IN THE democratic world, elections are the most important event as they allow citizens to choose the best people to lead the country. Though it is the general public who exercises this solemn power to elect the right leaders, a group of strategists working behind the scenes greatly affects the direction elections take. Moreover, the role of citizens ends with the election, whereas strategists continue to exert power and influence by transitioning into the role of advisors for elected officials. Political consultants are often referred to as "the king maker" or the "masterminds of elections."
What are political consultants?
Korea’s 13th president, Roh Tae-woo, was a former military officer who ran for the presidency. As the presidential election followed decades of military dictatorship, it was necessary for him to soften his image. Roh’s posters featured children and the slogan, “Let’s start an era for the common people” that presented him as an “ordinary man.” This slogan was especially popular with the public at the time because it touched upon public sentiment more so than the slogans of other candidates, such as *dok-jae-ta-do* (overthrow dictatorship) and *kun-jung-jong-sik* (end military government). These last two slogans from Roh’s rival, Kim Young-sam, were written in four-character idioms that had the effect of distancing this candidate from the public.
Political consultants design advertising campaigns as a means of creating a candidate’s image. They strategize and work as overall directors of political campaigns. Throughout a campaign, political consultants advise politicians and employ particular strategies in order to make candidates stand out in the public’s mind as proper leaders and representatives. Designing policies is also an important role played by political consultants. By conducting polls, or analyzing the polling results of survey research organizations, they participate in policymaking by interpreting what the public wants. Even after a candidate is elected, political consultants continue to guide elected officials by evaluating and analyzing policies. They assess policies by gauging them against people’s reactions to former policies so that they can be revised to correspond more to the needs of the public.
The importance of political consulting
Though political consultants have been working with politicians since the 1963 presidential election, political consulting is relatively unknown to the Korean public. However, the Oct. 26, 2011 Seoul mayoral election stands as an example of the growing significance of political consulting.
Politicians have been turning to and have come to depend upon political consultants due to recent changes in the political atmosphere in Korea. The public no longer casts votes along party lines. According to a study examining characteristics of Korean political parties published in the academic journal, *Discourse and Policy on Social Science*, electoral volatility has increased and a sense of unity among party supporters has decreased.
Also, the call for more interaction wherein leaders listen and take steps to reflect the public’s opinion in policy has played a part in the rise of political consultants. They act as intermediaries between the public and elected officials, delivering the public’s opinion to politicians and vice versa. The direct communication achieved between the public and Park Won-soon during the mayoral election campaign was seen as the key factor explaining his victory in the Oct. 26 race. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s political consultant, Kim Youn-jae, also successfully mediated the exchange of ideas between the people and the mayoral candidate leading up to the election. Kim saw social media as a useful tool for citizens to directly interact with politicians, and utilized it as Park’s main campaign strategy. Along with promoting Park, social media was harnessed to induce public participation through the “Hope on Program” which included a tweet relay, “live Park Won-soon TV” and “leaving comments behind with the ballot number 10.”
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Political consultants wield much influence among politicians and in the politics of a nation. If winning an electoral race is all that a political consultant cares about, there is a chance that strategies harmful to society might be employed. Manipulating information and mudslinging can damage the reputation of other candidates and hinder people from making an informed decision. Therefore, political consultants should be ethical and cultivate a sense of responsibility – they might very well hold the future of a country in their hands.
Interview with Lee Jae-sool (Political Consultant & CEO, Inbank Korea)
1. What should university students do to prepare for a career in political consulting?
Elections are like composite art, requiring some knowledge of everything, from photographs, election laws, image-making to fund management. In deciding the option that best fits the candidate they work for, political consultants need to have a good understanding of all of these fields.
Among these, the three fields political consultant must be an expert in are law, writing and politics. Knowledge of law is important because a consultant works mainly during the election period. Writing is important because communicating in a logical and a persuasive way is essential in delivering the right message to the public. Lastly, it is vital that political consultants have deep knowledge of politics in order to have developed and balanced political thinking.
2. Why is political consulting significant?
Political consulting is especially significant because the election of a politician implies more than winning a race. It also decides the fate of the state as national politics may progress or regress depending on the result of the election. Moreover, a political consultant with a sense of morality and balanced knowledge of politics will continuously provide advice and guidance on what is best for society.
3. How was your experience as a political consultant?
Many times, I felt extremely happy and fulfilled while working as a political consultant. Participating in the presidential election was, no doubt, one of the most memorable moments of my life. Also, the sense of achievement I felt when I led an underdog to victory was exhilarating. I feel more fulfilled working as a political consultant because this career is a relatively new field in Korea. Korean society does not acknowledge the knowledge industry as much as other countries do, but the day when the political knowledge industry will be recognized is fast approaching. In anticipation of that day I lecture at universities, blissful to be discussing politics with the younger generation.