Aggregated Presidential Polls

August 12, 2019

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The TSU: We’re back, baby!

August 19, 2019

So apparently, the Taiwan Solidarity Union still exists. Who knew! I learned of their continuing existence because they published a half page ad in the Liberty Times yesterday. This has to be my favorite ad in several years. I’m not quite sure why it tickles me so much. Do they understand how crazy it is to publish a voting guide for strategic voting five months before the election? We don’t even know who the contestants will be yet. And look at how they have helpfully defined all the other political parties in various far-fetched ways! And their totally unrealistic policy proposals! Did anyone tell them that there is a range of enormous mountains on the island or a big body of water next to it? Even though this ad is half bonkers, the other half is somehow extremely informative.

Here’s the ad:

The top line reads, “unity in the green camp, but differences on the party vote.” On the left side, the red font reads, “if you support these policies, vote for these parties.” The logos are for the DPP, NPP, Taiwan State Building Party, and Social Democrats. Their respective policies are abolishing the death penalty, raising the minimum wage and applying labor laws to foreign workers, huge increases in tobacco taxes, protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty, and not amending the constitution to formally change the name of the country. On the bottom left, they have the logos for the two new radical independence parties, the Formosa Alliance and the Taiwan Action Party Alliance. People who oppose Tsai Ing-wen are encouraged to vote for those two parties. On the right side it lists the TSU’s positions:

  • Protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty by amending the constitution to change the name
  • opposing recent revisions to the labor standards law (concerning consecutive working days or mandatory two-day weekends; also, they think it should only set a maximum number of working hours everything else should be left to negotiations between labor and capital)
  • opposing abolishing the death penalty
  • applying different standard to Taiwanese and foreign labor (NT30,000 minimum wage for Taiwanese labor, NT8,000 minimum wage for foreign labor, you must hire one Taiwanese worker for every four foreign workers, this cuts the price of labor in half!)
  • oppose huge increases in the tobacco tax
  • allow and encourage automobile racing, light aircraft, and coastal and canal yachts
  • development projects for the west coast
    • bridge between Taiwan and Penghu (next to the bridge, there will be large-scale enclosed aquaculture, under the bridge will be tidal power generation, next to the bridge wind power generation
    • east-west rail line from the east coast to Yunlin and Chiayi to Penghu
    • 80km artificial island off the west coast (Changhua to Tainan), upper layer for wind power, forested lower layer to help reduce air pollution
    • Canal on the Changhua to Tainan coast for yachting and waterside residences

To top it all off, the orange box at the bottom sneers, “You don’t care about policies? Your vote is a worthless fart! Cast your party for the TSU; the communist bandits will shit their pants.”


I wonder who has an investment interest in auto racing and/or yachts. Those are flat-out weird. Also, they are entirely focused on southern Taiwan. There is no mention of the north, and the only mention of the east is the bananas idea to run a railroad straight through the Central Mountain range to Hualien. I also love the idea of building wind turbines in a forested area. Have they never noticed that all the vegetation around the base of a wind turbine is always removed? I dunno, maybe these guys aren’t exactly world-class civil engineers.

Yet, this ad does say something substantive. First, the TSU is clearly defining themselves as a conservative, Taiwan nationalist party. Never mind all the progressive stuff that the NPP and Social Democrats are pushing, they think the DPP’s economic policies are basically socialist! Second, they are differentiating themselves from the two new radical independence parties by supporting Tsai Ing-wen. They think everyone in the green camp should vote for her (including supporters of those two parties, but they aren’t asking for party votes from people who oppose her.

But let’s not let actual information distract us too much from the main message: The TSU is batshit zany. They are throwing down a marker to all the other small green camp parties: we dare you to try to match our superficially reasonable but utterly delusional ideas. We are the craziest motherfuckers in this polity, so stay off our turf. (Especially the turf on the magical artificial island next to the impossible bridge!)

Replace Han? Probably not.

August 18, 2019

There is lots of speculation flying around the political sphere that the KMT might replace Han Kuo-yu as its presidential nominee. After all, they did it four years ago, so they could do it again. Also, recent polls haven’t been great for Han, so there is a motive. Let me explain why I think there isn’t much chance of this happening.


Four years ago, Hung Hsiu-chu was named the KMT nominee after not winning a competitive primary. None of the main contenders (Chu, Hau, Wu, Wang) formally registered for the nomination, as they preferred to wait for the party to engage in backroom negotiations and offer them the nomination. Hung registered, and to everyone’s surprise, she passed the 30% threshold of approval in the polling primary. Since she had fulfilled the minimum requirements, the flummoxed party leaders went ahead and nominated her. Her polling numbers were always bad, and after she received the nomination, they got worse. She routinely lost to Tsai Ing-wen by 30% or more. Then James Soong jumped in the race, and his support threatened to overtake hers and push the KMT into third place. Finally, there were rumors that the native Taiwanese faction of the KMT was so upset that it was considering quitting the party. In short, the KMT was in crisis. Everyone could see it, and it was so obvious that it was impossible to ignore.

None of that describes the current situation. Han won a competitive primary, and he won it convincingly. Moreover, he beat the very people (Gou, Chu, Wang, Wu) who might replace him on the ticket. They all had a shot, and he crushed them all. Han won the primary because of his Han Fans. Hung didn’t have anything like the huge numbers of KMT sympathizers who have fallen head over heels in love with Han. If the KMT tried to remove him, these Han Fans would go into open revolt.

Han’s polling numbers in the last couple weeks aren’t great, but this is nothing like four years ago. Even in the worst polls, he isn’t losing by 30%. Most polls show the race as close, and there are still polls coming out every now and then that show him winning one or more matchups. The news hasn’t been great recently, but that could easily change. If the news shifts, it could be his turn for a series of good polls. In short, there simply isn’t the same obvious and overwhelming message coming from polls that the KMT is heading for a disaster. Many KMT supporters are still quite confident and expect to win.

Finally, it looks to me like most of the KMT is reluctantly getting on board. His recently announced roster of policy advisors is a who’s who of technocratic elites from the Ma administration. The suggestion that the “intellectual blues” will hold out en masse simply doesn’t seem to be backed up by actions.

I think the chance that Han will be replaced is miniscule. There would have to be some major new development that shattered his popularity both with the general public but, more importantly, with his loyal Han Fans. Right now, trying to replace him would be the best way to ensure an all-out civil war within the KMT. For better or worse, I’m pretty confident that he will be representing the KMT on January 11.


I think these rumors are stoked mostly by the green talkosphere in order to give the impression that Han is weak. The rumors also have the benefit of egging on Terry Gou’s campaign. Gou and people around him keep hearing how weak Han is and how the party might need a white knight to save them. This keeps Gou actively involved in politics, but it paradoxically prevents him from jumping headlong into his independent big. He can’t announce his independent challenge or start the petition drive to get on the ballot because he wants to hang back in case the KMT nomination becomes viable. The longer he hangs back, the further behind he gets in putting together a robust campaign organization. It’s strange, but I am starting to wonder if we will end up with neither Ko nor Gou running. Is it possible that, after all these machinations, we will end up with a simple Tsai v Han head-to-head matchup?

In which Ko Wen-je irritates the wrong people

August 18, 2019

A couple days ago, I stated that I thought that if Terry Gou ran for president, it would be in alliance with Ko Wen-je. Almost immediately, Ko made me regret saying this in public.

Three days ago, Ko gave an interview in which he stated that Gou had offered to give him the VP slot and concurrently appoint him as premier. Ko reported that he had refused this offer, explaining that he dislikes this kind of “dividing the spoils” politics. Ko was doing what has come to be known sarcastically as “virtue signaling,” suggesting that he is more pure and moral than everyone else. Of course, in doing this, he was suggesting that Gou was actively practicing just this sort of unsavory politics, something that inevitably brought about a backlash from Gou. Ko, Gou, and Wang Jin-pyng were supposed to have a meeting today (Sunday) in which they would work out how they would cooperate. Gou first denied ever having offered the VP and premier positions to Ko and also decided that he was too busy to meet with Ko. Ko also alienated Wang by suggesting that he was a lion, Gou was a tiger, and Wang was a fox. When the media asked Wang about this metaphor, Wang pointedly said, “I’m a person.” Wang then found a reason to be absent from the summit. In short, Ko managed to offend both Gou and Wang, apparently just so he could stroke his own ego.

All sides say that cooperation is still possible, but this clearly makes an alliance trickier. For one thing, this episode diminishes mutual trust. For another, they are running out of time. They need to figure things out by early September in order to start the petitioning process to meet the deadline to get on the ballot. This snafu has cost them at least a week, and they still have quite a bit of negotiating left to do.

The recent signs seem to be pointing away from Ko jumping into the presidential race. A week ago, Ko gave a TV interview in which he said that things hadn’t ended well for any of the mayors who left their jobs early, including Chen Chu, Lai Ching-te, and Eric Chu Li-lun. He was talking about Han Kuo-yu, but he has to be self-aware enough to understand that he might as well have been talking about himself. All three of those left office (or ran for president) during their second term, which is exactly where Ko is now. This is not the type of thing someone would say if they thought they were about to launch a presidential bid.


Aside: In the same interview, Ko made a fairly important statement about how he sees cross-straits relations. Tsai’s China policy started out stable and moderate, but as her popularity fell, she gave into the temptation to “drink from the poisoned well” [by playing up nationalism]. This is bad for Taiwan’s long-term development. Talking about Taiwan independence doesn’t excuse corruption, and advocating unification doesn’t excuse rot. Taiwan values don’t include unification or independence.

With this statement, Ko is trying to do two things. First, he is suggesting that Tsai is following Chen Shui-bian’s path of using provocative nationalism to whip up support to mask his other failures. That is, Ko is trying to say that Tsai is just like Chen. Second, he is making a claim that clear positions on identity, nationalism, and Taiwan’s future status – what he would label as ideology – causes corruption. It doesn’t matter which side you take; the point is that supporters will forgive your corruption because they support your nationalist stance. I think this echoes the feelings of his supporters, who are mostly alienated from establishment politics and are sick of the incessant (and inescapable) China Cleavage. I’ll note that political scientists usually assume the opposite: politicians who are not clearly identified with any ideology are much more prone to corruption. They don’t need to worry about causing long-term damage to some cause they care deeply about, so they are more likely to throw their lot in with the highest bidder. Nonetheless, I think this is a revealing statement of how Ko wants to present cross-straits issues to the public.


Second Aside: Ko’s new party is called the Taiwan People’s Party, or the TPP. There was quite a kerfuffle about this name, since the descendants of Chiang Wei-shui, who founded the original Taiwan People’s Party about a century ago, objected to Ko’s appropriation of the name while ignoring the ideals of the original party. My objection is a bit different. The acronym TPP is lousy. For one thing, it is already taken, since TPP is widely understood to refer to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For another, when spoken, TPP sounds too much like DPP, so confusion is inevitable. I propose that we unilaterally rename his party the KPP, the Ko-P Party. In addition to being a better acronym, it is also a more accurate label for his party, which is, after all, a personal vehicle with (so far) no other discernable sources of social support or other prominent politicians. OK? KPP it is.


Let’s go back to Ko’s TV interview. There was a third thing that he said which seemed like an afterthought but might end up being the most important of all. As with the comment about dividing spoils, Ko likes to signal that he is incorruptible. He did this again with regards to the Want Wang media group. Ko said that Wang Want originally supported him, but then they stopped supporting him because he was not sufficiently obedient. The One Family discourse is his bottom line on cross straits policy, and it is already demonstrating his goodwill toward mainland China. He hasn’t tried to desinicize or de-Chiang politics, “but you also cannot tell me to say this or say that, because being a Taiwanese I have a bottom line, I won’t say anything you tell me to.” He added, “Later, I discovered that a lot of things that Han Kuo-yu said, it’s strange that they were…” He did not finish or clarify that statement, but the implication is clear: Ko was not willing to be Want Want’s puppet but Han was. And since Want Want boss Robert Tsai Eng-meng has close relations with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Ko was indirectly accusing Han of being a Chinese puppet.

