The S Korean Presidential Election: A Third-Party Leftist Candidate Threw the Election to the Right

South Korea's new president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, celebrates his victory outside his People Power Party's headquarters in Seoul on Thursday. | AFP-JIJIThis is a local re-post of a column I wrote for the Japan Times on the election.

Basically, the left should have won. Its combined vote total was 1.5% greater than the right’s. But that vote was split over two parties (47.83% and 2.33%), with a small left-alternative party pulling away enough votes for the right (48.56%) to win the election.

As I argue in this Twitter thread, this election is a textbook example of Duverger’s Law and strategic voting in action. Whenever I discuss this in class, students always complain about strategic voting. The voters hate it. Everyone wants to vote their heart (sincere voting). But in a plurality race, that is a great way to throw the election to the other side.

In fact, the irony of sincere voting is that your precisely your enthusiasm to pull policy further to the left (in this case) by voting for the left-alternative party actually pushes policy to the right. That is, South Korea’s most convinced leftists delivered the country a right-wing government.

There are alternatives, like proportional representation (like in Germany) or double balloting (like in France). But that usually requires constitutional changes, so it’s best to follow the math not ideology. Which sucks. But I don’t see an alternative.

Here’s that Japan Times essay:

In South Korea’s election this week, the conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, of the People Power Party, defeated progressive Lee Jae-myung by just 0.73%.

Less reported in the international press is the fact that an alternative left-wing candidate, Sim Sang-jung, also ran. She received 2.33% of the vote, which almost certainly would have gone to Lee, of the ruling Democratic Party, had she not run. Sim “threw” the election to Yoon, as her votes would have given Lee a clear victory margin.

South Korean presidential elections reward the candidate with the most votes. This plurality requirement strongly encourages all voters on the right and left to converge around one unity candidate for each side. Small-party candidates can pull away votes from an ideologically similar, large-party candidate who might otherwise win.

Please read the rest here.

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