic

Meanwhile, a 2014 Pew Research Center report found that among the dozens of countries surveyed, South Korea was the only one where millennials were more pessimistic about their future than those aged 50-plus. According to Business Insider, “South Korea has the highest percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college or vocational degree. Yet only 32 percent say education is an important key to success, and a mere 22 percent say hard work is very important to getting ahead in life.”

These numbers speak to the bleak outlook of the so-called Sampo Generation in their 20s and 30s. Sampo refers to the three things the generation feels they have to give up in order to get ahead – dating, marriage and having children. Some have taken the cynicism even further, saying that they also have to give up employment, buying a home, and, finally, hope itself.

With Korea’s unemployment rate at a six-year high of 4.1 percent this spring, and  youth unemployment at an all-time high of 12.5 percent, the pessimism among millennials is perhaps not so surprising.

Korean Unemployment Graph

As the newly-elected Korean National Assembly begins their session, youth unemployment has been a major issue that the three major parties have pledged to address. And Korean President Park Geun Hye has made creating jobs, especially for youth, a priority – in 2015 she launched the Youth Hope Fund. The president personally contributed $17,000 and pledged to set aside 20 percent of her salary to fund the project, which crowdsources money to help companies hire more young workers.

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

Photo from Aaron Guy Leroux’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (1)

Misperceptions of South Korea Lead to Low Approval in the U.S.

By Jenna Gibson

A few weeks ago, I published a post here on The Peninsula entitled “Trans-Pacific Love Affair,” describing South Korea’s sky-high approval ratings of the United States. But now it seems that love may be unrequited.

According to the latest Pew Research poll released earlier this month, 60 percent of Americans have a very or somewhat favorable view of South Korea. About 31 percent had a somewhat or very unfavorable view, and 9 percent said they didn’t know. In contrast, Pew found that 84 percent of South Koreans view the United States favorably.

How is it that a country which President Obama has called “one of our strongest allies in the world,” one which has the third highest approval rating of the United States in the world, only has the backing of 60 percent of Americans?

Seoul or Pyongyang?

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?”

This plays out both in the media and in public curiosity about the peninsula. Take a look at the Google trends search below, for example.

North-South Korea Comparision

The blue line is Google searches performed in the United States related to South Korea, red is North Korea, and yellow shows all searches for the term “Korea.” As you can see, they all follow each other relatively closely, lending credence to the idea that curiosity about one half of the peninsula is mixed with curiosity about the other.

But looking closer, the trends, especially the search for the generic term “Korea,” are really just following the headlines. The double spikes in 2010 were the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of the Cheonan battleship. The large spike in early 2013 corresponds with the North’s latest nuclear test and subsequent announcement that they would reopen the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. In April 2014 you can see the news about the Sewol Ferry disaster reflected in the blue line. Finally, the January 2015 spike shows the Sony hacking incident. The overall takeaway here is that the meaning of “Korea” can switch depending on whichever side of the DMZ is in the news.

Korea the Brand

This lack of understanding about South Korea doesn’t stop with the news. Americans also have a hard time understanding Korea’s economic power, even when they carry it around in their pocket.

Unlike Volkswagen and its German engineering, Samsung doesn’t make a point of its Korean origin. In fact, in a 2011 survey by the Korea Trade Promotion Corporation Agency (KOTRA), respondents in the Americas (including the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Canada) had a hard time identifying the origin of Korean brands. When asked about Samsung, only 36.2 percent identified the company as Korean, while 38.4 thought it was Japanese. Hyundai fared slightly better, with 49.9 percent assigning the company to Korea. Still, 31.7 percent of respondents thought Hyundai is Japanese. In contrast, 74.3 percent of consumers could correctly identify Sony as a Japanese brand.

Korea Brand 1

This extends beyond just certain companies. In a 2014 Asan Institute survey, only 24 percent of Americans correctly said South Korea is a top 10 trading partner of the United States (it is in fact the U.S.’ sixth largest trade partner).

Overall, it seems Americans severely underestimate how much impact South Korea has on their daily lives. And Korea is losing out big time because of this. In a 2014 study of consumers in 28 countries, those who recognized Samsung and Hyundai as Korean viewed Korea as a whole more positively than those who incorrectly identified the nationality of these two companies.


Constantly in the news with another nuclear test, execution or provocation, no wonder the concerns about the DPRK manage to overshadow positive feelings about its southern neighbor. And without a good understanding about great Korean brands like Samsung, Hyundai and many more, there are few ways to counteract these negative perceptions.