Apparently, this statement got under Tsai Eng-meng’s skin. Today, Tsai issued a statement in response saying that he and Ko had met over ten times and that Ko definitely understood and was misrepresenting Tsai’s positions. I hope someone eventually translates the entire statement, but the critical line is this: “Concerning whether Want Want is a mouthpiece for the Taiwan Affairs Office, please don’t be shy, go ahead and tell everyone. What is the relationship between you, me, and the TAO? We have nothing to hide, what do you not dare tell the world? Don’t dodge the question, explain this clearly.”

There are two ways to read this statement. One is that Tsai is asserting his innocence and encouraging Ko to explain to the world that there is nothing to see here. The other, put forward by prominent publisher Yan Tse-ya, is that Tsai is blackmailing Ko. They have met several times, and, through Tsai, Ko has interacted in some way with the TAO. At the very least, Tsai was trying to cozy up to the Want Want (ie: red) media. If Ko doesn’t watch out, Tsai will let the world know exactly what Ko has been up to. Many of Ko’s supporters still think of him as essentially being in the green camp, and it might damage his reputation severely if they knew he was playing footsie with the CCP.

This story may or may not blow up. If Tsai and Ko get into a prolonged war, the repercussions could be profound. Beyond damaging Ko, this story is also potentially dangerous to Han Kuo-yu. After all, Han and Tsai have a very close relationship, and if Tsai lets too much slip and admits to being a conduit for the TAO, it could rebound onto Han. This whole story could end up being a tremendous boon to Tsai Ing-wen, a wedge to attack the Want Want’s media empire, and a spur to tougher national security laws. Or it could fizzle out entirely… (This is why I like to wait a few days before commenting on news. I hate hot takes.)


All these things combine to make a Ko presidential run less likely than it was a week ago. Most of Ko’s wounds are self-inflicted, and driven by his ego. He just isn’t very good at knowing when to keep his mouth shut or when to be a team player.



The NPP’s internal divisions, Ko’s new party, and the China Cleavage

August 7, 2019

Every now and then, an international media outlet will publish a story on Taiwan elections that interprets everything through the lens of relations with China. For example, someone might write a story saying that, after the recent events in Hong Kong, the DPP’s presidential prospects are surging. Every time this happens, a gaggle of Taiwan-based analysts responds by pointing out that it isn’t that simple. Taiwanese politics are complex, and Taiwan’s international relationship with China isn’t the only thing that affects voting. All kinds of things unrelated to China policy – nuclear power, labor policy, air quality, food safety, overdevelopment, corruption, marriage equality, pensions, health care, industrial policy, tax rates, whether to ban drinking straws, and on and on – also affect electoral outcomes. Of course, they are right. But…

In the broader argument about the fundamental nature of Taiwanese politics, I come down firmly on the side that argues that Taiwan has one and only one dominant political cleavage. Taiwan’s relationship with China, broadly conceived, is more important than all of those other issues put together. This China Cleavage fundamentally shapes every aspect of Taiwan’s politics, most notably the party system. To put it bluntly, you can understand most – somewhere between 70% and 90% – of Taiwan’s politics if you understand the China Cleavage. (Of course, no one – including me – fully understands the China Cleavage.) Moreover, you can’t understand anything else unless you understand how it is embedded within the China Cleavage. The conflicts over all those other issues I listed above don’t make any sense unless you understand how they are filtered through the China Cleavage. They aren’t completely absorbed by it; otherwise they wouldn’t matter at all. However, they are deeply influenced by it. The opposite is not true. You don’t need to have a solid background in food safety issues to understand the China Cleavage.

Lots of people have written about this messy cleavage that defines Taiwanese politics, so I’ll be brief. I think of it as having four related but somewhat different dimensions. The first is ethnic background – the conflict between native Taiwanese (those who were already here during the Japanese colonial era) and mainlanders (who came after WWII). This dimension was most important during the authoritarian era but has faded in importance over the past few decades. The second is national identity, whether a person self-identifies as Chinese or Taiwanese. My personal opinion is that this is currently the single most important aspect of the China Cleavage. If I were cut off from all information about Taiwan for five years and you offered to give me just one number, I would want to know the percentage of respondents identifying as Taiwanese only in the NCCU Election Study Center tracking polls. The third dimension involves Taiwan’s future status. Should Taiwan unify with China, become a formally independent state, or something else. This dimension seems to have faded in importance in recent years. The fourth dimension is how to manage day-to-day relations with China. On what basis should Taiwan have economic interactions with China? How should Taiwan regulate Taiwanese citizens in China and Chinese citizens in Taiwan? Is it important to have government-to-government communications? What is the best way to prevent war? What is the best way to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty? This dimension is rapidly increasing in importance and may even be approaching national identity in significance. It will probably continue to increase in importance because China is increasingly making demands on Taiwan and more and more aggressively challenging Taiwan’s place in international society. National identity and day-to-day relations focus attention in different places. National identity is idealistic, looking at how citizens feel about themselves and who they want to be. Day-to-day relations is much more pragmatic, searching for a workable plan of action that may not completely reflect the choices they would make in an ideal world.

Lots of people would prefer for Taiwanese elections not to be about the China Cleavage. These people are like climate change deniers. It doesn’t matter if you want to ignore this set of issues, the world will force you to pay attention to them. You might want to think about air quality, but whether or not Taiwan continues to exist simply matters more. You might want to think about labor relations as a purely domestic issue, but Taiwan’s economy is highly intertwined with China’s, and China periodically does things that send shockwaves through Taiwan’s political and economic environment. Until Taiwan’s status is thoroughly resolved – something that is hopefully not on the immediate horizon – the China Cleavage will inevitably dwarf everything else in importance.


Why am I talking about the China Cleavage? The last couple weeks in Taiwanese politics have been eventful, to say the least. I’m going to focus on two big stories, the civil war threatening to rip the New Power Party apart and the recent moves by Ko Wen-je and Terry Gou. Both of these are much more easily understood through the lens of the China Cleavage.


The New Power Party was founded on the assumption that Taiwan does NOT have a single dominant political cleavage. The NPP positioned itself as a pro-Taiwan party occupying roughly the same space as the DPP on the China Cleavage spectrum. Unlike the Taiwan Solidarity Union or some of the new political parties that have been announced in the past few weeks, the NPP did not differentiate itself from the DPP by staking out a markedly more extreme position on this spectrum. Rather, it differentiated itself by staking out a markedly different position on a second dimension, the progressive-conservative dimension. The NPP argued that the DPP was fundamentally a conservative pro-Taiwan party, and it would be a progressive pro-Taiwan party. Thus, the NPP took different positions on things like labor unions, the welfare state, student issues, and, above all, marriage equality.

In recent months, the NPP has had an internal debate over its future path. Some, led by Freddy Lim and Tzu-yung Hung, want the NPP to cooperate with the DPP in the presidential election to guard against throwing the presidency to pro-China forces. Others, led by KC Huang and Yung-ming Hsu, feel that this will condemn the NPP to an existence as the DPP’s junior partner. They want the NPP to set its own course and become an unaffiliated party that can bargain with (and extract more concessions from) either major party. These two visions effectively force members to ask themselves whether the China Cleavage or the progressive-conservative cleavage is more important to them.

If the latter is true, Huang and Hsu are probably right to want to escape the DPP’s shadow. The NPP will be able to maintain its popular support, since its voters will continue to support them. (Voters tend to vote for whatever they think is the most important thing.) Moreover, the NPP will have more bargaining power in the legislature if it can deny both major parties an outright majority.

However, the progressive-conservative cleavage simply isn’t more important than the China Cleavage. Even NPP, who might like that to be so, know deep in their guts that the China Cleavage trumps everything. Maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty is a prerequisite for everything else. Marriage equality is impossible without liberal democracy, and liberal democracy is incompatible with any arrangement the PRC would agree to. Lim and Hung simply (and correctly) aren’t willing to throw the presidency to the KMT, even if that means that the NPP is doomed to remain a “small green” party. They can’t convince themselves that their progressive agenda makes it ok to ignore the China Cleavage. If Huang and Hsu insist on directly challenging the DPP, the NPP will inevitably be plunged into this sort of civil war.

Being a “small green” party may not be the path that the NPP wants, but, unless it wants to adjust its position on the China Cleavage spectrum, that is the only viable path to survival. They simply cannot be a pro-Taiwan party that purposely divides the pro-Taiwan vote and helps the pro-China side to win, no matter how wonderfully progressive they are. They can perhaps survive by sticking to their 2016 positioning. In 2016, they cooperated with the DPP in the presidential and district legislative races. In the party list ballot, they contented themselves with the (small) chunk of pro-Taiwan voters who were also progressive. If the NPP does choose to adjust its position on China, it has two other options. It either has to become more extreme and argue that the DPP is not actually a pro-Taiwan party or become more moderate and argue against pro-Taiwan positions. If it takes the latter path, it has an obvious ally in Ko Wen-je.


Ko Wen-je is setting up a new party today, the Taiwan People’s Party. He also may or may not be running for president. He also may or may not be cooperating with Terry Gou, who also may or may not be running for president. I’m fairly sure that at least one of them will run. At any rate, we don’t know exactly what it will look like, but there will be a challenge from the center.

Like the NPP, Ko’s most enthusiastic supporters may not want to care very much about the China Cleavage. Ko’s base is disaffected youth who think that both major parties are corrupt and do not represent them. However, there isn’t really a cluster of issues that Ko taps into to bind these voters to him for the long run. Ko, unlike the NPP, was glaringly absent during the debate over marriage equality. When he did speak, it was for the other side. To the extent that Ko has any specific issue, it is that he has paid off lots of government debt. However, I don’t think that his supporters are really motivated by lowering the city debt. I think they are more motivated by his style. They see him as speaking bluntly and plainly. He sometimes says controversial things, but that is ok because it shows that he is not an ordinary, polished (meaning corrupt) establishment politician. So far, Ko has a good record on corruption, and this is also one of his main appeals.  However, corruption is what we call a valence issue: it is unidirectional. Everyone is against corruption, and everyone wants less of it. Being against corruption is like being for a good economy and praising mothers. Enduring parties are founded on positional issues, not valence issues. Someone else has to enthusiastically take the position that you are standing against. If Ko were just a plain-speaking, honest politician, he wouldn’t be very interesting.

However, Ko has also taken a centrist position on the China Cleavage. His One Family discourse effectively stakes out a position somewhere in the muddy middle. Unlike the KMT, he does not explicitly endorse the 92 Consensus or the One China policy. Unlike the DPP, he makes nods toward the notion that China and Taiwan are somehow connected.

Terry Gou has also staked out a relatively centrist position, though his is closer to the KMT than Ko’s. While the KMT drifts to a more extreme position by endorsing a peace treaty and jettisoning ideas such as No unification, No Independence, No War, Gou has shifted toward the center. He has suggested that Ma’s 92 Consensus is too weak, and the critical part is “each side with its own interpretation.” He has also played around with a Two China’s discourse.  Gou is clearer than Ko about the fundamental nature of Taiwan as Chinese. However, both argue that they would do more than the KMT to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty.

This centrist positioning suggests that the Ko/Gou alliance (if one takes shape) might be a viable stance. However, China will have something to say about that. Under Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT’s policy was to engage formally with the PRC to spur economic growth. However, this meant that the KMT had to entice the PRC into the meeting room, and that meant satisfying PRC demands on sovereignty. The 92 Consensus was designed as a formula that would simultaneously satisfy China (“One China”) and reassure the Taiwanese electorate that the KMT wasn’t plunging headlong into unification (“each side with its own interpretation”).  In recent years, the PRC has been increasingly dissatisfied with this formulation, constantly urging the KMT to go one step further. Since the KMT still needs the PRC to enter the meeting rooms, it has been dragged to a more extreme position.

