Young Men in the United States are Slowly Turning Conservative. In South Korea, They Already Are.

By Grace Mitchell

A survey by the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study has recently gone viral, being debated by media outlets, online forums, and Instagram accounts – all with varying interpretations of this year’s results. The survey, dubbed “the 12th-Grade Survey”, has been asking graduating high school seniors questions ranging from drug use or attitudes toward religion to self-esteem since 1975 and conducts two- to five-year follow-ups with a subset of these seniors. 

The result that’s got everyone buzzing? Self-reported political identity. 

The survey found that 12th-grade boys were twice as likely to identify as “conservative” or “very conservative” while 12th-grade girls were more likely to identify as “liberal”. This trend is not new, however, as Monitoring the Future has noted that since the 2000s, this conservative self-identification has been ever-increasing in their male respondents. 

The notion that young people today are becoming ever more liberal may be being turned on its head. The Hill notes that while most of the survey respondents, male or female, were most likely to have reported moderate to no political identity, this “subtle” trend towards conservatism could likely be attributed to the campaign of “hypermasculine” Donald Trump, recent appeals from the Republican Party to disgruntled young men who feel recent politics are threatening their status, and the popularity of conservative online personalities like Crowder, Shapiro, or Andrew Tate. Fox News points its finger at “the left” and its rhetorical attacks against young, White men who just want to “[be] a protector and a provider and [treat] women with respect”. 

When the Monitoring the Future graph showed up on my timeline for the first time, it was Impact that was reporting on it. Among the comments were talks of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, Andrew Tate, and the Roe v. Wade verdict – similar sentiments to The Hill. Young men are getting more conservative in the United States, and even if the survey indicated they hold moderate to no political identities and those reporting on this issue are slightly more optimistic, we (commenters, women, minorities, etc.) still seem worried and disheartened by this statistic. One Redditor even went as far as to say they were absolutely terrified. 

So, is this worry warranted? If we look at the anti-feminist movement in South Korea as any indicator, I believe it is. 

In 2017, following the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye, Moon Jae-In was elected and became South Korea’s first liberal president since Roh Moo-Hyun’s election in 2003. South Korean youth were tired of over a decade of conservative administrations, as shown by their 90 percent approval rating on Gallop Korea of Moon’s administration in the first year of his presidency. Moon was labeled as a “feminist president” and during his leadership, the national wage gap decreased, the number of women professors increased over all universities in the country, and a gender quota system was adopted to increase the representation of women in public positions. Under Moon’s presidency, women were gaining more political expression, economic freedom, and a time to finally use their voices. It is no coincidence that South Korea’s #MeToo Movement and feminist revitalization occurred during Moon’s administration. Not only were women benefiting from Moon’s administration – National Health Care benefits were expanded to better aid families, work-life balance was tackled with added paternity leave, and the COVID-19 response was swift. To quote Moon Jae-In, “What makes women’s lives better is for all of us,” and his administration showed that… Right? 

Then, in 2021, Moon Jae-In’s approval rating for men in their 20s dropped to 17 percent – which was lower than any age demographic surveyed. That same year in April, Oh Se-Hun, the conservative candidate, won the Seoul mayoral by-election with help from male voters in their twenties who gave him 72.5 percent of their votes. Almost a year later in March, Yoon Suk-Yeol of the People’s Power Party (PPP) became South Korea’s next conservative president, claiming 58.7 percent of men in their 20s and 52.8 percent of men in their 30s. 

The rapid change in South Korean male opinion can be attributed to lots of things, including the campaigns of PPP members like “anti-feminist” Yoon Suk-Yeol, recent appeals from the PPP members to disgruntled young men who feel recent politics are threatening their status, and the popularity of conservative online blogs like Ilbe (일베저장소). 

If none of this sounds familiar, perhaps the reader should scroll a few paragraphs back. 

The various hiring and quota initiatives put into place by Moon increased the number of women in the workforce and academia and were widely praised for their success. However, South Korean men started to see their counterparts’ success as competition instead of inclusion and themselves as victims of the liberal administration’s feminist policies. “Feminists”, or 페미 (pe-mi) as they’re called in South Korea, are now being blamed for the decreasing birthrate and marriage rate and the destruction of traditional patriarchal and Confucian family standards. 

