On behalf of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region and its National Security Task Force the Hoover Institution invites you to Narratives of Civic Duty and Taiwan’s Democratic Trajectory on Thursday, January 26, 2023 from 12:30 - 1:45 pm PT. To attend, register at the event page.
In her newly-published book Narratives of Civic Duty: How National Stories Shape Democracy in Asia, Aram Hur investigates the impulse behind a sense of civic duty in democracies. Why do some citizens feel a responsibility to vote, pay taxes, or take up arms for one's country? Civic duty is typically seen as the result of culture or character. Rather, Hur finds that it emerges from a force long seen as detrimental to democracy: strong national attachments. National stories—the folklore of the national people—embed relational legacies with the state that can harness, stunt, or even subvert the nation’s powerful pull toward civic duty. The talk focuses on the case of Taiwan and how its diverse national stories have shaped its democratic past and future.
Aram Hur is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Institute for Korean Studies at the University of Missouri. Her research focuses on nationalism and democracy in East Asia, with special attention to issues of identity change, integration, and democratic support in the Korean peninsula and Taiwan. She is the 2021 Korea Society Sherman Emerging Scholar and a 2018-19 CSIS U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholar. She is the author of Narratives of Civic Duty: How National Stories Shape Democracy in Asia(Cornell University Press, 2022). She holds a PhD in Politics from Princeton University, MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School, and BA with honors from Stanford University.
In my latest piece for Taiwan Insight, I consider the lack of absentee or early voting options for people stuck in quarantine or who were COVID-positive during the 2022 Taiwan local elections.
I'm pretty critical of Taiwan's leadership here: they had more than two years to think about this problem, but they didn't learn from the rest of the world and were woefully underprepared to hold an election during a pandemic. 65k people were denied the right to vote as a result.
That is indefensible. It is long past time for Taiwan to introduce alternative ways to vote for citizens who can't physically access their polling stations. Korea and Japan share similar electoral administrative features, but they are way ahead of Taiwan now.
"With its colourful and fiercely contested campaigns, efficient electoral administration, and universal acceptance of the results, Taiwan’s recent local elections were, in most ways, a sign of a vibrant and healthy democracy. But one aspect failed to live up to basic democratic standards: thousands of people were denied the right to vote because they were trapped in mandatory COVID quarantine. After nearly three years of dealing with a global pandemic, Taiwan’s leaders should have been able to find some way to accommodate these citizens, as many other countries around the world have managed to do under much more difficult circumstances. Instead, they ignored the issue, and many Taiwanese were denied the right to vote. Taiwan’s democracy has received much recognition recently for its impressive vitality and resilience. But on voting rights, it is now a laggard. It can and must do better."
The rest of this piece appears at Taiwan Insight.
The Conference Group on Taiwan Studies is part of the American Political Science Association. It hosts a number of special panels (last year there were seven) that have a separate submission and evaluation process. If you are interested in presenting a paper on anything related to Taiwan at APSA next year in Los Angeles, consider submitting to CGOTS. Details below:
2023 American Political Science Association
Conference Group on Taiwan Studies (CGOTS)
CALL FOR PAPERS
Submission Deadline: January 18, 2023
The 2023 American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting will be held from August 31- September 3, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. The conference theme is “Rights and Responsibilities in an Age of Mis- and Disinformation.”
CGOTS invites paper and panel proposals on Taiwan’s domestic politics, cross-Strait issues, and international relations consistent with the theme of “Rights and Responsibilities in an Age of Mis- and Disinformation.”
Political communication can be fraught with mis- and disinformation that can skew the political landscape and impact the attitudes and actions of political actors. Misinformation broadly refers to disseminating false, misleading, or unsubstantiated information without intent to deceive. Disinformation goes further to deliberately mislead with biased information, manipulated facts, or propaganda. Both can include fake news, conspiracy theories, and rumors and be spread by ordinary individuals, influencers, governments, public-relations firms, internet bots, or human-curated fake social media accounts. Mis- and disinformation are not new, but these phenomena are becoming increasingly prevalent and problematic worldwide. Advances in communication technologies mean that they can spread faster and broader than fact-based information. Polarized publics are especially eager consumers. A further innovation is producing “deep fakes” that make distinguishing fakes and facts harder.