Ko and Gou are effectively ignoring the KMT’s experience and arguing that they can get all the benefit of the 92 Consensus with even less of a concession on sovereignty than even Ma, much less Han, had to make. This is going to be a difficult position to explain to the public during the campaign. I have no idea if China will stay silent, thus helping Ko/Gou by not publicly vetoing their proposal, or feel the need to clarify that it requires more. If either is elected, I suspect they will find their position untenable and will be driven either to the DPP’s position of living without official contact or the KMT’s position of fully endorsing One China and taking concrete steps toward unification (eg: peace treaty) in order to get into the meeting room. As we say in Texas, the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.


The hegemony of the China Cleavage isn’t entirely a bad thing. In fact, Kharis Templeman has made a powerful argument that Taiwan’s successful democracy has been achieved not in spite of the China Cleavage, but precisely because of it. The China Cleavage gives Taiwanese politics structure and stability. You may have a different opinion, but we don’t get to try it a different way. For better or worse, Taiwan’s relationship with China, broadly conceived, will continue to be the most important force in Taiwanese for the foreseeable future.


I wrote this post before watching the rollout of Ko Wen-je’s new party. Let’s just say that it isn’t going well so far.

When news leaked that Ko had registered a party named the Taiwan People’s Party, a name previously used in the 1920s by a group led by Chiang Wei-shui, criticism came quickly. Chiang’s family members publicly and vocally opposed Ko’s use of the name. They think that Ko is taking advantage of Chiang’s good reputation while not representing Chiang’s ideals. DPP surrogates have elaborated on this by contrasting Chiang’s defense of Taiwanese autonomy (“Taiwan is the Taiwanese people’s Taiwan”) with Ko’s ambivalent One Family discourse. Right off the bat, Ko is being defined as wishy washy on China and lacking in core values.

I wondered who would show up as a founding member of the new TPP. I thought maybe Ko would have some high-profile figures from society and maybe even a smattering of defectors from both the blue and green camps. Nope. Almost all of the prominent roles are being filled by officials from the Taipei city government. (Terry Gou and Wang Jin-pyng sent flowers but did not personally attend.)

Today’s other big news is that protests and government/thug crackdowns continue to intensify in Taiwan Hong Kong. Han Kuo-yu gave a pro-China response to the media, expressing hope that the chaos in Hong Kong would end quickly and pointedly refusing to express support for demonstrators or democracy and declining to assign blame to China or the Hong Kong authorities. That was predictable, as the KMT has decided to do whatever it takes to maintain an amicable relationship with the PRC. Ko’s response was more surprising. Ko said that he didn’t know anything about it, and that the protests in Hong Kong had nothing to do with Taiwan. He might as well have covered his eyes, turned his back, and then buried his head in the sand. So maybe that is how Ko intends to deal with China…

At the ceremony, Ko gave a short speech laying out his vision for his new party. He argued that Taiwan has lousy government because the two big parties run the country along ideological lines. What is he for? All the things you want! Good policies, effective governance, human rights, democracy, standing with public opinion, respect for expertise, no corruption, and (I think) economic development. Notice anything missing? That’s right. In this speech laying out the basic ideals of the new party, Ko did not mention sovereignty or China. He completely ignored the question of how he would manage the single most important question facing the country.

I guess Ko doesn’t agree with my thesis in this post. If today’s performance was any indication, he’s going to try to ignore the China Cleavage. At the very least, he’s going to argue that other things are more important. We’ll see how well this argument goes over with the general public. I don’t think he can run for president this way, though maybe his party can win a few (less than five) seats on the party list. Perhaps he is leaving the door open for an alliance with Terry Gou. If Gou is the presidential candidate, he will define the position on China. Still, I expected him to say something vague about protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty and having fruitful relations with China. He couldn’t even manage that.

the KMT primary

July 4, 2019

I started this post last week after the first KMT presidential debate. It was supposed to be a debate summary. However, I don’t seem to have the time to write an exhaustive debate analysis, and I have an important point about polling that I want to throw out there. So I’ll just publish this without much debate analysis.


It’s hard to know where to start with this field since there are so many different angles. I guess I’ll start with Han Kuo-yu. The Kaohsiung mayor has seemingly been in the lead all year. In a previous post, I suggested that Han draws support from three different types of voters: orthodox KMT supporters, the uncommitted and not-very ideological centrist voters, and voters fed up with the establishment from both parties.

The deep blue voters are head over heels for Han. He is a mainlander who came up through the KMT Huang Fu-hsing (military) party branch, so maybe it isn’t all that surprising that they love him so much. I think one thing that is often overlooked with Han is just how orthodox his views about Taiwan and China are. We often think of him as a populist, throwing bombs from the outside. He has offended some KMT insiders, such as former president Ma, but his offenses are stylistic rather than ideological. On policy, his views fit in quite comfortably with standard KMT views. Economically, he wants to develop by integrating Taiwan’s economy into China. This is not fundamentally different from Ma’s policy. Of course, Han packages it differently. He stresses how lower-class people can benefit, such as farmers selling agricultural products or people in the tourist industry catering to Chinese visitors. Ma viewed the problem from a more abstract macroeconomic angle. Nevertheless, they are both pushing similar policy agendas. Han also isn’t really challenging the 92 Consensus, though he doesn’t always phrase his ideas in those terms. In other words, Han is different from someone like Trump. Republicans have to accept some policies they don’t like about Trump (notably trade policy and, to a lesser extent, immigration policy) to get the things they like (taxes, judges, and executive power). They also have to accept his style, which most of them dislike. KMT members don’t have to make any policy compromises with Han. They only have to accept his style, which isn’t nearly as outrageous of a departure as Trump’s. This is a small price to pay for winning. Let’s not forget that Han performed a miracle last year, winning what was widely regarded as an unwinnable race. To put it even more dramatically, after 2016 it looked as if the KMT message was obsolete. To win back power, the KMT was going to have to make some painful changes to some of its most cherished positions. Instead, Han emerged and managed to sell an almost unaltered version of their old-time religion to some of the traditionally hostile voters in the country. Moreover, he created the wave that carried the KMT along with it in many other important races all over the island. “We can win elections without doing anything differently? Sign me up!”

So it makes perfect sense to me that the deep blues adore Han. What is somewhat harder to understand is why he is so attractive outside that group. After all, it is the ability to go beyond deep blue votes that enables him to win (and thus so enthralling to the deep blues). He has been embraced by the KMT local factions in a way that is nearly unthinkable for a mainlander (who speaks only lousy Taiwanese) from the Taipei area who came up through the military party branch. The obvious answer is that he married well. His wife’s (Lee Chia-fen) family is deeply enmeshed in Yunlin factional politics. Her family has held a seat in the county assembly since 1986. Her father had it for three terms, then her brother held it for three terms, and now she is on her third term. Her father started out as a factional opponent of current Yunlin political godfather Chang Jung-wei. In Chang’s first big stab at power, the 1994 Yunlin speaker election, her father supported the other side. (That was a wild affair. Both sides bribed heavily and then took their purchased assembly-elect members on foreign trips to make sure the other side wouldn’t poach them, returning only on the day of the election. About 2000 police surrounded the county assembly so that gangsters wouldn’t be able to physically intimidate the members. The first ballot was tied, and Chang’s opponent won when one of Chang’s votes was ruled invalid because it was (inadvertently or maybe not so inadvertently) splashed with betelnut juice.) Four years later, Chang won the 1998 speaker election. In that election, Lee’s father switched sides, the Lee family has been allied with Chang ever since. There are at least two important consequences of this history. First, Han has been in close contact with local faction politicians for his entire thirty-year marriage. He has learned how to speak their language and be comfortable with their culture. As a family member, he has been trusted and socialized in ways that very few mainlander politicians can claim. In short, he is not an outsider. Second and more specifically, his ties with Chang Jung-wei go back two decades. He is not just a recent ally of convenience. This is a long-term relationship. Chang is one of the most influential faction leaders. If he vouches for Han, it carries some weight. It has been fascinating to watch the local factions switch their allegiance over the past year. A year ago, Wang Jin-pyng and Wu Den-yi were considered the leaders of this part of the KMT. Wang campaigned hard for Han in the mayoral race, bringing the Kaohsiung factions into the fold. Now however, Wang and Wu seem to have lost their leadership positions. All those local factions seem more responsive to Han than to them.

I’m not entirely convinced by the story I just told about Han becoming part of the factional family. I can’t quite explain why, but it just seems too easy to me. I suspect (without any evidence) that something more substantial is going on behind the scenes. Political scientists have traditionally understood local factions as a network of hierarchical patron-client relationships, with the top-level patron as the KMT. The KMT distributed resources to its clients, which they in turn distributed down their networks. However, many of the old sources of goodies, such as the farmers association credit unions, township budgets, and irrigation associations, have dried up. Why has Han emerged as such a powerful leader? The sinister explanation is that he is the connection to a new top-level patron distributing resources. We know that China is trying to penetrate Taiwanese society in exactly this sort of way. Admittedly, I have no evidence for this suspicion, but it seems to me a more convincing explanation of the factions’ sudden rush to embrace such an unlikely figure.

These two pillars of Han’s support, the deep blues and the local factions, are pretty solid. That might seem unexpected, since I just argued that one of the sources of Han’s support is the idea that he can win. One might expect that bad polls would puncture that bubble, and all of his support would evaporate. I do not expect his support to be so tenuous. The deep blue voters have seen him deliver a miracle once, and I suspect they will be reluctant to abandon him without definitive evidence in the form of a losing election. After all, switching to another candidate probably means accepting some (painful) adjustments to China policy. They are all in on him. Likewise, many of the local factions have made serious commitments to the Han campaign; they are also heavily invested in Han. Moreover, there is a big payoff to being a core supporter of a winner. Many will take their chances at that prize rather than becoming peripheral supporters of another candidate who (momentarily) appears to have a slightly higher chance of winning.

Outside these two pillars, however, Han’s position seems to be gradually eroding. His lackluster performance as mayor has hurt him. He doesn’t seem to be able to manage the Kaohsiung city government, so voters might wonder if he is up to the task of overseeing the much more complex and challenging central government. Moreover, at the same time he seems a bit overmatched by the task of governing Kaohsiung, he is grasping at even more power by running for the presidency. Many voters who thought he was a different type of politician may be having second thoughts. He is also hurt whenever he deals with or comments on China. Ordinary voters mostly overlooked his position on China, but they were not happy with his lack of support for the Hong Kong demonstrations or his startling reluctance to criticize One Country Two Systems. Han’s support among ordinary centrist voters – and most are not directly controlled by local factions – seems to be waning. His support among disillusioned voters has probably declined even more. His unfavorable ratings have steadily crept upward over the past six months, and he is now one of the more disliked politicians in Taiwan. He appears to have a high floor and a low ceiling.


When Terry Gou jumped into the race, I expected him to run on a platform of integrating Taiwan’s economy with China’s and sweeping aside any political obstacles (such as disagreements about One China) that might get in the way of that goal. After all, it was widely rumored that Gou had been recruited by former president Ma as a way to block Han from getting the nomination, so it seemed reasonable to expect that Gou would share Ma’s vision. Moreover, as the head of Hon Hai, the largest private employer in China, Gou has a strong incentive to ensure that Taiwan and China enjoy smooth relations.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Gou has positioned himself as a defender of the ROC who is not at all interested in unification. Rather, he has staked out a position in the center of the independence – unification spectrum that might be described as maintaining the status quo indefinitely. The DPP currently also wants to maintain the status quo, but Gou and the DPP have different ideas of what the status quo is. The DPP says that the status quo is de facto independence, while Gou believes that the status quo involves a sovereign ROC that is not an independent Taiwan. In this, he is most similar to Lee Teng-hui’s position in the 1990s.

