The Drivers Behind Youth Engagement with Far-Right Politics

In Europe, economic insecurities and cultural fears, particularly related to immigration, drive youth towards far-right ideologies. Meanwhile, in South Korea, the intense competition in education and employment, along with persistent gender inequalities, fuels a conservative shift among young men.

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

In recent years, Europe has witnessed a notable rise in the popularity of far-right ideologies, especially among the younger population. This trend is not isolated but part of a broader global phenomenon where economic, social, and political upheavals are reshaping traditional political landscapes. Countries like France, Germany, and Italy have seen significant shifts as far-right parties gain traction, promising to address issues such as immigration, national identity, and economic insecurity.

Parallel to this, South Korea’s 1990s generation is also experiencing a conservative shift. This generation includes those born between 1990 and 1999, who are currently aged between 24 and 34 years. They are considered the last cohort to experience significant events of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, often referred to as the “MZ generation,” which blends Millennials and Generation Z. These young adults have faced unique socio-economic challenges, including a highly competitive education system and job market​.

Understanding these shifts is crucial as they have profound implications for future political dynamics, governance, and social cohesion in both regions. This article explores the reasons behind the youth’s engagement with far-right ideologies in Europe and the conservative turn among South Korea’s 1990s generation, analyzing the underlying economic, social, and political factors driving these trends.

Economic Insecurity

Economic insecurity is a significant factor driving the engagement of youth with far-right ideologies in Europe and the conservative shift among South Korea’s 1990s generation. Both groups are facing substantial economic challenges that shape their political views and behaviors.

In Europe, high youth unemployment has created a sense of frustration and disillusionment among young people. Countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy have struggled with youth unemployment rates exceeding 30%, leading to widespread economic precarity. This economic instability makes it difficult for young people to secure stable jobs, plan for the future, or achieve financial independence. The long-term effects of the 2008 financial crisis, combined with the recent disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have exacerbated these challenges, leaving many young Europeans feeling economically vulnerable and disenchanted with the existing political and economic systems​.

Similarly, South Korea’s youth faces significant economic challenges. Despite being one of the most advanced economies in the world, South Korea has struggled with high youth unemployment rates and a highly competitive job market. The 1990s generation, often referred to as the “MZ generation” (a blend of Millennials and Generation Z), finds itself in a precarious position. Many young South Koreans are employed in temporary or part-time positions with little job security, which exacerbates their economic anxieties​. The experiences of economic instability and uncertainty during critical formative years have led this generation to seek more stable and predictable political solutions, often found in conservative ideologies.

The fear of economic instability is another driving force behind the shift towards far-right ideologies and conservative values. In Europe, the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the ongoing economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left lasting scars on the job market and overall economic stability. Young people, who entered the job market during these turbulent times, are particularly affected, as they face higher barriers to entry and fewer opportunities for career advancement. This sense of economic insecurity pushes many towards far-right parties that promise economic protectionism, job security, and prioritization of national interests over international commitments.

In South Korea, the situation is compounded by a highly competitive education system and a job market that does not offer enough high-quality employment opportunities to match the qualifications of graduates. This has led to a phenomenon known as “Hell Joseon,” where young people feel trapped in a cycle of economic hardship and social immobility. The comparison with Japan’s “Lost Generation” highlights similar patterns of economic precarity and disillusionment with the current system​. Young South Koreans, particularly males who face intense competition and societal pressures, find solace in conservative ideologies that promise a return to traditional values and structures that are perceived to offer stability and predictability.

Both in Europe and South Korea, the economic challenges faced by the youth have significant implications for their political leanings. In Europe, far-right parties promise strong economic reforms, protectionism, and prioritization of national over international interests, which resonate with young people facing economic hardships. These parties often portray themselves as defenders of the “common people” against a perceived corrupt and ineffective political elite​​.

