negative voting

March 5, 2015

Last week, a group of prominent figures, including Shih Ming-teh 施明德, Sean Chen 陳沖, and Su Chi 蘇起, proposed that Taiwan should employ a new electoral system, which they called “negative voting.” As I understand the proposal, this is intended for single seat elections. Each voter would still cast one vote. Currently, the vote must be a positive one, so that each vote increases the candidate’s total by one. Under this proposal, the voter would have the option to either cast a positive or a negative vote. A positive vote would increase a candidate’s total by one, while each negative vote would decrease the candidate’s total by one.

If I understand correctly, some variant of this system is sometimes used in elections for board of directors of corporations. I do not know of any sort of negative voting used in elections for public offices. (The closest thing I know of is Approval Voting, a system invented and promoted by a couple of professors at New York University. In Approval Voting, the voter can vote for as many candidates as he or she approves of. If you vote for all but one, that is mathematically equivalent to a negative vote for that candidate. However, since a voter can cast different numbers of votes, approval voting differs from the proposed negative voting in important ways. I don’t think Approval Voting has been adopted for any elections to public offices.)

Let’s look at how this system might affect who wins or loses. If there are two candidates, negative voting really doesn’t make any difference. If you prefer A to B, you either vote positively for A or negatively for B. This system is designed to affect races with at least three candidates, so let’s delve into that. Assume there are three candidates. A is a leftist, B is a centrist, and C is a rightist. If the polls say that A, B, and C have 40, 30, and 30% support respectively, we can normally expect A to win. A’s supporters are happy with this and will go ahead and cast positive votes for A. B’s supporters know that B is losing, but they don’t have a clear second favorite candidate. Some of them prefer A to C, and some prefer C to A. They could hedge their bets and vote negatively against their least favorite candidate. Mathematically, this would be equivalent to voting for both B and their second favorite candidate. C’s supporters have a much easier choice. They all prefer B to A, so they can simply vote against A. If all of B and C’s supporters vote negatively, we thus get A: -5%, B: 0%, C: -15%. So B wins with zero votes?? Hmm. I wonder if the proponents of negative voting considered what would happen if the “winner” got zero or even negative votes. That seems like an outcome the PRC would love to see! (Note: B also wins A:10, B: 30, C: 0 if A’s and B’s supporters cast positive votes and only C’s supporters cast negative votes.)

Vote totals aside, the important point is that the new system changes the outcome. Instead of the leftist (who led in first preferences), the moderate is now the winner. Some people see this as a desirable outcome. In technical jargon, B is the Condorcet winner. That is, B wins the head to head matchups against all the other candidates. (In a one on one matchup, B beats A, 60-40, and B beats C, 70-30.) Negative voting empowers moderates! Hooray!

Not so fast, but hold that thought while we first explore a different idea.

Negative voting will be most useful to factionalized parties who cannot agree on a single candidate. Image that party A has a majority in society (A: 55; B: 45), but it has two big factions that will not yield to each other. Eventually both candidates, A1 and A2, both decide to run. Assume that the first preferences now break down as follows: A1: 30, A2: 25; B: 45. In a plurality race, B is going to coast to an easy victory. However, if 80% of party A’s voters vote negatively, they can avoid losing to B, even though they were unable to resolve their intra-party squabble. The result would be A1: 6, A2: 5, B: 1.

I think this is the real purpose of the proposal. People inside the KMT fear that the Wang and Ma factions are terribly split, and they will not be able to cooperate (perhaps even if Chu runs). Or perhaps Ma simply wants to run his own candidate. Negative voting avoids the problem of resolving intra-party tensions by simply allowing KMT sympathizers to vote against the DPP. Of course, this assumes that the KMT is still the dominant party. I understand that many people within the KMT believe that the voters will come back to them when real power (ie: national power) is at stake, though I suspect they are fooling themselves. I think their fundamental problem is that Tsai Ing-wen might have over 50% of the votes, not that the pro-Ma and anti-Ma factions can’t cooperate. At any rate, I think there is tremendous value in forcing a party that wants to hold governing power to first be able to resolve basic internal conflicts. If a severely factionalized party wins power, will it be able to effectively govern?

