I. Introduction

There is no shortage of analysis about the evolving threat posed by the insufferable regime in North Korea; however, our understanding of the morphology of South Korean public attitudes on this subject still needs improvement. Most accounts of public opinion on the growing North Korean threat are episodic and limited in scope when the reality is more complex. Our review of the latest data on South Korean public opinion suggests many layers to the on-the-ground perspectives about North Korea.1

Some South Koreans support closer relations with Pyongyang while others see it as a growing threat. On some issues, South Korean public opinion looks quite robust and not prone to much change. Still, on other issues, we see wide swings and variations across time and demographic characteristics. In short, our findings show South Korean public opinion on North Korea is both sophisticated and complex. This report attempts to clarify and explain the intricacies of this reality.

While public opinion need not necessarily drive policy, established literature suggests political exigency influenced by popular sentiments can shape policy.2 To gather the most current South Korean public opinion on North Korea and deterrence, we conducted a survey in November 2022. Some questions in our survey are novel, but most of them are similar to the ones we have asked in the past. While the former will shed light on recent developments, the latter will prove helpful in tracking changes in sentiments over time.


Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Context Matters

III. Views on North Korea
   1. Image of North Korea
   2. North Korea as a Security Risk

IV. Threat Perception
   1. Perceptions about the North Korean Nuclear Threat

V. Responding to the North Korean Nuclear Threat
   1. U.S. Extended Deterrence
   2. Addressing the North Korea Security Challenge
   3. Nuclear Options and THAAD

VI. Conclusion
Survey Methodology
Appendix I: Asan Poll Questionnaire (November 2022)
Appendix II: Survey on Indigenous Nuclear Weapons Development


The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

  • 1. J. James Kim, Kang Chungku, and Ham Geon Hee. Fundamentals of South Korean Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and National Security. Asan Report. The Asan Institute for Policy Studies. September 13, 2021; South Koreans and Their Neighbors 2022. Asan Poll. The Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
  • 2. James A. Stimson, Michael B. MacKuen, and Robert S. Erikson. 1995. “Dynamic Representation.” American Political Science Review, 89: 543-65; Paul Burstein. 2003. “The Impact of Public Opinion on Public Policy: A Review and an Agenda.” Political Research Quarterly. 56(1): 29-40; Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1993. “Effects of Public Opinion on Policy.” American Political Science Review. 77: 175-90.

About Experts

J. James Kim
J. James Kim

Center for Regional Studies

Dr. J. James KIM is the senior research fellow and director of the Center for Regional Studies at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies (Seoul). He is also a lecturer in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Previously, Dr. Kim was an assistant professor of political science at the California State Polytechnic University (Pomona). He also served as a summer research associate at the RAND Corporation and as a statistical consultant for the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Planning at Columbia University. His primary research interests include national security, energy, public opinion, democracy, and methodology. Dr. Kim received a B.S. and M.S. in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University.

Kang Chungku
Kang Chungku

Public Opinion Studies Team

Mr. Kang Chungku is a principal research associate working on public opinion surveys and data analysis at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Mr. Kang has led the Asan Institute’s Annual Survey series, “South Koreans and Their Neighbors,” for the past decade and he also undertakes regular surveys into key foreign policy issues facing South Korea. He also supports the Institute’s researchers with quantitative data analysis. Prior to joining the Asan Institute, he was a research assistant at the Korea Dialogue Academy in Seoul. His research interests include quantitative research methods, survey design, and statistical data analysis. Mr. Kang received his B.A. in English and M.A. in Sociology at Korea University.

Ham Geon Hee
Ham Geon Hee

Public Opinion Studies Team

Ham Geon Hee is a senior research associate at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Prior to joining the Asan Institute, he worked at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) and the Research Institute of Applied Statistics at Sungkyunkwan University. He received a B.S. in Information and Mathematics from Korea University and a M.S. in Statistics from Sungkyunkwan University. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Statistics at Sungkyunkwan University. His research interests include mixture models, incomplete data analysis, and methodology.