While political accountability requires that voters can form an accurate picture of government performance, public evaluations of government performance in established democracies are often distorted by partisan considerations. We test whether the same factors bias evaluations of government performance in a new democracy where partisanship is less stable and defined. This analysis estimates individual-level models of retrospective national economic evaluations in South Korea’s 2017 presidential election. South Korea has unstable party politics, low levels of party institutionalization, and high levels of public distrust in political parties. Yet even in this context we find that voters’ economic evaluations are significantly affected by political loyalties such as party identification. This endogeneity is sufficiently large that it results in aggregate consumer evaluations of the economy that systematically vary across regions depending upon the relationship of the president to that region. The findings confirm that party identification shapes citizen opinions even in a context where its effect would likely be weak.
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See Mattes and Krönke (forthcoming) for a recent exception.
See Online Appendix 1 for a brief history of these party names changes.
The Yeongnam region is the Gyeongsang-do provinces located in the southeastern part of South Korea where former presidents, Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo-hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, and Park Guen-hye are from. The Honam region is the Jeolla-do provinces located in the southwestern part of South Korea and is the hometown of former president Kim Dae-jung who was the most prominent democratic dissident before the nation’s democratization.
Although they merely control for whether the respondent is a strong or weak partisan and do not test if government partisans differ in their perceptions from opposition ones.
The raw data are available at https://www.ksdcdb.kr.
“Would you say that during the past Park administration, the state of the economy in South Korea has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?” Respondents were asked to choose from “Much better,” “Better,” “Same,” “Worse,” “Much worse.” Higher values represent more favorable evaluations of the national economy.
Party Identification: A question asked which party a respondent feels closest to and respondents were asked to choose from 1 = “Democratic Party,” 2 = “Liberty Korea Party,” 3 = “The People’s Party,” 4 = “Bareun Party,” 5 = “Justice Party,” 6 = “Others.” If the respondent said “Liberty Korea Party” they were coded as a ruling party identifier and if they mentioned any other party as an opposition party supporter.
“Which candidate did you vote for in the 18th presidential election? Park Geun-hye, Moon Jae-in, Others, Did not vote.” Those who were ineligible or who don’t remember their vote are excluded.
The substantive results do not change if we instead include dummy variables for each province.
In results not presented here, we tested for whether the effects of party identification and previous vote choice differ by the extent to which voters are sophisticated—across levels of education, political interest, and media usage. None of these potential interactive relationships that some scholars have suggested exist are operating in South Korea.
In that survey we also found that respondents who had voted for the incumbent were more likely to have positive views of the economy but that effect was limited to partisans, as previous vote did not have a significant association with opinions when partisanship was controlled for.
While one could argue that previous vote choice is temporally prior to the present moment and thus should be an exogenous instrument (which is the approach used by Lewis-Beck et al. 2008), we decided to be conservative and focus only on purely exogenous demographics in case there was any reporting bias in reported previous vote.
Inasmuch as regional differences in consumer confidence reflect partisan alignments, it is also evidence that the patterns in Tables 1 and 2 do not reflect survey respondents endogenously changing their partisan attachments as the economy changes. The shift from individual-level to aggregate data in studying endogeneity in accountability estimates is a common approach (e.g. Kramer 1983; Whiteley et al. 2016).
These regional differences exist despite the fact that, as we demonstrate below, the economy was growing faster and business conditions were seen as better in Honam than in Yeongnam for most of Park Geun-hye’s presidency. This suggests that presidents are limited in their ability to target economic benefits for the region where their base is concentrated.
Unfortunately, the data do not have confidence intervals by region and so these differences represent the absolute differences without taking into account sampling variation.
The authors calculated growth relative to the previous year from data on regional GDP using data from the Korean Statistical Information Service (https://kosis.kr). Data were not available after 2017 as we write this.
These monthly measures of business condition are strongly correlated with changes in consumer confidence in both regions (Online Appendix 7). The data are available from the Bank of Korea (https://ecos.bok.or.kr/flex/EasySearch_e.jsp).
A dickey-fuller test on the first differenced series allows us to reject the hypothesis that this series has a unit root.
While election panel surveys have been done in several Latin American contexts (e.g. Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil), these party systems have tended to have higher levels of party-system stability (until recently) than South Korea has.
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The authors thank the Korean Social Science Data Center for making the survey data available; the analysis and the conclusions are the responsibility of the authors. The data and replication code are available on the Political Behavior Dataverse page (https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/LIVEUK).
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Lee, H., Singer, M.M. The Partisan Origins of Economic Perceptions in a Weak Party System: Evidence from South Korea. Polit Behav 44, 341–364 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-020-09622-5