Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Local Economic Voting and Residence-Based Regionalism in South Korea: Evidence from the 2007 Presidential Election

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Local Economic Voting and Residence-Based Regionalism in South Korea: Evidence from the 2007 Presidential Election

Article excerpt


Regional bloc voting in South Korea has been ascribed to voters' psychological attachments to birthplace. This article seeks to expand the existing discussion of regionalism by showing that economic conditions in voters' places of residence affect vote choices at the individual level and produce clustering of votes at the aggregate level in South Korea. While the idea of residence-based regionalism has previously been suggested, empirical scrutiny of the idea has been limited. Exploiting a Bayesian multilevel strategy, this article provides evidence that short-term economic changes at the province level affected voters' choices in the 2007 presidential election in South Korea, independent of the long-term political affiliation between regional parties and their constituents. The positive association between local economic conditions and vote choices remains significant, controlling for perceptions of national economic conditions and other individual level covariates such as age and political attitudes.


local economic voting, residence-based regionalism, South Korea, Bayesian multilevel analysis


Studies of economic voting have recently expanded in geographic scope to include newly democratized countries. Evidence of an economic rationale underpinning vote choice in these countries, however, is mixed at best (Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2008). In general, making incumbents accountable for their performance can be more difficult in new democracies, as voters may lack sufficient information or struggle to evaluate the state of the economy (Anderson 2007). In a similar vein, the low level of party system institutionalization (Mainwaring 1999; Zielinski, Slomczynski, and Shabad 2005) and an absence of programmatic links between parties and voters (Kitschelt 2000) in new democracies make it difficult for voters to determine to whom they should ascribe economic conditions.

South Korea is not an exception. Existing studies find only mixed evidence that voters in South Korea respond to economic conditions. For example, Kim (1993) and Pak (1993) find no significant effect of economic issues on the fourteenth presidential election races in 1992. On the other hand, Lee (2008) and Kwon (2008) claim that concerns about the national economy dominated other issues in the seventeenth presidential election in 2007. The lack of evidence of pocketbook and sociotropic voting, however, does not indicate that voters in South Korea are not concerned about economic conditions. Given that party competition in South Korea follows a regional cleavage, regions are likely to serve as a midway point of reference between the national economy and the personal economic circumstances that voters may consider in making their voting decisions. Therefore, efforts to examine whether voters respond to economic conditions should address whether or not they express concerns about the state of the regional economy.

It is not a novel suggestion that voters consider local economic conditions when deciding whether to vote for the government or the opposition (Cutler 2002,2007). Geography is often the basis for interactions between voters and political agents. In a legislative body, representatives are often elected to represent the interests of constituents who reside within a certain geographic boundary. The executive branch forms and implements public policy based on administrative boundaries, meaning voters face systematically different economic and policy outcomes. From the perspective of voters, therefore, whether a representative brings resources to their place of residence is one of the most important considerations by which they can evaluate his or her performance (Levitt and Snyder 1995). Thus, models of tactical targeting claim that governments tactically redistribute resources across different geographic units (Dixit and Londregan 1996; Lindbeck and Weibull 1993). …

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