Let’s go back to that idea about negative voting encouraging moderates. Imagine a two candidate race, with A narrowly leading B by 52-48. What could B do to change the outcome? What if an extremist candidate BB on B’s side of the spectrum jumped in? In a normal plurality race, this couldn’t help B at all, since any votes BB won would almost certainly be taken from B. However, with negative voting, it might be different. Imagine BB is a terrible person, spewing all sorts of offensive and inflammatory rhetoric. BB would be all over the news, and voters would be outraged. In fact, some might come to the conclusion that it is important to resoundingly reject BB’s horrible ideas. However, those negative votes against BB would probably come predominantly from A’s side of the spectrum, since BB’s ideas would naturally be extremely offensive to them and only moderately offensive to voters on B’s side of the spectrum. If BB won positive support from 1% (originally B voters), while 7% of A voters and 1% of B voters decided to make a statement by voting against BB, the result would now be A: 45, B: 46, BB: -7%. BB would in fact be resoundingly rejected. However, this would also throw the election to B.

I think most of us can agree that democracy is not well-served when vile extremists can affect the outcome of a race by hurting the chances of the mainstream candidate on the other side of the spectrum. This is why positive voting, in which voters have to support something, is the norm. With positive voting, candidates are not rewarded for being offensive. With negative voting, the more offensive a candidate is and the more voters that are shocked into rejecting him or her, the more power and influence that candidate has.

To put it bluntly, this proposal for negative voting is a terrible idea.

A short comment on the idea that negative voting would save money: Candidates/parties currently get NT30 for each vote, so negative voting would supposedly reduce the public subsidy.

I’m starting to believe that the surest sign that some proposed electoral reform is a bad idea is that its proponents stress how much public money it will save. It seems almost like they are trying to distract us from their weak arguments about why it will produce better politics with shiny, shiny money!

There is a good reason for the public to subsidize parties. We have a general interest in parties that have the capacity to do things like formulate policy platforms. Bureaucracy and think tanks cost money. Back in the mid-1990s, when Shih Ming-teh was DPP party chair, the DPP could barely afford to pay rent. His predecessor Huang Hsin-chieh 黃信介 routinely wrote a personal check to cover the DPP’s monthly operating costs. That party struggled to avoid bankruptcy; it certainly did not have the capacity to do long term planning or prepare a broad set of policy proposals that it might pursue if it were to become the governing party. Shih seems currently to be arguing that the public subsidy is a waste. I disagree. I don’t want to return to the days in which there was only one party with the capacity to govern.

Ma and KMT party image

February 26, 2015

For the last couple of years, a little thought has kept pushing its way into my head. “Hey, President Ma’s second term is looking more and more like President Chen’s disastrous second term.” I’ve rolled this thought around, but I’ve always ended up pushing it away. After all, Chen’s second term was an absolute catastrophe. The term had started out with massive street protests stemming from the 2004 election eve assassination attempt, which for many delegitimized Chen’s entire term. In the middle of the term, there were more massive street protests, as the Red Shirts called for Chen’s removal from office in the face of mounting corruption cases. Chen veered from the pragmatic toward the ideological extreme, desperately trying to hold onto the fundamentalist wing of the spectrum in order to block any impeachments. The DPP underwent intense political infighting, with the New Tide faction moving into outright opposition to Chen and others being labeled as the “Ten Bandits” (十大寇) for their supposed willingness to sell the country out to China. It was a shrill and exhausting period. Public disgust with the DPP eventually climaxed with the KMT’s massive 2008 victory. There was even a short period in which people were unsure the DPP would survive to the next election. In short, Chen’s second term was a train wreck, and that’s putting it kindly.

