April 16, 2018 | By Karl Friedhoff

The Reunification Spectrum for South Koreans

With the South Korea-North Korea summit scheduled for April 27, it is a good time to revisit the question that often comes up when discussing the two Koreas: Do South Koreans even want to reunify? The answer is, as with many difficult questions, complicated.

At the most basic level, South Koreans want reunification to take place. According to Gallup Korea, since 2001 over 70 percent of South Koreans have said that Korea should be reunified. In 2018, that number was 78 percent. The catch is when that reunification should take place. Six in ten (61%) want reunification to take place gradually, with only 17 percent preferring rapid reunification.

This makes sense. The most likely scenario which leads to rapid reunification is the collapse of North Korea. What such a collapse would entail is unclear, but there is high probability of chaos that could spill over into South Korea. But gradual reunification is highly unlikely to take place. North Korea is stable, nuclear-armed, and likely unwilling to seek a negotiated reunification with the South.

Of course, the form of reunification is also important. In a recent survey conducted by MBC and Korea Research just 8 percent want to see the current political situation continue—the Koreas as two independent countries. That fits with the above finding that nearly eight in ten currently support reunification. But there is also little appetite for full reunification. Just 22 percent favor that outcome. Instead, a majority (52%) support a form of integration that allows for freedom to visit and increasing exchanges. (A further 15 percent prefer a confederation, allowing both countries to keep their own systems under one flag.)

The upcoming summit will likely do little to shift the attitudes of the South Korean public when it comes to reunification. A quick reunification will continue to be the least favored option, with more wanting to take a wait and see approach. President Moon’s pragmatic approach, as covered in last week’s post, means he will focus on increasing inter-Korean exchanges, including family reunions.

But the South Korean public is experienced enough to know that the long-term success of inter-Korean relations is out of the hands of South Korea. Instead, it will rely on a cooperative North Korea. Given history, that cooperation is unlikely to last. And when North Korea leaves the table, South Koreans will probably shift once again towards viewing the status quo as the best option on the Korean Peninsula.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

Archive

| By Dina Smeltz, Karl Friedhoff

On Terrorism, Americans See No End in Sight

The June 10-27 Chicago Council Survey finds that the American public considers international terrorism to be the most critical threat facing the nation. In combating terrorism Americans say that almost all options should be on the table, yet a large majority expect that occasional acts of terror will be a part of life in the future.


| By Dina Smeltz, Craig Kafura

Americans Support Limited Military Action in Syria

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey, conducted June 10-27, reveals that Americans across partisan lines support limited military actions in Syria that combine air strikes and the use of Special Operations Forces. There are deep partisan divides on accepting Syrian refugees, and widespread skepticism toward arming anti-government groups or negotiating a deal that would leave President Assad in power. 



| By Dina Smeltz, Karl Friedhoff, Craig Kafura

Republicans Back Trump, but Not All of his Policies

If the general election were held today, a solid majority of Republicans (including self-described Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents) say they would vote for Mr. Trump in the presidential contest against Secretary Clinton. But Donald Trump was not the top choice for many Republicans among the full field of primary candidates. While eventually deciding to back Trump, those who were hoping for a different nominee are not endorsing some of Trump’s key positions.


| By Karl Friedhoff

Flare-ups in Taiwan-China Relations Here to Stay

The China-Taiwan relationship may be due for flare-ups in the coming years, and China's recent decision to suspend diplomatic contact with Taiwan could set the tone for the short-term direction of cross-strait relations. But polling suggests that the Taiwanese public prefers a pragmatic approach to relations with China, limiting the publicly palatable options facing Taiwan's President Tsai, Karl Friedhoff writes.


Nuclear Energy: Americans Favor Stagnation

How do Americans feel about nuclear energy? From Chernobyl to Homer Simpson, nuclear energy doesn’t have a stunning reputation, but until recently polls showed a majority of Americans favor its use for energy. In fact it appears that support for nuclear energy is linked with energy availability and that Americans would rather develop other energy sources.






The British Debate on Nuclear Disarmament

Last month the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a UK group founded in 1958, held its largest rally since 1983. Yet disarmament remains unpopular amongst the general public. 



| By Karl Friedhoff

NYPD Union Takes to the Polls

Karl Friedhoff looks at a survey conducted by the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which finds high levels of dissatisfaction among its members. But publicly available surveys of officers appear to be rare.

| By Craig Kafura

O Canada! Public Opinion and the US-Canada Relationship

Canada’s newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, recently enjoyed a successful state visit to the United States. While Canadian prime ministers don’t visit the United States as frequently as they used to, that doesn’t mean American enthusiasm for Canada has flagged.

| By Dina Smeltz

Iran Is Holding Elections, Too

Iran is holding parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections tomorrow. A recent University of Maryland survey of the Iranian public found that six in ten Iranians prefer that most of the parliament to be composed of the supporters of President Hassan Rouhani.