South Korea: Voters See a THAAD Moon Rising

Gordon LaForge

With the presidential election less than a week away, the U.S.-supplied missile and radar defense system THAAD became operational Tuesday. The deployment came ahead of schedule, a blatant move to stand-up the system before a potentially less amenable administration takes over. Construed as an affront to Korean democracy, the deployment has provoked public outcry and recriminations from even the pro-THAAD candidates in the race. By the measure of online engagement, captured in the signals below, THAAD has become a more attention-grabbing issue for Koreans than the North’s nuclear threat.

Anger over the THAAD most benefits presidential race frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the left-leaning Democratic Party. The least hawkish candidate, he has pledged to suspend the system’s deployment pending a comprehensive review and possible renegotiation with the United States. 
 
Moon’s lead in public opinion polls has widened in the last week. And Predata’s digital momentum scores for the presidential race’s three leading candidates show Moon has gained since the accelerated THAAD deployment was announced.

Despite Moon’s recent rise online, the centrist software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo continues to dominate election-related conversation in the digital realm. This could indicate an unseen edge. But more likely it is idiosyncratic to Ahn, whose political ascension since 2011 has been fueled by a continuously noisy social media presence. 
 
Though gaining in public opinion polls at Ahn’s expense, Hong Jun-pyo of impeached president Park Geun-hye’s Liberty Korea Party remains an extreme longshot. Park’s ignominious fall continues to capture national attention and has crippled her party’s chances to retain power. (Her corruption trial began Tuesday; if convicted, she faces life in prison.)

Especially among younger voters raised in the peace and prosperity of the Sixth Republic, corruption and economic inequality are as important electoral issues as national security. The Korean stock exchange has surged to a record high on expectations that Moon will stimulate the economy with increased social spending and overhaul the chaebol, Korea’s family-owned mega-conglomerates.

Similarly, Predata anticipatory signals suggest a rising likelihood of a big daily move in 10-year Korean government bond yields over the next two weeks (above). Election chatter, unsurprisingly, is the focus among the sources driving these anticipatory signals higher. ⏪

Gordon LaForge is a Predata analyst. Contact: gordon@predata.com.