February 22, 2016 | By Karl Friedhoff

Update: South Korean Public Opinion on the Closure of Kaesong

South Korean officials check a vehicle carrying a products made in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

In a previous blog post, I wrote about South Korea’s unilateral shut down of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. At the time, the poll conducted by Realmeter on February 11 was the only one available. In it, the South Korean public was nearly evenly split on the closure, with 48 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed. But Gallup Korea recently released its poll conducted February 16-18, and it finds much clearer support for the closure of the business park. In this more recent survey, 55 percent favored its closure while 33 percent opposed. But the drivers of this shift are not clear.

Arguably, the differences may not even be significant. The polls came from different polling firms, conducted on different days, with different sample sizes (511 for Realmeter versus 1,006 for Gallup Korea). But the results of the Gallup Korea poll make for far better optics for the South Korean government.  

The primary driver of the difference appears to arise from the response options used in the surveys—the question wording itself is roughly the same. In the Realmeter poll which found a 48/44 split, the response option that favored closing the park posited that the profits for the North Korean regime were being diverted into the North’s weapons program. The response option for opposition highlighted the fact that the park’s closure would damage the South Korean businesses with operations at Kaesong.

In contrast, the Gallup Korea poll—which found a 55/33 split in favor—used basic favor or opposed response options without establishing conditions for the response. There was no reminder that money may have been diverted. And there was no mention of the loss for South Korean business.

At this point, given all the variables, it is difficult to say if this is a real shift in South Korea towards favoring the closure of Kaesong. But the fact that a nearly even split seems to be the baseline should be good news for the Park administration.

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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.

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