In South Korea, the conservative shift among the 1990s generation is partly a reaction to the perceived failures of progressive policies to address economic issues. Young people are increasingly supporting conservative policies that promise economic stability, job creation, and a meritocratic system where hard work is rewarded. This shift is also influenced by the broader global trends of economic nationalism and skepticism towards globalization​.

Economic insecurity is a central factor driving the political engagement of youth in both Europe and South Korea. The high rates of unemployment and fear of economic instability push young people towards political ideologies that promise economic security and stability. Understanding these economic drivers is crucial for addressing the underlying issues and mitigating the rise of extremism and conservatism among the younger generations.

Cultural and Identity Concerns

Cultural and identity concerns are pivotal in understanding why youth in Europe and South Korea are gravitating towards far-right and conservative ideologies. Both regions are experiencing profound cultural shifts and challenges to national identity, which fuel these political movements.

In Europe, nationalistic appeals play a significant role in the rise of far-right ideologies. Far-right parties emphasize the importance of preserving national identity and culture in the face of increasing globalization and immigration. They argue that traditional values and cultural heritage are under threat from multicultural policies and liberal immigration laws. This resonates with young people who feel that their national identity is being eroded and who seek a return to a more homogeneous society​.

Similarly, in South Korea, the 1990s generation values stability and national identity, reacting against rapid social changes and globalization. This generation, born between 1990 and 1999, includes those currently aged 24 to 34 years. They are often referred to as the “MZ generation,” a blend of Millennials and Generation Z, and are the last cohort to experience significant events of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. The MZ generation’s desire to preserve Korean culture and traditions, which are perceived to be under threat from external influences and internal liberal policies, drives their conservative political leanings​.

Xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments are prominent in the political rhetoric of far-right parties in Europe. These parties often link immigration to economic and social problems, such as unemployment, crime, and cultural conflict. The “Great Replacement” theory, which suggests that native populations are being replaced by immigrants, has gained traction among young voters. This theory fuels fears and justifies stringent immigration policies and nationalist ideologies​.

In South Korea, while the immigration debate is less pronounced than in Europe, there are still significant concerns about cultural preservation and social stability. The influx of foreign workers and the increasing presence of multicultural families challenge the traditional Korean identity, leading to a conservative backlash among the youth who fear cultural dilution and social disruption​. Additionally, this demographic often includes men who feel particularly threatened by the changes brought by globalization and increasing diversity.

Globalization has brought both opportunities and challenges, significantly impacting cultural and identity dynamics. In Europe, the increased mobility of people and the integration of economies have led to cultural exchanges but also to cultural frictions. Young people, especially in regions with high immigration rates, often feel that their cultural norms and values are being overshadowed by new and different cultural practices. This can lead to a desire to reclaim and protect their cultural identity through support for far-right parties that promise to restore and uphold national traditions​.

In South Korea, globalization has resulted in rapid economic development but also cultural tensions. The younger generation is caught between traditional Korean values and the influences of global culture, leading to identity conflicts. The conservative shift among the 1990s generation can be seen as a response to these cultural tensions, with a desire to reaffirm and protect Korean cultural identity against perceived threats from globalization​.

Cultural and identity concerns are central to the political shifts among youth in Europe and South Korea. Nationalistic appeals, xenophobia, and the impacts of globalization contribute to a desire among young people to protect and preserve their cultural identities. These concerns drive their engagement with far-right and conservative ideologies, seeking stability and a return to traditional values in a rapidly changing world.

Influence of Social Media and Technology

Social media and technology significantly influence the political engagement of youth in Europe and South Korea. However, the landscape in South Korea is uniquely shaped by various online communities that differ significantly from the general influence of social media seen in Europe. These platforms play a critical role in shaping political views and discourse.

In Europe, social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and TikTok have become breeding grounds for far-right propaganda. These platforms allow far-right leaders and influencers to reach a wide audience, particularly targeting young people who are heavy users of social media. The algorithms of these platforms often prioritize engaging and sensational content, which can include extremist viewpoints. This phenomenon has enabled far-right ideologies to spread rapidly among the youth, often unchecked and unchallenged​.

