Poll shows no clear frontrunner for 2022 presidential race

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Poll shows no clear frontrunner for 2022 presidential race


From left: Lee Nak-yon, Rhyu Si-min, Park Won-soon

No single candidate stands out among the potential presidential contenders for 2022, according to a New Year’s poll from the JoongAng Ilbo released on Wednesday.

With support for President Moon Jae-in dipping to a new low of 45.9 percent as he enters his third year in office, large swaths of the electorate want the opposition to take power. Around 38 percent of respondents said they wanted the opposition to seize power in 2022, while 42 percent said they’d rather see the ruling party remain in power.

Korea has a presidential system of five-year terms with no option of re-election.

Traditionally conservative-leaning regions like Daegu and North and South Gyeongsang favored a shift, while preference for the Democratic Party in power prevailed among respondents in Seoul, Gyeonggi and the Jeolla region.

Perhaps as a reflection of such mixed results, uncertainty loomed as to who would succeed Moon. The survey examined support for 20 leading presidential contenders from the left and right.


From left: Hwang Kyo-ahn, Oh Se-hoon, Hong Joon-pyo

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon led the field of 10 liberal contenders with the support of 20.6 percent, closely followed by former Welfare Minister Rhyu Si-min at 17.8 percent and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon at 16.8 percent. The rest trailed by a wide margin. In the conservative camp, former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn captured 21.8 percent, former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon had 17.7 percent and former Liberty Korea Party (LKP) Chairman Hong Joon-pyo was in third with 12.3 percent support.

Among the liberals, Rhyu’s sudden rise to second place stands out. As the only figure on the list not currently in politics, Rhyu received the highest support from those in their 20s and 30s, with his favorability lower among older age groups. Prime Minister Lee’s ratings showed the opposite. He received the greatest support (18.4 percent) from those in their 60s and above.

Famed for his eloquence and intellectual demeanor, Rhyu was one of former President Roh Moo-hyun’s closest political allies and served in the cabinet as welfare minister from 2006 to 2007. He spearheaded the creation of the Uri Party in 2003 when large swaths of the then-ruling Millennium Democratic Party sided with the opposition to impeach Roh. He tried his hand at a presidential run as a third-party candidate in 2007, only to bow out with low support.

While he announced his retirement from politics in 2013 after admitting that he failed in his goal of changing Korea’s partisan system, Rhyu became a television personality and pundit. His appointment as chairman of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation in October last year was seen by many as a signal that he might return to politics, despite having said he would never run for public office again.

Rhyu reportedly asked not to be included in any presidential polls, but the JoongAng Ilbo included him in the survey based on favorability data from the National Election Commission.

For the conservative contenders, poll results varied greatly depending on the type of respondents surveyed.

Former Prime Minister Hwang enjoyed strong support from respondents who favor an opposition victory in the next presidential elections, primarily due to his loyalty to former President Park Geun-hye, who many conservative voters feel has been wrongly impeached and jailed. The major opposition LKP is currently dominated by a faction loyal to the former president and will likely back Hwang or another pro-Park candidate in the upcoming leadership race for the party slated for this February.

But when accounting for liberal and conservative respondents, a plurality of 16.9 percent picked Rep. Yoo Seong-min as the leading conservative contender. Yoo was labeled a traitor by Park Geun-hye when he defied her as floor leader of the Saenuri Party, the LKP’s predecessor, in 2015. He is currently a member of the Bareunmirae Party, the second-biggest opposition party, but the party’s chances in the 2020 legislative elections look grim as its support is in the single digits.

Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon ranked second among conservative contenders among all respondents. Oh returned to the LKP recently after years of silence following an ignominious resignation as mayor in 2011. Oh is widely believed to be gearing up for a party leadership bid in February and has been seen greeting all of the LKP’s representatives in the National Assembly. Provided he wins that bid and leads the party to victory in the upcoming legislative elections, Oh will likely seek the presidency in 2022.

Figures like former LKP chairman Hong Joon-pyo - whose YouTube channel is winning the online ratings battle among politicians - and Ahn Cheol-soo - who twice received crushing defeats in the presidential and Seoul mayor elections - also gained notable support in the poll. Elderly respondents, from whom conservatives draw the bulk of their support, preferred Hwang or Oh.

The poll surveyed 1,000 respondents selected proportionally from across the country from Dec. 26 to 27 last year. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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