Volume 1(2012)

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The Public’s Declining Trust in Government in Korea
Yong-duck Jung and Sea Young Sung

Professor and doctoral student, respectively, in the Graduate School of
Public Administration at the Seoul National University, Korea


This study investigates to what extent and for what reasons people have been losing their trust in the government in Korea. The level of people’s trust in government has been declining continuously and relatively more rapidly in the world since the country’s democratic transition in the late 1980s. Democratization raised people’s expectations of government so high that they have become easily dissatisfied with its ways of operation and policies. Government’s occasional policy failures and public officials’ malpractices are significant factors that lead to mistrust in the government. Harsh criticism toward the government by the media, including SNS, is another factor that leads to public mistrust in the government. Too much competition between the polarized parties under the new constitution, with its five-year one-term presidency, after the democratic transition has also negatively affected the peoples’ trust in government as a whole. Such continuous decline of public trust may act as a burden in the national competitiveness in Korea.

Keywords:  trust in government, democracy and public rust, Korean public administration, Korean government


People’s distrust in the government is higher than ever in Korea. Several surveys show that the level of trust of Koreans in social institutions is lower in the 2000s than it was in the 1990s. Measured by component, trust drops even more steeply in this order: civil society organizations, mass media, the courts, public bureaucracy, the National Assembly and, at the bottom, political parties. Korean people have become increasingly distrustful in the government since the country’s transition to democracy in 1987 when the new constitution established a five-year election cycle for its one-term presidency.

This article was presented at the Sixth Sino–US Public Administration International Symposium (“Rebuilding Trust after Global Financial Crisis”), June 5–6, 2012. Renmin University of China, Beijing.