The Democratic Deficit in South Korea



Democracy in South Korea: Consolidated but in Deficit
The Institute of Korean Studies
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Since its most recent transition to democracy in 1987, South Korea has become a modern and prosperous liberal democracy. However, the authors argue that in spite of significant advances since the late 1980s, the country is suffering from an increasing democratic deficit.

Voter turnout has been steadily declining over the last 25 years and has not risen above 60% since 1996. Similarly, South Koreans' trust in their government has also been declining, reaching just 19% in the Inter-Parliamentary Union public opinion poll in 2009, far below the surveyed country average of 44%.

For this paper, Yun and Min conducted a survey to measure people's 'political efficacy' (their capacity and desire to participate in politics) and their perception of the democratic performance of their governments. An individual would feel 'a serious democratic deficit if she has a strong sense of political efficacy and a low level of satisfaction with the function of democratic governance'.

The results of the survey found a significant democratic deficit in South Korea. Other key findings include:

  • Younger people had a much stronger feeling of democratic deficit than the elderly
  • Those with higher levels of education had a higher perception of deficit
  • A higher sense of deficit correlated quite strongly with subjective measures of the economy such as: Is there a 'fair distribution of wealth' in the country?; and how an individual's 'home economy' had been recently performing.

The authors argue that while South Korea is a well-established and consolidating liberal democracy, there needs to be a better balance between its citizens' desire for greater input into democratic governance and the capacity of its political institutions to receive that input.


Thumbnail image: South Korean President Park Geun-hye. By Republic of Korea/Flickr


Seongyi Yun

Kyung Hee University

Hee Min

Kyung Hee University

South Korea
Published Date
April 1, 2012