Korean Party Members: Ghost, Genuine, and Active Members
A Talk by
Dr. Sejin Koo
Despite recent growing attention to party members and intra-party politics, comparative investigation has so far been mostly limited to cases from Anglo-Saxon and European democracies. This study examines internal diversity in ideology and activism in political parties in South Korea. Unlike those Western parties, Korean parties have experienced a notable growth in membership size during the last decade. However, party membership has long been ignored in the study of Korean politics, largely because of the fact that the vast majority of members from the major parties are “ghost members” who do not pay membership dues and exist mostly only on paper. Although this is not the case for small, left-wing parties, research on membership of these left-wring parties has also been non-existent mainly due to data unavailability. Using data from recent party member surveys, this paper tests May’s law of curvilinear disparity and explores the determinants of party activism in Korean parties--two major parties and the largest left-wing party. Based on the findings, this paper sheds light on internal heterogeneity among members in Korean parties and proposes a paradox of intra-party democracy as an incentive for party participation.
Sejin Koo is an assistant professor at Nazarbayev University. Her research interests are parties and party systems, research methods (quantitative and content analysis), and politics in Asian countries. Her current research projects are about (1) party members and activists in Korea, Taiwan, and Mongolia, and (2) inequality and political ideology and (3) gendered media coverage of politicians in Korea.