Featuring Austin Horng-En Wang, Assistant Professor University of Nevada, Las Vegas, followed by a conversation with Kharis Templeman Research Fellow Hoover Institution.
Programming note: I had to bow out of this event at the last minute because of a positive COVID test; a hearty thanks to my colleague Glenn Tiffert for stepping in on very short notice.
On behalf of the Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region, and its National Security Task Force, the Hoover Institution invites you to How the Ukraine Crisis Shapes Taiwan’s Public Opinion -- and Beyond on Tuesday, October 18, 2022 from 4:00 - 5:00 PST.
Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s response has changed the calculation of war strategies and US involvement worldwide. On the other side of the world, a potential 2027 China invasion of Taiwan looms over the stability of East Asia, and public opinion in democratic Taiwan plays a crucial role in its own choice of security strategies. How does the Ukraine crisis influence or shape the Taiwanese people’s preference for security and foreign policies? How might the US response and presence in Europe and East Asia play a role in Taiwan? In this talk, Dr. Austin Horng-En Wang traces and analyzes public opinion in Taiwan before and after the start of the Ukraine crisis and explains how the changes across subgroups are likely to impact the upcoming elections in Taiwan and the future of the US-Taiwan relationship.
Featuring Austin Horng-En Wang, Assistant Professor University of Nevada, Las Vegas, followed by a conversation with Kharis Templeman Research Fellow Hoover Institution.
Dr. Austin Horng-En Wang is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His research focuses on political psychology, public opinion, and the politics of East Asia. His research articles can be found in the Journal of Peace Research, Social Media + Society, Asian Survey, and Political Research Quarterly, among others. He is the recipient of The Wilson Center 2021 China Fellowship, Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation 2020 Scholarship, and Global Taiwan Institute 2019 Scholarship.
For the rest of this preview, see: Part I. Part II. Part III.
Summing up, here's the ratings as of August 16:
By way of conclusion, here are five observations on the 2022 local elections three months out:
1. The KMT is down but not out. There is now a frequent refrain among outside observers that the KMT is just hopelessly disorganized and dysfunctional and cannot mount a serious challenge to the DPP anymore, until and unless it changes its position on cross-Strait relations. Maybe. But going through race by race here suggests the party's candidates are still very competitive in local elections. By my own count, I have the KMT nominee favored right now to win in 16 of 22 localities -- that's more than they control today.
Perhaps I'm being too generous to the blue camp here -- and after adding the numbers up I'm feeling a wee bit uncomfortable with how lopsided they are -- but one can at least make a reasonable case that the KMT will hold a majority of local executives after these elections, IF (big if) the national environment doesn't turn against it. Despite a rough few years, the party still has significant residual strength at the local level, and reports of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated.
2. HOWEVA, there is a lot of downside risk for the KMT. Since 2014, all local elections in Taiwan have been held concurrently. As a result, outcomes across races have been more correlated than they used to be. The last two election cycles have produced big swings against the party in power: in 2014, President Ma Ying-jeou's approval ratings were under 20 percent, and the DPP flipped seven counties and cities as part of an anti-KMT wave election. In 2018, Tsai's ratings were under 30 percent, and the KMT swept all the competitive races except for Taipei, where Mayor Ko barely hung on.
In this election cycle, the KMT is playing defense: they hold 14 of the 22 local posts and will do well just to keep that number. More than six years into her presidency, Tsai Ing-wen has defied the second-term curse and her approval ratings have been positive for most of the last two years. The KMT's party ID numbers have fallen far behind the DPP (the latest NCCU/ESC polls have DPP identifiers at 31% of respondents, and the KMT at a record-low 14%.) And US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in early August has triggered an extended round of military exercises and bellicose rhetoric from Beijing that has put the KMT on the defensive again. As the "China-friendly" party in Taiwan, the KMT has traditionally suffered politically when the salience of the threat from the PRC increases. (This is arguably a big part of the reason Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected in 2020.)
