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2024 – Skepticism clouds young voters

Yu-jin, a 33-year-old office worker in Seoul, has made several plans for April 10, when the nation’s 22nd legislative election is set to take place. But heading to the polls isn’t one of them.

“I’m going to Daegu with my friend to blow off some steam,” Bae told The Korea Herald on Thursday.

“I don’t think I’m going to vote this year. The past few months have been full of fighting and criticizing (between the two rival parties) and I don’t trust lawmakers to make a change anymore,” she added.

Bae is part of a number of voters aged 18 to 39 who either refuse to vote or are just not interested in heading to the polls. In the previous 2020 general election, 52.7 of eligible voters across the country in their 20s and 50.5 percent of those in their 30s cast their votes, compared with 71.7 percent in their 60s and 73.3 percent in their 70s, data by the National Election Commission showed.

Many of them also have yet to decide which party to support. A Gallup Korea poll involving 1,001 eligible voters across the country, released Thursday, showed that 38 percent of voters aged 18 to 39 “don’t support any parties,” compared with 27 percent who support the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and 25 percent who support the ruling People Power Party.

The number of Korean nationals aged 18 to 39 heading to the polls is projected to further drop this year, experts say, citing a stronger-than-ever negative campaigning in a polarized political landscape, wearing out young voters.

“Voters in their 20s and 30s currently reject the traditional two party’s negative campaigning strategy, while questioning their ethical standards,” Jaung Hoon, a political science professor at Chung Ang University said.

The Democratic Party of Korea in recent weeks has ramped up its campaign aimed to pass judgment upon the current Yoon Suk Yeol administration, while the People Power Party has been criticizing as scandal-ridden its political rivals including main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung and former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.

“It’s honestly tiring to hear (the rival parties) criticizing each other all the time without making any efforts to make real improvements to key issues, such as the country’s low birth rate,” Eom Tae-min, a 28-year-old engineer in Seoul said.

“And they also fail to uphold their pledges in the first place,” he added.

According to data released by political watchdog the Korea Manifesto Center, 225 lawmakers who were elected from their constituencies in 2020 only half or 51.83 percent of their election pledges announced during campaign season. The data excluded lawmakers who refused to reveal related information or who earned their seats through proportional representation. The corresponding figures for the lawmakers who were elected in 2016 and 2012, came to 46.8 percent and 51.24 percent, respectively.

Despite the growing skepticism, experts warned that young voters must head to the polls to fight for their rights in a democratic society.

“Young voters must find their voice and express what they want through voting, or else they will just be on the sidelines of the politics,” Lee Jong-hoon, a political commentator said.

Jaung expressed optimism for the role of young voters in the upcoming election, saying “the growing negativity doesn’t always translate into disinterest in politics.”

Meanwhile, the rival parties recently rolled out competing pledges to lure young voters.

PPP interim leader Han Dong-hoon pledged Wednesday to establish a government agency that caters to the needs of Koreans in their 20s and 30s, while the Democratic Party vowed to launch a program that would provide affordable housing for university students.

In its second briefing analyzing the election held Thursday, the Democratic Party said it is projected to take at least solid 110 seats of the 300-member National Assembly, but could earn 50 additional seats if they win in the swing districts.

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