We’re now peering down the barrel of the next US presidency, and when the hammer drops on election night on November 8, the report of the gun will reach the farthest doorstep, but a startling number of Koreans seem to have already turned away.
A survey commissioned by the South China Morning Post covering six Asian nations found Japanese and Koreans showed the least interest in the presidential race. Forty-four per cent of Koreans surveyed said they were not following it at all. At the same time, Koreans seemed to disapprove of Republican candidate Donald Trump the most.
Only 7 per cent said they favoured him, the lowest of all nations surveyed, with respondents viewing him as morally unfit to hold office (58 per cent), unpredictable (58 per cent) and divisive (52 per cent).
They said what mattered most in a US president was his or her impact on the economy (47 per cent) and ability to provide “security cooperation” (38 per cent). Trump has not only stated his intention to walk away from trade deals with Korea but to abandon military partnerships in Asia.
So if Koreans dislike Trump so much, why do so many say they aren’t paying attention? One reason could be because they have no one to rally around this time. While 63 per cent held a “very unfavourable” view of Trump, when it came to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, most respondents hovered in the middle, with 37 per cent “somewhat favourable” and 38 per cent neither favourable nor unfavourable. As much of the race has centred on domestic issues, many may feel it will not affect them.
“Koreans have other important and difficult issues such as the North Korean problem, economic difficulties and Korean domestic political issues,” said Park Myoung-kyu, professor of political sociology at Seoul National University. “Koreans tend to think that US foreign policy does not drastically change according to US domestic politics.”
The Koreans’ own “domestic political issues” have become particularly pronounced in recent weeks as the people are waking up to headlines telling them a religious cult may have been running the country for years, that a woman named Choi Soon-sil, possibly the cult’s leader, has bullied the nation’s most powerful conglomerates out of tens of millions of dollars, and that a cabal known as the “Eight Fairies” may have been manipulating state affairs.
Koreans care greatly about the impact of the election on their economic and military ties with the United States. That’s precisely why they dislike Trump so much. “Trump is quite notorious in Korea,” said Erica Lee, a research specialist at Gallup Korea, pointing to a recent WIN/Gallup International survey of 1,004 Koreans that found Koreans believed the election would have a “high impact on Korea in many ways”.
So when the muzzle flash goes off on November 8, you can bet Koreans will be watching, but until then, not even the juiciest scandal is likely to turn many heads. After all, who needs Trump when you have Choi?
David Volodzko is the national editor at the Korea JoongAng Daily