Are minor candidates game changers?

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Are minor candidates game changers?

As the competition between two front-runners Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in remains tighter than ever with 10 days left before the presidential election, two minor candidates have emerged as possible game changers.

While Park of the Saenuri Party and Moon of the Democratic United Party lead the polls, Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party and independent candidate Kang Ji-won are in distant third and fourth place in the latest opinion surveys.

Although Lee and Kang have registered no higher than 1 percent each, their percentage of the vote could be crucial if the Dec. 19 race is a neck-and-neck battle between Park and Moon.

Park, Moon and Lee participated in a two-hour debate on political, foreign affairs, unification and national security issues last Tuesday. Lee launched unreserved attacks toward Park throughout the session.

Following the debate, criticism rose about Lee’s attitude, pushing the conservative voters to solidify their support behind Park.

The biggest nightmare of the Moon campaign was also realized as Lee’s direct attacks on Park boomeranged and turned the centrist, undecided voters in favor of Park. Lee’s increased rating also showed that Moon lost some of his backers to the Park sniper.

Opinion polls conducted after the first televised debate showed that Park widened her lead further against Moon after the attacks by left-leaning candidate Lee.

In the daily survey conducted by JTBC and Realmeter, Park scored 50.1 percent on Wednesday, up from Tuesday’s 49.4 percent. Moon earned 45.1 percent, slightly down from 45.9 percent on Tuesday. Lee scored 0.8 percent on Tuesday and her rating moved up to 1 percent on Wednesday.

Park was leading the race earlier last month but Moon saw a bump after Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent liberal candidate, announced on Nov. 23 that he would quit the race after failing to come to terms with Moon to merge their bids.

Surveys conducted by other media and polling companies on Wednesday also showed that Park is leading the race against Moon after the first TV debate. In the Dong-A Ilbo-Research and Research poll, Park scored 43.5 percent, while Moon followed with 40.2 percent. In the MBC-Hankook Research poll, Park won 45.1 percent and Moon 40.7 percent.

In the OhMyNews-Research View survey, Park scored 50.6 percent, up by 1.5 percentage points from Tuesday, while Moon’s rating went down to 43.3 percent by 2.5 percentage points.

Asked about the candidates’ performance in the TV debate, the MBC-Hankook Research poll showed that 34.3 percent said Park was the best, while 23.4 percent said Lee performed the best. Moon scored at the bottom with 21.5 percent.

In the Realmeter poll, 49.5 percent said Park was the best performer, while 21.8 percent said Lee won and 20.2 said Moon was the best.

“While the conservative voters united to support Park, Moon supporters appeared to move to support Lee,” said political commentator Kim Jong-bae in his interview on MBC radio. “It appeared that liberal voters were repositioning their support after the debate.”

Lee Taek-soo, head of Realmeter, said that Lee’s rating could go up more this week by possibly 2 or 3 percent because two more TV debates are scheduled to take place.

“The election is so tight this time,” he said on MBC radio. “And that potential 2 or 3 percent of Lee can create a crisis for Moon. It is clearly to Moon’s disadvantage that the TV debates are among the three candidates.”

If Lee is a nightmare for Moon, the Park campaign also has a similar challenge. Kang, a 63-year-old lawyer, is a minor conservative candidate who consistently earns about 1 percent support in the opinion polls.

His rating went up from 0.5 percent to 1.1 percent in the JTBC-Realmeter poll last week. Shortly after he declared his bid in September, he recorded 4.8 percent in the poll.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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