Now that Ban has thrown his hat into the ring, the question is, can he win?   Ban is currently polling 2nd behind Moon Jae-in (문재인).  However, this is when all likely candidates are considered in a ‘battle royal.‘  Let’s remember that neither Moon nor Ban has officially announced their candidacy; among those polling high, only Lee Jae-myung has done so.  Both Moon and Ban, however, are likely contenders in the 2017 election that is expected to take place around April, provided that Park relinquishes power as expected.

Ban more or less declared his candidacy, "I'm ready to 'set myself on fire' to help the cause of Korean people." YT screen linked to source.

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In the most recent polls conducted by R&Search, Ban trails both Moon and Lee Jae-myung, Seongnam City’s mayor who is currently running 3rd in a wide-open, all-comer race.  These are very early results and caution is always obligatory when examining straw polls.  Like the New Hampshire Primary, they tend to be poor prognosticators of actual outcome.  Nonetheless, they are useful for gauging Ban’s likely bases of support and the profiles of those likely to cast their ballots for him.

Moon Jae-in is the former chairman of the Minjoo Party who lost to Park Geun-hye in 2012.  He is most certainly making another presidential bid.  In a 2-way race with Ban, Moon  leads by 10%: Moon (46.2%) vs. Ban (36.3%).  This is early but it is a rather large margin for Ban to overcome.

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Revealing though is the generation gap among likely voters that declared their preference for Moon:  over 50% of those in their twenties and over 70% in their thirties support Moon.  Moon’s support among younger voters parallels the support enjoyed by Bernie Sanders among young adults in the U.S. Democratic Primary. By contrast, Ban enjoys the support of seniors, retirees and middle-aged voters:  51% of those in their fifties and 58% in their sixties support Ban.

Moon is strong in Seoul (52,4%) and in the two Jolla provinces (57.3%) that have traditionally been his stronghold.  Ban’s support is strong in Daegu, South Korea’s third largest city, and in the province of northern Gyungsang (51%).  But Ban does not do so well in his home base, the Choong-Chung province — surprisingly, he is tied with Moon there at 39% vs. 38%.  South Korea’s Internet publication, Dailian, attributes this to the particular tendency of that province not to display overt regional favoritism — at least, not yet.

Ban is from Eumseong(음성), north Choong-Cheong. Yet he can't seem to get much traction in his home province.

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Ban fares even worse against Lee Jae-myung.  Lee has been on a tear since the Choi Soon-sil gate erupted in November. Voters angry at Park Geun-hye and her Saenuri Party have been gravitating to him.  Lee is known for introducing social welfare programs to Seongnam while reducing debt in that city.  He intends to crack down on corruption and break up conglomerates (“chaebols”). Often referred to as South Korea’s Donald Trump, his populist streak derives from his focus on the issue of income disparity besetting Korea’s post-modern, capitalist society.  South Korea’s left-liberal voters have been drawn to him as much for his agenda as his tough-talking rhetoric that regularly takes chaebols to task.

In a 2-way race, Lee (48.2%) leads Ban (36.6%) by a higher margin than Moon — by 12%. Like Moon, Lee enjoys strong support from younger voters, especially those in their 30s (70.8%). Ban is strong with the middle-age bracket but he is startlingly weak among 30-somethings (19.6%).

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But the lead Lee enjoys over Ban is not restricted by geography, as it is with Moon.  Lee basically beats Ban everywhere except in a sparsely populated province like Jeju and in a province with no major city, Kangwon.  Lee even leads Ban by 2% in Choong-Chung, Ban’s home base.  This reveals something about Lee:  the blunt-speaking populist who wants to put Park Geun-hye in jail appeals not only to those disheartened by the Choi scandal but to the economically disaffected who have suffered from growing income disparities.

But here ‘s the catch.  Lee has to beat Moon in  a primary before facing Ban.  Can he?  He trails Moon now.  But Lee has said that his “party should not make the same mistake that the U.S. Democratic Party made in nominating Hillary rather than Bernie Sanders.”

Lee says his personality is a lot like Bernie Sanders'. YT screen capture linked to source.

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Lee is still considered a dark horse at this stage.  If he does make it past the primary, he will be scrutinized intensely.  Voters will also evaluate his temperament, which he, like Trump, is known to lose occasionally — he got into a scuffle with Seongnam city council members when he was a human rights lawyer. Voters will gauge his persona and determine whether he can smooth out his rough edges and appear “presidential.”

It is clear that Ban has no issues in this regard.  However, he will need to overcome rising populism and the generation gap that has emerged in South Korea.  Younger voters are finding the economic realities in which they find themselves to be unsettling and are seeking candidates that promise solutions to income disparities in South Korea.

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