Upon entering the race, Gou called for two countries. This was probably not a sophisticated and carefully considered position, since he backtracked fairly quickly in face of the outcry from orthodox KMT voices. Rather, it probably reflects a pragmatic business approach in which he has never really had to parse his words with the fanatical precision that politicians do. Gou retreated to a version of the 92 Consensus, but he is not all the way back to Ma Ying-jeou’s 92 Consensus, much less to the slightly more China-friendly version most of the KMT is holding today. During the first presidential debate, Gou flatly stated that the 92 Consensus must be one China, each side with its own interpretation. Moreover, the second part of the formula – each side with its own interpretation – was the more important part of that formula. Without that second clause, Gou insisted that there can be no consensus. If Gou is elected and insists on this, it might effectively torpedo the utility of the 92 Consensus for lubricating official interactions with the PRC since the PRC has doggedly ignored the existence of the second clause. To them, the 92 Consensus is only One China. The KMT has ignored the PRC’s redefinition, waving it away as the PRC’s interpretation. After all, they say, each side has its own interpretation. Gou is suggesting that the 92 Consensus requires the PRC to admit that the ROC interpretation exists and has some degree of legitimacy.

Eric Chu is the third KMT candidate. Chu is professional, respected, has thought through various policy positions, and – unlike Han or Gou — generally ready to be president. KMT voters seem to be uninterested. He continues to lag in a clear third place in almost all polls.

Here are my quick debate impressions of the first two debates. In the first debate (which was the most important, both because it was about sovereignty and because people pay more attention to the first debate), Han seemed nervous. It seemed like he was trying to look and act like what he thought a presidential candidate was supposed to look and act like, but he didn’t know exactly what that was. He spoke in vague and mostly unsatisfying platitudes. The second debate was on social issues, and Han was clearly much more at home. He still didn’t have any concrete policies, but he was quite comfortable complaining about the current state of society. Gou is also clearly an amateur. Neither one of his debate performances inspired much confidence. However, I think he did much better in the next day’s newspapers than on stage. In each debate, he put forward a few ideas that dominated coverage. In the first, it was his statements about the nature of the ROC. At one point, he addressed fears that the PRC would use his company as a hostage by saying he could withdraw from China any time: Who’s afraid of who? In the second debate, he promised to pay all costs for children under the age of six. Chu was polished and prepared; he was the only person who looked anything near presidential. He did well in the first debate, both by subjective impressions and by Google searches. On China, he took a position between Han and Gou, saying that Taiwan’s democracy is non-negotiable and that Taiwan shouldn’t be afraid to offend China by standing up for democracy. The polls don’t show him making much headway, though. There were two minor candidates. Former Taipei county magistrate Chou Hsi-wei is running as the representative from 1982. He promised to unify China under the ROC. In his closing statement, he talked about how wonderful it would be when the country became an international superpower! I was disappointed that he didn’t go all the way and use the old slogan, “unify China under the three principles of the people.” Chang Ya-chung, an extreme unification ideologue, is running as what DPP supporters might call “the surrender candidate.” Chang argues that war would be so horrifyingly catastrophic that Taiwan must do anything to avoid it. Naturally, this means moving quickly toward a political settlement with China. Chang also promised that he would strictly prohibit government officials from openly advocating Taiwan independence. [Note: I am a government employee, so let me just politely say to him, “Fuck off.”]


Let’s go to the polls. Depending on which question you ask, the polls are either wildly different or remarkably consistent. If you are interested in inter-party politics, the polls are all over the place. In the course of two weeks, major polls have shown Tsai way ahead of the field and way behind the other candidates. Ko is either in the high 20s, in or close to first place, or struggling to maintain 20% and clearly in third place. The craziest outlier (at least I think this one is the outlier) is a TVBS poll showing Tsai at 35-37% in the three-way races and 45-50% in head to head matchups with the three KMT contenders. She is at least 8% ahead of her closest competitor in all of those matchups. Remember, TVBS polls usually show a lean to the KMT. TVBS seems to publish at least one head-scratcher every year. I suppose this is evidence that they aren’t herding (adjusting their results to keep them in line with other polling results), which is commendable. In contrast, United Daily News and Apple Daily polls published this week both show Tsai languishing in the low 20s in three-way races and losing all the head-to-head matchups by a considerable margin. The polls are just all over the place, and I have no idea who is ahead and who is trailing.

KMT Tsai Ko DK
Apple 6/19 Han 32.8 27.1 24.3 15.8
Apple 6/19 Gou 27.2 25.4 24.2 23.2
Apple 6/19 Chu 26.8 26.6 25.5 21.1
Apple 6/19 Han 39.1 40.3 20.6
Apple 6/19 Gou 40 32 28
Apple 6/19 Chu (+0.2%) ?
Apple 6/26 Han 33.7 26.7 22.9 16.7
Apple 6/26 Gou 27.3 25.2 21 26.5
Apple 6/26 Chu 26.2 26.6 25.1 22.1
Apple 6/26 Han 38.8 40.6 20.6
Apple 6/26 Gou 36.9 33.8 29.3
Apple 6/26 Chu 35.6 37.3 27.1
Apple 7/3 Han 35.8 24 23.1 17.1
Apple 7/3 Gou 32.5 20.1 21.4 26
Apple 7/3 Chu 29.5 22.8 22.6 25.1
Apple 7/3 Han 42.1 33.9 24
Apple 7/3 Gou 43.8 26.1 30.1
Apple 7/3 Chu 39.3 30.9 29.8
TVBS 6/22 Han 29 37 20 14
TVBS 6/22 Gou 24 35 21 20
TVBS 6/22 Chu 21 36 23 20
TVBS 6/22 Han 36 50 14
TVBS 6/22 Gou 35 45 20
TVBS 6/22 Chu 33 48 19
UDN 7/1 Han 35 22 26 17
UDN 7/1 Gou 31 19 24 26
UDN 7/1 Chu 25 21 28 26
UDN 7/1 Han 43 38 19
UDN 7/1 Gou 45 30 25
UDN 7/1 Chu 42 33 25


However, right now it isn’t that important how Tsai or Ko are doing. The immediate question at hand is the KMT nomination, and the polls are stunningly consistent on the state of that race. Let me state my conclusion first: Han is a prohibitive favorite to win the polling primary and, thus, the KMT nomination.

The single-most important fact is that, in every poll, Han does better than Gou in the three-way race. Forget Tsai and Ko for a minute and just focus on Han and Gou. Han’s support is always 3-5% higher than Gou’s. For example, in the UDN poll, it is irrelevant that Han beats Tsai by 13% while Gou beats her by 12%. What matters is that Han gets 35% and Gou gets 31%, so Han leads Gou by 4%. This is not how we usually look at polls, but this is how the KMT will calculate its interparty question, which accounts for 85% of the KMT’s nomination decision. Again, in five polls with wildly different inter-party outcomes over the past two weeks, Han always beats Gou by a consistent margin of 3-5%. This pattern has also emerged in every other poll I’ve seen over the past month or two, though Han’s lead has sometimes been bigger.

The other 15% of the nomination is determined by an intra-party comparison. Here, Han and Gou are more tightly matched.

Han Gou Chu Chang Chou
Apple 6/19 27.9 25.6 11.4 0.0 1.2
Apple 6/26 29.0 21.4 13.4 0.3 1.0
Apple 7/3 29.6 28.4 12.3 0.4 0.4
TVBS 6/22 27 29 19 0.4 1
UDN 7/1 30 29 15 1 1

This section only accounts for 15% of the total score, so Gou would have to win this question by a huge margin to make up for his deficit in the other section. For example, if Han wins the first section by 3%, Gou would have to win this question by at least 17%. In other words, the first question is decisive, and this one only matters if they are tied in that first question.

This all implies that Han has enjoyed a consistent, though not overwhelming lead. Apple has helpfully calculated the nomination scores based on its poll results. The race has tightened up in the last week, but Han is still clearly in the lead.

Han Gou Chu
Apple 6/19 38.6 32.6 28.8
Apple 6/26 39.7 31.6 28.7
Apple 7/3 37.4 34.3 28.3

Yet I am arguing that Han is a prohibitive favorite to win. There is one more factor to consider. In the DPP polling primary, Tsai had been leading slightly in the final polls, but she ended up with a comfortable victory in the polling primary. Tsai was favored by DPP supporters by about 2 to 1 over Lai. This group was almost certainly overrepresented in the actual results because DPP supporters mobilized themselves. They sat by their phones at home, stayed out of the shower during polling hours, answered unknown numbers instead of ignoring them, and once they answered the phone they didn’t hang up on the pollsters. My guess was that they were over-represented by about 50%, and this expanded Tsai’s margin over Lai from about 2% to about 8%. The same effect will occur in the KMT’s primary. KMT supporters will be much more motivated than everyone else to answer their phones. Moreover, since the KMT is only calling landlines (unlike the DPP which also called cell phones), mobilization to stay home is even more important. This is a big advantage for Han. Most polls don’t publish preferences broken down by party support, but the few results I have seen all tell the same story. KMT supporters overwhelmingly prefer Han. For example, the Apple 6/19 poll published the following:

Chu Han Gou No response
overall 11.4 27.9 25.6 35.1
Pan blue 8.7 52.7 28.0 10.6
Neither 7.9 19.5 23.7 48.9
Pan green 18.1 6.2 26.6 49.1
No response 1.9 9.7 5.3 83.1

Among blue camp supporters, Han crushes Gou by 52.7 to 28.0, roughly 2 to 1. Gou’s support comes mostly from neutral and green respondents. In the general election, that would make Gou a strong candidate; in the polling primary it is a disaster for him. The KMT primary looks eerily like a mirror image of the DPP primary.

The media is making a big deal out of how close this race is. However, I expect Han to win the polling primary by roughly 10%.

Before moving on, I want to pause for a minute to think about an alternate world. What if the KMT had decided to use a head to head matchup with Tsai instead of the three-way race for the (85%) interparty question? Gou does much better in the two-way question; he is usually tied or leading by slim margin. Han’s advantage among blue voters would probably still swing the polling primary his way, but it would not be a sure thing. By choosing the three-way race, the KMT basically rigged the outcome in favor of Han. I used the word “rigged” on purpose, because the KMT has been enthusiastic about applying it to the DPP for exactly the same choice. I’m not sure Gou’s team had any polling experts, but I am damn sure that Han’s team did. They knew exactly what they were doing when they chose this question, and I suspect KMT chair Wu Den-yi and his crew were in on it as well.


The fact that I think Han will cruise to victory does not imply that I think he is the stronger candidate. In fact, I think the data pretty clearly show that the KMT is more likely to win the general election if they nominate Gou. [Note: I am looking at current data. I’m not considering gaffes, international developments, scandals, or anything else that might happen between now and January.]

There are a couple of numbers that I think are significant. First, in the head-to-head races, Gou always does better than Han, relative to Tsai. Let me edit that big table from above:

KMT Tsai DK Margin
Apple 6/19 Han 39.1 40.3 20.6  -1.2
Apple 6/19 Gou 40 32 28  +8.0
Apple 6/26 Han 38.8 40.6 20.6  -1.8
Apple 6/26 Gou 36.9 33.8 29.3  +3.1
Apple 7/3 Han 42.1 33.9 24  +8.2
Apple 7/3 Gou 43.8 26.1 30.1  +17.7
TVBS 6/22 Han 36 50 14  -14
TVBS 6/22 Gou 35 45 20  -10
UDN 7/1 Han 43 38 19  +5
UDN 7/1 Gou 45 30 25  +15

Gou is always 5-10% better than Han. That is a pretty significant difference. The easiest way to see what is happening is to eyeball the difference between the three-way and two-way races. That is, what happens to Ko’s support if he doesn’t run? When Gou (or Chu) is the KMT candidate, about half of Ko’s support goes to the KMT and about half goes to the DPP. However, if Han is the KMT candidate, about two-thirds of Ko’s support goes to Tsai and only one-third goes to Han. I think we are starting to see the effects of Han’s increasingly high disapproval. People who like him absolutely love him, but (the increasing number of) people who don’t like him are fairly unlikely to vote for him.