Amazingly, I’m becoming less and less hesitant to compare Ma’s second term to Chen’s second term. I’m slowly coming to the realization that, as bad as Chen’s was, Ma’s might be worse. We have had massive street protests. We have seen abuse of power (eg: Huang Shih-ming case). The KMT’s internal struggle has perhaps been worse than the DPP’s, with Ma’s attempted purge of Speaker Wang and all its attendant fallout. Ma’s approval ratings are certainly lower than Chen’s. Chen at least always had the firm support of the fundamentalist wing of the party. I have always assumed that the dissatisfaction to Chen was more intense, but my subjective impression is that Ma is catching up. That is, it seems to me that the 75% or so who are dissatisfied with Ma today are more intensely dissatisfied than the roughly 75% who were dissatisfied two years ago. The local elections were certainly worse for Ma than Chen. In 2005/6, the DPP lost places like Yilan, Taipei County, Nantou, Changhua, and Chiayi City. Of course these were painful defeats, but these places were, except for Yilan, swing districts rather than traditional bastions of party support. The DPP held onto the rest of the south, even managing to transfer power to a new mayor in Kaohsiung City. There were no equivalents of the KMT’s humiliations in Taipei and Taoyuan Cities in 2014. Both presidents struggled with becoming a lame duck. When Chen appointed Su Tseng-chang as Premier in January 2006, he announced that he would be retreating to the second line, away from everyday politics. This reticence only lasted a few months before he publicly tried to muscle his way back into all critical decisions. Similarly, President Ma may be regretting his decision to resign as KMT party chair. His recent public insistence that the KMT continue to pursue the legal case against Speaker Wang and his many statements that he is not a lame duck suggest that he is trying to reclaim political authority.

You can clearly see the impact of Ma’s awful second term in a recent TVBS survey on party images. The TVBS survey team helpfully put together long term trend lines for several of the questions. There is a consistent pattern across a range of questions. In the late 1990s, the KMT image was bad, and the DPP image was good. In the 2004-6 period, the lines shifted. Assessments of the DPP crashed while those for the KMT rose. The KMT had a superior image through Ma’s first term, but it has cratered in Ma’s second term. The DPP’s image looks roughly as good as it did in the late 1990s, while the KMT’s image is generally even worse than it was then. Graph 7-1 shows the percentages of people who believe the KMT or DPP are somewhat incorrupt or very incorrupt. Graph 8-1 shows the percentage who feel that the KMT or DPP is an energetic party. (“Energetic” 有活力 is a very vague term in Mandarin; I think most people understand it to mean the opposite of bureaucratic, stultified, or incapable of reflection.) Graph 9-1 shows the percentage of people who believe the KMT or DPP is a united party. (Note that the intervals between surveys do not represent equal time periods. For example, there are five data points between Oct 2007 and Oct 2008, but there are a full two years between the last two data points. If you spaced them by time, that plunge in the KMT’s image over the last two years would look more imposing.)

Some of the other questions in the TVBS survey are also interesting. Table 3 shows the percentage of people who think the KMT is trustworthy (22%) or not trustworthy (64%). That is a huge deficit. Never mind the 40% of the population that will never vote for the KMT; a large part – maybe half – of the KMT’s target population doesn’t see it as trustworthy! Table 4 asks how much the KMT understands public opinion, and 70% say it doesn’t understand well at all. Table 5 asks whether the public interest or the party’s interests are more important to the KMT, and a whopping 73% believe the KMT places more importance on its own interests. In Table 6, 76% believe that the degree to which the KMT by large corporations is at least somewhat serious, and 57% believe that it is very serious.

These are awful numbers for the KMT. It is seen as corrupt, out of touch, selfish, and beset by internal squabbles. Perhaps this is the reason for what may be the most astounding number of all. TVBS asked which party respondents would prefer to govern after 2016. Among the 23% of respondents who self-identified as KMT supporters on the standard party ID question, only 60% wanted the KMT to remain in power! President Ma’s second term has been such a disaster that a significant minority of party identifiers (and this group is much smaller than it was three years ago) have to wonder if the KMT needs to be thrown out of power.