For instance, Jordan Bardella of France’s National Rally effectively uses TikTok to engage with young voters. His relatable and charismatic presence on social media platforms helps him connect with a younger demographic, making far-right ideas more accessible and appealing​. Similarly, other far-right leaders in Europe utilize social media to propagate their messages, framing themselves as defenders of national identity and traditional values against the threats posed by immigration and globalization​.

In South Korea, the political landscape among the 1990s generation is uniquely shaped by various online communities that differ significantly from the general influence of social media seen in Europe. Specific community sites cater to different demographics, significantly influencing political views and discourse.

Platforms like Ilbe Storehouse are known for their extreme right-wing views and predominantly male user base, whereas communities like Womad and Megalia focus on radical feminist perspectives. These sites provide echo chambers where users’ existing beliefs are reinforced, leading to more polarized political views​. Additionally, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and local services such as KakaoTalk are widely used for political discourse, but they are secondary to these community sites in terms of political influence.

The political divide along gender lines is particularly pronounced in South Korea. In the 2022 presidential election, a significant majority of young male voters supported the conservative candidate Yoon Suk Yeol, while young female voters largely backed the progressive candidate Lee Jae-myung. This divide is fueled by differing perceptions of gender equality and government policies. Young men often view gender equality policies as unfair and feel disadvantaged by them, whereas young women push for more substantial reforms to address ongoing inequalities​​.

South Korea’s rapid social development has led to significant changes in gender dynamics, contributing to political polarization. The rise of feminist movements and increased participation of women in higher education have shifted traditional gender roles. However, the persistence of gender wage gaps and workplace discrimination has led to frustrations among young women, while young men perceive these changes as threats to their traditional roles and opportunities, further driving them towards conservative ideologies​.

Social media algorithms often create echo chambers, where users are exposed predominantly to content that aligns with their existing beliefs and interests. This reinforcement of existing views can lead to a more polarized and radicalized user base. In Europe, these echo chambers amplify far-right ideologies by continuously presenting users with content that supports nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant sentiments. This can intensify young people’s fears and prejudices, making them more susceptible to far-right propaganda​.

In South Korea, algorithmic bias on social media platforms also contributes to the conservative shift among the 1990s generation. The constant exposure to conservative content and narratives creates a feedback loop that reinforces traditional values and nationalistic sentiments. This phenomenon is particularly significant among young men, who may feel marginalized by rapid social changes and are drawn to conservative messages that promise a return to stability and predictability​.

The influence of social media and technology is a crucial factor in the political engagement of youth in Europe and South Korea. These platforms provide a fertile ground for far-right and conservative ideologies to spread, facilitated by algorithmic biases and the creation of echo chambers. In South Korea, specific community sites tailored to different demographics play a pivotal role in shaping political views. Understanding the role of social media in shaping political views is essential for addressing the challenges posed by the rise of extremism and conservatism among young people.

Disillusionment with Traditional Politics

Disillusionment with traditional politics is a significant driver behind the youth’s engagement with far-right ideologies in Europe and the conservative shift among South Korea’s 1990s generation.

In Europe, many young people perceive mainstream political parties as corrupt, ineffective, and disconnected from their realities. This distrust has been fueled by numerous scandals, economic crises, and perceived failures of traditional parties to address key issues such as unemployment, social inequality, and immigration. As a result, far-right parties, which position themselves as anti-establishment and champions of the “common people,” have gained traction among the youth. These parties promise to dismantle the perceived corrupt political elite and implement policies that prioritize national interests over global commitments​.

Similarly, in South Korea, the 1990s generation exhibits significant distrust in traditional political parties. This generation, which includes individuals born between 1990 and 1999, has witnessed various political scandals and economic policies that have failed to improve their job prospects and economic security. The competitive job market and high youth unemployment rates have further eroded their trust in the ability of mainstream parties to address their concerns. Consequently, many young South Koreans are turning towards conservative parties that promise economic stability, job creation, and merit-based advancement​.