Another thing to look at in the above table is the “don’t know” column. When Han is in the race, voters mostly know who they will vote for. When Gou is in the race, the number of undecided voters goes up by 6-10%. That is, there are a lot of people who still haven’t made up their minds about Gou.

I believe this is not simply because Gou is a newcomer to politics and unfamiliar to many voters. Rather, this is a direct result of Gou’s positioning on sovereignty. Gou has placed himself much nearer the center of the political spectrum than Tsai, so there are a lot of light blue or neutral voters who are unhappy when Han plays footsie with China and who are intrigued when Gou criticizes the Red Media or One Country, Two Systems. In a general election, Gou can appeal to a much bigger audience that Han (assuming he can hold the deep blues).

To use Donovan Smith’s vivid formulation, Han has a high floor but a low ceiling. In a three-way race in which Ko maintains his support, Han’s high floor might be sufficient or even an advantage. However, if Ko doesn’t run or if his support fades, Han’s low ceiling could be a big problem for the KMT.



DPP presidential primary results

June 13, 2019

[updated, see below]


The DPP announced the results of its polling primary for the 2020 presidential nomination today. President Tsai emerged victorious, defeating former premier Lai by 8.2%.


This is by no means a landslide victory, but neither is it a razor-thin margin. Tsai’s victory is clear, and that will make unifying the party for the general election a much easier task. That is, if she had only won by one percent, Lai’s supporters might have felt that Tsai stole the election by choosing a particular question wording or some other technical choice. With this margin, however, she almost certainly would have won no matter how the choice was presented.

Lai held a press conference after the results were announced, and he made a very gracious statement accepting the result and promising to support Tsai for re-election. As with my previous sentence, most media reports will focus on Lai’s acceptance of defeat. However, I thought the way that Lai delivered that statement was quite significant. He spent his first minutes talking about the general state of things, especially Hong Kong. He ended this by noting that the PRC had prepared soldiers to use there. He transitioned directly from the image of PRC troops to the primary result, saying that it was important to unify the party to re-elect Tsai. I think this was a clear message to independence fundamentalists: the stakes are extremely high, and they shouldn’t mull any reaction that would lead to the DPP losing the election. Lai is not going to lead or support any rebellion. Indirectly, he was probably telling the independence fundamentalists to shelve any ideas of putting forward their own presidential candidate.


This result is a huge victory for Tsai. After last November’s election disaster, I wondered if she would survive. The party seemed to rally around her, and by March it was expected that she would be unopposed for the nomination. However, Lai’s shock entrance into the race put her presidency into extreme and immediate danger. She was clearly behind in the polls, and there was a very real possibility that she would become a disgraced and repudiated lame duck with a full year left in her term. She has now avoided this nightmare scenario. Moreover, the competition with Lai has forced her to explain to the country why she deserves another term, something she had not bothered to do. It also focused the thinking of DPP supporters, forcing them to think about whether they really valued her record in office or not. She emerges from this process with much higher approval ratings and a much stronger sentiment of support within the green camp.

One thing that is under-appreciated is that Tsai managed this come-from-behind victory without going negative. The contest between Tsai and Lai was remarkably restrained. Their supporters sometimes grumbled that the other wasn’t respecting the rules or was engaging in personal attacks. However, it never spun out of control, and the two principals mostly stuck to the high road. Winning while eschewing negative attacks was only possible because Tsai’s allies changed the timetable. If the polls had actually been held three weeks after registration, the only way to change public opinion that much in that short of a time period would have been for Tsai to go negative. Positive messages need time to sink in, and it helps if the outside world reinforces those messages. Tsai’s discourse about building a foundation and starting only now to see some results needed two months plus a series of external events to shift perceptions. Negative attacks are quicker. All you have to do is present some evidence that demonstrates your opponent isn’t actually the type of person that voters thought. Of course, going negative also makes your opponents’ supports dislike you more, but that is something to worry about after you win. Tsai’s team figured out how to stay positive and not have to face that post-victory dilemma.


Let’s turn to the polling primary results.

There were lots of worries that Han supporters or Ko supporters might try to manipulate the DPP’s polling primary to get the weakest opponent possible. Taiwan was the first country to formally use telephone polls to determine nominations, and every time I discuss this system with other political scientists, they inevitably gravitate toward the question of manipulation by the other party. Indeed, the logic of microeconomics and institutions suggests that such behavior should be widespread. We can’t actually do rigorous research on this topic in any straightforward way. The parties would never share their polling primary data with academics, and, even if they did, those results might not contain enough information to provide definitive answers.

However, my gut tells me that manipulation by the other party is rarely widespread enough to be noticeable, much less decisive. The main reason for this is that it usually isn’t obvious who the weakest candidate is. It is useless to support an extremely weak candidate. For example, in the upcoming KMT polling primary, it won’t do much good for DPP identifiers to support Chou Hsi-wei or Chang Ya-chung since neither of them has a realistic shot of winning. You have to help someone who is already strong enough to be viable and who, almost by definition, is popular enough to win the general election. In the DPP’s case, Lai and Tsai have been fairly close in recent polls, though Lai’s consistent lead in earlier polls and his repeated insistence that he was the stronger candidate may have made an impression on some voters. Tsai has the advantages of incumbency, but she also has the baggage of her incumbency. I have seen arguments that Ko supporters might support Lai, thinking that Ko would be more likely to run if Tsai were in the race because he might be deterred by the more popular Lai. I suspect the opposite: Ko is more likely to run against Lai, since the independence fundamentalists were the ones who insisted on running a DPP candidate against him in the 2018 mayoral race. The point here is not that any of these ideas are right or wrong. The point is that there are lots of compelling ideas that different people might have about the state of the race, and they point in different directions. Moreover, what if you support a particularly odious person who appears to be weaker and that person eventually wins the presidency? How would you feel then? If the USA had had telephone polling primaries in 2016, a lot of Democrats might have supported Trump since he was widely seen as unelectable. That would not have turned out well. I think what usually happens is that people who support the other party just stay out of it. Either they don’t answer their phones, or they answer sincerely that they support the other party. “Don’t get me involved in your lousy party’s business. A pox on you all!”

The only case in which I think widespread manipulation by the other party might have been significant was the KMT’s nomination of Hung Hsiu-chu in the 2016 election. Hung was running unopposed, so she had to pass a popularity threshold rather than beat another person. She was widely seen as unelectable, and many people thought she wouldn’t pass. In that case, the KMT was expected to draft a more formidable candidate to contest the election. In this relatively unique case, most of the arrows pointed in the same direction for DPP supporters. I don’t have any concrete evidence that they helped her, but her poll results were shockingly strong.


The DPP asked respondents two main questions: who do you support among Tsai, Han, and Ko, and who do you support among Lai, Han, and Ko? The winner was determined by comparing the number of people who supported Tsai in the first question with the number of people who supported Lai in the second question. Five survey organizations were to each poll 3000 respondents. In fact, 16,051 interviews were completed, with just over half (8056) from landlines. The results from the five different organizations were similar; Tsai’s margin of victory ranged from 7.2% to 8.8%. I’m going to focus on the final average instead of worrying about those minor difference.

DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 35.7 24.5 22.7 17.1
Lai 27.5 23.5 27.4 21.7

The DPP did not report the final column; I created it by subtracting the other columns from 100%.

How did this result come about? It is important to remember that this is not a normal public opinion poll. This was a polling primary poll, and everyone knew it was happening. DPP supporters were much more eager to participate than other citizens. We have lots of anecdotal evidence of how they mobilized themselves, so I expect them to be highly overrepresented. We don’t have a breakdown of cell phones and landlines, but I would expect the DPP identifiers to be much more overrepresented among landlines. You have to stay at home to answer the landline, whereas you can carry your cell phone anywhere and continue life (mostly) as normal. In addition to the sample being skewed by partisanship, there will also be a lot of respondents who did not answer sincerely. If you want to influence the outcome, you cannot say that you would support both candidates in the general election. So we shouldn’t expect these results to look like normal polling results.

Fortunately, we have a pretty good idea of what a normal poll might look like. Apple Daily published a poll on June 11 that was conducted on June 8-9. (The DPP polling primary was held June 10-12.) This poll also used 50% cell phones and 50% landlines.

Apple poll DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 30.0 30.4 27.6 12.0
Lai 27.6 28.9 29.8 13.7

This poll is quite a bit different from the DPP polling primary result. Han and Ko are significantly higher, and the proportion of respondents with no opinion is considerably lower.

How hard would it be to get from this poll to the DPP results? I propose two steps. Step one is to skew the sample by inflating DPP responses and deflating everyone else. If you multiply all the Han, Ko, and none cells by 0.8 (which implies that the two DPP cells are increased by about 50%), you get the following table:

Skew sample DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 44.0 24.3 22.1 9.6
Lai 42.1 23.1 23.8 11.0

Step two is to adjust for strategic voting. Campaigns coach supporters to say that they “only support” a particular candidate. In the second question, if you answer that you only support Tsai, this will be coded as “none.” Not surprisingly, the DPP polling results have a high proportion of non-responses. If we shift 8% of Tsai’s support and 10% of Lai’s support to the “none” column, you can get pretty close to the level of non-responses in the primary result. A smaller number of respondents might have strategically (or sincerely) expressed support for a non-DPP candidate. Ko’s result against Lai is quite a bit higher than our expected value. We need to shift another 4% from Lai to Ko to account for this. These shifts produce the following table:

strategic DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 36.0 24.3 22.1 17.6
Lai 28.1 23.1 27.8 21.0

This result is very similar to the polling primary results. In this scenario, about 18% of Tsai’s potential support strategically decided not to vote for her, while about 33% of Lai’s potential support strategically decided not to vote for him. To put it another way, about half of DPP voters voted sincerely (supporting both) while about half voted strategically (for only one). This seems reasonable, given that various pre-election polls showed that far more DPP identifiers supported Tsai than Lai.

Please remember, these last two tables are not real data. I just made them up.

The point is not that this is exactly what happened. Instead, I want to suggest that we don’t need to make any complicated assumptions about KMT or Ko supporters to get to the actual results. These results are perfectly compatible with a world in which those people all vote sincerely. Of course, in the real world, I’m sure that some of them voted strategically for Lai or Tsai. However, the number of strategic KMT or Ko voters was small, or they cancelled out their effect by voting for different candidates, or both.

In this election, the system worked pretty much as intended. The general public had an opportunity to weigh in, but DPP supporters made up a disproportionate part of the overall sample and their preferences drove the final outcome.



Update (several hours later the same day): A friend pointed me to a breakdown of the results by age and sex, so now we have a bit more data to look at. WordPress doesn’t like wide tables, so let me break their table into several parts.

Category Sample size %
Full sample 16051 100.0
Age group    
  20-29 2600 16.2
  30-39 3023 18.8
  40-49 3066 19.1
  50-59 3007 18.7
  60-69 2430 15.1
  70&up 1763 11.0
  Male 7882 49.1
  Female 8169 50.9

The first thing to note is that they weighted the data, something I wasn’t sure about. The age breakdown is a very close match to the overall population. It would be nearly impossible to get this close without weighting. In a previous post, I presented a table from a TISR poll that showed that their unweighted sample using both cell phones and landlines was closer to the population than either exclusively cell phones or exclusively landlines, but it was still a bit off. For example, their combined sample only had 10.4% in the 20-29% age range. Weighting is standard procedure, so I don’t mean to imply that this is controversial. I am simply interested to see clear evidence that they did it (since they don’t publicize their methodology). I assume the results were weighted by age, sex, and city/county.