It's possible that a natural disaster, a worsening COVID situation, a new government scandal or two, or just a general weariness with the DPP could drag down the central government's popularity over the next three months. But if Beijing's military exercises and pressure campaign on Taiwanese agricultural products continue, they are likely to help the DPP and hurt the KMT. In addition, the CCP's 20th Party Congress will likely happen sometime in November [update 8.30: it will begin earlier, on Oct 16], where expectations are that Xi Jinping will be confirmed for a third term as General Party Secretary. Not since 1992 has this meeting been held around the same time as a major Taiwanese election (the 14th Party Congress was 12-18 October, and the LY election was 19 December), and, depending on what is said about Taiwan there, it has the potential to trigger another public opinion backlash in Taiwan against the PRC, much like Xi Jinping's January 2, 2019 speech to "Taiwan compatriots" led to a rebound in Tsai Ing-wen's approval ratings.
So, despite having a strong slate of candidates for local office, the KMT could easily lose most of the competitive races if the salience of cross-Strait relations remains high through the fall.
3. Nominations are half the battle. Both major parties moved away from the polling primaries method they've used in the past to select nominees, and instead empowered the chair to "negotiate" or hand-pick nominees in most races. The DPP has done this a lot during the Tsai Ing-wen era; one of her political gifts is effectively managing the intra-party fights over offices and spoils in a way that keeps everyone onside. She's mostly succeeded at that again here, although the party's slate of nominees as a whole seems rather underwhelming to me. Despite their recent success at the national level, the DPP still doesn't have a deep bench of local politicians who have built up grass-roots networks and can play the factional game as well as the KMT. And in places like Chiayi, Yunlin, or Changhua, winning that game can still be decisive.
On the KMT side, Eric Chu had a couple well-publicized nomination fiascos in Taoyuan and Miaoli. But in most of the other races, the party has recruited well. Chu's task has been made easier by having incumbents to renominate in many races, which has helped head off the kind of factional squabbling that has bedeviled the party in the past. It's especially notable that with popular mayors running again in Chiayi City, Changhua, and Yunlin, the KMT is well-positioned to hold on in several jurisdictions that have become reliably "green" in national elections.
Both major parties still face threats in several races from spoiler candidates from the minor parties, the NPP and TPP. The NPP is now firmly in the pan-green camp, and the presence of its nominees will almost certainly hurt the DPP more, as they did in the 2020 legislative elections. The TPP is new to local politics this cycle, and it is trying to position itself as more centrist than the KMT. It could erode support for or even eclipse the KMT, as some recent public polling has shown it might; but given the long track record of third party candidates in Taiwan underperforming in elections relative to early polls, I'll believe it only when I see it.
4. Does the amendment to lower the voting age have a chance? Unlike in 2018, there’s not going to be referendums held alongside the local elections. There will, however, be a vote on a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age, from 20 to 18 years old. There is no open partisan opposition to the amendment, which passed the legislature 109-0 on March 25. But it does require the support of half of all eligible voters to take effect -- not just half of those voting. With an electorate of 19.3 million, that means 9.65 million yes votes are required for approval. So it will need high turnout in the local elections, and even so it is far from certain the proposal will get enough support to pass the threshold. This is the first time the voters will decide on a constitutional amendment since the new procedure was adopted in 2005.
5. Year of the Woman? I was surprised at just how well-represented women are in both parties this cycle. Either the KMT or DPP has nominated a woman in 2 of 6 special municipalities, and 10 of 16 other races. In 3 races (Nantou, Changhua, and Hualien), both candidates are women. Taiwan rightly gets a lot of attention for having a woman as president and increasing representation in the legislature (41% in 2020, up from 38% in 2016). But the numbers at the local level are also striking: one can easily imagine a result in 2022 where women end up leading a majority of Taiwan's localities, in Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Yilan, Hsinchu City, Nantou, Changhua, Chiayi City, Yunlin, Pingtung, Hualien, and Taitung.
That’s all the more impressive because the cabinet still looks like this:
And the top of Taiwanese academia looks like this:
And the business world still looks like this:
Electoral politics really is a women’s profession in Taiwan, which makes it exceptional in the region, and a nice contrast to Japan and Korea, and of course these guys across the Strait:
On February 18, I had the privilege of joining a strong group of witnesses in testifying before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on the topic of "Deterring PRC Aggression toward Taiwan." The USCC has a congressional mandate "to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action."
I can still remember when I first became familiar with the depth and quality of USCC's annual report, when I was an undergraduate taking -- what else? -- Chinese politics with Melanie Manion at the University of Rochester. Parts of it were assigned reading then, and parts no doubt still are now, 20 years later, in the many Chinese security and politics courses around the country. So it is gratifying and a bit humbling to be in a position to contribute in some small way to the next iteration.