On one hand, spreading information–whether false or true–can be expressed in the terminology of rights. Efforts to address mis- and disinformation take place in the context of the internationally recognized human rights of freedom of thought and expression. Engaging in mis and disinformation can be seen as exercising the right to freedom of thought and speech. In this vein, limiting or regulating information flows can be portrayed as overstepping or infringing upon these rights and controlling people’s actions. Governments may use tackling mis- and disinformation to justify infringing these rights. At the extreme, critics have linked information-monitoring to the kinds of oppression we see from authoritarian governments.
On the other hand, exercising the right to freedom of expression without embracing responsibility for providing accurate, evidence-based, and truthful information hurts trust and many rights other than free speech. Covid-19-related misinformation, for example, undercuts the right to health. Election-related disinformation can corrode the right to free and fair elections by discouraging voting, eroding trust in democratic norms, and corrupting institutions. Falsehoods that amplify hatred against racial and ethnic, religious, or political minorities violate the right to non-discrimination, freedom of religion, and even self-determination. In this vein, we could perhaps have a right to the truth that supersedes the “right” to lie. Nonetheless, even apparent attempts to fight mis- and disinformation could be employed against political opponents, repress critical journalists’ freedom of the press, and hurt markets.
For the 2023 Annual Meeting, we encourage participants to consider questions about “Rights and Responsibilities in an Age of Mis- and Disinformation” in Taiwan, especially those that highlight diversity in methodological approaches and topics. We also welcome proposals attentive to various domestic and international challenges Taiwan encounters in a world of mis- and disinformation. Entering the final year of President Tsai Ing-wen’s second term, studies examining changes in the political landscape in Taiwan and its future direction is particularly desired. We encourage scholars to raise and study the following questions under the Taiwan context, including how citizens react to the Mis- and Disinformation in Taiwan; how to better understand the diverse social clusters and their respective political views and demands in Taiwan; how to utilize and demonstrate various methodological approaches to advance scholarly understanding of Taiwan politics; how to comprehend cross-Strait relations under Tsai’s second term and the future administration; and how to incorporate the concept of diversity in scholarly research of Taiwan politics.
We also welcome proposals that utilize innovative and diverse approaches to understand how Mis- and Disinformation in Taiwan affect the attitude toward allies and competitors. Research investigating the dynamics of U.S.-Taiwan-China relations, the effect of Mis- and Disinformation on Taiwan’s domestic and international politics, the impact of Mis- and Disinformation on Taiwan’s outward and inward trade and investment patterns, the potential changes between the cross-Strait relations in the era of misinformation, and the public perception on Taiwan’s foreign policy is highly desirable. These questions help the political science academe to understand Taiwan in the global context better and raise Taiwan’s international visibility.
Please send proposals to APSA, and choose CGOTS as one of your submission’s subfield : https://connect.apsanet.org/apsa2023/
The submission deadline is January 18, 2023.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Austin Wang (email@example.com)
CGOTS Coordinator. Travel support for CGOTS panelists is subject to the availability of external funding.
Taiwan's local elections are set for Saturday, November 26, with voting hours between 8am-4pm. The vote count will take place in full view of the public at the polling stations as soon as polls close and the last vote has been cast. This decentralized hand count means that the final results will be reported relatively fast (at least by American standards), by midnight local time, and most winners in the high-profile races will be known by 8pm.
As we wait for the results to roll in, I thought it would be useful to note some of the more distinctive features of Taiwan's system of election management. For readers interested in delving deeper into these issues, I have a working paper on elections in Taiwan that will come out next year in an edited book volume on electoral malpractice and manipulation in Asia. I also did a Twitter thread on the 2020 elections that may be of interest.
Five Unusual Features of Taiwan Elections
1. No absentee or early voting. Taiwan has never had either option. Instead, voters have to return to the place where their household is registered. Voter rolls are generated automatically from the country's household registration system 20 days before the election, and voters are assigned a precinct based on their official residence.
The downsides of this system are obvious: it places a disproportionate burden on people who live far from their official place of residence, including college students, active-duty military personnel, and overseas citizens. But there are advantages too: voter registration is automatic, ballot distribution and security is streamlined, and the count can take place at the polling place itself and be wrapped up quickly. (Compare with California, where we are still counting ballots for an election that happened on November 8.)
There are also historical reasons why mail-in and early voting options are viewed with skepticism by Taiwan's two major political parties. In the bad old days of martial law, ballot-stuffing was a serious problem in some races. Public vote counts, official campaign observers, and tight controls on blank ballots were developed to combat fraud, as this excellent book chapter by Su Yen-tu documents.