  Tsai Han Ko None
Male 38.2 24.4 23.7 13.7
Female 33.3 24.6 21.8 20.4
  Lai Han Ko None
Male 30.6 23.2 28.5 17.7
Female 24.5 23.7 6.3 25.4

Tsai beat Lai by 7.6% among men and 8.8% among men. I’m a little surprised that the gender gap isn’t larger. 1.2% is barely noticeable. The gender breakdown isn’t stunning, but the age breakdown is.

  Tsai Han Ko None
  20-29 38.9 10.9 36.9 13.3
  30-39 34.2 18.0 35.3 12.5
  40-49 31.0 26.2 27.2 15.6
  50-59 34.6 35.0 16.1 14.4
  60-69 41.9 32.6 8.7 16.9
  70&up 36.7 24.8 4.8 33.7
  Lai Han Ko None
  20-29 14.1 10.1 53.3 22.6
  30-39 18.9 16.9 45.5 18.7
  40-49 27.5 25.4 28.1 19.0
  50-59 34.7 33.8 15.3 16.1
  60-69 39.5 31.1 9.4 20.0
  70&up 34.3 24.0 4.3 37.4

Eyeballing those results, among people over 40, Tsai won by about 2%. Among people 39 and under, Tsai won by roughly 20%. Her comfortable margin came entirely from the youngest third of the electorate. It bears repeating that she did win the older voters. However, if today’s overall result had been a narrow 2% victory, the losing side would not have been nearly as gracious and she would face a much tougher task in uniting the party for the general election.

The staggering gap among younger voters makes me wonder if the fracas over marriage equality actually helped Tsai. It seems plausible to me that some younger voters who are disillusioned with both establishment parties took another look at her after that fight and concluded that maybe she wasn’t just another unprincipled, conservative, corrupt establishment politician. Admittedly, this is just speculation. What is clear is that Lai (along with Han) is definitely not popular among younger voters.

DPP presidential debate

June 8, 2019

The DPP held its first and only presidential debate today. Before I discuss that, let me step back and look at some of the broad contours of the race.

I have been trying to figure out why Lai is challenging Tsai. His stated rationale, that he can win in 2020 and she cannot, is not very compelling. Mrs. Garlic and I have had several long discussions about this topic, and, as usual, she has lots of sharp insight. Lai’s challenge is fundamentally factional and ideological, pitting the independence fundamentalists against Tsai’s more pragmatic wing of the DPP. We have come up with a list of grievances that the old men might have:

  • Respect / flattery. Tsai has not regularly invited the elders of the independence movement to provide her with their guidance and wisdom the way that President Chen did. The probably feel ignored, used, and marginalized.
  • Chen Shui-bian. Tsai has not pardoned him. Instead, she has left his case to the legal system.
  • Tsai did not fill the cabinet with DPP party loyalists, much less people from the independence wing. Instead, she put a large number of bureaucrats and technocrats (like her first premier, Lin Chuan 林全, who was a – gasp – mainlander and was once a New Party voter) into power. Even when Lai became premier, he was not given free reign to fill offices with his people.
  • This is related to posts. I think the fundamentalists thought that, after winning such a big victory in 2016, they should have the opportunity to fundamentally reshape a few policy areas. Two obvious ministries that they would have wanted are education and culture. One can imagine that they had envisioned a textbook overhaul, similar to but in the opposite direction of what Ma Ying-jeou attempted. They might have also been disgusted with Tsai’s relatively moderate pension reform, thinking that the government should have used its power to slash pensions to civil servants (who they are more likely to see as their longtime antagonists) to a bare minimum. We aren’t sure about the causal role of marriage equality in this. Presbyterian minister Kao Chun-ming 高俊明 was a key figure in both the rebellion against Tsai and the Presbyterian Church’s rebellion against the DPP’s push for marriage equality. We can’t decide which one was the root cause and which was the collateral damage.
  • Tsai doesn’t speak Taiwanese in casual conversation. This makes it hard for them to consider her one of them and for them to give her the benefit of the doubt when things are rough.
  • Tsai is a woman, and nearly all of the independence fundamentalists are men who are older than her. Koo Kuan-min 辜寬敏, a rich old man who has opposed her at least since they ran against each other for party chair in 2008, recently suggested in a newspaper ad that she should yield her position so that she could become revered as the “mother of the country” 國母. Moreover, she should yield in order to give a “young boy” 年輕的男孩子 a chance. Koo seems to think that the proper place for women is to be up on a pedestal in a place of uncontroversial reverence rather than down on earth exercising power and making enemies. It’s also completely nonsensical and cynical. You don’t become father or mother of anything by quitting in the face of difficulties, and Koo is currently leading the movement to stab her in the back, not the movement to put up statues of her.  I think most of Lai’s supporters are less chauvinistic than Koo, and for most of them her gender is, like language, more of a mild irritant than fundamental grievance.
  • The referendum. Tsai tried to discourage the referendum to use the name “Taiwan” in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As I have previously said, I think this might have been the final straw.

It should be obvious why Lai hasn’t based his campaign on airing the grievances in this list. None of them have broad popular support, and many are quite selfish. So instead, Lai has had to base his attempted regicide on the argument that he alone can save the party from impending electoral disaster.

Lai claims that he did not decide to run until he went out on the campaign trail in the March by-election and realized how unpopular President Tsai was. This is simply not credible. In a TVBS profile that aired just a couple days ago, Lai claimed that he was always deliberate and planned his actions carefully. For goodness sakes, he launched a book in March. That takes a little planning.

Lai seems to be taken aback that Tsai has resisted his challenge. It looks to me like he thought he would launch a quick strike, and the coup would be successful before anyone had time to react. The first step to this strategy was installing Cho Jung-tai 卓榮泰 as party chair. Since Tsai had just vacated the office and didn’t expect any primary challenge, she carelessly took a hands-off approach to the choice. Cho then pushed through a very quick timetable to decide the nomination. Historically, the DPP has held a major party conference to nominate its candidate. Cho convinced the other people on the Central Executive Committee that there was no need for such a long, expensive, and troublesome process since there wasn’t going to be any challenge to Tsai. Instead, they settle on a very quick process, with the formality of a polling primary scheduled a mere three weeks after registration. Then, when Lai unveiled his surprise attack, Cho insisted that the DPP would simply follow these (new and different) procedures. Cho has been critical to Lai’s claim that he has the procedural moral high ground. If they had actually held the polling primary in mid-April as scheduled, Lai would certainly have won, and his putsch would have been a fait accompli. With such a quick decision, Tsai would have simply rolled over and died, and deep divisions within the party wouldn’t have had time to develop. Unifying the party for the general election would have been relatively simple.

Of course, that extremely naïve scenario hasn’t happened. After dithering about for two weeks, Tsai’s allies finally managed to delay the primary. With a little time, Tsai was finally convinced that she had to stop ignoring politics and get out there to defend her presidency. Over the past two months, she has slowly put together a coherent argument for her presidency. In the first three years, her administration has done the politically difficult and unpopular work of laying a foundation, and now we are finally starting to see the first signs of the new house emerging from that foundation. She can talk about tax reform, wind power, pension reform, the new southbound policy, bringing Taiwanese businesses back to Taiwan, and, above all, a series of breakthroughs in national defense and relations with the USA and Japan. Her poll numbers have slowly improved. Her satisfaction ratings still aren’t great, but they are no longer disastrous. A TVBS poll showed her satisfaction in mid-May at 36%, up from 23% in January and 15% in late November. The same poll showed that as many people thought the country was on the right track as on the wrong track (41%-41%), an improvement from the 30%-36% results in January and the 32%-43% in May 2018. When the asked about individual policy areas, those had all improved as well, with the biggest improvements coming in cross-straits policy, national defense, long-term care, and policy communication. While her satisfaction ratings for economic policies are still bad (around 30% satisfied), she now has a net positive rating for national defense. Her poll numbers in the presidential horse race haven’t changed quite as much, but they have also inched upward. In the last two weeks, most of the polls have showed her 1-3% ahead of Lai in the three-way matchup with Ko and Han.

Tsai’s rise in the polls undermines Lai’s stated motivation for running. He is no longer obviously more popular, and it is no longer clear that he could save the party while she would inevitably lead it to defeat. A few days ago, a reporter asked Lai about his reaction to trailing in a poll. Lai replied that he would respond by working harder before catching himself and clarifying that all the polls he has seen show him clearly ahead. Lai cannot afford to be losing.

This logic made Tsai’s task in the debate quite a bit easier than Lai’s. She merely had to reiterate her recent string of good news, assure voters that her administration has turned a corner, and casually mention that the polls show that voters have felt the change and that she is now leading and is the best hope to win re-election. She could also point out that nominating Lai was tantamount to rejecting the DPP’s record over the last three years, and it would be impossible for him to win the general election while simultaneously claiming that the DPP had been lousy in office. In contrast, Lai could only reassert that he could win and she could not. He couldn’t really even complain too much about being outmaneuvered on nomination procedures. He is claiming to be overwhelmingly more popular; a slight tweak in the rules shouldn’t be enough to defeat him.

Ok, so how did the debate go? The opening statements were Lai’s best portion and Tsai’s worst portion. Lai started by assuring the audience that his candidacy was not meant to be a refutation of the DPP’s three years in office. He spent the rest of his opening statement talking about his four big goals. First, he would maintain Taiwan’s sovereignty. Second, he would unify the people. He mentioned a few things he would do, including judicial reform. This seemed to imply that he is dissatisfied with Tsai’s judicial reform (as most people are). Third, he would stimulate the economy. Again, he listed a number of concrete steps, including implementing universal 12 year education, addressing high housing prices, and promoting the new economy (based on tech and green industries). Fourth, he would strengthen Taiwan. He put several disparate ideas under this vague umbrella. He would stress national defense, internationalizing the situation by stressing Taiwan’s place in the first island chain. He would also promote democracy within China and promote Taiwan’s liberal values worldwide. He would improve Taiwan’s international trade position by promoting investment and signing trade agreements, such as CPTPP and a FTA with the USA. He would also promote English as a second national language, and take steps to raise the birth rate.

Let me pause here to editorialize. This didn’t sound bad coming out of Lai’s mouth, but there isn’t much new in this list. Other than judicial reform, he didn’t suggest he would do anything different from what the Tsai administration is already doing. Apparently, he would simply do these things better because he is more awesome. Still, it was an acceptably charismatic statement, and he looked and sounded presidential in giving it.

Tsai’s opening statement followed the script I had expected, talking about her accomplishments in office. However, it felt like fifteen different people had written and revised the script. It was hard to follow her logical thought process, so we jumped from one idea to the next with no connections between ideas. About two minutes in, I wrote “word salad” in my notes. Here was the essence of President Tsai laid bare. Even as she was going down a list of achievements, she was doing a terrible job of conveying those achievements. Rather than stating them simply and punching each point, she talked around each one and never really hit anything home.

Some of the topics she mentioned in her opening statement included pension reform, energy policy (wind power and creating a nuclear-free country), transitional justice, tax reform, national defense (both to protect sovereignty and to create a strong domestic industry), efforts to diversify the economy so as not to put all eggs in one basket (read: China), promote foreign investment, promote social welfare, prepare a legal framework for a stronger national security, work toward entering CPTPP and a FTA with the USA, and ensuring that the rest of the world saw Taiwan as a reliably and trustworthy partner rather than as a troublemaker. I think she would have been better off trimming that list and taking the extra time to add a concrete example or a specific statistic to illustrate and sell those points better.

The rest of the debate went better for Tsai and worse for Lai, but the opening statements are always the most important part of a debate. Lots of viewers don’t watch until the end, and your first impressions are usually the ones that stay with them. This debate didn’t feature any American-style back and forth, so there were no zingers or personal attacks to grab fading attention. If a viewer decided to tune out, there wasn’t much to stop him or her from doing that.

