Pulling out of a fallPresident Moon Jae-in’s weekly approval rating fell below 50 percent for the first time, skidding from 79 percent in June following the landslide victory by the ruling party in by-elections and local elections. Negative responses reached 42 percent. Korea Gallup pointed to controversy over the government’s policies on the minimum wage, jobs and real estate for the slump in public confidence in the president. Another pollster cited worsening economic conditions and runaway housing prices in Seoul for the fall in the approval rating.
The surveys underscore across-the-board jitters about the economy. All economic data including jobs, income disparities and national income have turned negative. The government sticks to idealistic and rhetorical policies instead of coming up with practical actions to stimulate corporate activities. Over 30,000 self-employed people and small merchants rallied in the street against the steep minimum wage increases.
The deterioration in economic conditions may not be the only reason behind the loss of public confidence in the president and his ruling party. The administration has been obstinate and self-righteous in its ways, paying little heed to worries about the plan to phase out nuclear reactors and a manic campaign to eradicate “past wrongdoings,” which looks like pure political vengeance. A president elected with unprecedented public support who promises to be a leader for all has, actually, been as unilateral, uncommunicative and uncompromising as the very past presidents he criticizes. The Blue House has a finger in every pie and cabinet ministers don’t have a lot to do.
Despite a rather rapid train wreck on the jobs and incomes front, the Blue House says it has no need to rethink its policies. Jang Ha-sung, the president’s policy chief who blamed past governments for the poor economic conditions, said he, too, had been surprised by the steep rise in minimum wage. Even as he lives in the posh neighborhood of Gangnam, southern Seoul, where real estate prices are skyrocketing, Jang said not everyone has to live in Gangnam. The Blue House, government and ruling party are on parallel lines that will never meet over ways to address real estate problems.
Approval ratings usually slide. It does not mean that support for the opposition has gone up. The ruling party, however, must not underestimate public concern. It is difficult to win public confidence back. Without public support, a government loses impetus especially on needed reforms. The president still has nearly four years left in his term. There is work to be done, and important work.
The president and his aides must pay attention to the reasons that are causing the approval ratings to collapse. They must become humble and engaged as they had promised to be at the beginning. They must admit the economy and livelihoods of the people have deteriorated. There will be no stop to the downward spiral in the polls if they do not change.
JoongAng Sunday, Sept. 8, Page 34