Unfortunately, with Taiwan still dealing with COVID quarantine restrictions, it appears that about 65,000 eligible voters will be trapped in quarantine and unable to vote. Don't blame the Central Election Commission for this: they're just following the election law, which has no provisions for alternative ways to cast a vote. Instead, blame the CECC, which has kept in place a five-day mandatory quarantine for people testing positive, and the legislature, which would need to amend the election law to allow for either early or absentee voting.
I hope the controversy here starts a more serious discussion about how to add alternative voting methods without undermining the many strengths of Taiwan's electoral process. My own view is that the current system could be adapted to allow early voting much more easily than absentee or mail. For one, early voting wouldn't necessarily require ballot transfers between different precincts, and votes could be kept on-site and counted at the same time as same-day votes. The prospect of absentee voting in Taiwan makes me very nervous: it's much more susceptible to vote-buying, and it also has the potential to completely undermine trust in election outcomes. Imagine, for instance, if a couple hundred thousand ballots cast in mainland China arrived by mail after the election, and swung several critical races toward China-friendly candidates. It would be impossible to persuade most people that those votes were cast freely, without coercion by the CCP...
2. Restrictions on campaign activities. The Civil Servants Elections and Recall Law includes a lot of restrictions on how and where candidates can campaign, what they can pass out, and even when they can officially campaign (only during the 15 days before the election for mayors and county executives, and only five for lower offices!). But in practice, the CEC is only in a position to enforce a few of these, since Taiwan's quite liberal freedom of speech and assembly protections supersede many of these restrictions.
Among the rules that the CEC still strictly enforces are limits on the value of campaign materials passed out to voters (NT$30 per item per person), the time of day campaigns can take place, (7am-10pm), and a blanket ban on campaign activities during Election Day itself, beginning at midnight. Voters cannot wear any kind of clothing with campaign insignias on it to vote, either -- including masks -- and no campaign posters or paraphernalia can be posted within 30 meters of a polling station. Voters cannot use phones or cameras to video during the voting process, either.
The ban on election-day campaigning has been extended to cyberspace as well, and the CEC takes it very seriously. In 2012, for instance, the Ma Ying-jeou Facebook page posted a simple reminder to supporters on Election Day reminding them to turn out to vote for Ma, and the CEC interpreted this as a violation of the campaign prohibition and fined the Ma campaign NT$500,000.
The election law also imposes a polling blackout during the 10 days before the election. You may have noticed all the polls on the TVBS polling site are currently down to comply with this restriction -- they'll be back up as soon as the election results are known.
Finally, if these limits seem intrusive to you, it's worth noting that Taiwan's election restrictions are in practice quite liberal when compared to South Korea, Japan, Singapore, or Malaysia, as this article by Jong-sung You details. Taiwan is a positive outlier in the region on this dimension.
3. Campaign deposits and campaign subsidies. All candidates for elected office have to pay a deposit in order to qualify for the ballot. The CEC has the discretion to set the amount, which varies by prominence of office. For 2022, the deposit requirements for candidates were:
Candidates receive a refund of this deposit only if they obtain more than 1/10 of the winner's vote share, which a lot of minor candidates do not. One of the more curious features of Taiwan elections is just how many fringe or vanity candidates are willing to spend the considerable sums necessary to qualify for the ballot with little hope of actually getting their deposits back.
Taiwan also has public subsidies for both political parties and individual candidates. Political parties get a payout every year in proportion to the share of the party vote they got in the last legislative election. Individual candidates in the local elections receive a subsidy after the election of NT$30 per vote received, but only if they obtain at least 1/3 of the winner's vote share.
These rules appear to me to strike a reasonable balance between allowing access to the ballot for serious candidates, while still discouraging completely frivolous ones. They also include several provisions that increase the value of belonging to a political party, and that tend to privilege the larger, longer-established parties over smaller ones and independent candidates -- all good things for democracy in my view.
4. What if a candidate dies? Article 30 of the Civil Servants Elections and Recall Act specifies that if a candidate dies after the registration deadline, but before Election Day, the election should be stopped and every step in the process redone with a new slate of candidates: announcement of a new Election Day, registration, drawing of ballot numbers, printing of ballots, and so forth. This actually happened in Chiayi City this election cycle: an independent candidate for mayor, Huang Shao-tsung (黃紹聰), was found dead at home, apparently of a heart attack, on November 2.
The CEC has some discretion to decide how to redo the election process, and in the Chiayi City case they decided to postpone Election Day for the mayor's race to December 18. All the rest of the elections in Chiayi City, for councilors and ward chiefs, will still be held on November 26. I'm not sure how common this solution to the death of a candidate is around the world, but it's unheard-of in the US.