The middle third of the debate featured questions from three people. I thought the most illuminating responses came from the second question. Lai Chung-chiang 賴中強 suggested that low wages were related to the relatively high number of foreign laborers and asked if either would reduce the number of foreign laborers. Neither took that bait, but they answered the question in very different ways. Tsai spent her four minutes talking about the policies that she had put in place to try to raise wages and helping young people financially. These included things like raising the minimum wage, raising public servants’ wages, creating higher paying jobs, lowering taxes, and increasing social welfare programs that young parents might use. Lai spent his time talking about why it was so difficult to raise wages, how lots of different market forces were involved. He concluded that the best way to raise wages was to stimulate the entire economy. In essence, Lai was giving a free-market answer while Tsai was giving a social democrat answer.

Tsai’s closing statement was much more coherent than her opening statement. She started by noting that that there would be important and unpredictable changes in the global environment over the next four years, and it would be critical to have a steady leader to respond to those developments. Her experience in negotiations and managing national defense would be important. She then pointed out that the rest of the world now sees Taiwan as a reliable and responsible partner and hammered home the importance of this by going through a list of recent breakthroughs, including renaming offices in Japan and the USA, increased cooperation with the USA military, cooperation with Europe and developments in southeast Asia, cooperation with the USA in protecting Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic relationships, and being clear and steadfast in Taiwan’s position toward sovereignty and defense so that China would not misunderstand Taiwan’s resolve. She ended by talking about party unity. She would not simply give up because of one setback. Instead, she has reflected and adjusted to the 2018 result while still holding true to the DPP’s core values. Now she is more and more confident toward 2020. However, if they reject their own record 自我否定, they will not win. The party should unify around her, and one plus one is greater than two. (Note: Who suggested that a math equation is stirring political rhetoric??)

Lai seemed to have run out of points, and his closing statement was largely a reiteration of his basic theme that he could win. He started by sadly reminding viewers that the DPP couldn’t just ignore 2018. If they lose in 2020, they will lose all the achievements that the Tsai government has worked so hard for. Lai then turned to a baseball analogy: if a team’s starting pitcher gets into trouble and they bring in a relief pitcher, no one accuses the relief pitcher of disloyalty. The middle part of Lai’s statement involved multiple ways of saying, “I will be a good president.” He grew up poor, so he will listen to people. He is a doctor, so he will be a leader and solve problems. He is not corrupt, so he will be a good president. Note: I am not simplifying those statements; he did not go beyond saying he would be a good leader, for example, to explain just how he would lead. He did not elaborate on what problems he would solve, how he would solve them, or why he would be able to solve problems that others could not. He just asserted that he would solve problems. It wasn’t very well presented or very convincing. In my notes, I wrote “stumbling.” Lai went on to say that the international environment is changing, and Taiwan needs a strong leader to respond. Taiwan’s great challenge for the next generation will be promoting democracy in China. Finally, Lai ended with a revealing plea that was simultaneously a refutation of any idealism: “victory is our highest value” 勝利是我們最高的價值.

I hope this recap has conveyed the shallowness of Lai’s candidacy thus far. He has yet to articulate any compelling vision for the country that is different from anything Tsai has done. He seems to think that he will just be better at doing those things because he is the God Lai 賴神, and he always holds the moral high ground. Of his very few concrete proposals, at least two are far-fetched. He has talked about constitutional reform (and mentioned it briefly today), suggesting that he would abolish the Control Yuan and Examination Yuan. Of course, he won’t have the power to do this by himself. No constitutional reforms will pass without a consensus of the major parties, and he has not said anything about how he would persuade the KMT to agree to this. It is an empty talking point that will be dead on arrival. He has also repeatedly talked about promoting democracy in China. China will change when China changes; outside forces are not going to force China to democratize. At any rate, Lai hasn’t explained just how he would go about interfering in Chinese politics. Does he have a massive network of Taiwan independence activists ready to be mobilized in Jiangsu? Again, this is an empty talking point. As president, Lai would probably be more aggressively nationalist than Tsai, perhaps doing symbolic things like pardoning Chen and substantive things like revising history textbooks. He would probably be more market-oriented and less worried about social welfare than Tsai. And other than that, who knows? He certainly hasn’t told us. He just expects us to trust that he will be awesome.

In his closing statement, Lai argued that, if he lost, he would still be doing a service to the DPP by forcing Tsai to reinvent herself as Tsai 2.0. He has a point. As of late March, Tsai seemed completely uninterested in public opinion or the upcoming election. It was an image she has projected for most of her presidency. It took her a few weeks to shake off her torpor and start to mobilize to respond to Lai’s challenge. (Their first reaction should have been to vote to rewrite the primary timeline; instead, it took them until late May to figure this out.) It hasn’t been the most inspiring response, but at least she has finally started to project an image of caring about public opinion. She has seemed to finally realize that it isn’t enough to hold meetings about defense policy all day; the president also has to explain to the public what she is doing and what kinds of results they will be getting. If she manages to survive the next week, she probably should thank Lai for kicking her in the butt and getting her moving. On the other hand, there is no avoiding the fact that his challenge has, in fact, been a refutation of her term in office so far. Voters are now keenly aware that a significant part of the DPP’s base thinks that Tsai has been a failure in office. Regardless of who wins the nomination, that is a problem that will not go away. How can you ask for four more years of DPP government if the party has judged itself a failure?

types of voters

June 6, 2019

Like many people, I was shocked by the 2018 election. I did not expect such a ferocious anti-DPP wave, and I had no idea what to make of the Han Kuo-yu phenomenon. I was planning to conduct an internet survey for one of my research projects (on an unrelated matter), and I thought I might use it to learn something about the state of the electorate.

THIS IS NOT A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE OF TAIWAN’S ELECTORATE. In fact, my sample is very different from Taiwan’s electorate. It is useless to look for anything more specific than very big and crude trends. I will say things such as, “there is a very large group that …” and “there is a small but noticeable group that…” Don’t worry about exactly how big each group is; it isn’t that size in the overall electorate. The goal here is to look for groups of people who don’t follow the traditional party lines. If we can identify big, broad groups of voters who don’t follow the standard voting patterns, maybe we will get some insight into what happened last year – and what may happen next January.

At the end of an already lengthy questionnaire, I added eleven more questions. The first four were about the major political parties, and the other seven were about specific politicians. Each one was of the same format, “How much do you like XXX? On a scale of zero to ten, where zero means you dislike it very much and ten means you like it very much, how many points would you give XXX?” In a telephone or face-to-face survey, we typically allow respondents to refuse to answer or to say they don’t know. However, in internet surveys we are paying respondents, and we don’t let them more on to the next page until they give an answer. As a result, all 1000 of my respondents gave a valid answer to each of the eleven questions.

Before I show you any results, let me tell you a bit about how my sample is biased. Over three-fourths of my sample has at a university or higher education, and almost no one has a junior high or less. You should probably think of this as a non-representative sample of highly educated people rather than a non-representative sample of all Taiwanese. There are too many people aged 30-49, and not enough aged under 29 or over 60. There are too many public employees, white collar executives, and office clerks, and not enough blue collar laborers, farmers, student, or homemakers. Politically, the deviations from society’s mean are smaller. There are slightly too many mainlanders and people who identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese. However, on the question of Taiwan’s future status, there are not enough people who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely but too many who want to move toward eventual independence. About one-third of my sample identifies with a green camp party, one-third with a blue camp party, and one-third expresses no party identification or identifies with an unaligned party. Demographically, this sample is extremely different from the overall population; politically it is reasonably close. The survey was conducted in mid-April.

I asked how much respondents liked eleven parties and individuals. We finalized the questionnaire before Terry Gou announced his candidacy, so he is not included. Here are overall average scores for each party or person.

name name mean Stand. Dev.
KMT 國民黨 3.68 2.70
DPP 民進黨 3.56 2.59
NPP 時代力量 3.87 2.78
PFP 親民黨 2.84 2.11
Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 3.97 3.12
Lai Ching-teh 賴清德 3.99 2.80
Wu Den-yi 吳敦義 2.25 2.24
Chu Li-lun 朱立倫 3.61 2.57
Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 5.13 2.88
Han Kuo-yu 韓國瑜 4.46 3.53
Wang Jin-pyng 王金平 3.31 2.33

Educated Taiwanese are a pretty skeptical bunch. The only one of the eleven to break 5.00 is Ko Wen-je, and he barely manages it. Han Kuo-yu comes in second at 4.46, and the two DPP presidential aspirants are both a hair under 4.00. The leading candidates are all more liked than their parties. Anyway, these overall scores are not that useful with a non-representative sample.

I took these eleven variables and put them into a hierarchical cluster model. Cluster models calculate the distance between each case and group more similar cases together. When running the model, you specify how many groups you want. I looked at as few as four groups and as many as 25. From 11 to 25 clusters, there were five big groups and the rest of the clusters had only one to eight cases. It was pretty obvious that I was interested in those five big groups. I used the results from 11 clusters. The five big clusters held all but 17 of the cases, and I manually recoded those other six clusters into what looked to me like the best fit. This left five big groups.
















Cases 221 86 284 71 338
KMT 6.05 3.03 5.39 1.77 1.26
Wu 3.81 .94 3.71 .38 .74
Chu 5.37 2.17 5.33 1.76 1.77
Han 8.43 3.23 6.04 4.18 .92
Wang 2.97 .94 4.77 2.76 3.02
PFP 2.85 1.60 4.13 1.80 2.28
Ko 4.00 2.00 5.99 7.73 5.40
NPP .81 1.58 4.06 5.18 6.01
DPP .83 1.71 4.25 1.32 5.70
Tsai .48 1.31 4.16 2.54 7.06
Lai 1.04 1.53 4.77 2.51 6.21

My old statistics teacher used to say that the hardest part of running a cluster analysis is not doing any of the statistical work. The crucial step is naming the clusters so that you capture the essence of each group.

Cluster 1 and cluster 5 are pretty straightforward. Cluster 1 is Solid Blue. This group of respondents likes the KMT, Chu, and Han, and it dislikes the DPP, the NPP, and all of the DPP candidates. It doesn’t hate Ko, but it clearly prefers Han and Chu to him. Pay special attention to Han; this group absolutely adores (8.43) Han. This group does not like Wang, so I think of this group as having fairly orthodox KMT preferences.

Cluster 5 is Solid Green. This is the biggest single group. It clearly prefers all the green options to all the blue options. Predictably, among the blue options, it dislikes Wang the least. However, Wang isn’t likely to get any votes from this group. Among the two DPP candidates, there is a slight preference for Tsai. Notably, Ko is relatively well-liked in this group, and he will probably siphon a few votes away.

There are three large groups and two small groups. The third large group is cluster 3, which I have labeled the “battleground.” This group doesn’t really adore or despise anyone, and it generally likes the blue options a little more than the green options. This group likes Han, but it is much less passionate about him than the Solid Blue group. In fact, unlike cluster 1, this group likes Wang quite a lot; it is easily his best group.  Ko is basically tied with Han. I think of this as the amorphous middle in Taiwan politics that isn’t rooted to any particular party or ideology. In the current atmosphere they lean a bit more blue than green, but I suspect they leaned slightly to the green side in 2016. Everyone will pull some votes from this group. If this group does end up voting mostly blue, that will tilt the overall balance toward the blue camp.  Alternatively, this might end up being the biggest source of votes for Ko.

Clusters 2 and 4 are significantly smaller than the first three. Cluster 2 is disillusioned with politics. It doesn’t like anyone or anything. The only two options it doesn’t absolutely hate are the KMT and Han, and even they barely break 3.00. I suspect a lot of this group won’t bother to vote, and some who do will cast protest votes.  Of those who do cast useful votes, most will probably vote for the KMT candidate, assuming it isn’t Wang or Wu.