I also want to note here that, while I was an undergraduate, I received crucial funding from the National Security Education Program (NSEP, now known as the Boren Awards) to study abroad in Beijing and Taipei. That experience kindled my interest in Taiwan, set me on my current trajectory and, quite literally, changed my life. I hope that robust funding for studying the language and culture of countries that have national security implications for the United States will be available for years to come--it is a smart investment in our future, and an increasingly important incentive to learn a foreign language in an era when the numbers of American students studying abroad in China has dropped precipitously.
I would not be in a position today to contribute to the public conversation on Taiwan's security issues without the help of the Boren program, and I hope my testimony last week will go some small way toward repaying the investment NSEP made in me and my career.
The full video of the panel and the written testimony, including my own, are available at the USCC hearing website. In addition, since it is much abridged from the written testimony, I have posted my oral remarks below.
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. I have been asked to cover quite a lot of ground in my written testimony, so in my oral remarks I’m going to focus on my comparative advantage in this hearing: How to Assess Taiwan’s Will to Fight.
This is fun: we have an argument! I made some assertions and predictions in a post on the upcoming LY election, and Nathan Batto of the Frozen Garlic blog has taken me to task a bit.
So what's my response? Well, let me begin by agreeing with Nathan: I AM completely wrong about one big thing. I made an elementary error when I calculated the effects of a swing toward Tsai and away from the pan-blue camp: I forgot to divide by two. As a consequence, my forecast violated what I will now forever remember as the First Law of Swing: if one party goes up, some other party must come down (click that link, BTW, it's good stuff.) In hindsight, a really silly mistake. This pretty much sums up my position:
Nevertheless, simple mistake, simple fix. Divide by two, dummy. Below is the same ranking of LY seats, with an extra column added that gives the size of the swing needed to flip the district to the other camp (swing toward Tsai from 2012 is positive, swing away is negative).
(Updated data file is below. I've corrected a few errors in the previous file; they're listed in the documentation sheet. Most changes were small enough to be inconsequential, but Nathan pointed out a significant one: Tsai's Hualien vote in 2012 was 25.9, not 29.9. Thanks for catching that.)
Forecast, Take Two
With that mea culpa out of the way, I still think the basic approach here is sound, assuming one does the math right: go down the swing column, take a guess what you think Tsai will get above her 2012 vote share, and that’ll tell you roughly which districts she’ll carry. (Note that by "carry," I mean she'll win a majority over the combined Chu-Soong vote, not just a plurality over Chu.) And if Tsai carries a district, it’s going to be tough for the KMT candidate to hold it.
So, again assuming Taitung reverts to its natural blueness:
Nathan argues that we should give KMT incumbents at least an extra two points cushion on average (see discussion below). So let's be conservative, do that for all KMT candidates (most of the seats the DPP would have to win are being defended by incumbents anyway), and round up. That means if Tsai wins at least 53% of the presidential vote, then the DPP is likely to have a majority in the LY. She’s currently polling well above 53%, so the DPP is a strong favorite to win a single-party majority.
Thus, I'm actually coming down very close to Nathan's forecast that a Tsai share of the vote somewhere between 53-54% is sufficient to get the DPP to a majority.
I also agree that once Tsai gets much higher than that, the legislative election has the potential to turn into a slaughter. A uniform (big assumption!) 12 point swing toward Tsai (45.63-->57.63%) means she would carry every district all the way down to Hsinchu City, ranked #56 on the list. That would leave the KMT with at most about 17 district seats, which starts to look like the DPP's situation after 2008. (Unlike the DPP, the KMT is cushioned a bit by an advantage in the aborigine seats. But only a bit.)
So, basically, we're in agreement. But that's boring, so let's see if I can find something else to argue with Nathan about.
Assumptions about 2016: Room for an Argument?
As Nathan noted, debates are good because they force us to clarify our assumptions and claims and double-check our data. So in that spirit, let me list the key assumptions this forecast rests on (later I'll explore what happens when we relax a couple of these, so don't bug out yet!). They are:
I'll tackle A1 now, and address the rest in separate posts. (Otherwise this post will be book-length by the time I'm done. And the election might already be over!)