Far-right leaders in Europe have successfully tapped into this disillusionment by presenting themselves as outsiders who can challenge the status quo. Leaders like Marine Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands have built their political careers on anti-establishment rhetoric. They appeal to young voters by promising to take strong action on issues such as immigration, national security, and economic protectionism. Their charismatic personalities and ability to connect with the youth through social media further enhance their appeal​.

In South Korea, conservative leaders also capitalize on the disillusionment with traditional politics. They emphasize traditional values, economic stability, and strong national identity, which resonate with young voters facing economic uncertainties and rapid social changes. The promise of a return to a more predictable and stable social order appeals to young people who feel left behind by the rapid pace of globalization and technological change​.

Political scandals and corruption have significantly contributed to the disillusionment with traditional politics in both Europe and South Korea. In Europe, high-profile scandals involving major political figures and parties have eroded public trust and fueled the rise of far-right movements. For example, the corruption scandals in Spain involving the People’s Party and similar issues in Italy have led to widespread public disillusionment and a surge in support for far-right and populist parties​.

In South Korea, political scandals such as the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye have had a profound impact on public trust in traditional political institutions. The perception that political leaders are more interested in their own power and wealth than in the welfare of the people has driven many young voters to seek alternatives in conservative and anti-establishment movements​​.

Disillusionment with traditional politics is a crucial factor driving the political engagement of youth in Europe and South Korea. The distrust in mainstream parties, appeal of far-right and conservative leaders, and the impact of political scandals have all contributed to the shift towards far-right ideologies and conservative values among young people. Addressing these issues requires restoring public trust in political institutions and ensuring that policies effectively address the concerns of the younger generation.

Socio-Cultural Dynamics

Socio-cultural dynamics significantly influence the political engagement of youth in Europe and South Korea. The intergenerational conflicts, workplace dynamics, and evolving social norms play a crucial role in shaping the conservative and far-right leanings among young people.

In both Europe and South Korea, intergenerational conflicts are evident in various aspects of social and professional life. These conflicts often stem from differing values, expectations, and communication styles between younger and older generations.

In Europe, younger generations often feel misunderstood and undervalued by their older counterparts. This generational divide is exacerbated by differences in attitudes towards work, technology, and social issues. Younger people tend to prioritize work-life balance, personal fulfillment, and social justice, while older generations might emphasize job security, traditional values, and hierarchical structures​. These differences can lead to tensions and conflicts in the workplace and broader society, contributing to the appeal of far-right parties that promise to address the grievances of the youth.

In South Korea, the 1990s generation faces similar challenges. This generation, which includes individuals born between 1990 and 1999, is often at odds with their parents’ generation, who were born between the late 1950s and early 1970s. The older generation, who experienced rapid economic growth and industrialization, tends to have a more collectivist and hierarchical approach to work and social interactions. In contrast, the younger generation values individualism, direct communication, and merit-based advancement​​. These differing attitudes lead to workplace conflicts and a sense of alienation among the youth, who may turn to conservative ideologies that promise to reform the system and make it more accommodating to their values and needs.

Rapid social changes have also contributed to the conservative shift among the youth. In Europe, the increasing diversity due to immigration and the changing social norms around gender and sexuality have created a sense of cultural and social upheaval. Many young people feel that their traditional values and way of life are being threatened by these changes. Far-right parties capitalize on these fears by promoting nationalist and traditionalist agendas, which promise to restore and protect cultural heritage and social stability​.

In South Korea, the younger generation faces the dual pressures of maintaining traditional Korean values while adapting to global cultural influences. This generation has grown up in a highly connected digital world, exposed to global trends and ideas that often conflict with traditional Korean norms. The conservative shift among the 1990s generation can be seen as a response to these cultural tensions, with young people seeking a balance between preserving their cultural identity and embracing modernity​. Additionally, the significant gender imbalance among the 1990s generation, particularly among males, contributes to a sense of competition and insecurity, further driving conservative and nationalist sentiments​​.

