Yoon needs a higher approval rating
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Yoon Suk-yeol responded to reporters by saying they could not find more able government ministers when his ministerial choices were questioned. During a workshop with ministers and vice ministers, he bragged that the government could not have been better formed. But the public hardly agrees. The negative approval of his performance has broken 60 percent. The honeymoon for Yoon is over. Police have taken action to resist the government’s move to control them by creating a police administration bureau inside the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, and some in the opposition party are already floating the idea of impeaching the conservative president only two months after he came into office. President Yoon has not done anything greatly wrong. But everything has a reason. The biggest fallout has been with appointments of government ministers.
Even if Yoon is not wrong, his comments could be politically controversial. His action also bodes badly for social unity which serves as a strong impetus in political power. An acquaintance from the Jeolla region cannot understand Yoon’s neglect of figures from South Jeolla and Gwangju in his Cabinet.
Yoon says he does not mind his low approval rating. The People Power Party (PPP) asks for more patience as the Yoon administration has only begun. But if the government does not gain public support, its reform drive will most likely lose steam.
If low expectations become a fixture, a negative outcome may not be avoided. In contrast, high expectations can lead to improved performance as in the Pygmalion effect, named after a sculptor in Greek mythology who fell so much in love with his beautiful statue he had created that the statue came to life after the god granted his wishes.
Harvard University Professor and Psychologist Robert Rosenthal proved the self-fulfilling prophecy in the classroom. After researchers gave a list of the names of students who were randomly selected after an IQ test to their teacher and told the teacher their test scores will get better, they indeed performed better than the other group. The research led to the conclusion that teacher expectations had a positive effect on students or they would have tried to live up to the expectations. Whether it be good or bad, self-fulfilling prophesy is often realized.
If the government is applauded, it can gain strength to see through achievements. If the government is scorned repeatedly, it would become self-conscious and passive. It could wither in its drive to reform unpopular agenda items of labor, pensions and education. You can hardly push reforms in those areas without public support. Such government failures could translate into damage to the people.
The Yoon administration is just at the starting point. It is busy forming public-private councils in each sector for its reform drive. But the results are uncertain. Even if the reform outline is well packaged, you cannot see if they really can be implemented by those bureaucrats who are used to the every five-year ritual from the change of government. The plan with a good direction cannot take off unless it resolves resistance from interest groups. It is imperative for the government to improve Yoon’s approval rating at 30 percent range.
As PPP Chair of Innovation, Choe Jae-hyung pointed out that Yoon’s communication must not appear as arrogant. The president needs to use refined language and modesty. A leader without humility loses the people. Blaming the former government cannot be any help. President Yoon must present a vision and pave the way for the future. He cannot excuse himself by saying he is new to the job as president. Since the president is sure that his cabinet is well-formed, he must beware of the trap of collective mindset. No one among his officials has been raising concerns about the pitiful approval rating, except for Choe.
The Pygmalion effect can only be realized as a result of sincere longing. If Yoon really wants to improve his rating, he must pay heed to the voice of the people. He must find a solution to the appointment debacle and have a dialogue with the public instead of making casual remarks to reporters on his way to work. Yoon must raise his approval rating first to become successful at job.