The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles that try to capture the voter sentiment in key regions. The following is the first installment on Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, a traditional conservative stronghold. -- Ed.
Ever since the direct presidential election was reinstated in 1987, voters of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, have had a pretty clear idea on which way to vote: conservative.
In the May 9 election, for the first time in three decades, this region of 4.3 million voters may opt for a non-conservative figure -- Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party.
Public opinion polls show that conservative candidates, namely the Liberty Korea Party’s Hong Joon-pyo and the Bareun Party’s Yoo Seong-min rank behind non-conservatives -- centrist Ahn and liberal Moon Jae-in.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party (Yonhap)
Ahn garners the most support in this region, with his rating hovering at 30-40 percent. Moon is behind him with a support rating of about 15-25 percent.
The primary factor for the change was Park Geun-hye, the now-arrested conservative icon who local voters enthusiastically supported to be their president five years ago and who they now view with mixed feelings -- anger, disappointment, regret, sympathy and even undying loyalty.
Park’s impeachment led to the fragmentation of the nation’s right-wing, with at least four presidential candidates proclaiming themselves to be the rightful successors of true conservatism.
Lee Soon-deok, a housewife in Daegu in her 70s, voted for former President Park five years ago, but said she would not give her ballot to the same party’s candidate Hong Joon-pyo this time. His Liberty Korea Party was formerly the Saenuri Party, founded and named by Park.
“Nonetheless, I would never vote for Moon Jae-in because he is the candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea,” Lee told The Korea Herald, hinting that she may vote for Ahn Cheol-soo.
She thinks that many of her acquaintances are also deciding between Ahn and Hong.
Many experts say that senior voters in Daegu-North Gyeongsang, who remain strongly conservative, may opt for strategic voting, to stop liberal front-runner Moon Jae-in from becoming president.
Ahn’s high support among voters in this area is because he appears to be the only candidate who stands a real chance of defeating Moon, they explain.
Among the younger generations, however, the mood is quite different.
Kim Sun-mi, a 40-something salaried worker in Seoul who was born in Daegu, said she was surprised by the changing sentiment of her hometown. “Most of my friends there now support Moon,” she said.
Moon Sang-hwan, who is in his early 30s and self-employed in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province, said he has yet to decide between Moon and Ahn.
“I will make a decision after watching the TV debates.”
Cho Myung-hee, a director for an insurance firm in Daegu who is in her late 30s, said that this election is difficult for her. Cho, who said she previously voted for Park, had joined the candlelight demonstrations against the Park administration in downtown Seoul.
“But my participation (in anti-Park rallies) does not mean that I support Moon,” she said. “Moon could just be an option for me.”
Meanwhile, a male voter in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, noted the popularity of Yoo Seong-min, a minor conservative candidate who is native of Daegu, among some voters. He predicted that for senior voters, it could be a choice between Hong and Yoo.
Daegu-North Gyeongsang’s population of 5.17 million took up 10 percent of the nation’s total population as of February this year. The number of voters is estimated to be proportional.
The size of the population in Daegu-North Gyeongsang is fourth in the nation, following Incheon-Gyeonggi (biggest), Seoul (second) and Busan-South Gyeongsang.
The figure of 5.17 million is also equivalent to the collective population (5.22 million) of the liberals’ home turf, comprised of the Gwangju, South and North Jeolla provinces.