One of the final elements of the Chen’s second term was the seeming inability of the DPP to see the coming disaster. They simply seemed oblivious to their awful public opinion ratings. Even as the electorate was clearly fed up with them, they engaged in a vicious power struggle to see who would succeed Chen. Hsieh vanquished Su in a rancorous fight, but he never came close to winning the election. As we enter into the final chapter of Ma’s presidency, I wonder if the KMT is any less oblivious. Ma certainly seems grimly determined to maintain his policy line until the bitter end. Ironically, the KMT’s saving grace may be that Ma has discredited himself so much that he no longer has the power to try to arrange the 2016 nomination. VP Wu might be willing to fight vigorously for the nomination as the person who will continue Ma’s policies, but I’m not sure that President Ma still has enough clout to make a real fight of it, much less win. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Whoever emerges as the KMT nominee will face a monumental task. Right now, the KMT’s image and reputation is simply awful.

The recall

February 16, 2015

The recall effort against Alex Tsai is now over. The turnout rate of 24% was far lower than the necessary 50%, so Tsai will continue in office.


In principle, I believe that recalls should only be used in the most egregious cases. One of the great things about democracy is that it allows a society to make a decision about who will make the important decisions for the next time period and then move on. Once the decision is made, there is no need to keep fighting. In an authoritarian system, this is not the case. Decisions can be reversed at any time, so you can never stop defending your position. Democracies have institutionalized the power struggle so that it will be held at a specific time, according to specific rules, and it has a clear end. After the fight, everyone can move onto other matters.

Recalls threaten to upset that logic. If recalls are too easy, losers have a strong incentive to reopen old fights as soon as possible. For me, the overriding principle of recalls is that recalling an elected official should be significantly harder than electing that same official.

Let’s think about a few hypothetical cases. Case One: In 1992, Fidel Ramos won a seven-way race with only 23% to become the president of the Philippines. In other words, 77% of Filipinos voted for someone else. In a recall you don’t need to agree on an alternative, you only need to agree that you don’t want the current officeholder. All of the losers might have been able to mobilize their backers to throw Ramos out so that they would have another shot at the office. Even if Ramos were brilliant in office and his support only increased and never decreased, opponents would have ample opportunity to recall him. In other words, even if every person who originally voted for Ramos continued to support him, he might be vulnerable to recall. Of course, none of the other six aspirants were very popular either. After the recall and by-election, the new losers (perhaps including Ramos’s supporters) might start all over again with a new recall drive. Happily for the Philippines, this never-ending cycle didn’t happen. Instead, Ramos turned out to be a force for stability, and many people consider “Steady Eddy” to have been the best president in modern Filipino history.

Case Two: In 2004, Taipei City District 2 elected 10 legislators. The eighth and tenth seats were won by the TSU’s David Huang and independent Li Ao, an ultra-Chinese nationalist. These two, coming from opposite extremes of the political spectrum, combined for roughly 12% of the total vote. Suppose a coalition of the mainstream parties decided to launch a recall effort of the middle against the extremes. The 12% who supported the two winners would be utterly helpless to defend their favorite legislator. Even if every person who originally voted for Huang and Li continued to ardently support them, the other 88% of the electorate would be able to easily vote for recall. I’ve ignored the 50% turnout threshold so far, but this mainstream coalition might be able to reach that barrier. Each side would turn out lots of voters who hated the guy from the other side, and some of the moderate voters might also dislike the extremist on their own side. If they explicitly worked together and each major party told its supporters to vote in both recall elections (regardless of whether they voted yes or no), they might be able to turn out 50%. This would literally be tyranny of the majority, with the major parties cooperating to deny representation to smaller minorities.

What would justify a recall? I believe that to revoke a mandate, people who originally voted for the elected official must turn against him or her en masse. It should not be sufficient for angry voters who have always opposed the politician to get even angrier. If they can’t persuade people who originally voted for the politician to change sides, the original election result should stand.

