Political Science, Department of


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A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Political Science. Under the Supervision of Professor Elizabeth Theiss-Morse.
Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Gang-hoon Kim.


Many scholars have suggested that South Korea is one of the most successful democracies in Asia. Because of the successful development of democracy, it can be inferred that citizens should be happy with their political system and the government’s policy outputs. However, evidence indicates that ordinary Koreans are dissatisfied with government and politicians as well as their democratic system. If this evidence is true, why are ordinary people distrustful of and dissatisfied with the government, politicians, and their democracy? Regarding this concern, two dominant perspectives - policy matters and process matters - have increasingly been put into question. Conventional wisdom stresses policy as the cause for ordinary people’s dissatisfaction with and distrust of government and politicians. On the other hand, some scholars insist that ordinary people’s dissatisfaction with and distrust of government and politicians are a reflection of the process performance of politicians and government.

Given the fundamental criteria of the democratic process in South Korea, process concerns could explain the variation in people’s perception of government and politicians. Additionally, understanding people’s process preferences helps solve several issues, including why ordinary Koreans are dissatisfied with government and politicians, why they want to be directly involved in policy and the policy making process, or why they believe the government is not responsive to their interests and wishes. To investigate what people would want concerning the democratic process, this dissertation not only theoretically examined five different types of processes (i.e., representative, deliberative, direct, pure direct or stealth democracy), but also empirically tested what type of democratic processes that ordinary Koreans really prefer. These questions regarding the types of the democratic process and factors influencing South Koreans’ preference for type of democracy are the case of this dissertation.

To examine these concerns, a nation-wide survey was conducted in South Korea, resulting in a large random sample (n= 599). Empirical findings shed important new insights. First, a large majority of ordinary citizens in South Korea are dissatisfied with the government, politicians, and their democratic system. Second, most people have a preference for a pure direct democracy rather than other types of democratic process such as deliberative or representative democratic process. Additionally, a large majority of respondents prefer stealth democracy as an alternative democratic process. Finally, South Korean government policy, especially the Sunshine Policy, and the policy making process toward North Korea and regionalism are the main factors that affect types of the democratic process that ordinary Koreans deeply prefer.