Conservative candidates latched onto this feeling and appealed to young men, propelling them to overwhelming victories. Lee Jun-Seok, the youngest male to ever chair the PPP, attacked political correctness and “faux feminism” to rake in the votes of males in their 20s and 30s. His politics were even called “Trumpism” by Na Kyung-Won, a fellow PPP female member. Yoon also attacked feminists and #MeToo in his campaign, even promising to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family because it discriminated against men. His wife, Kim Keon-Hee, also once commented “MeToo moments occur when men don’t pay”. Almost ironically, Lee was removed from his chairman position due to a sexual bribery scandal in mid-2022, but by then, he’d gotten Yoon Suk-Yeol all the votes he needed to win and his charges were dropped by prosecutors. 

These anti-feminist attitudes, however, didn’t just pop into existence conveniently during an election period – they were just pervasive in South Korea’s “manosphere” for years until they became acceptable offline. The “manosphere” is roughly defined as a network of online spaces where men’s rights and misogynistic views are often promoted, discussed, and shared. The “manosphere”, Rachel Guy writes, is a place where men “…seek unity, which brings validation, belonging, identity, and a sense of power, through a pronounced anti-feminist ideology… because in their caricature of women, they have created a common myth and defined a common enemy”. We’re familiar with this in the West as well – r/antifeminists, online ideologies like Men Going Their Way (MGTOW), or even the comments section of any “Man DESTROYS Feminist” video.

 In South Korea, the internet and social media have played the same, significant role in spreading these ideas to its young men. A Korean study in 2019 found that “men who engaged with websites dominated by men showed an increased hostility towards feminism, compared with their peers who did not”. This is an even more compelling statistic when one of the top websites in all of South Korea is llbe (일베저장소) – a male-dominated, “far-right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT” blog. Members and subscribers of Ilbe are known to attack celebrity women by using the comment section on Instagram. In one famous controversy, An San, a young female archer representing South Korea in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, received a slew of online hate comments due to claims she was a man-hater, used misogynistic language in her posts, and because she had short hair. When she responded with witty comments like “While you’re sending messages in your room driven by your inferiority complex, I’m winning gold medals at the Olympics”, Ilbe’s blog posts and South Korean conservative men demanded she gives her three gold medals back. Female K-pop idols have also recently come under scrutiny for reading “sexist” books or using “misogynistic” slang which has resulted in ex-fans burning photocards and selling group merchandise because they can no longer support it. 

It is when online anti-feminist culture and “manosphere” radicalization like this proliferate into real-life electoral outcomes that we must worry about young men indicating they are becoming “conservative” or “very conservative”. Time Journalist Ashta Rajvanshi asserts anti-feminist political outcomes are caused by “gendered disinformation”, or as a U.S Department of State puts it, a “subset of misogynistic abuse and violence against women that uses false or misleading gender and sex-based narratives, often with some degree of coordination, to deter women from participating in the public sphere.”  

In places like Europe and the United States, gendered disinformation has been limited to political candidates. Annelena Baerbock, Germany’s Green Party’s candidate for chancellor, had countless false attacks on her credibility as a candidate on Facebook and was the victim of sexual deep fakes. In the United States, we’ve seen countless attacks on female Presidential Candidates, such as the questioning of Hilary Clinton’s health or her pantsuits, and the insinuation that Vice President Kamala Harris got to her position by using powerful men. While there is an emphasis on gendered disinformation affecting the ability of women to hold office, gendered disinformation’s definition can be expanded upon to include everyday women’s participation in politics. 

In South Korea, gendered disinformation affects the campaigns of women politicians too,  like Justice Party candidate Jang Hye-Yeong who was attacked by online trolls that made her fearful for her safety and her mental health during her Presidential campaign against Yoon. However, gendered disinformation also leads to everyday women being afraid to protest Yoon’s campaign and policies due to “semen terrorism” and verbal abuse thrown their way by anti-feminist groups like “Men In Solidarity.” Bae In-kyu, a famous member of the group, vlogs himself dressed up as the Joker and spraying protestors with a water gun filled with an unidentifiable liquid yelling expletives like, “I heard that there were f—king feminists here; I’m going to murder them all”. Despite the country ranking last in The Economist’s glass-ceiling index and 105th out of 146 countries in The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, gendered disinformation is causing women, politicians and not, to be fearful and apprehensive when fighting for their rights and engaging in democracy.

