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Pres. Lee`s Approval Rating Moves in `U` Shape

Posted December. 19, 2009 13:00,   


President Lee Myung-bak has seen his approval rating move in a "U" shape in his first two years in office, but has bolstered his political base in his second year, according to experts.

In his first year, he faced mass candlelight vigils protesting the resumption of American beef imports over fears of mad cow disease. He was also criticized for favoring the rich.

The president’s approval rating plummeted early in his term, but has returned to 40-50 percent in his second year. He faces more problems, however, including disputes over the Sejong City and the four-river restoration projects and conflict with a faction within the ruling Grand National Party loyal to former party chief Park Geun-hye.

The trajectory of President Lee’s approval rating shows how he has spent the past two years in the presidential office. Though the rating differs by public survey agency, it has returned to the level early after his election.

In a survey conducted by Research and Research Dec. 1, his approval rating was 45 percent, down from 53.2 percent in March last year. In another poll Korea Research Center Nov. 28, the figure was 46 percent, lower than 52.7 percent recorded in March last year.

President Lee’s approval rating over the past two years has shown a “U-shaped” curve unlike those of previous administrations. It plunged to around 20 percent last year when the candlelight vigils were held, but has rebounded after the government released centrist and pragmatic policies for the working class since June this year.

Among his predecessors, Roh Moo-hyun saw his approval rating plummet from around 80 percent early in his term to about 30 percent at the end of his second year, according to Gallup Korea.

Kim Dae-jung’s approval rating fell from around 70 to 50 percent, and that of Kim Young-sam was almost halved from around 80 to 40 percent over the same period.

President Lee’s approval rating has changed in a peculiar way since it stayed unexpectedly low last year. Certain experts say the rating jumped this year due to the base effect, or the lack of government confusion this year as opposed to last year.

This explains why the ruling party saw a poor showing in the October by-elections despite an approval rating of around 50 percent for the president.

A source from the Youido Institute, a think tank under the ruling party, said, “The results of the October by-elections show that the people emotionally neither like nor support Lee.”

A party member said, “President Lee’s high approval rating can be understood as a kind of encouragement. People think, ‘We know you’re trying hard but cannot fully trust you.’”

Other experts, however, say the return of President Lee’s approval rating to the level recorded early in his term is significant. Political Science Professor Kim Hyeong-jun of Myongji University in Seoul said, “His core supporters are middle-aged white-collar workers in their 40s living in the Seoul metropolitan area. They are sensitive to their own economic interests. Boosted by the recent economic recovery, such backers have shown their support for him, again.”

Park Seong-min, head of the political consulting agency Min Planning, said, “People harbor friendly feelings toward a leader in two instances. First, they support a leader when he or she maintains national self-respect. Second, a leader is loved when he or she tries to soothe the people’s difficulties. President Lee’s approval rating might have rebounded due to his diplomatic achievements and policies for the working class.”

Political experts say the president’s approval rating has reached its upper limit. The key to success will be taking advantage of the high rating to run the country.

The Sejong City project will significantly affect his approval rating next year. A ruling party official said, “The project will affect the results of the local elections. In general, Koreans want revision of the project’s original plan. If the government fails to deal with this effectively, its political momentum will weaken significantly.”

A key source with the ruling party said implementation of concrete measures is needed to improve the lives of the working class. “Expectations for centrist and pragmatic policies for the working class have played a pivotal role in raising President Lee’s approval rating. If the government fails to meet expectations next year, however, Koreans will be discouraged.”

Ahead of the local elections, the moves of former ruling party chief Park and the attitude of party members will also affect President Lee’s approval rating.

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