Presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in widened his lead over centrist Ahn Cheol-soo in a new poll published Thursday ahead of the May 9 vote.
Moon of the liberal Democratic Party garnered 44.4 percent, while Ahn of the center-left People's Party gained 22.8 percent, according to the Realmeter survey conducted from Monday through Wednesday.
Both candidates lost points from last week, but Ahn fell by more, widening the margin from 18.3 points to 21.6 points. Moon lost 2.3 points while Ahn lost 5.6.
South Korea's leading presidential candidates pose for a photo at their fourth TV debate held in Goyang, northwest of Seoul on April 25, 2017. From left are Hong Joon-pyo, Ahn Cheol-soo, Sim Sang-jeung, Moon Jae-in and Yoo Seong-min. (Yonhap)
Ahn appeared to have lost some of his older and more conservative supporters. Among voters in their 50s, his approval slipped 5.1 points to 28.9 percent; among voters aged 60 and over, his support fell 4.5 points to 37.3 percent; while among conservatives, his rating declined 9.2 points to 25.1 percent.
Ahn's camp attributed the fall to the candidate's apparent focus on attacking his rivals during the third presidential TV debate held Sunday.
"Sunday's debate was a fatal blow," an official of his campaign told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity. "He didn't come across positively in the debate, which led the (southeastern) Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province to turn their backs on him, while the (liberal stronghold) Honam seems to demonstrate a bandwagon effect (in Moon's favor)."
Ahn, a former software mogul and co-founder of his party, "fought well" in the fourth TV debate on Tuesday, but its effect has yet to be reflected in opinion surveys, the official added.
Meanwhile, Moon maintained his lead for the 17th consecutive week. He also led in all regions except the northeastern province of Gangwon and in all age groups except voters aged 60 and over.
Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party stood in third place with 13 percent, up 2.5 points from last week. Sim Sang-jeung of the minor progressive Justice Party climbed 2.9 points to 7.5 percent, her personal record. Yoo Seong-min of the splinter conservative Bareun Party also posted a personal record of 5.4 percent after gaining 0.5 point.
Hong absorbed more of the conservative vote, rising 6.3 points to 18.3 percent among voters in their 50s, 6.4 points to 27.6 percent among voters aged 60 and over, and 8 points to 38.5 percent among conservatives.
He may have benefited from the last presidential debate during which he expressed a negative view of homosexuality and cited former strongman Park Chung-hee as his role model, both of which could have struck a chord with conservatives.
Sim and Yoo have also received praise for their eloquent and professional delivery during the debates.
The survey was conducted on 1,520 voters nationwide and has a margin of error of 2.5 points at a 95 percent confidence level. (Yonhap)