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Moon’s ratings fall on fading COVID-19 effect

President’s ratings and COVID-19 fears inversely proportional

President Moon Jae-in. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in. (Yonhap)

President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings that had risen to a 10-month high in May, appear to be on a downward trend, as local politics, which was overshadowed by the country’s fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, returned to public attention.

Various polls conducted in the first week of June showed that Moon’s ratings have dipped, with some putting the figure at below 60 percent.

Gallup Korea poll for the first week of the month put his approval rating at 62 percent, down 3 percentage points from the previous week, and 9 percentage points down from the 71 percent recorded in the first week of May. Along with the drop in the approval rating, the proportion of those negatively assessing Moon’s performance rose from 25 percent to 27 percent.

The changes are thought to have been prompted by the scandal surrounding Rep. Yoon Mi-hyang, and criticism over the ruling Democratic Party’s response.

Yoon is accused of misusing funds raised for victims of sexual enslavement by Japan during its occupation of the Korean Peninsula. When the allegations surfaced, the ruling party was slow to respond convincingly and some ruling bloc figures including lawmakers reacted by raising speculations about the motives of Lee Yong-soo -- one of the last surviving victims who raised allegations against Yoon.

In the latest Gallup poll, 4 percent of those who negatively assessed Moon cited the Yoon scandal. In the previous poll, the figure was 3 percent.

While the scandal appears to have had an impact, the Korean leader’s ratings have shown inverse correlation to public fears of contracting COVID-19.

In the final week of February, when disapproval outpaced approval by the largest gap this year -- 51 percent negative to 42 percent approval rating -- the most commonly cited reason for the negative assessment was the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In contrast, it was the mostly commonly cited reason for approving Moon’s performance in polls, far ahead of negative assessments. In the poll conducted in the first week of May, Moon’s approval rating was 71 percent, while only 21 percent said that they disapproved of his performance.

In the poll, 53 percent of those approving of Moon chose the government’s COVID-19 response as their reason for support.

In the final poll of February, the Gallup poll showed that the proportion of Koreans saying that they are concerned that will contract COVID-19 had peaked at 77 percent. In the following weeks the figure gradually dropped, reaching 55 percent in the first week of May.

Over the same period, Moon’s approval ratings followed an opposite pattern, going from 42 percent to 71 percent.

In the four weeks since, the proportion of Koreans concerned that they will contract the disease has declined, while Moon’s approval rating dropped.

By Choi He-suk (