Cluster 4 is the anti-establishment party group. These voters dislike the two big parties. However, they are not totally alienated. They like the NPP, and they love Ko (7.73). However, you should not think of this group as green camp voters. If Ko doesn’t run, their next option is Han. Apparently, this group likes political outsiders.

With these five groups, you can start to see the outlines of what happened in 2018. We might imagine that in 2016 most of group 3 voted for Tsai (and DPP district legislative candidates). Group 4 was probably much smaller or much more similar to group 5 back in 2016. In 2018, however, group 4 probably did not turn out for the DPP. They may have stayed home, or they may have voted for third party candidates. In Kaohsiung, they probably voted for the outsider, Han. Even more devastating, the DPP lost group 3, the enormous battleground group. This group doesn’t strongly prefer the KMT to the DPP, but a vote is a vote. The good news for the DPP is that this group won’t automatically vote for the KMT in 2020. It might be able to do better in 2020, and Ko will siphon away large numbers of voters who would otherwise vote for the KMT.

The Han phenomenon is interesting. Han has figured out how to simultaneously appeal to three very different groups. The orthodox KMT people in group 1 absolutely love him, so he must speak KMT gospel fluently. The people in the battleground group 3 like him, so he must be able to speak to the broad non-ideological masses in that group. And group 4 is willing to consider him since he has figured out how to make anti-establishment appeals. The strange thing is that he can do these three things simultaneously. If he is the KMT nominee, the DPP strategy should be to paint him into the first box. That is, they should hammer home that he is just another orthodox KMT figure; he really isn’t the representative of the common people, much less the protest candidate. Unfortunately for them, Ko might be the primary beneficiary of such a strategy.

Ko is surprisingly strong across all categories, with the exception of the (small) group 2. In this sample, it looks not only like Ko is well-positioned to win first preferences, it also looks like he is ready to scoop up strategic voters if either the KMT or DPP attacks against each other succeed. However, keep in mind that this sample probably overestimates Ko’s support, since it doesn’t include low-educated voters. Without organizational muscle, Ko will have a hard time with that demographic. Still, you can see from this breakdown of educated voters why Ko thinks he has a good chance to win.

There isn’t much difference between Tsai and Lai in this analysis. They look pretty much the same in all five groups. I tried looking for the Lai primary voters who supposedly are fueling his challenge to Tsai. I looked for people who preferred Lai by at least three points over Tsai and also gave Lai at least a six. I found 48 such respondents. However, by the same standards, I found 84 people who preferred Tsai to Lai. I simply couldn’t find a large group of deep greens who supposedly are fed up with Tsai but love Lai. I’m sure they exist at the elite level, but they might be louder than they are numerous.

At any rate, both Tsai and Lai have a clear claim on group 5. Group 5 is big, but it probably isn’t big enough to win, even in a three-way race. The problem is that they don’t have any other good groups. They will win a few votes in group 3, but both the KMT and Ko are more popular there. Ko will eviscerate them in group 4. Other than mobilizing group 5, their best bet is try to squeeze a few more votes out of group 3. Lai might be better positioned to do this than Tsai, but either will find this a difficult task.

There seems to be a consensus in the punditry that the DPP is better off if Ko does not run. I am not so sure about this. Most of the votes that Ko wins in groups 3 and 4 would otherwise go to the KMT. It might be better for the DPP if Ko runs and siphons away those votes. Of course, the pundits seem to be assuming that if Ko doesn’t run, he will endorse the DPP candidate. I don’t know why they would make this assumption after the bitter 2018 campaign. Nevertheless, if he does endorse Tsai and campaign hard for her (it seems nearly impossible to me that he would enthusiastically endorse Lai), it is possible that she could win over a large chunk of group 3. Ko’s influence would be most critical for group 4, where he might be the key to swinging that significant voting block to her. However, I suspect that Ko would rather be the king than the kingmaker.





landlines and cell phones

June 3, 2019

The DPP finally settled on its presidential nomination procedures last week. Among the most controversial of the decisions was the question of whether to incorporate cell phones into the polling primary sample. At first glance, this might seem like an extremely arcane and technical matter, hardly the stuff of political controversy, much less the type of thing that could swing a presidential election. However, just as in tax laws and Google user agreements, the fine print matters more than you might expect. In this post, I want to look at why this has become such an important question.

A good starting place is with a recent TISR survey. The topic of this survey was satisfaction with President Tsai after three years in office, but we are not really concerned with that. This survey had roughly half the sample from landlines and half from cell phones. At the bottom of the report, TISR presents a breakdown of the two samples by age and education.

population landlines Cell phones
20-29 16.3 4.7 21.5
30-39 18.9 12.5 16.7
40-49 19.3 15.5 22.1
50-59 18.9 21.1 18.2
60-69 15.4 27.2 15.7
70&up 11.3 18.9 5.8
Primary school 13.1 17.2 4.4
Middle school 12.2 13.5 6.3
High school 27.7 30.4 31.5
Technical college 12.0 11.1 11.5
University 27.3 21.5 36.6
Graduate school 7.7 6.3 9.7

As you can see, the two types of samples are quite different from each other and from the population. Landlines drastically underrepresent younger voters and voters with higher education levels. Cell phones are much closer to the population on age, underrepresenting only the oldest category and overrepresenting only the youngest category. On education, however, cell phones significantly underrepresent people with lower education levels and significantly overrepresent people with higher education levels.

Almost no one simply presents the raw data as an estimate of the population. Instead, the respondents are weighted according to their share of the population. Typically, they will be weighted by variables that we have authoritative data on, such as age, sex, and region. Some analysts will also weight on education level, but this is much riskier since we don’t have great statistics for the population. (Government stats are based on household registration data, and not everyone’s education level is accurate in that database.) I don’t know exactly how the DPP weights its results, but I assume they use age, sex, and perhaps city/county. I don’t think they ask about education levels in their polling primary questionnaire.

Assume we only had the landline sample from above with 1000 responses. The 47 respondents aged 20-29 would be weighted up by multiplying each response by some number, on average 16.3/4.7=3.47, though that number would also be adjusted according to their sex and region. The estimate of the population would thus have 163 weighted responses from the 20-29 age group, not 47.

What this means is that, if those 47 people accurately reflected the 20-29 age group as a whole, the weighted estimate would be a pretty good estimation of the population. Think about what this means. If the only things skewing the sample are age, sex, and region, then weighting should solve that problem. Landlines should give a good estimate of the population. Of course, exactly the same logic applies to cell phones. Thus, landlines and cell phones should provide exactly the same estimate. It shouldn’t matter whether cell phones are included in the polling primary, and it shouldn’t matter what percentage of the responses are collected from cell phones.

Of course, you have probably already spotted the flaw in this logic. Age, sex, and region are NOT the only things skewing the samples. We can see quite clearly that education is also different in the two samples. The 20-29 year-olds who answer landline calls are not like the 20-29 year-olds who answer cell phones calls. What kinds of young people answer landline calls? My guess is that the overwhelming majority live with their parents, who still have landlines. One might imagine that people living with their parents have different socialization experiences, can be mobilized by different social networks, and get information from different sources.

TISR also asked whether respondents had only a cell phone, only a landline, or both. I don’t have much to comment about this; I just think it is neat.

population Cell only both Landline only
20-29 16.3 28.7 10.4 1.9
30-39 18.9 23.8 13.7 2.8
40-49 19.3 19.3 20.3 6.5
50-59 18.9 13.5 22.8 8.3
60-69 15.4 9.9 23.2 31.5
70&up 11.3 4.9 9.7 49.1
Primary school 13.1 4.4 8.4 43.5
Middle school 12.2 4.4 9.4 25.0
High school 27.7 30.2 32.4 21.3
Technical college 12.0 9.3 12.7 4.6
University 27.3 39.1 29.3 5.6
Graduate school 7.7 12.4 7.8 0.0


So if the people who answer cell phone and landline surveys are different in important ways (even when they are weighted to make them look demographically similar), what does this mean for the DPP’s polling primary? Conveniently, a recent TVBS poll report illustrates the importance of the DPP’s polling choices quite nicely. This poll is a few weeks old (conducted April 29-May 8), and used half cell phones and half landlines. TVBS weights their results by sex, age, region, and education, so the results presented below are all weighted. Most people probably only paid attention to the horse-race results. When you look at these, remember that TVBS usually has the KMT candidates several points stronger than most other polling organizations. Anyway, we aren’t really concerned about the KMT or Ko in this post; this is a post about Lai and Tsai. But just for fun, here is the big table:

Han Tsai Ko 39 25 26
Han Lai Ko 39 24 27
Kou Tsai Ko 31 24 30
Kou Lai Ko 31 24 30
Chu Tsai Ko 26 24 33
Chu Lai Ko 27 25 33
Wang Tsai Ko 15 23 38
Wang Lai Ko 13 24 37
Han Tsai 50 38
Han Lai 48 40
Kou Tsai 43 36
Kou Lai 42 40
Chu Tsai 40 40
Chu Lai 37 43
Wang Tsai 27 39
Wang Lai 25 44

A couple of points are interesting. The overall results change much more as the KMT candidates are rotated in than with the DPP candidates. In the three-way races, support for the DPP is remarkably stable no matter which one is included. However, Ko takes quite a bit more support from some KMT candidates than others.  In the two-way matchups Lai is usually 3 or 4 points ahead of Tsai, while in the three-way matchups they are essentially tied. You can see that having Ko included in the DPP polling primary question is beneficial to Tsai. Moreover, in the two-way matchups, Tsai is closest to Lai against Han. And the only time that Tsai actually beats Han Lai is in the three-way matchup with Han. This finding is not unique to this survey. Han and Ko soak up a lot of disillusioned voters that might otherwise turn to Lai. It is not a coincidence that the question the DPP will use in the polling primary is the three-way race with Han and Ko. This is Tsai’s best chance to win. She is by no means guaranteed victory, but using this question helps her odds immensely.

OK, back to cell phones and landlines. The reason that this TVBS poll is so useful is that their report broke down the results by cell phones and landlines. Here is the first question:





Cell phones


Han 39 41 38
Tsai 25 27 23
Ko 26 21 30
None 7 7 7
undecided 3 4 2

Both Han and Tsai do slightly better in the landline group, while Ko does quite a bit better in the cell phone group. Yes, you got that right. Tsai is 4% stronger in landlines than in cell phones. Here is the second question:





Cell phones


Han 39 41 38
Lai 24 31 19
Ko 27 17 35
None 7 6 7
undecided 3 5 2

Now you can see the difference. Lai is a LOT stronger in landlines than in cell phones; the gap is 12%. When you only ask landlines, Lai beats Tsai by 4%. However, if you only ask cell phones, Tsai is 4% better than Lai. When you put them together, Tsai comes out slightly ahead.

(By the way, also note that Han is exactly the same in both samples, and Ko is much stronger among cell phone respondents.)

Lai is screaming that the polling primary has been rigged against him. It is true that they choose the best question for Tsai. It is also true that Tsai does better with half the sample taken from cell phones than if all responses are from landlines. However, what the stats listed above show is that an all-landline sample is not representative of the whole population. That is, the method that Lai considers to be the default was skewing the estimate dramatically in his favor. If the DPP had adopted a 100% cell phone sample, he would have had a good argument that it was biasing the estimate unfairly toward Tsai (though the tables above indicate that cell phones are not quite as skewed as landlines). However, the two sources balance each other relatively well. A 50-50 split (plus weighting for age, sex, and region) is actually not a bad balance. It is certainly more representative of the overall population than either a pure landline or a pure cell phone sample. I’m inclined to argue that the DPP’s decision to use a 50-50 sample should be seen more as undoing the previous bias toward Lai than as creating a new, unfair bias toward Tsai.