A1: Will DPP LY candidates run close to Tsai in 2016?
This assumption can be challenged on at least two fronts: (1) incumbency advantage, and (2) the behavior of disaffected pan-blue voters. Nathan devoted a lot of space to (1), so I'll start with a consideration of that. Here's what I find when I run the numbers again:
Now, the data. I initially claimed based on the full set of 73 districts that there wasn't evidence of a KMT "incumbent advantage" in 2012. That is, that KMT LY candidates didn't run significantly ahead of Ma Ying-jeou. Nathan argued quite sensibly that we should look only at those races where the KMT and DPP candidates together got almost all the vote. The question then is, what is "almost all"? Nathan went with 95% of the total vote. I initially went with no single 3rd party candidate winning >5% of the vote, which accounts for some of the discrepancy between us.
I've replicated his analysis with my data, and come up with similar numbers to his, although I find a weaker KMT incumbency advantage than he does (1.4 vs. 2.2 points ahead). The remaining discrepancy appears to be in our coding of incumbents in the head-to-head cases: I have 32 in the KMT, and 12 in the DPP, to 30 and 10 for Nathan. (I pulled my coding from the CEC website, which records party list legislators running in districts as incumbents, and I may have missed a couple of these. So I'd trust Nathan's incumbency coding over mine.) The signs remain the same, though, and so does the conclusion: incumbency provides an electoral benefit, albeit a small one.
Instead of a crappy image of a simple table (dammit, Weebly), I find it more helpful to see a visual representation of what we're talking about. Below I've plotted the 2012 LY vote data against the presidential vote, distinguishing between incumbents (solid) and non-incumbents (hollow). The red line is just the function y=x; that is, dots above this line represent candidates who ran ahead of the presidential ticket, and dots below represent those who ran behind.
Here's the DPP:
This is a really good fit. The correlation between Tsai and the LY candidates vote share is about 0.826, and there's only one obvious outlier. (That's Kaohsiung 9, where Chen Chih-chung split the DPP vote.) Note also that even just at a glance, DPP incumbents appear to be doing significantly better than challengers: if we ignore Kaohsiung 9, all but about three are at or above the line, which means they got as many votes as Tsai did.*
Now let's look at the KMT:
The fit is...less good. (r=.377). There are a lot more outliers, especially in deep blue areas where Ma got a lot of the vote. If we want to evaluate whether there's an incumbent advantage on the KMT side as well, we need to account for this. Hence the decision to drop the 25 cases where there was a significant 3rd-party vote.
Here's what the picture looks like with just the 48 districts where KMT+DPP LY vote > 95%:
Ah, much better. Now the KMT looks a lot more like the DPP picture, and the correlation is about the same (r=.835 vs 0.860 for the DPP). I count 9 incumbents who clearly ran behind Ma, but at least 21 who ran ahead. Three of those even ran way ahead in tough districts where Ma got less than 42% of the vote. This is a demonstration that there's a KMT incumbency advantage, right? And isn't it therefore at least plausible that some KMT incumbents could survive a Tsai wave because of this, even if their districts turn green?
Well, yes, if you define this advantage as running significantly ahead of the KMT presidential standard-bearer, Ma. But this is not actually what matters for winning reelection. What the forecast above relies on is the Tsai vote in each district, which is the complement of not just the Ma vote but of Ma+Soong. In other words, I assumed that everyone voting for Soong would also vote for the KMT LY candidate in the district (in the head-to-head contests, I don't this this is crazy). If we add in Soong's 2.77%, then here's roughly what the picture looks like (Soong's 2012 vote varied a lot across districts, too, so this is a simplification):
A bit less impressive: there are only six incumbents (of 32) who ran significantly ahead of the combined pan-blue presidential vote, and therefore would have won in districts where Tsai also won. There's just not a lot here from 2012 to indicate that the 40 KMT incumbents running in 2016, taken as a whole, have good odds of surviving if Tsai wins their districts, no matter how great their constituency service is. If it's like 2012, then we can expect about 20%, or eight, to run significantly ahead of the pan-blue presidential vote.
This is the main point that I tried--clumsily--to communicate in my previous post. Going into this analysis, I had a vague expectation that the KMT majority included quite a few districts that Tsai won in 2012 (that is, where LY vote of KMT > Ma + Soong), suggesting at least a plausible path to survival in this environment. (This stemmed from my own ignorance about 2012, not anything Nathan has written.) That's simply not the case, and unless 2016 is significantly different than 2012, this bodes very poorly for the survival of KMT legislators in districts on the 25-45 range on that list above.