I ran into this issue personally when I announced to my family that I was moving to South Korea after college. The response, especially from my older relatives, was concern for my safety. For them, “Korean” was often followed by “war.” And they grew up with a peninsula that was still struggling to recover from that conflict. Given how far South Korea has come, it’s hard to remember that just a few decades ago things were very different.

This is an incredibly difficult problem to solve, but South Korea is trying to chip away at it – investing millions in the promotion of Korean pop culture and food overseas, for example. But one of the most effective ways may be to take the most ubiquitous items – the phones, TVs, and cars that Americans use every day – and making them a more explicit part of their public diplomacy strategy. That way the first things Americans think of when they hear “Korea” are useful gadgets, not nuclear ones.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Songyee Jung contributed to research for this post.

Photo from Young Sok Yun’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (1)

Trans-Pacific Love Affair: South Korean Perceptions of the United States on the Rise

By Jenna Gibson

According to at least one poll, South Korea has a higher opinion of the United States than the United States has of itself. In its 2015 Global Indicators survey, Pew Research Center found that 84 percent of South Koreans view the U.S. favorably, while only 83 percent of Americans said the same.[1] This is the highest approval rating for the U.S. within South Korea since Pew started collecting this data in 2002, when approval was only at 52 percent[2].

South Korea doesn’t only approve of the United States as a whole – they also have a positive view of its leader. When asked if they are confident in President Barack Obama to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 88 percent of Koreans answered affirmatively. The only country surveyed that has more confidence in Obama is the Philippines, with 94 percent.

This approval far outweighs even Korean views on their own government – a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report found that only 34 percent of Koreans said they have confidence in their national government. And their perception of Obama certainly dwarfs his current 46 percent domestic approval rating.

SK Public Perception Graphic

Highs and Lows

South Koreans haven’t always been this keen on the United States. As recently as 2007, only 58 percent of those surveyed by Pew had favorable opinions about their ally. And going back to 2003, less than half responded positively (46 percent favorable).

What caused this significant shift in just over a decade? It’s important to keep context in mind. In 2002, tensions flared after an infamous incident where two Korean teenagers were killed after being struck by a U.S. military vehicle. The drop in favorable views of the United States in 2003 makes perfect sense in this context.

Further, lukewarm responses through the following decade can possibly be attributed to the Sunshine Policy, an attempt to influence North Korea using carrots rather than sticks. According to a Washington Post column, “The policy attempted to soften the tension between the two Korean nations, something that often required breaking, rhetorically or even politically, with the United States. President Roh Moo-hyun did this in part by criticizing the U.S. containment policy – and thus, implicitly, the enormous American military force stationed in his country – in an effort to demonstrate goodwill toward North Korea and, he hoped, to lay the groundwork for real cooperation.”

Since 2009, administrations in both the United States and South Korea have worked ensure that their policies towards North Korea are aligned and public perceptions have moved in a similar direction. In fact, a recent Washington Post article points out that younger South Koreans are among the most pro-American. One possible explanation – “they appear to be more suspicious about China’s rise and are way more suspicious of North Korea’s intentions. For both of these reasons, it’s understandable that they value the alliance with the United States.”

Interestingly, a 2015 poll by the Asan Institute found that South Koreans associated the United States most with capitalism (28.6 percent), military strength (26.7 percent), and democracy (20.6 percent). It follows, then, that when the two countries’ economic, military and diplomatic priorities align, as they generally do at the moment, public opinion will follow.

 Korean perception of the United States can of course be lost in an instant, but it’s important to note that even during one of the lowest points in recent memory, more than half of the Korean people still viewed the U.S. favorably. These polls show the strength of the U.S.-Korea Alliance, even if the two countries don’t always see eye to eye. By keeping this in mind and building on this solid base of support, policymakers on both sides of the Pacific can continue to work together to address issues in Northeast Asia and beyond.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Sue Langford’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

[1] Margin of error for South Korea: +/- 3.2 percent, for United States +/- 3.6 percent.

[2] In contrast, the United States’ other ally in the region, Japan, is less enthusiastic. Favorable views of the U.S. have slid over the past few years from an all-time high of 85 in 2011 to 68 percent in 2015.


Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (1)

Who Has More International Influence, Psy or Kim Jong-un?

By Troy Stangarone

With K-Pop finally making its global breakout with Psy’s international smash hit Gangnam Style, one might have expected there to be a residual effect on how people around the world see South Korea. However, a recent poll by the BBC [1]on global views of 16 countries and the EU found South Korea as only the world’s 10th most influential country.