This is the problem I had with the recall election effort against Alex Tsai. Sure, Tsai says inflammatory things and he is probably corrupt, but he was inflammatory and (probably) corrupt back in 2012 when his district gave him 33,000 more votes than the runner-up. He is still fundamentally the same person; we haven’t suddenly learned something new and unexpected about him. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that his former voters suddenly started clamoring to get rid of him. As far as I can tell, what happened is that he offended people who have always opposed him and made them dislike him even more intensely.

Imagine a legislator who owned a company that was selling tainted cooking oil or another who was caught up in a spectacular and lurid corruption case (such as fishing bags of cash out of hiding places in a fish pond). With such sudden new and damning information, many former supporters might turn against those two legislators, regardless of their party preferences. In such cases, recalls might be warranted. Short of that sort of smoking gun, it is best to simply wait until the next general election.


Postscript: While the recall against Alex Tsai officially failed, I think it might have partially succeeded. The effort got 24% turnout, which is an astonishing number. I had expected them to get about half of that. Consider that in last week’s by-election in Taichung City, with both major parties mobilizing as intensely as they could, turnout was only 30%. In this recall, one side completely sat out, and the politicians from the other side were noticeably absent. This effort was orchestrated by a ragtag, underfunded group of political amateurs. Yet roughly as many people voted against Tsai yesterday as voted for the DPP legislative candidate in 2012 when there was a presidential race driving voters to the polls. There is almost no way to spin this as a triumph for Tsai. (Admittedly, he went before the TV cameras and tried to do exactly that. He’s pretty brazen.) Other KMT figures might collectively decide that it isn’t worth the risk to let Tsai run for re-election. His district has always been considered safe for the blue camp, but the Sean Lien experience should be fresh in everyone’s minds. The KMT can’t afford to risk losing another race with a controversial candidate. It has plenty of boring and safe candidates who are locks to win. (Tsai has said that he won’t run again, but (a) that was when he was running for mayor and (b) he’s been known to change his mind.) The Appendectomy Project might not have cut him out of the legislature this week, but it might have demonstrated that Tsai is unpopular enough that the KMT will finish the job for them in a few months.

Combine or separate?

February 12, 2015

The Central Election Commission is set to decide later today whether the 2016 legislative and presidential elections will be held separately or simultaneously. As everyone no doubt remembers, the 2008 elections were held separately and the 2012 elections were combined. I hope they are held separately, though I don’t think the political effects will be that large. Some of the most common arguments are as follows:

  • Combining the elections will save money and reduce social disharmony.

Uggh. I hate this stupid argument. Elections aren’t that expensive to stage. If you need to save money, don’t hold a stupid university games or give sweetheart BOT contracts to conglomerates. For heaven’s sake, don’t skimp on democracy. If the better option is to separate the two elections, then spend a (very) little money and do it right. As for the social disharmony, we live in a pluralist society. Not everyone thinks the same way. There is nothing wrong with this. Harmony, which is usually imposed by social elites, is much more sinister than an open airing of disagreements in the context of an election. Let’s move on to sensible considerations.

  • The legislative election has to be held by mid-January, but the presidential inauguration isn’t until May 20.

To me, this is the most important argument. Since President Ma has already served two terms, there will be a new president in 2016. Four months between the election and the inauguration is a long, long time. Some might argue that President Ma is already a lame duck, and power is already gravitating to the likely presidential contenders. This is true, but until the election there will be some degree of uncertainty about who the next president will be. Once the result is known, all uncertainty is removed. Further, the time between the election and the inauguration is typically taken up with determining the composition of the new government. Elites have a strong incentive to ignore the current officeholders in order to angle for a new position or to curry favor with those who have already been designated. In short, we would face a four month power vacuum. This could easily be shortened to two months by separating the two elections.