The political divide along gender lines is particularly pronounced in South Korea. Young men and women have vastly different political preferences, often driven by their experiences and perceptions of gender equality policies. Young men frequently feel that these policies disadvantage them, leading to greater support for conservative and anti-feminist rhetoric. On the other hand, young women advocate for more comprehensive reforms to address persistent inequalities​.

In South Korea, specific online communities segmented by generation and gender significantly influence political views. Sites like Ilbe Storehouse, with its extreme right-wing and predominantly male user base, and Womad, with its radical feminist perspective, create echo chambers that reinforce existing beliefs and contribute to greater polarization. These communities facilitate political discourse and mobilize users around specific issues and ideologies, deeply influencing their political leanings​.

Socio-cultural dynamics play a vital role in the political shifts among youth in Europe and South Korea. The generational conflicts, workplace dynamics, and rapid social changes contribute to the appeal of far-right and conservative ideologies. These ideologies offer a sense of stability and a return to traditional values in a world perceived to be in flux. Addressing these socio-cultural issues requires fostering intergenerational understanding and creating inclusive policies that bridge the gap between traditional values and modern realities.

Case Studies

France: National Rally

The National Rally (RN), formerly known as the National Front (FN), has seen a significant rise in support among young voters in France. Under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, and more recently, Jordan Bardella, the party has successfully rebranded itself from its extremist roots to a more mainstream conservative party. Bardella, who effectively uses social media platforms like TikTok, has managed to connect with younger voters by addressing their economic and cultural concerns. His youthful image and relatable content have made far-right ideas more accessible to the younger demographic, helping the RN secure substantial support among the 18-25 age group​.

Germany: Alternative for Germany (AfD)

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has become a prominent far-right party, gaining significant support among young men. The AfD capitalizes on issues such as immigration, national security, and economic protectionism, which resonate with younger voters facing economic uncertainties and fears over cultural changes. The party’s strong online presence and use of social media platforms have been crucial in spreading their message and engaging with young voters. The AfD’s rhetoric often focuses on defending traditional German values and culture, appealing to those who feel alienated by the rapid social changes and the perceived failures of mainstream parties​​.

Italy: League

In Italy, the League, led by Matteo Salvini, has also seen growing support among young voters. Salvini’s populist and nationalist rhetoric, combined with his adept use of social media, has helped the League attract a younger demographic. The party’s stance on immigration and national sovereignty appeals to young Italians who are concerned about job security and cultural identity. Salvini’s charismatic presence and his ability to address the everyday concerns of young people have played a significant role in the League’s increasing popularity among the youth​.

South Korea: Conservative Shift Among the 1990s Generation

In South Korea, the conservative shift among the 1990s generation, particularly among young men, is driven by a combination of economic, social, and political factors. This generation, born between 1990 and 1999, has faced significant economic challenges, including high youth unemployment and a highly competitive job market. The rise of online communities segmented by gender and generation has also played a crucial role in shaping their political views.

Platforms like Ilbe Storehouse, known for its extreme right-wing views, cater predominantly to young men who feel disadvantaged by gender equality policies and social changes. These communities reinforce conservative and nationalist ideologies, appealing to young men who feel threatened by the changing social landscape. On the other hand, young women in South Korea, facing persistent gender inequalities and workplace discrimination, tend to support progressive parties and advocate for more comprehensive reforms​.

The political divide along gender lines is evident in recent elections, where a significant majority of young male voters supported conservative candidates, while young female voters largely backed progressive candidates. This divide highlights the differing perceptions of gender equality and social policies among the younger generation, contributing to the overall conservative shift among young men in South Korea​.

