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Korean Public Opinion Against the FTA

We’re continuing our series of facts in response to the Korean Embassy’s misleading claims on the Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Our full response can be viewed here. This time, the focus is on the Korean public’s view on the Korea FTA. Korea FTA protest

Lori Wallach’s Huffington Post piece: “A majority of Koreans oppose the (KORUS) FTA.”

Korean Embassy’s claim: “Koreans have been surveyed at least six times on the KORUS FTA since Feb. 1, 2008. None of those polls showed FTA opponents in the majority. The most recent poll, published by the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper on Jan, 13, 2011, showed 55.2 percent approval vs. 28.5 percent disapproval.”

Facts: Embassy misrepresents Korean public opinion, while citing methodologically suspect poll. First, there are polls that have shown opposition to the Korea FTA by wide margins. For instance, a May 2008 poll revealed that 55 percent of Koreans opposed the U.S.-Korea FTA, while only 29 percent supported it.[i] Moreover, the widespread Korean opposition to the FTA is clear for all to see. According to the New York Times, a deal related to the Korea FTA has provoked “the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the end of military dictatorship in the late 1980s” and almost brought down the Lee administration. The FTA has spawned a steady stream of protests since 2008.[ii] Upon announcement of the broad outlines of the deal in December 2010, the main Korean opposition party stated that the deal was “humiliating.” The chairperson of the main opposition party declared that the FTA “damaged the two countries’ alliance.”[iii]

The central fact highlighted in the Huffington Post piece was that prominent members of the Korean National Assembly and leaders of the powerful Korean Confederation of Trade Unions are so opposed to the Korea FTA that they traveled to Washington to share the basis for their opposition with members of the U.S. Congress.

The Korean Embassy has no response to this central point. Instead, they cite a methodologically suspect poll that is at odds with the obvious political situation on the ground. The methodology of the Dong-A Ilbo poll cited by the Korean Embassy was conducted over only one day, resulting in a response rate of 16 percent, meaning that 84 percent of the homes called by the surveyors did not answer the survey.[iv] According to the American Association for Public Opinion Research, “Failure to follow up non respondents and refusals, in particular, can severely undermine an otherwise well-designed survey. To deal with this possibility…allowance is made for repeated attempts (e.g., callbacks at different times and days) to thoroughly work the selected sample in not-at home and related situations….”[v] Low response rates can indicate biased results since individuals holding certain views may be less likely to answer the phone when first contacted. Since the Dong-A Ilbo surveyors did not attempt to contact non-respondents over multiple days, contrary to standard public opinion polling practice, the poll may have failed to pick up on the widespread opposition to the U.S.-Korea FTA in Korea. Because the Embassy does not provide any of the details of the remaining polls, it is impossible to know their validity.


[i] Views & News, “[여론조사] 한미FTA 반대, 58.6%로 급증,” May 30 2008, Available at:

[ii] Choe Sang-Hun, “South Koreans Press Anti-Government Protests,” New York Times, June 20, 2008. Available at:

Choe Sang-Hun, “Beef Furor Provokes a Turnover in Seoul,” New York Times, June 21, 2008. Available at:

Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korea and U.S. Reach Deal on Beef Imports,” New York Times, June 22, 2008. Available at:

Mark McDonald, “Protesters Rally in Seoul Ahead of G-20 Summit,” New York Times, November 7, 2010, Available at:

[iii] “Rival parties wrangle over U.S. FTA, budget,” The Korea Herald, December 6, 2010, Available at:

[iv] Dong-A Ilbo, “정치․사회 현안 관련 국민여론조사(2010년도 제5차),” January 2011, Available at:

[v] American Association for Public Opinion Research, “Best Practices,” Accessed February 28 2011, Available at:

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