5. Poll workers can be nominated by the candidates themselves. A majority of poll workers, including the head manager and supervisor, are required to be civil servants -- many of them schoolteachers. In fact, according to the Elections and Recall Law Article 59, civil servants are required to serve as poll workers if nominated. In addition, political parties and all candidates themselves can nominate some poll workers in each precinct; workers are drawn by lot when the number of nominees exceeds the required number.
This poll worker provision was introduced in the 1960s to act as a check on the ballot stuffing and fraud that frequently occurred then, and it offered candidates a way to monitor each ballot box and increase trust in the vote count. It's generally worked quite well ever since. By far the biggest threat to electoral integrity in Taiwan since the 1980s has been vote-buying, rather than fraud at the ballot box.
On November 29, I'm going to speak about the Taiwan local election outcomes at the Hoover Institution. The event is virtual; online attendance is free and open to the public. Register at the event page. The abstract is below.
In anticipation of this talk, I've attempted to keep track of the candidates and campaigns in each county and municipality on this blog; you can find the details here:
Part 1. The Six Special Municipalities
Part 2. North and Central Taiwan
Part 3. The South, East, and Offshore Islands
Part 4. Concluding Thoughts
Local Elections Update, One Month Out
Update: The CEC official election results for the 2022 local elections are available here.
On behalf of the Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region (PTIP) and its National Security Task Force, the Hoover Institution invites you to Taiwan’s 2022 Local Election Results: What Happened and What It Means on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 from 4:00 - 5:15 PT.
On November 26, 2022, Taiwan's electorate will go to the polls to select 22 mayors and county executives, several hundred council members, and thousands of other local offices. Voters will also decide on a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 20 to 18. This talk will cover the results of the elections and discuss the implications for Taiwan's future, including cross-Strait relations, local governance, party politics, President Tsai Ing-wen’s last 18 months in office, and the race to succeed her in 2024.
Taiwan's 2022 local elections are now exactly four weeks away, on Saturday, November 26. In August I did a detailed breakdown of all the city and county executive races, which you can find here:
Part 1. The Six Special Municipalities
Part 2. North and Central Taiwan
Part 3. The South, East, and Offshore Islands
Part 4. Concluding Thoughts
I've been sporadically adding news updates and polling results to those pages, but I thought it'd be worth taking a more holistic view now that we're a month away, and raise a few questions to keep an eye on the last month of the campaign.
First, the big takeaway: this is looking more and more like a bad election cycle for the DPP.
Here's my updated ratings for each race as of October 29:
What's Going on in the Special Municipalities?
In the highest profile races in the special municipality, DPP candidates are down at least 10 points (and probably 20) in both New Taipei (Lin Chia-lung) and Taichung (Tsai Chi-chang). I've been especially surprised by how well incumbent mayor Lu Shiow-yen in Taichung is polling. I figured she would struggle a bit but instead recent polling shows her to be leading by 20 points, and she is in high demand to campaign for other KMT candidates down ballot. It would take something truly extraordinary to shake this race up now.
In Taoyuan, the candidate switcheroo and split has left the party's official nominee, Cheng Yun-peng, trailing the KMT's Simon Chang in most polls too.
Taipei is the marquee race of this cycle, with three high-profile candidates and saturation coverage of the campaign. It's close, but even there polls keep showing Chiang Wan-an with an edge over the DPP's Chen Shih-chung and independent candidate Huang Shan-shan. Chiang appears to have consolidated 85% of the pan-blue vote behind him, while Chen is at only 70% of the pan-green vote. Huang Shan-shan is pulling as much support from green-leaning as blue-leaning voters, and that may be enough to give Chiang the win. Chen's efforts to nationalize the race and make it about cross-Strait relations or China do not seem to be having much effect so far.
Is the DPP Really Struggling This Badly?
Given recent polling, one can easily imagine the DPP only winning four local executive races. (Keep in mind they currently hold seven, and that's after the disastrous 2018 election cycle.) There's still time for public opinion to shift, but right now the DPP looks like it's in danger of losing all four of the competitive special municipality races. The party's candidates are also struggling elsewhere in places where they have very winnable races, in Yilan, Keelung, and Hsinchu. And they don't seem to be primed for an upset anywhere else; the KMT's incumbents in Chiayi City, Changhua, Yunlin, Taitung and Hualien are all polling well ahead of their challengers. The DPP's best chance at an unexpected pickup might be Penghu, where there are now two KMT members (one the mayor of the largest city, the other the incumbent) in the race. Then there's the crazy colorful Miaoli race, which Donovan Courtney Smith has described in great detail. The DPP might have a chance there in what's normally one of the bluest counties in Taiwan...except the NPP is also running a candidate and threatening to split the anti-KMT vote. So far the DPP just can't catch a break this cycle.
