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A President's First 100 Days: How Significant is it? Updated: 2022-08-16 17:02:57 KST

President Yoon Suk-yeol marks his first hundred days in office this week under the cloud of unusually low approval ratings, especially considering he's only been in office for a matter of months.
But, how good of a barometer are such ratings when it comes judging a president's success so early on?
For more, this part one of a two-part series by our Editor in Chief Moon Connyoung.

"Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term in the 1930s, the first hundred days in office have become a yardstick to measure the accomplishments of presidents and political leaders around the world.
But, how effective is the hundred day mark in judging their success?"



The first hundred days is just a tiny fraction of a five-year South Korean presidential or a four-year U.S. presidential term.
But the idea that a lot can be achieved in a short period originated long before U.S. President Roosevelt.


"So help me, God."

Exiled French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's escape from the island of Elba in 1815, return to power in Paris and subsequent defeat of the Battle of Waterloo all in under four months is known as 'Les cent jours.'

However it wasn't until the 20th century when FDR was elected as president of the United States that the term became a political catchphrase.
Roosevelt was elected at a time when the country faced severe challenges during the Great Depression.
The urgent economic situation allowed FDR to achieve a remarkable amount in the first hundred days of his presidency managing to pass a record 76 bills into law.
He also coined the term fireside chat by speaking directly to the public through radio broadcast.



"I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days and why it was done and what the next steps are going to be."

Roosevelt's leadership style along with the extraordinary speed of reform cemented his popularity setting the hundred day benchmark by which all future presidents would be measured.

What about South Korean presidents?
How did they fare a little over three months in office and did they all enjoy a long enough honeymoon period?




"I do solemnly swear before the people that I will faithfully execute the Office of President."

Kim Young-sam, the first civilian to hold the office in over 30 years, enjoyed over 80-percent approval rating a hundred days into his single five-year term.



His successor, Kim Dae-jung, got elected at the height of the economic crisis in December 1997 and faced the formidable challenges of economic reform and democratic consolidation as he entered office in 1998.


"All of us are being asked to shed sweat and tears.
My fellow Koreans, you have shown amazing patriotism and resilience during this time of difficulty.
You turned in US$ 2 bil. worth of gold to help shore up the ailing economy.

A hundred days later, Kim Dae-jung's job approval also stood at a relatively high 62-percent.

Even though politics around the world has seen significant changes since FDR, political analysts argue that the first hundred days is still a presidential honeymoon during which they wield extra influence.
However, the honeymoon period can be short as was the case for South Korea's 17th President Lee Myung-bak.
He saw his ratings plunge to 21-percent a little over three months into his term - the lowest for any South Korean presidents at the 100th day mark.


"The Lee Myung-bak protest which was about the import of U.S. beef and concerns about mad cow disease had about 100-thousand people in the streets. And his approval rating fell to about 21-percent."

Lee's ratings, however, saw a rebound in the following year and a half to reach 47-percent at the end of his second year in office.

The first hundred days may be an effective political campaign slogan. But is it a benchmark that matters?


"It's early indicator of whether or not the presidency is on the right track. And I think that normally, in cases there is an indication that things may not be going well, it's an opportunity for course correction.
I think, in that respect, this reflection of one hundred days, of course, it's a little bit of a false measures because the one hundred day period is only how well you get out of the starting block.
It's a five-year race. It's not a one hundred day race. And so, ultimately, the ability of an administration to accomplish its objectives it can get headwinds by doing well in its initial phases but it's not uncommon to see stumbles out of the block and then some kind of a recovery. Certainly we've seen that in the United States fairly regularly.."

Bill Clinton, for one, had a rocky first hundred days but went on to win re-election in 1996.
For most presidents and political leaders today, the ghost of Roosevelt looms large
A successful first hundred days can build momentum, personal credibility and political capital which any politician would be grateful for.
But, history has also shown that a leader's early actions do not necessarily make or break their presidency and plans can quickly be overturned by events beyond their control.
Presidential historians say many of the things that are written about the first hundred days are long forgotten by the end of a president's term and they often have nothing to do with a president's actual success.
Moon Connyoung, Arirang News.
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