South Korea is being hit hard by coronavirus. There are currently 2,337 cases and 13 deaths as a result from the illness. Its spread has come quickly in the southern city of Daegu, leading to increasing criticism of President Moon Jae-in who said the outbreak would “disappear” just days before confirmed infections began to skyrocket. (Here’s a full overview of how South Korea got to this point.)
With the April 15 National Assembly election looming, opposition politicians smell weakness and are circling. Media outlets will revert to the claims that President Moon’s approval ratings are flagging. But it is worth looking at the most recent data to see just what affect this has had on South Korean attitudes as the outbreak continues.
President Moon’s approval rates have declined from 45 percent last week to 42 percent this week according to a Gallup Korea survey conducted from February 25-27. Given the dates of the survey, the data should fully reflect attitudes on how the president is perceived to be handling the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. But more importantly, that decline is within the margin of error. Moreover, President Moon’s approval rates have been incredibly stable over the past year, generally fluctuating in a band between 40 percent and 45 percent.
President’s Moon disapproval rates are up, from 46 percent on February 21 to 51 percent in the most recent survey. Again, this seems to part of a normal fluctuation. Disapproval rates were at 53 percent in October and at 49 percent just a few weeks ago. Importantly, there was virtually no movement among partisans in terms of approval or disapproval. Disapproval is up among those aged 18-29, from 36 percent last week to 50 percent this week. Other age groups are relatively stable. There was also a jump in disapproval from those in Daegu, jumping from 62 percent to 69 percent. But the biggest moving region was Busan, where disapproval went from 48 percent to 61 percent.
Among those that approve of President Moon’s handling of the job, 30 percent cite his handling of the coronavirus as the reason for that approval. That is the single most important factor listed in the survey. It is down only 4 percentage points from last week. His handling of the coronavirus is also the number one reason for disapproval of his job performance, with 41 percent citing it as the reason for disapproval. That is up from 27 percent last week.
The upshot of these numbers is that President Moon’s approval/disapproval numbers are largely baked in. Among the main opposition party, more than 90 percent already disapproved of his job performance. Among his party, more than 80 percent approved. There could still be downward movement in the weeks to come, but that would require supporters of his own party to begin to turn on him. With a general election just over the horizon, don’t count on it.