Is Tsai Ing-wen in Trouble?
Put it all together and it looks like Tsai Ing-wen's grip on the party chair might be in trouble again. If we take into account the DPP's large national polling lead, the partisan lean of the counties, and the fact that incumbents are hard to beat, the party's candidates should be competitive at least in Taipei and Taoyuan (both open seat contests), Keelung (open seat) and Yilan (wounded KMT incumbent), Hsinchu City (open seat), and perhaps Changhua, Yunlin, and Chiayi City (all green-leaning counties). If the party can't win any of those races, that's a really bad performance, and there will be a lot of pressure on Tsai to resign as party leader to take responsibility. She's been directly involved in picking the nominees for these races, and she can't easily deflect blame if they fail everywhere.
Is the KMT Actually Primed for a Comeback...Again?
On the flip side, KMT party chairman Eric Chu may end up a big winner here after all. He said back in August that his goal was to win four of the six special municipalities; it seemed to me like a stretch at the time, but it looks plausible now. The party has had some nomination screw-ups and splits, most prominently in Taoyuan and Miaoli but also Keelung, Penghu and Kinmen. But even if the KMT loses a couple of these races to independents (or the TPP in Hsinchu City), Chu will still come out looking pretty good if they take four special municipalities. And the KMT might be better-positioned than expected to compete in 2024.
Will Cross-Strait Relations Matter?
Finally, a note about the 20th Party Congress: I thought this week of CCP pageantry and propaganda might affect the race, since it was held in the thick of the election campaigns. But there wasn't a whole lot new on Taiwan coming out of the Congress, and polls aren't showing much of an impact. Tsai Ing-wen's personal approval rating does seem to have gotten a bounce in October--we'll see if that lasts, or more importantly, influences the local contests in the last month. Notably, several DPP candidates including Chen Shih-chung in Taipei have tried to tie their races to cross-Strait issues, without much success so far.
Plagiarism: What Is It?
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.
Join the Next Cohort of the U.S.-Taiwan Next Generation Working Group -- Applications Due November 1
The Institute of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley is accepting applications for the second cohort of next-generation Taiwan scholars and policymakers. The goal of this program is to nurture a new generation of U.S. experts on Taiwan, cross-Strait relations, and U.S.-Taiwan relations. As Taiwan's importance to U.S. security and economic interests in the region has increased over the last few years, so has the need for a deeper bench of people who specialize in the politics, economics, society, and culture of Taiwan.
The deadline for applications for this cycle is November 1. Applicants "must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and hold a tenure-track position in a U.S. institution of higher education or equivalent experience as a mid-career specialist in the public or private sector."
Note that they really mean this second part -- if you are in the private sector or hold a government or think tank job, this program is also intended for you! Most of the participants in the first cohort did not hold a tenure-track position.
Additional details can be found below and at the program website.
About the Program
The Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS) at UC Berkeley has for over two decades facilitated the dissemination of research on Taiwan through conferences, workshops, lectures, and publications. Keeping in that vein, IEAS, with generous support from the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco, is accepting applications for the second cohort of the U.S.-Taiwan Next Generation Working Group: an in-depth training program for scholars and policymakers with an interest in U.S.-Taiwan relations who show promise as future experts on foreign affairs in relation to Taiwan.
The U.S.-Taiwan Next Generation Working Group is a three-year program, through which a cohort of ten specialists will be selected to participate in a series of meetings in Washington D.C., California, and Taipei. At these meetings, participants will have opportunities to discuss issues of importance to U.S.-Taiwan relations with policymakers, government officials, business, and opinion leaders in Taiwan and the United States. Participants will be expected to develop a policy paper on an issue of importance to the U.S.-Taiwan bilateral relationship under the guidance of the program’s Senior Advisors (Thomas B. Gold, UC Berkeley; Shelley Rigger, Davidson College; and Jude Blanchette, CSIS), as well as submit short reflection papers after each of the three meetings. The Senior Advisors will facilitate and participate in program meetings, and advise participants on how to effectively engage with the media, participate in the policymaking process, and expand their professional networks. When opportunities arise, members of the working group will be invited and encouraged to present their research findings at conferences and other venues throughout the project period in both the United States and Taiwan.