If the elections were separated, the legislative election might be moved to its traditional spot on the calendar. Prior to 2008, legislative elections were held in late November or early December. I think this was done in order to avoid the late December holidays and the early January student exams. I never really cared for such an early election because it meant that the old legislature usually reconvened for a lame-duck session in January to pass lots of politically sensitive legislation – ie: stuff that voters didn’t want. Regardless, the point is that separating the elections would allow the legislative election to be held at the optimal time, whatever that might be. (I’m not sure this is possible in 2016 since the Central Election Commission has a number of procedural deadlines, but it could be a possibility in the future.)

  • If combined, the legislative election will be dominated by the presidential election. This has several variants:
  1. Media will focus entirely on the presidential contest.
  2. Turnout for the legislative election will be ~80% instead of ~60%.
  3. Small parties without a presidential candidate will be ignored.
  4. The party list vote will merely be a copy of the presidential vote.
  5. Voters will be more likely to decide their district legislative votes based on the presidential races rather than on the individual legislative candidates.

(6a) The KMT will do better in the legislative election if it is not combined.

(6b) The DPP will do better in the legislative election if it is not combined.

These arguments are all basically correct. The presidential vote will dominate the legislative vote. However, it will do that whether or not the elections are combined, so the effects will be limited. In 2012, the presidential race completely dominated the legislative election. Almost all the media focus was on the presidential election. For example, there were new polls nearly every day on the presidential race, but there were almost no polls on individual legislative district races. The TSU, New Party, Green Party, and the litany of hopeless parties were almost entirely ignored unless they were able to convince one of the two main presidential candidates to go on stage with them. Likewise, the PFP was also mostly ignored even though it had a presidential candidate. The legislative votes also turned out to be very close to the presidential votes if one looks at the blue/green divide. However, a significant number of voters opted for one of the smaller parties on the party list ballot. Indeed, the TSU probably benefitted, since it never came anywhere close to 9% in the polls.

In 2008, when the two elections were held separately, there was more media focus on the legislative elections. For example, there were some polls on the individual races. Turnout was under 60%. This is important, as it is generally desirable to have as many people vote as possible. For many people, especially those who don’t live near their voting location, going to the polls twice in a short time is a sizeable burden. Nonetheless, the political effects were muted. The media, the two big parties, and the voters all treated the legislative elections as preliminaries to the main event. With just two months between the two elections, the presidential campaign was already in full swing. For many people, the legislative elections were merely the first opportunity to express their presidential preferences. In 2008, there were slightly larger deviances between presidential and legislative vote totals than in 2012, but not by that much. Further, the long-term trend has been toward stronger partisan voting, so the decline from 2008 to 2012 might not even be due to the different electoral calendar.

As for 6A and 6B, most people seem to think that separate elections would be better for the KMT. The logic is that the KMT is unpopular now, and by separating the elections the KMT could allow its incumbents to rely on their individual local popularity. That might be reasonable. However, I’m not sure what effect the lower turnout would have. In 2008, the different turnouts didn’t seem to matter, implying that the two sides failed to mobilize roughly the same number of supporters in the legislative elections. After the 2014 elections, in which there are some indications that the green side was better at mobilization, I’m not sure the KMT should want to compete in another mobilization contest so soon. In a presidential election, given the intensity of the media coverage and the total attention paid by society, just about all of the electorate living in Taiwan will turn out. (To put it another way, the overwhelming majority of the 20% that does not vote live outside Taiwan.) In a legislative election, not everyone in Taiwan will turn out to vote simply because legislators don’t seem as important as the president. You have a much harder task in mobilizing your supporters, and I think this might be harder for a demoralized KMT voting base than for a relatively energized DPP. Maybe not, but my second point is that it isn’t necessarily obvious which major party would benefit from separating the two elections. (My first point is that the legislative election will be dominated by the presidential election no matter when it is held, so whichever party benefits won’t benefit very much.)