Is 2016 going to be like 2012?
That leads me to the second issue: is 2016 going to be like 2012? Nathan argues that it won't be: the last election was a nearly perfect blue-green head-to-head fight, whereas 2016 will have a lot of disaffected pan-blue voters searching around for alternatives. And some of them will back Tsai, then turn around and vote for pan-blue LY candidates.
Before I make my case for why I don't think this will be a large share of voters, a clarification: my goal here is to establish a baseline expectation for what district vote share DPP candidates will win with a given Tsai presidential vote share. So I'm focusing exclusively on the DPP side of the races. The mess of coordination failures on the pan-blue side is probably going to make this a conservative estimate, but again, I think it's useful to establish a generic partisan baseline first, before we start adjusting up or down, and it's much simpler to do that by starting with the DPP.
Now, to the question about 2016. I expect Tsai's vote share and DPP LY vote shares will again be highly correlated in 2016. We know there are going to be a lot more Tsai supporters in 2016: some will be former or disaffected pan-blue voters, some will be independents, and some will be newly minted voters. Let's rank-order how likely green-blue split-ticket voting should be given the origin of these groups of Tsai voters:
First is the shifting partisan identification of the electorate. Nathan wrote a very nice piece for the China Policy Institute blog about the shift in the number of pan-green vs pan-blue partisans over the last couple of years. (If you haven't read it yet, go do it--it's well worth your time.) The takeaway from that piece is that there are a lot fewer pan-blue identifiers now, and a lot more pan-green, than in 2012. How much? Well, instead of a 50-45 advantage in favor of the pan-blue, it's looking more and more from public opinion research like the ratio has flipped toward a green plurality. If we think about 2016 in this light, Tsai's increase in the polls is not entirely a protest vote against Ma and the KMT, but also reflects an increase in identification with the pan-green side of the political spectrum. It's difficult to estimate the size of that increase, but to the extent it's real it should help not just Tsai but DPP LY candidates, too.
Second is turnout. In the current environment, there are a lot of disgruntled pan-blue voters. They're presented with two presidential candidates, Chu and Soong, who aren't eliciting a lot of enthusiasm at this point. In addition, there's the little matter of how Chu ended up heading the KMT ticket: he arranged to have the previous nominee Hung Hsiu-chu dumped, and that angered her supporters within the party. It's not hard to imagine a significant chunk of the pan-blue side simply sitting this election out rather than casting a protest vote for Soong or Tsai. (There's also the matter of travel back from the PRC mainland to vote--it's costly for Taiwanese based there to do this, and the lack of a competitive race for president probably means many more of them will stay away.) If they do that, then those votes won't be there in the LY races either.
Third is that the presidential and LY elections will be concurrent in 2016. 2012 was the first time that voters could cast a ballot for president and the legislature at the same time. Prior to that year, these elections were always held on different days, and often different years, which led to a significantly different electorate across these two types of races. In particular, presidential elections tended to have the highest turnout, with LY turnout 15-20% lower. I suspect, although I don't have the evidence at hand, that the KMT benefited the most from this lower turnout, because its resource advantages allowed it to push core supporters to the polls better than other parties. It's the kind of "hidden benefit" that can increase the size of the incumbency advantage and help sustain an LY majority for a long time even as the underlying nature of the electorate changes. But if the elections are held at the same time, this gap goes away. Just about everyone who shows up to vote in one election also votes in the other (unless they're deliberately boycotting something--see, e.g., the 2004 referendums). It's effectively the same electorate in both races.*
So while 2012 was a nearly perfect blue-green head-to-head contest, it's worth considering also the possibility that the close correlation between the presidential and LY elections that year was not exceptional, but more like a new norm. Like 2012, just about everyone who votes for president in 2016 will also vote for the LY. That means the fluctuation in turnout that we're used to seeing between presidential and LY elections will probably not be as stark going forward, and the likelihood that the presidency and LY will be controlled by different camps, as was true during the Chen Shui-bian era, will be lower from now on. (Note: I haven't looked much at the evidence here, and I'd be very interested to hear Nathan's and others' reactions to this speculation.)