Case studies from France, Germany, Italy, and South Korea illustrate the complex interplay of economic, social, and political factors driving the youth’s engagement with far-right ideologies and conservative values. In Europe, the rise of far-right parties among young voters is fueled by concerns over immigration, national identity, and economic insecurity, with social media playing a crucial role in spreading these ideologies. In South Korea, the conservative shift among the 1990s generation is influenced by economic challenges, gender dynamics, and the impact of specific online communities. Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach that considers the unique socio-cultural contexts of each region.

Implications and Future Outlook

The increasing engagement of youth with far-right ideologies and the conservative shift among South Korea’s 1990s generation have significant implications for future elections. In Europe, the rise of far-right parties among young voters can lead to a more fragmented political landscape, with mainstream parties struggling to maintain their traditional voter bases. As far-right parties continue to gain traction, they could secure more parliamentary seats and potentially influence national policies towards more nationalist and protectionist agendas​.

In South Korea, the political divide along gender lines suggests that future elections will be highly influenced by issues related to gender equality and economic policies. The conservative shift among young men and the progressive leanings of young women indicate that political parties will need to address these divergent concerns to secure the youth vote. The significant support for conservative candidates among young men could lead to more conservative policies being implemented, particularly in areas such as gender equality, economic reforms, and national security​.

Mainstream political parties in both Europe and South Korea face considerable challenges in regaining the support of young voters. In Europe, traditional parties need to address the economic insecurities and cultural fears that drive young people towards far-right ideologies. This includes implementing policies that provide job security, affordable housing, and social stability while also promoting inclusive and multicultural values​.

In South Korea, mainstream parties must navigate the complex socio-cultural dynamics that influence young voters. Addressing the concerns of young men who feel disadvantaged by gender equality policies and economic competition, while also advocating for comprehensive reforms to tackle persistent gender inequalities, will be crucial. Bridging the gender divide and creating policies that resonate with both young men and women will be essential for maintaining political stability and social cohesion​.

To mitigate the rise of extremism and conservatism among the younger generation, it is essential to address the underlying economic, social, and cultural issues driving these political shifts.

Implementing policies that reduce youth unemployment, provide affordable housing, and ensure economic stability can alleviate the economic insecurities that fuel far-right and conservative ideologies. Initiatives such as job creation programs, support for small businesses, and investments in education and training are crucial. These measures help young people secure stable and rewarding careers, thereby reducing their inclination towards extremist political views.

Promoting inclusive and multicultural narratives that celebrate diversity and address xenophobia is vital to counter nationalist and xenophobic sentiments. Educational programs emphasizing the value of diversity and fostering intercultural understanding can play a significant role in this regard. Such programs help create a more inclusive society where different cultures and backgrounds are valued and respected, reducing the appeal of far-right ideologies.

Addressing the gender divide in political preferences requires comprehensive reforms that promote gender equality in education, employment, and social policies. Ensuring equal opportunities for both men and women, tackling workplace discrimination, and supporting gender equality initiatives can bridge the gap and reduce political polarization. These measures help create a more equitable society where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute to their fullest potential.

Encouraging political participation and engagement among young people is crucial for making them feel more represented and involved in the political process. Creating platforms for youth voices and fostering open dialogues between generations can build trust and understanding. This engagement helps reduce the appeal of extremist ideologies by giving young people a sense of agency and involvement in shaping their future.

The rise of far-right ideologies in Europe and the conservative shift among South Korea’s 1990s generation highlight the importance of addressing underlying economic, social, and cultural issues. In Europe, economic insecurities and cultural fears, particularly related to immigration, drive youth towards far-right ideologies. Meanwhile, in South Korea, the intense competition in education and employment, along with persistent gender inequalities, fuels a conservative shift among young men. To mitigate these trends, policymakers must implement economic reforms, promote social integration, advance gender equality, and encourage youth engagement. These measures can help create a more inclusive and stable political landscape, reducing the appeal of extremism and conservatism among young people.

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