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Inequality and the Quality of Democracy in South Korea Public Opinion and Electoral Politics after the 1997 Financial Crisis

Jin-Wook Shin 1

1중앙대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Nearly three decades-old Korean democracy still has many difficulties in providing effective institutional channels for addressing the problem of increasing inequalities. This study tries to get a better understanding of the specifically political aspect of the inequality problem in Korea by investigating the relationship between public opinion and electoral politics after the 1997 crisis, with particular emphasis on the political circulation process between electoral accountability and mandate responsiveness. The main questions of this study are as follows: Firstly, has the majority opinion of the public perceived inequality as the most urgent issue in Korean society? Secondly, did the public regard the resolution of inequality problems as the most important election issue and state affair? Thirdly, has the inequality issue ever been a decisive election issue in presidential elections since the 2000s and been taken seriously by the winners of the election in their policy formation? The results of analysis showed that although the socioeconomic inequalities have consistently been the first priority for an absolute majority of the public both as the election issue and as the policy agenda of the new government, the political competition in the presidential elections was determined either by the issues concerning political reform or by the personality- or event-issues, leading to further neglect of the inequality issue in the policy formation by the new government. These results suggest that despite the lack of class consciousness and classvoting among the Korean voters, a central cause of the marginality of the inequality issues in Korean politics may be sought in their systematic exclusion from the electoral power struggle.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.