If it were up to me, I’d separate the two elections in order to shrink the period between the presidential election and inauguration. If they combine the elections “in order to save money,” I’ll puke in my mouth just a bit. Either way, don’t get too excited about which party is getting the advantage, because any advantage will likely be very, very small.

by elections

February 8, 2015

The votes are now in from the five legislative by-elections. The DPP held its three seats, and the KMT held on to its three seats. While no seats changed hands, this was a slightly better day for the DPP than for the KMT.

We had some reason to expect that it might be a great day for the DPP. In the previous election cycle, the DPP smashed the KMT in the by-elections in early 2010 and 2011, with landslides in all of the green and tossup districts, victories in several solid blue districts, and fairly close defeats in some of the deepest blue races. In this cycle, the DPP did much better in the local general elections and the KMT government suffers from significantly lower levels of satisfaction. However, the KMT managed to stave off the worst-case scenario this time.

One difference may have been mobilization. Four years ago, the turnouts were generally in the low 40s. This year, Changhua 4 and Nantou 2 were the highest at 37%. My highly unscientific impression is that the DPP didn’t campaign quite as effectively or energetically this cycle as last cycle. Last time, I thought that Tsai Ing-wen did a better job of nationalizing the fight and keeping the campaigns in the national media eye. This time, they seemed to get buried in the back pages. It is hard to tell what the effect of turnout is. I’m pretty sure that blanket statements (eg: low turnout favors the DPP; if turnout is over 70% the KMT will win; etc.) are useless. My hunch is that the KMT did a similarly lousy job of turning out its potential voters both times, but the DPP did an ok job last time and maybe a poor job this time. (By the way, the highest turnout of any of the bye-elections happened last year in Taichung 2, when Yen Ching-piao’s son edged out the local DPP politician. 48% of the electorate voted, and Yen probably won because he was much better at mobilization than other KMT politicians.)

The reason that I think the DPP won a small victory has to do with the results in Taichung and Changhua. Both of these wins came by a wide margin – roughly 25% in Taichung and 18% in Changhua. While the DPP won both of these seats in 2012, these have hardly been solid DPP territory. The KMT held both prior to 2012, and Ma Ying-jeou won more votes than Tsai Ing-wen in both districts. On election night 2012, it was fairly easy to argue that the DPP had won the seats due to the popularity of the individual candidates rather than to general support for the entire party. Today’s result changes that picture. Now it appears that the DPP might really have a clear edge over the KMT in both districts. Further, it now has two new people sitting in those seats who have a year to consolidate their support before the next general election. The KMT will certainly run competent candidates in 2016, but there aren’t any looming heavyweights preparing to challenge either of the two new legislators. From today’s vantage point, it looks as if these two seats, which were marginal for the DPP in 2012, are quickly turning into safe DPP seats.

This result bodes well for the DPP’s drive to win a majority of seats in 2016. The DPP needs to win another 13 nominal seats. The next 15 seats it could win probably include the 5 KMT seats in the south, New Taipei 4, 5, and 6, Taoyuan 2, the three Changhua seats, and Taichung 3, 4, and 8. The fact that the DPP has now followed up the December landslides with similarly easy victories in central Taiwan should scare the pants off the remaining KMT incumbents in Taichung and Changhua. It is looking increasingly likely that most of them will be in the unfamiliar position of needing to rely on personal popularity to offset the KMT’s deficit in presidential and party list votes.

Nantou 2 might be #16 on the list of DPP targets. Winning this seat today was a tremendous relief for the KMT. It is also exactly the type of race the KMT needs to have if they are to hold their majority next year. Nantou 2 is not as blue as most people think. Most of the KMT’s advantage in Nantou County comes from the other legislative district. With a strong DPP candidate and a ho-hum KMT candidate, this district could easily swing to the green side. In a bye-election, if the two sides had had generic candidates, I would have expected the DPP to win. However, the KMT had a clear advantage in candidate quality this time. The DPP desperately needs to transition to a new generation of politicians in Nantou. They keep running old warhorses from a decade ago. Unfortunately, they don’t have an ample stable in Nantou the way they do in Taichung and Changhua. The DPP is much weaker at the county assembly and township mayor level in Nantou, which is probably the reason they had to turn to a guy who hasn’t won anything in a decade in the first place. This narrow victory certainly doesn’t indicate that Nantou 2 is beyond reach for the DPP, but it does give the KMT an important head start going into 2016.

