A View Inside North Korea

Since 2016, CSIS has partnered with an organization that has a successful track record of conducting discrete and careful surveys in North Korea. Beyond Parallel has commissioned this organization to administer questionnaires in provinces across North Korea. The questionnaires are carried out as natural in-person conversations between those conducting the interviews and the respondents. The individuals administering the questions are carefully trained to avoid asking leading questions or eliciting specific answers so as to protect both the integrity of the interview project and as well as safety of the people involved in the conversation.

The sampling method we used was non-probability, convenience sampling as accessibility was a prime consideration. An ideal public opinion survey would use a large, random sampling of respondents who do not have any prior relationship with interviewers. However, given the gravity of the consequences faced for expressing opinions in North Korea, the methodology of the interview project commissioned by Beyond Parallel had to be designed to account for the current conditions in the country and protect all involved. Read more about the limitations and merits of conducting surveys in North Korea at The Merits of Conducting Surveys Inside North Korea. Explore the results and related commentary through the articles listed below.

Questionnaire Findings

On Unification: North Koreans’ Hope for the (Near) Future
34 of 36 of respondents, or 94.4%, felt that unification is necessary, a figure that is consistent with previous studies of North Korean defectors in South Korea. 21 of 36 North Korean respondents, or 58%, said unification will happen in their lifetime. When asked why unification is necessary, 15 of 34 respondents, or 44.1%, said it is necessary because Koreans have a shared ethnicity, 10 (or 29.4%) said it would increase economic growth, and 5 (or 14.7%) said unification is important to resolve the issue of separated families.

Paradise Evaporated: Escaping the No Income Trap in North Korea
In North Korea, the government controls the labor market and sets income levels. However, this study found that 26 of 36 North Korean respondents, or 72%, said they received almost all of their household income from unofficial markets. 21 of 30, or 70%, respondents who said the outside world had a greater influence on their lives than North Korean government decisions said they received almost all of their household income from markets.

Information and Its Consequences in North Korea
A study commissioned by Beyond Parallel of North Koreans currently living inside the country reveals that 34 of the 36 respondents from all across the country have been exposed to foreign media. 33 of the 36 respondents, or 91.6 percent, watched or listened to foreign media as least once per month and 21 of those 36 used foreign media at least once per week.

  No Laughing Matter: North Koreans’ Discontent and Daring Jokes
A Beyond Parallel descriptive interview project with North Koreans currently residing in North Korea found that 35 of 36 respondents’ family, friends, or neighbors complain or make jokes about the government in private.

  Meager Rations, Banned Markets, and Growing Anger Toward Government
A Beyond Parallel descriptive survey of North Koreans currently residing in North Korea revealed a clear sense of discontent among respondents about what the government provides its citizens.

Related Expert Commentaries

Empowering North Koreans as Part of Trump’s North Korea Policy
February 13, 2017, by Jieun Baek. Empowering North Koreans through information campaigns is a cost-effective policy and the best bet for sparking endogenously induced positive and sustainable changes within the country.

Changing DPRK Demands Customized Approach to Freedom of Information Advocacy
January 19, 2017, by DailyNK Editorial Team. It is important to have a sense of the media preferences of North Koreans and to provide information that matches the needs and dispositions of the various demographic groups within the country.

The Merits of Conducting Surveys Inside North Korea
November 2, 2016, by Myong-Hyun Go. Conducting a public opinion survey in a totalitarian society is highly risky, and the risk is reflected on the very small sample size and the limited number of items that the researchers were able to ask in the survey.

Considerations of Risk and Methodology for North Korean Surveys
November 2, 2016, by Karl Friedhoff. It is no secret that getting anything meaningful in the way of data out of North Korea can be difficult.

Dissatisfaction But No Evidence Yet of A Pyongyang Spring
October 6, 2016, by Greg Scarlatoiu. The Beyond Parallel poll appears to have overcome two major hurdles faced by other North Korea surveys: an over-reliance on North Korean defectors and over-reliance on people from the border provinces with China, who continue to represent the vast majority of escapees.

North Korea Survey Reveals Three Core Trends
October 6, 2016, by DailyNK Editorial Team. Although North Koreans are often depicted as an oppressed yet obedient people, recent survey data tells a different story. Political attitudes and economic activities in the isolated state changed dramatically on the heels of a massive famine that struck in the mid-1990s.