How is the popularity of a dictator measured in a totalitarian society? Obviously, public opinion polls don’t exist and would be worthless if they did. Expressing displeasure with Kim Jong-un in North Korea is a guarantee for anyone to spend many years of hard labor in a political prison camp. That person’s family would also be included in the prison camp too from guilt by association. That’s the fortunate option. A swift execution is also a likely outcome.
The Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University has found a way around the public opinion survey problem. They have been interviewing defectors from North Korea. While this is not a scientific survey by any means, it does provide some insights into mysterious North Korea.
From January 2012 to May 2013, 133 North Korean defectors were interviewed and asked if more than half of North Koreans supported Kim. Sixty-two percent of the defectors agreed that Kim had support from more than 50% of the population. In an earlier survey, from January 2011 to May 2012, 122 defectors were interviewed and 58% of them felt that most North Koreans were unhappy with the selection of the younger Kim as a replacement for his father.
Kim must have won over the hearts or stomachs of his country’s citizens. The number of defectors who said they received three meals a day rose from 75% to 81%. Three meals a day! Four of five North Koreans aren’t worrying about starving. For North Korea’s backward economy, that is a major step forward.
It isn’t just more food in their bellies bringing happiness to North Koreans either. North Koreans have gone on a shopping spree. Those who claim to have purchased one or two pieces of clothing in the last year has risen from 35% to 44%. Think about that for a minute. This isn’t any particular clothing item, but clothes period. Possibly, this is a good sign, suggesting that more people are able to buy clothes than previously. Of course, it could also mean that people who bought three pieces of clothing or more had to cut back. With signs that the North Korean economy is improving, it is more likely that those who bought clothes came from the many who couldn’t afford any earlier. Some things don’t change though. The defectors report that over 93% of the clothing came from China.
A further sign of acceptance of Kim’s rule is that anti-regime leaflets and graffiti are down. Only 66% of the more recent defectors had seen any of that. That is down from 73%.
With these trends, in another thousand years or so, North Korea will be a worker’s paradise.