On the whole, the overall ranking as the 10th most influential country is impressive, but what is surprising is that despite Psy’s success and the positive press from South Korea electing its first female president, South Korea saw those with mostly positive views of it drop by a percentage and those with mostly negative views rise by 4 percent, the same rise in negative views as North Korea.

Interestingly the country whose influence is viewed most favorably internationally is Germany. In recent years Germany has been criticized for its handling of the euro crisis, specifically its slow moves towards providing aid to the countries hardest hit by the crisis. However, Germany[2] scores extremely well among its European partners, with the exception of Greece which has been hit hardest by the crisis, and in countries such as South Korea and Indonesia.

In contrast, South Korea receives mixed reviews from countries in its region. The tensions over the last year between South Korea and Japan help to explain the poor perception of South Korea in Japan, but Indonesia is the only Asian country surveyed in which a majority has a positive view of South Korea’s influence. Perhaps more disconcerting, is that India’s views of South Korea are similar to that of Japan.

Globally, South Korea’s influence is viewed positively on average by 35 percent of those in the survey, while 31 percent view it negatively. South Koreans viewed themselves most positively, but this is not completely unique as Canadians, Indians, French, Brazilians, and Russians also viewed their influence in the world most favorably, while only Canadians viewed the influence of the United States more favorably than Americans.

Of the countries surveyed, only in Ghana and Indonesia is South Korea’s influence seen favorably by more than 50 percent of the public. In Europe, South Korea is most favorably viewed in Spain, where 43 percent view its influence in a positive manner. However, Germans do not reciprocate South Korea’s extremely favorable views of Berlin’s role, with Seoul scoring worse with Germans than the Japanese. This is especially interesting because, while South Korea’s favorability rating in Japan is only 19 percent, only 28 percent of Japanese view South Korea negatively. The majority of the population falls into the categories choosing neutral, depends, or not answering. In contrast, 65 percent of Germans have a negative view of South Korea’s influence in the world.

North Korea may play a small role in the decline in perceptions of South Korea. The survey took place from December, 2012 to April, 2013, the prime period of the current crisis with North Korea.

However, the results do provide interesting feedback for South Korea’s recent efforts at national branding and enhancing its soft power influence abroad. While these efforts, and a stronger move into public diplomacy, are relatively new, the results of the BBC’s survey show that despite the success of the Korean Wave in Asia, mixed views of South Korea still exist. At the same time, significant efforts may be needed to improve South Korea’s image in other regions of the world, such as Europe where Korean popular culture are less well known.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Korea.net’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


[1] The BBC survey took place in 25 countries worldwide.

[2] Spain and Greece were the only two countries hit by the crisis in the Eurozone to be surveyed.

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (1)

South Korea Public Opinion Poll – Final Update

Below are the key findings from the surveys conducted by Research and Research in November and December. Where applicable, dates the survey was conducted are in brackets.

The presidential race between Park Geun-Hye and Moon Jae-In remained tight. As of December 12, 43.4% support Park, while 41.9% support Moon.

Following Ahn Cheol-Soo’s exit from the race, 38.5% stated it would be advantageous for Moon Jae-In, while 33.5% said it would benefit Park Geun-Hye. [Nov. 24-26]

 44.8% cited Park Geun-Hye as being more capable of handling relations with North Korea. 40.6% cited Moon Jae-In. [Nov. 30-Dec. 2]

Regarding the announcement by North Korea on December 1 of a planned long range missile launch, 25.4% stated that this would be advantageous for Park Geun-Hye. 9.4% stated it would help Moon. 48.5% said it would have no influence. [Dec. 3–5]

 While 48.6% said that this election would be a referendum on the administration of Lee Myung-Bak, 43.3% said it would not. [Dec. 3–5]

 55.1% expected Park Geun-Hye to win the election. 25.0% expected Moon to win. [Dec. 9–11]

The sample size of the survey was 1,000 respondents over the age of 19. The margin of error is ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level. The survey was conducted by the Research & Research. It employed the Random Digit Dialing method for mobile and landline telephones.

Note: Due to election law in Korea, the last results that can legally be released are those from on or before December 12. Polling will continue, but those results are embargoed until after the election.

Also, results presented for December 12 should not be interpreted as fully accounting for the North Korean missile launch. Only one-third of the sample was collected on that day. While this sample was likely aware of the launch, the other two-thirds of the sample was collected in the two days prior.

Long-Range Missile Diplomacy

For those who follow the Korean Peninsula closely, South Korean elections and North Korean provocations seemingly go hand-in-hand. While North Korea has railed against the potential election of Ms. Park, conventional wisdom holds that provocations benefit the conservative party. Thus, debate remains on which benefits North Korea more—a liberal
administration willing to provide unconditional food and economic aid or a conservative administration that provides in with important internal legitimization. But the more immediate question is if North Korea’s reportedly successful missile launch will have any effect on the South Korean presidential election.

