Saenuri leader’s popularity soars after by-election

By: Kim Hyo-jin

Riding on the back of his party’s landslide victory in the April 29 by-elections, Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung’s approval rating is at an all-time high, according to a recent poll.

On Monday, polling agency Realmeter put Kim’s approval rating at 19.2 percent, 5.7 percentage points higher than the previous week.

This also broke his highest record, 18.5 percent in the first week of last October and narrowed the gap with his potential contender Moon Jae-in, leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

In contrast, Moon’s popularity has fallen, with ratings of 24.8 percent in the same survey, 1.9 percentage points lower than the previous week, and a drop for two consecutive weeks.

The poll showed that Kim is narrowing the difference with Moon who has been in the lead for 14 consecutive weeks in a list of nine presidential hopefuls from rival parties.

The survey interviewed 2,500 respondents nationwide, aged 19 and over from Monday to Friday last week within a margin of error of plus or minus 2.0 percent.

The survey showed that Kim overtook Moon on May 1, a day after the by-elections.

The Saenuri Party took three seats in the April 29 by-elections, with four parliamentary seats up for grabs. It was a landslide victory for the ruling party, considering that most of the constituencies were opposition strongholds.

Political watchers interpreted that the public acknowledged Kim’s leadership in the recent election.

“The Saenuri Party’s victories have extra significance, given that Kim led the election campaigns without the support of President Park Geun-hye, who wields considerable influence in the conservative bloc,” said Yoon Hee-woong, a senior researcher at Opinion Live.

“Also he proved himself as a capable leader, driving the party to win the election even when it was hit hard by the bribery scandal,” he added.

Yoon expects that Kim’s popularity will continue potentially making him a strong presidential candidate.

Chung Goon-gi, political professor at Hongik University also said that the results of the survey showed the public’s positive response to Kim’s strategy in the election. “His arduous support for the party candidates in the election has appealed to people,” he said.

However, Chung believes that Kim’s popularity is not on stable ground. “It is likely to tumble depending on how well he responds to criticism against public servants pension deal,” he said.

In the meantime, President Park Geun-hye’s approval rating bounced back, with ratings of 39.4 percent, 2.6 percent higher than the previous week.

Park’s popularity declined for three consecutive weeks, hit by the bribery scandal involving deceased Keangnam Enterprises Chairman Sung Woan-jong and a number of figures from the governing camp.