How AI Can Help South Korea’s Political Risk

On April 15, 2020, South Korea’s next legislative election will be held to fill the 300 seats of the National Assembly. While President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party is expected to perform well in the election, the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has sparked public anger over the president’s and the government’s response to the crisis.

President Moon Jae-in’s Crisis Response

The opposition has highlighted President Moon’s perceivably slow response and will continue to do so in the run-up to the election. Additionally, more than 1.3 million South Korean citizens have signed an official online petition demanding President Moon’s removal from office. While this number makes the petition one of the largest in South Korea since 2017, the number is relatively low when considering that South Korea has over 50 million inhabitants. What remains concerning is the influence of the crisis on the Democratic Party’s performance in the election. With news media depicting diverging outlooks for President Moon’s government, an AI-based social media analysis could be a useful tool for risk managers, campaigners, and politicians to assess public sentiment and anticipate election risks.

How the Coronavirus Outbreak Affects South Korean Public Opinion

The number of COVID-19 infections in South Korea remained relatively low at 28 before February 13, 2020. President Moon assumed a positive stance, assuring the public that the situation had stabilized, and the virus would soon vanish. By contrast, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that it was too early to say that South Korea was no longer at risk. Soon after, the coronavirus spread rapidly in the country. At the epicenter of this outbreak was the large, secretive Shincheonji church in Daegu city, which is located approximately 150 miles (240 km) south of the capital Seoul. Religious gatherings allowed the virus to spread quickly in the city and then across the country. By early March 2020, over 6,000 people had been infected and a few dozen people had died, making South Korea one of the world’s most infected countries after China.

Economic Consequences, Public Sentiment, and the Opposition’s Tactic

The South Korean economy has taken a hit since the rapid spread of the coronavirus. International trade with the country’s largest trading partner China has receded significantly. Exports dropped by 6.1% in January 2020 as compared to the same time in 2019 – a decline which was also influenced by the fact that South Koreans worked 2.5 days less due to calendar shifts in the Lunar New Year holiday season. Meanwhile, local businesses such as restaurants, department stores, duty-free retailers, and movie theaters have closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

This economic outlook has caused discontent among South Korean citizens, some of whom also criticize Moon’s government for lacking rigorousness concerning travel regulations. While countries like the US or North Korea have denied entry to Chinese travelers, South Korea only banned travelers from China’s Hubei province where the coronavirus first emerged. While some Chinese cities quarantined South Koreans upon arrival, South Korea had avoided such measures, further fueling public dissatisfaction. The conservative faction has utilized this public sentiment against the Democratic Party and President Moon to win the favor of the public and gain voters during the 2020 election.

AI Implications for South Korea Political Risk

In order to assess the risk levels for the Democratic Party in this situation, artificial intelligence (AI) tools could prove useful. Popular social media platforms in South Korea like Facebook, Naver, or Twitter offer a vast amount of information on public opinion. The processing of large amounts of social media data can help politicians and campaigners evaluate what the public thinks about specific topics and parties and whether these sentiments are positive, negative, or neutral. Political AI-based risk assessments can prove advantageous for understanding the vulnerabilities of a specific party or politician during a campaign. Particularly in times of crises or upheaval, during which public opinion is important for political outcomes, AI tools can produce valuable information. The case of South Korea’s handling of the coronavirus crisis preceding the legislative election exemplifies the relevance of AI risk management tools.

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About the Author

Yasemin Zeisl

Yasemin Zeisl earned her MSc in International Relations and Affairs from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Yasemin is fluent in German and English and possesses advanced Japanese language skills.

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