[POLITICAL PRISM]A divisive election aheadAs the presidential race enters the hand-to-hand combat stage, alumni groups and other organizations are conducting mock polls. Some of the results are interesting.
University students, generally thought of as emotional, impulsive and liberal, reflect those inclinations in the mock polls. A professor at a university in Gyeonggi province tells of a class that ran a trial poll in which the conservative Lee Hoi-chang failed to draw a single vote. A lecturer at a women's university in Seoul, speaking before the withdrawal of Chung Mong-joon, said her students had overwhelmingly supported either Mr. Chung or Roh Moo-hyun.
The support for Mr. Roh among the young is not very startling, but it is interesting to consider why there is so little support for Mr. Lee. A social science professor at a Seoul university conducted a little experiment to try to discover the reason. In an open classroom, he asked his students to raise their hand to indicate their favorite. Not a single hand was raised for Mr. Lee. But in a secret ballot among the same students, Mr. Lee led the voting, 21 votes to 20 for Mr. Roh to three for Mr. Chung.
In a class discussion after the poll, the surprised students discussed the very different outcomes. One said that society's expectations that the young support liberal candidates worked as a strong form of pressure in an open vote.
We cannot read too much into a classroom experiment, perhaps, and we may even be wrong about the stereotype of the young as liberal and emotional. But one thing is clear ?whether we are talking about a mock poll or public opinion survey, it is hard to read public opinion accurately. Our polls have been wrong many times so far.
The social science professor who conducted that survey said he doubts the "emotional and impulsive" label his students carry. He quoted one student as saying there were many progressives inside Mr. Lee's Grand National Party as well, and Mr. Lee would not necessarily drive the country far to the right.
But for young people in the digital age, things such as emotions and senses are important in their lives and their decision-making. The presidential candidates are busy decorating themselves with good images. Choosing neckties and practicing their smiles are very important tasks.
Mr. Lee wants to be seen as a renovator and Mr. Roh as mainstream. Whether they can actually change their entrenched images remains to be seen. Mr. Lee says his "radical right" image is a product of slander by the Roh camp and by the Blue House-influenced media. Mr. Roh is even said by a fellow Millennium Democrat, Hahn Hwa-kap, to be too far to the left. Changing one's image is not an easy job.
So it is difficult to predict who will be the next president, but it is obvious that after Dec. 19, Korean society will be left with a legacy of deep regional, generational and class divisions.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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