While an announced, and failed, launch is a known variable in terms of South Korean public opinion, a successful launch remains an unknown. However, the best reading of the data suggests that the launch will not have a strong impact on the election. There is some recent history to back this up. Just a day prior to the National Assembly elections in April, headlines hit the papers that North Korea was ready to launch a long range missile. Of course, the
conservative Saenuri party went on to unexpectedly win that election. However, connecting one to the other is spurious at best. First, as the March edition of this report noted, the Saenuri Party was clearly surging before the announcement of the rocket launch and the Democratic United Party (DUP) made several strategic blunders during the campaign. Second, in a survey conducted by the Asan Institute immediately following the National Assembly election only 6.1% cited the pending North Korean missile launch as the issue which decided their vote. Of course, it could be argued that because the Blue House, and not the National Assembly, sets North Korea policy the most recent launch will have a much larger impact.

There are two strong arguments that this will not be the case. First, the Korean public’s opinion on which candidate is most capable of handling North Korea relations is split—44.8% cite Park Geun-Hye as most capable, 40.6% cite Moon Jae-In.1 This is roughly in line with the spread from the previous time this question was asked in late October. In that survey, 40.9% cited Park versus 35.5% for Moon. 2 (10.0% cited Ahn Cheol-Soo.) It appears that respondents have already decided which candidate’s North Korea policy they prefer and a non-lethal missile launch may harden those positions rather than causing voters to switch.

Second, following the announcement of the launch on December 1 there was no evidence of a shift in candidate support. Support for Ms. Park remained largely flat from December 4—the first day when the North’s announcement would have been fully accounted for in the data. However, a significant rise for Moon Jae-In coincides with the launch announcement, but such a connection is speculative. Thus, the effect of the announcement on the presidential polls is unclear but likely negligible.

Regarding the effect of the actual launch, there is little data to go on, and its interpretation should be done carefully. On December 12, 337 respondents participated in the survey— approximately one-third of the full sample. (One-third participated on December 11 and onethird on December 10.) Because the launch occurred before 10am, it is likely that this group of respondents was aware of the missile launch. However, there was no surge in support among this group for Park Geun-Hye. While support did rise slightly (2.7pp from the previous day’s respondents), it was within the margin of error. Moreover, Moon Jae-In also saw a slight rise in support among this group as compared with the previous day. Again, this is not a full sample, but it does suggest that there will not be a strong impact from the North
Korean launch.

If there is to be a shift, it is most likely to come from voters in their 20s. One of the most consistent results in Asan surveys is that this cohort is decidedly security conservative. When it comes to issues related to North Korea, they identify much more with Koreans in their 60s than with those in their 30s or 40s. On which candidate is best able to handle North Korea relations, 48.3% cited Ms. Park—14.7pp higher than those in their thirties and 10.8pp higher
than those in their forties. However, since December 4 there has been no consistent upswing for Ms. Park (Figure 2). While she did gain 8.4pp from December 4 to December 7, those gains were erased by December 11. While there was a 3.7pp gain for Ms. Park from December 11 to December 12 the driver of that gain is not clear nor is such a gain unusual for her among this cohort.

The Final Count Down

The timing of the North Korean missile launch has now overshadowed what might actually be the most important event of the campaign—Ahn Cheol-Soo’s exit from the race. Unable to come to terms on how to best decide a unified progressive candidate, Dr. Ahn unilaterally withdrew from the race on November 23. This was certainly not an ideal situation for either Ms. Park or Mr. Moon. Park would have preferred that both candidates remained, creating a
three-way race which she would have easily won. For Moon, the result was even more unsatisfactory. Even though he became the unified candidate, the unification process was not perceived to be based on consent between the two candidates but rather a failure of negotiations.

The less than harmonious unification process may have led some Ahn supporters to refuse to support Moon immediately. According to Research & Reasearch’s survey on November 26, 56.8% of previous Ahn supporters answered that they would now support Moon, while 18.9% stated they would support Park—21.9% remained undecided. This was not unexpected. It was clear that Moon and Ahn were not seen as perfect substitutes for one another, and the October-November issue of this report noted that there would not be a 1:1 shift.

Following Ahn’s resignation, Moon failed to overtake Park in the polls, and on November 29 the gap between Park and Moon was as large as 8.5pp. However, Moon’s support began to recover and the spread between Moon and Park gradually shrank. As of December 12, the race remains tight with Park leading by only 1.5pp.

