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Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies. Vol. 5, No. 2. 2005.
2005 Academy of East Asian Studies. pp. 183-217
Appraising the Quality of Democracy in South Korea: From the Perspectives of Ordinary Citizens and their Daily Experiences
by Doh Chull Shin, University of Missouri-Columbia &
Chong Min Park, Korea University

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becomes evident that accountability is another property of liberal democracy that is missing from Korean democracy. On a 7-point index ranging from a low of 1 to a high of 7, the Korean people as a whole reported an average accountability of 2.7, which is lower than the scale’s midpoint. Those who scored accountability lower than the midpoint lead those who scored it higher by a margin of more than 2 to 1 (40% versus 18%). While more than one-tenth (12%) scored accountability at the two lowest levels, less than one-twentieth (3%) did so at the two highest levels of the scale. All these findings make it clear that accountability is in short supply.


Democracy is widely regarded as government by the people and for the people. For a new democracy like the one in Korea to become such a government, it has to follow the will of the people and meet their shifting needs and preferences. To what extent is the democratically elected government in Korea responsive to its citizens? To address this general question, the 2003 EAB asked about the extent to which respondents agreed or disagreed with two specific statements regarding the government’s responsiveness to the mass citizenry. Using the statement“ The nation is run by a powerful few and ordinary citizens cannot do much about it,”a large majority of nearly two-fifths (60%) rated their government as unresponsive to the people by agreeing with the statement either “strongly”(12%) or “somewhat”(48%). When asked about the statement, “People like me don’t have any influence over what the government does,” equally many (59%) also rated Korean democracy as unresponsive, agreeing with the statement“ strongly”(12%) or“ somewhat”(47%). To a majority of the Korean people, their democratically elected government remains unresponsive to the mass public.

To measure the overall level of governmental responsiveness, we added up responses to the two questions in a 7-point index. A low score of 1 indicates that the government is not responsive at all, while a high of 7 indicates that it is highly responsive. The ‘index’ mean and percentage ratings are reported in Table 6. The mean rating of 3.8 is below the midpoint of the scale. The percentages placed above the midpoint constitute a little more than one-quarter (27%). Those placed below it constitute two-fifths (40%). As in the case of accountability, four times as many Koreans scored responsiveness at the lowest two levels of the index as opposed to those who scored it in the highest two levels. These findings make it clear that Korean democracy is far from being a responsive government.

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