The Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted the 3rd Asan Institute Symposium on the topic of “Party Politics and Opinion Polls in Korea” on September 16, 2010.
In this symposium, Asan Institute Director Hahm Chaibong moderated; Professor Kim Hyung Joon (Myongji University), Professor Moon Woojin (Ajou University), and Professor Park Myoung Ho (Dongguk University) presented; and Dr. Kim Jiyoon (Asan Institute), Senior Secretary for Political Affairs Suh Sung-Kyo (Presidential Office), Gallup Korea Director Heo Jin Jae, and Hong Young Lim (Reporter, Chosun Ilbo) participated as panelists.
Whether opinion poll results should be used toward candidate nomination is a topic that needs to be discussed. Those who advocate the use of opinion polls argue that there is a limit to the bottom-up nomination approach taken by party members, primaries limited to intra-party voting can result in political mobilization, and candidate elected in the primary because of opinion polls can be more competitive in the general election. On the other hand, those who oppose the use of opinion polls in primary elections contend that people who are not aware of or participate in party politics should not be choosing the candidate who will represent the party and opinion polls can encourage candidates to doctor their images for the public and be a victim to populism. Especially when the party platform differs from the public sentiment, opinion polls can help elect a candidate who does not represent the party platform.
Scholars who study polls and party politics and politicians, journalists, and poll workers who witness the impact of opinion polls on electoral races came together to discuss this issue.
Summary of Presentations
Kim Hyung Joon: “Review of the Problems of the Survey Method in Korea and Alternative Way to Search for a Candidate for Public Office”
Professor Kim Hyung Joon emphasized the need to move away from using opinion polls, which are imperfect and have inherent limitations, to elect or support a candidate. He instead called for an open primary in which all voters can participate. Although Professor Kim acknowledged that even open primaries are not a perfect system, since it is based on the democratic principle of political participation, implementing it would be a step forward in the right direction.
Moon Woojin: “The Impact of Opinion Polls on Party Politics: Focusing on the Delegation Problem and Ripple Effect”
Professor Moon Woojin explained the problems of nominating based on opinion poll results and identified the ripple effect caused by these polls as representative democracy’s delegation problem. Professor Moon stated that nominating a candidate based on poll results weakens the party and promotes the independence of individual party members, and that it can also cause problems such as delegation problem in a representative democracy, reduction in political participation or increase in unfair political participation, and weakening of political responsibility.
Park Myoung Ho: “Benefits of Opinion Polls”
Professor Park Myoung Ho stressed that opinion polls be utilized in a limited way in regions in which a party has weak influence to gain support for the party. The party politics environment, which is adjusting to the digital era, needs to be oriented toward “supporter-centered party” rather than “party as an organization” which can be viewed as stable but is actually anachronistic. Professor Park also said that instead of simply avoiding the use of opinion polls in the decision-making process, the party needs to find the equilibrium. If, on the one hand, there is the need to encourage greater openness, democracy, and representation in the nomination process in today’s digital era, there is also the goal of institutionalizing political parties on the other side. Therefore, aligning the goal of institutionalization of parties with the change in party politics environment in a realistic way would be reasonable, according to Professor Park.