Generation, Generation, Generation

This election is projected to be another battle between generations. As is already well established, Park Geun-Hye’s base is among those in their 50s and 60s, while Moon Jae-In now enjoys strong support—thanks to Dr. Ahn’s withdrawal—from those in their 20s and 30s. Given that it is generally known how the oldest and youngest generations will vote, those in their 40s could prove to be critical in this election. As shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4, and in
true tossup fashion, this cohort is divided amongst itself on which candidate it prefers. While those aged 40-44 have consistently preferred Moon Jae-In (Figure 3), those aged 45-49 have generally preferred Park Geun-Hye (Figure 4), although that lead has been narrowed significantly.

Demographic Shift

One of the challenges facing not only Moon Jae-In, but the progressive candidates of the future, is the demographic shift towards an older society. According to the National Election Commission, in the 2007 election those in their 50s and 60s or over combined to make up 33.7% of all eligible voters. However, in terms of actual voter turnout, these two cohorts combined to make up 40.8%. In 2012, according to the most recent census data, these two cohorts now combine to make up 38.7% of eligible voters, a 5.0pp increase from five years earlier (Figure 5).

Turnout among these cohorts has been incredibly reliable. In every election since 2000, turnout among the 50s and 60s+ has averaged 74.7%. Comparatively, turnout for those in their 20s and 30s averaged 41.8% and 51.8%, respectively. (That number is 64.5% for the 40s.) In presidential elections, those in their 50s and 60s combined for an average turnout of 78.9%, compared with 51.8% of those in their 20s, 61.3% of those in their 30s, and 71.3% of
those in their 40s.3 This strong, reliable turnout among the oldest voting blocs provides Ms. Park an advantage given their strong support for her (Appendix Figure 1, Appendix Figure 2).

If this trend holds, and there is every reason to believe that it will, Mr. Moon will clearly need very strong turnout from the young cohorts—cohorts which have historically had trouble in making it to the voting booth. However, a rise in youth turnout would likely create a rise in overall turnout, something that would be swimming against history. Since 1987, each presidential election has had lower voter turnout than the previous election. In 1987, turnout was at 89%, declining each year, with major decreases from 1997 (81%) to 2002 (71%), and from 2002 to 2007 (63%).

The Gender Card

Somewhat surprisingly, there has been very little said about Ms. Park as the first female candidate with a real chance at taking the Blue House. Given the generally poor reviews Korea is given for gender equality and female labor force participation rates, almost nothing has been said about gender throughout the entire race. The older generations have left the issue alone because she is the daughter of Park Chung-Hee, and the younger generations have been quite on the issue because they are much more liberal on social issues.

However, there has been a consistent preference among women for Ms. Park. While the two candidates have been virtually tied among men, Ms. Park has maintained a 6-10pp lead over Mr. Moon among women (Figure 6). This is an interesting phenomenon, particularly considering that in American elections female voters disproportionately vote for Democrats. Yet, it is premature to assert that Korean women see Park Geun-Hye as a presidential candidate representing women. In fact, Korean female voters have long been quite conservative, and are more likely to support the Saenuri Party than the DUP.

Regional Races

The regionalism present in South Korean elections isone of the most well-known features of Korean politics. The east-west rivalry has been in existence since before the Japanese invaded Korean in 1592, and shows little sign of abating in the current election. While Park holds large leads in the Busan/Ulsan/Gyeongnam area (Appendix Figure 3) and Daegu/Gyeongbuk  (Appendix Figure 4), Moon leads easily in Gwangju/Jeolla (Appendix Figure 5). The Daejeon/Choongchung area was expected to be hotly contested and indeed that has been the case. What was once a commanding Park lead in late November has become a race within the margin of error in early December (Appendix Figure 6). The real prize remains as the greater national capital region. Seoul and its surroundings combine to make up approximately 48% of the population, and a clear victory here could create a huge advantage for either candidate. While Park trails in Seoul by 7.4pp as of December 12 (Figure 7), Incheon/Gyeonggi remains within the margin of error (Figure 8).


This report presents a mixed view of the election for both candidates. However, even though the race remains tight in the poll, Moon Jae-In still faces several significant challenges. The most significant problem is going to be youth turnout. While many of these young voters voice support for Moon Jae-In, it is not clear that they will actually turn up on voting day. After all, many of them were supporters of Ahn Cheol-Soo, and without him in the race they may simply abstain. This, along with the simple demographic challenges he faces, presents a very difficult—but not impossible—path to victory for Mr. Moon.



Posted in 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.