The program aims to identify, nurture, and build a community of American public policy intellectuals across a wide range of sectors and facilitate spin-offs of policy-oriented research teams and projects. In all, it will contribute to the understanding of Taiwanese points of view in international venues and support Taiwan and the United States in promoting their key mutual ideas and values as leaders in the international community by facilitating deeper and more vigorous dialogue and research not only on topics of immediate concern to the bilateral relationship, but also on ways to strengthen U.S.-Taiwan coordination in global affairs.
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:
Chiayi City - 嘉義市
KMT: Renominated incumbent mayor Huang Min-hui (黃敏惠).
DPP: Nominated former legislator and deputy mayor Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋) on June 28.
Others: Four independents, including the novelty candidate formerly known as Huang Hong-cheng (黃宏成).
Result: KMT hold. Huang Min-hui wins, 63.8-35.0%.
Chiayi County - 嘉義縣
KMT: Nominated former legislator Wang Yu-min (also known as Alicia Wang 王育敏) on August 3.
DPP: Renominated incumbent Weng Chang-liang (翁章梁).
Result: DPP hold. Weng Chang-liang wins, 62.9-37.1%
Yunlin County - 雲林縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent Chang Li-shan (張麗善).
DPP: Nominated legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) on April 27.
Others: One minor candidate, Lin Chia-yu (林佳瑜).
Result: KMT hold. Chang wins, 56.6-41.6%
Pingtung County - 屏東縣
KMT: Nominated former legislator Su Ching-chuan (蘇清泉).
DPP: Nominated party-list legislator Chou Chun-mi (周春米) on April 27.
Others: The NPP is running a candidate here, Chan Chih-chun (詹智鈞). No others.
Result: DPP hold. Chou Chun-mi wins, 49.1-46.6%.
Hualien County - 花蓮縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent magistrate Hsu Chen-wei (徐榛蔚).
DPP: Nominated presidential spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka on July 5.
Others: Perennial candidate Huang Shih-peng (黃師鵬). No others.
Result: KMT hold. Hsu Chen-wei wins, 64.7-32.0%.
Taitung County - 台東縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent magistrate Rao Ching-ling (also spelled Yao 饒慶鈴).
DPP: Nominated legislator Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪) on July 5.
Others: One independent, Chen Chang-hung (陳長宏).
Result: KMT hold. Rao Ching-ling wins 61.2-36.7%.
Penghu County - 澎湖縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent Lai Feng-wei (賴峰偉).
DPP: Nominated former magistrate Chen Kuang-fu (陳光復) on August 10.
Others: Magong mayor Yeh Chu-lin (葉竹林) left the KMT in 2021.
Update 9.23: toss-up. With Yeh Chu-lan's run, suddenly there is a pan-blue split here, too, and Penghu now looks like a true toss-up. Over half of Penghu voters live in Magong City, so Yeh starts out with a formidable base. The incumbent Lai only won 39% of the vote last time so both Yeh and Chen have a good shot here in a three-way race.
Result: DPP gain. Chen Kuang-fu wins 36.6-33.3-30.0%.
Kinmen County - 金門縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent magistrate Yang Cheng-wu (楊鎮浯) on April 20.
DPP: Unless I've missed an announcement, the DPP still hasn't found anyone to run here this time around.
Others: The previous magistrate Chen Fu-hai (陳福海) registered on the last day, along with a third candidate, KMT county councilor Lee Ying-wen (李應文). Three other independents.
Update 9.23: toss up. With Chen Fu-hai changing his mind, this is now a 3-way race. All three candidates are nominally KMT members, although Yang is the official nominee and the party is likely to suspend Chen and Lee's membership. As the incumbent, Yang probably has the edge, but he suddenly has a tough race on his hands.
Result: Independent (KMT renegade) gain. Chen Fu-hai wins, 49.3-41.1%.
Lienchiang County - 連江縣 (Matsu Islands)
KMT: The party apparently hasn't endorsed a candidate, instead letting two party members duke it out in the general: deputy magistrate Wang Chung-ming (王忠銘) and Tsao Er-yuan (曹爾元) are both running.
DPP: Nominated party chapter head Lii Wen (李問) on August 10.
Result: KMT hold. Wang Chung-min wins 51.0-42.1%.
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.