On April 15th, South Korea held parliamentary elections, which resulted in a large victory for the incumbent President's Minjoo party. Fears of infection due to the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly lowered voter turnout in other countries, for example, the French local elections in the middle of March saw an estimated 45.5% turnout compared to 63.55% in 2014, a drop of around 30%.

Despite these fears, the South Korean elections saw a turnout of 66.2%, higher than in any parliamentary election since 1992. What factors led to this record turnout? I'm not very familiar with South Korean politics - was there a specific non-pandemic related issue in play which boosted turnout? Were there measures in place to enforce social distancing which perhaps soothed voters' fears?

  • 3
    I should note that some news said that there were zero infections attributed to participation in the election, i.e. the social distancing measures taken for the election were 100% effective! (The South Koreans were pretty good at contact tracing etc., so this last claim/figure is fairly believable.) Commented May 7, 2020 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


First I will point out that turnout in South Korea in general is very high, for example, over 77% in the 2017 presidential election.

As for why the turnout in this particular off-year election was nonetheless remarkably high even by South Korean standards, all of the commentary I am seeing emphasizes the government's record on managing the pandemic and its efforts to contain the risks posed by voting. I've not seen anyone pointing to any other significant issue. In fact, support for the ruling Democratic Party was weaker before the pandemic. I don't find this surprising at all personally, but the professional analysts do seem a bit baffled in some cases.

To start with an early example before the results were in, from the AP:

While South Korea’s electorate is deeply divided along ideological and generational lines and regional loyalties, recent surveys showed growing support for Moon and his liberal party, reflecting public approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program credited with lowering fatality rates for the coronavirus compared to China, Europe and North America.


Analysts struggled to find explanations for the unexpectedly high turnout. Some simply gave up.

“Sorry, I really don’t have any theory for this,” said Yul Shin, a professor at Seoul’s Myongji University. “When turnouts are high, voters are usually trying to lay down judgment on a government that disappoints them. But the exit polls predict a crushing win for the ruling party.

From Politico:

Analysts struggled to explain the surprisingly high turnout. Some said fear and alertness over the pandemic may have driven voters to support Moon’s government so it could fight the virus and its impact with more political stability.

Before the virus began absorbing public attention, Moon’s support was faltering over a decaying job market, corruption scandals surrounding key political allies and troubled ties with rival North Korea.

But surveys ahead of the polls indicated growing support, reflecting public approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program credited with lowering fatality rates for Covid-19 compared to China and some places in Europe and North America.

From CNN:

Voters CNN talked to ahead of the election were supportive of the decision to go ahead, and some said the pandemic made voting even more important.

Duyeon Kim, a senior advisor at non-profit International Crisis Group, said without the pandemic, it might have been a harder race for Moon's party. But during the campaign, the Democratic Party played up the government's response to the coronavirus.

"This tells other world leaders that how they respond to their own crisis could make or break their political fortunes because the pandemic is at the top of everyone's mind, most likely eclipsing other issues that would normally determine votes," Kim said.

I've yet to see any analyst with a fundamentally different narrative.

  • 1
    So some kind rally-round-flag, also manifesting as turnout. Commented May 7, 2020 at 20:37
  • 1
    @Fizz Add onto that the fact that the pandemic was under control so there was no real additional risk to voting.
    – divibisan
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 21:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .