Don’t trust the numbers

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Don’t trust the numbers

President Lee Myung-bak seems to take pride in his approval rating of 50 percent. He now appears reluctant to change the way he has been governing the country. However, despite such remarkable support for his presidency, the general public’s actual feeling for him falls short of the approval rating. This has caused some agony among his staff at the Blue House and within the ruling Grand National Party, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that his aides at the presidential office have recently requested psychologists to explain the baffling gap.

The unreliability of the president’s and the ruling party’s approval ratings were confirmed in the June 2 local elections last year. Before the election, the popularity of the president, in particular, almost reached 50 percent, probably thanks to the people’s sense of crisis after North Korea sank our warship Cheonan. The approval rating of the GNP in Seoul and metropolitan areas was almost double that of opposition parties. But the ruling party was battered in the elections, with the GNP only winning the contests for Seoul mayor and Gyeonggi Province governor.

What went wrong? First, there are problems with the method of approval surveys. Usually the survey records the household response when asked questions by phone. In most the cases, however, senior citizens or housewives answer the questions when phoned during the day. Another problem is that a low rate of households agree to take the survey, something like 10 percent. Even though highly sophisticated statistical methods are employed to minimize such distortions, such surveys can still miss the actual public sentiment.

Lee’s approval ratings also vary according to what questions are asked. According to a recent joint survey by Research & Research and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, 41.2 percent said that Lee is doing a good job in achieving economic growth and creating jobs, while only 6.8 percent said he’s promoting democracy.

A report by the office of the senior secretary for political affairs at the presidential office seems credible in reflecting the public’s real feelings toward Lee. The Blue House should pay attention to the advice that citizens don’t want a leadership primarily based on nepotism or favoritism, nor a leadership that micromanages minor details.

The report also gave timely advice to the president: that he should meet with opposition leaders on his own. Leaning on approval ratings is a treacherous business.
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