For all these reasons, then, I think assuming a close correlation between Tsai's district vote share and the DPP candidate's in 2016 is a good way to start estimating how the legislative election will play out.
In future posts, I'll say something about the assumptions of a uniform swing, the complicating factor of separate yuanzhumin districts, and the PR seats.
* I'm ignoring the fact that yuanzhumin (aborigine) voters don't vote in the same LY districts. In most cases this impact is minor, but in a couple districts they are 30% or more of the electorate. Since yuanzhumin voters have been to this point overwhelmingly pan-blue, this introduces a pan-blue bias into the forecast: I'm assuming those votes will be there in the LY races, which makes districts like Taitung or Hualien look a lot more blue than they really are. More on this in another post.
We're now four months away from the presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan, to be held on January 16th. At this point polls start to tell us something meaningful about how the election will turn out. To my eye, there are three things that stick out:
1. Taiwanese voters care most about the economy, and they overwhelmingly evaluate it as "bad."
A Taiwan Brain Trust poll that came out yesterday reports that about 64% of respondents named economic development as the primary issue in next year's elections--far outstripping government effectiveness (about 17%) and cross-Strait relations (only about 4.5%).
Another poll from Taiwan Indicators Survey Research ll (TISR) that came out on Monday finds that an astounding 84% of respondents evaluated the overall state of the domestic economy as "bad" ("認為國內整體經濟狀況不好“); only 8% thought it was good.
The headline numbers in both these polls focus on support for the three major candidates--Tsai Ing-wen, Hung Hsiu-chu, and Soong Chu-yu (aka James Soong). I think they're burying the lede. Economic conditions are a powerful determinant of election outcomes: in general, incumbents get the credit when people think the economic is doing well, and they get the blame when it is not--whether or not they actually have much control over economic outcomes at all. So the fact that most Taiwanese poll respondents are emphasizing the state of the economy, and that the large majority think it is bad, bodes very poorly for the KMT. (Note that this cannot just be Pan-Green supporters expressing discontent about the economy: this is 84% of all respondents. Dissatisfaction with the economy crosses party lines.)
These results suggest that, like in the local elections in 2014, the KMT is going to be fighting a massive headwind. Even if they had a strong candidate (ahem, Chu Li-lun?) atop the ticket, I would expect them to lose with these numbers. With Hung Hsiu-chu as the nominee, and James Soong running yet another third-party campaign that's offering an alternative to Pan-Blue voters who don't like Hung, the presidential election already looks overdetermined. The KMT is going to lose, badly. And Tsai Ing-wen, by default, is going to win.
At this point, though, I'd be very cautious about interpreting an impending DPP victory as anything other than a rejection of the KMT. There will inevitably be people in Taiwan and in Washington, DC who will frame this outcome as a repudiation of closer cross-Strait relations with the PRC, or an endorsement of Taiwanese independence. It's time to start beating the drum that the election is not about cross-Strait relations. It's not about independence or unification. It's not really even about a new "third force" of youth activism and social progressive politics. The 2016 election is about the economy.
2. The KMT is really unpopular, but support for the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen is soft.
Dissatisfaction with the KMT is really high right now. Taiwan Brain Trust puts it at 71%, which is a significant improvement from December 2014, when the rate was 80%.
What is more surprising is that the DPP is still not very popular in absolute terms. Throughout 2015, the DPP has had higher negatives than positives in the Taiwan Brain Trust survey results. The most recent poll finds about 45% dissatisfied with the DPP, and 42% satisfied. That's actually a significant improvement as well; for polls in March, April, and June over half of respondents were dissatisfied with the DPP. The TISR results are more positive for both the DPP and KMT, probably because survey uses a "feelings thermometer" to rank the parties on a scale from 0 to 100: the DPP ranks slightly positively with a net score of 52.0, as compared to the KMT's 35.7. That's still not particularly strong given the circumstances.
Tsai Ing-wen's polling support is also still short of 50%; TISR finds 43.6% of respondents intend to vote for her, which is a new high in recent months. Undecideds and those saying they won't vote combined are still 25% of the electorate. Taiwan Brain Trust puts it a bit higher, at 46.8%.