This is why Rajvanishi warns us that “Gendered disinformation is an “early warning system” for democracies” and we need to be listening. If gendered disinformation is now stopping South Korean women from engaging in democracy through their right to protest, who knows the outcomes it could bring to women in the U.S. after this election? Our parallels to South Korea in this regard are scarily similar and they have almost given us a step-by-step to where they are now. 

Step One. A liberal administration that vowed to protect women and minority rights falling in approval? Check. 

Just like Moon Jae-In, Biden’s approval rating, reports Gallup, coming into the 2024 election is lower than Trump and Obama’s rating at the same point in their presidency. In a poll surveying a hypothetical rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024, they are nearly tied – just as Lee and Yoon were in the South Korean Election. While South Koreans hoped the tie would go to Lee, they ended up being wrong. 

Step Two. An active anti-feminist online community spreading unregulated gendered disinformation and hate? Check.

 For years, anti-feminism has been stirring online in the U.S. and it is only getting worse as companies and the government turn a blind eye to it in the name of free speech. Andrew Tate, Pearl Davis, the Whatever Podcast, Ben Shapiro – the list goes on and on and so does the hours of digestible content they publish. Unregulated algorithms can put these creators in front of young men and pull them into the “manosphere”. If hours upon hours of videos supporting white supremacy and domestic terrorists are still able to be found unbanned on TikTok, reports the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, then there is little-to-no hope videos trashing women and feminism will be stopped by the algorithm. Rachel Guy puts it best

“People [feel] more comfortable voicing anti-feminist sentiment…—meaning that if white men are disturbed by their changing place in society, it is easiest and most acceptable for them to voice this concern in relation to women. Anti-feminist content can thus flourish on relatively public platforms online, and in offline discussions, without being shut down.”

Finally, Step Three. An upcoming election with conservative candidates who don’t believe there are any inequalities in the county for women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, or minorities? Check.

The young men in this year’s Monitoring the Future survey will be able to vote in this upcoming election for conservative candidates like predicted front-runners Ron DeSantis or Trump. Under DeStantis, Florida has enacted six anti-LGBTQIA+ bills this year including the Don’t Say LGBTQ+ Expansion Bill (HB 1069), the Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill (HB 1521), and the MAGA Takeover of Higher Ed Bill (SB 266). Most recently under these bills, AP Psychology was banned in Florida over its LGBTQIA+ content. Donald Trump, besides his sexual assault allegations and verdits, constantly uses gendered and derogatory language towards women politicians in the same way online trolls do. Trump also participated in the gendered disinformation spread about Hillary Clinton, coining the phrases ‘nasty woman’ and ‘Lock Her Up.’

South Korea’s Step Four was the election of Yoon Suk-Yeol and the subsequent online and in-person hate attacks on women being labeled “Feminists”. And while people in their 20s and 30s are regretting their vote for Yoon, one recent post uploaded on FM Korea read it’s not for the reasons one would hope for. Yoon’s approval rating of 22 percent among people aged 18 and 29 is due in part to frustrations with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family not being abolished yet, over a year after his election. Rallies have been hosted by various anti-feminist groups to push Yoon into making this decision. Therefore, even though South Korean men have been given a win with Yoon, they are still pushing for more. 

So, to answer the original question, I believe worrying about Monitoring the Future’s survey results is warranted. Despite most young men self-reporting “moderate” or “no political alignment” or Gen Z reporting mainly liberal, so did South Korean young men five years ago. Action must be taken so that the United States doesn’t reach such extremes before it’s too late. 


Hi! My name is Grace Mitchell, 22, and I am a Schwarzman Scholar getting a Master’s in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. I am interested in International Relations and women’s rights, focusing on the East Asian region.

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