What this suggests to me, again, is that Tsai and the DPP are positioned to do well in 2016 mostly because they're not Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT. Given how widespread dissatisfaction with the economy is right now, they're going to win a lot of swing votes as the "lesser of two evils."
3. The NPP might replace the TSU in the legislature.
The Taiwan Solidarity Union has three seats in the current LY. They're the deep green alternative to the DPP, and they've been struggling to hang on ever since the electoral system change in 2008 shut them out of the legislature. They need to pass 5% in the party list vote to get seats, which they did easily in 2012, winning 8.96%. They're currently polling at less than half that: they're at about 4.1% in the Taiwan Brain Trust poll. They're being outpolled now by the New Power Party (時代力量), at 6.8%, and James Soong's People First Party at 5.6%.
There's a real possibility that the NPP takes a lot of votes from the TSU, passing the PR threshold while the TSU doesn't, and effectively replacing it on the deep green end of the political spectrum. It's notoriously difficult to poll support for small parties, so treat these as very rough estimates. The NPP is deliberately trying to appeal to young voters, who turn out at lower rates and are less predictable in their voting patterns than older generations. For another, the NPP is actually cooperating with the DPP in its district nominations--I'm not sure how this might affect the party list vote.
(A third reason to be wary of the Taiwan Brain Trust numbers on the small parties: Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明), a professor at Soochow University, is both the polling director for the survey and now a legislative candidate for the NPP.)
There's a real danger here for the Pan-Green camp if their voters fail to coordinate in the party list vote: the Green Party and Social Democratic Party are running a joint list that may appeal to a lot of the same young, well-educated voters that the NPP is making a play for. They're currently polling at 1.8%, according to the Taiwan Brain Trust survey. It's not hard to imagine the NPP, Green-SDP, and TSU all pulling some Pan-Green support and each getting 3-4% of the PR list vote, leaving them all with no seats, while the PFP passes the threshold and wins several seats. If the district results end up closely split, the Pan-Green camp could even be denied a majority in the LY despite a significant advantage in the overall share of the vote.
While I don't think it's particularly likely to happen, a Pan-Green win in the popular vote that leaves a Pan-Blue majority in control of the legislature would be a serious problem for Taiwan's democracy. So one thing I'll be paying close attention to in this election is how, or whether, this coordination problem is resolved in some way before the election.
On March 9, the Taiwan Democracy Project hosted Lu-huei Chen, research professor and former director of the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University, Taipei. His talk was entitled "Electoral Politics and Cross-Strait Relations." The official event page is here.
Professor Chen is Distinguished Research Fellow at the Election Study Center and Professor of Political Science at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. He is currently a visiting scholar of Top University Strategic Alliance (TUSA) at MIT. Professor Chen received his Ph. D. in political science from Michigan State University. His research focuses on political behavior, political socialization, research methods, and cross-Strait relations. He has published articles in Issues and Studies, Journal of Electoral Studies (in Chinese), Social Science Quarterly, and Taiwan Political Science Review (in Chinese). He is the editor of Continuity and Change in Taiwan's 2012 Presidential and Legislative Election (in Chinese, 2013), Public Opinion Polls (in Chinese, 2013), and co-edited The 2008 Presidential Election: A Critical Election on Second Turnover (in Chinese, with Chi Huang and Ching-hsin Yu, 2009).
Electoral Politics and Cross-Strait Relations
Cross-Strait relations play an important role in electoral politics in Taiwan. Increasing economic exchange together with warming political engagements make today’s cross-Strait relations a very unique case in the study of public opinion in Taiwan. Because of the economic prosperity of China, people in Taiwan might consider the expansion of trade and other forms of cross-Strait exchanges beneficial to the prosperity of Taiwan. However, growing trade ties also mean that Taiwan’s economic reliance on the mainland increases day by day, and it could eventually result in political unification—an outcome that the majority of people in Taiwan do not want. The long-standing antagonism across the Strait, especially visible in their different governing systems and ideological attitudes, has produced something close to two separate countries and contrasting national identities. Dr. Chen was former Director of Election Study Center of National Chengchi University in Taiwan, and he will present long-term polling tracks to demonstrate how cross-Strait relations have affected electoral politics in Taiwan.
I am a political scientist with research interests in democratization, elections and election management, parties and party system development, one-party dominance, and the links between domestic politics and external security issues. My regional expertise is in East Asia, with special focus on Taiwan.