There isn’t much to learn from the DPP landslide in Pingtung. The most significant result of that race is simply that Chuang Jui-hsiung 莊瑞雄 will be entering the legislature. I expect him to be one of the more high-profile members of the DPP caucus over the next decade. (Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書 is the other person elected today with potential as a future political star.  Hsu Shu-hua 許淑華 has some promise, but she seems to be aiming toward county magistrate rather than any national role.)

The DPP never had any real chance in Miaoli 2. This is a deep, deep blue district, and the KMT united behind a perfectly good local politician. Moreover, the DPP ran an incumbent party list legislator. This gave the KMT a lethal argument: If you elect her, she will lose her list seat to a person from somewhere else. If you elect the KMT candidate, the DPP candidate will keep her party list seat and Miaoli will get a second local legislator! Even so, the DPP managed to win 40% of the vote. Remember, this is a district in which the DPP has historically had trouble breaking 30%. The KMT won this seat, but the DPP can’t be too upset about this result.

One thing that I would not take from this election result is any judgment of Eric Chu’s leadership of the KMT. He hasn’t been in office long enough to affect public appraisals of the KMT, and, frankly, he is no more than the fourth most important factor, behind overall party images, the local candidates, and attitudes toward President Ma. I simply don’t believe that this election result sheds any useful light on how people are reacting to Chairman Chu.

How MMP could crash

December 18, 2014

Ideas are flying left and right for changing the constitutional system. I’ll get to them at some point, but right now those proposals are so vague that I can’t analyze them. Instead, let’s look at a much more mature proposal, the one to change the electoral system to a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system.

First, let’s review some vocabulary. A mixed member system combines two types of electoral formulae. In one tier, voters can vote for individual candidates. This is called the “nominal tier,” since you usually vote for a particular name. In most mixed systems, the nominal tier employs single seat districts. In the other tier, voters select a party, and parties designate individuals to sit in any seat that the party wins. This tier almost always uses some sort of party list, so it is called the “list tier.”

There are two major types of mixed member systems. In Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) systems (in Chinese often labeled 兩票並立制) the tiers are unlinked, so what happens in one has no effect on how the seats are handed out in the other. Taiwan, Japan, and Korea all have MMM systems. To illustrate, imagine a country with 200 total seats, half in each tier. There are four parties who win 40%, 30%, 20%, and 10% of the votes respectively.

District votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (A) 76 22 2 0
List votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
List seats (B) 40 30 20 10
Total seats (A+B) 116 52 22 10
Seat share 58% 26% 11% 5%

Since Party A is the most popular party, let’s imagine that it will win most (76) of the district seats, Party B will win most of the rest (22), and Party C will win the remaining two seats. In the list tier, the seats are distributed to each party proportionally according to the list vote. The overall seat distribution is simply the sum of the two tiers. In this example, Party A wins a clear majority of the overall seats even though it won far less than 50% of the votes. This is what we call a manufactured majority, and it is quite possible in MMM systems. (The KMT holds a manufactured majority right now; it did not get 50% of the votes in either tier in 2012.) This is why the system is labeled with the third M, “majoritarian.”

The other flavor of mixed member systems is called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP; in Chinese usually called 兩票聯立制). In MMP, the two tiers are linked. The list tier vote is much more important than the nominal tier vote, as the party vote determines the overall seat share. Using the same example from above, the seats are distributed as follows:

List votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
Total seats (A) 80 60 40 20
District votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (B) 76 22 2 0
List seats (A-B) 4 38 38 20
Seat share 40% 30% 20% 10%

Start by looking at the party list votes. Since Party A got 40% of the list tier votes, it will get 40% of the total seats, or 80 total seats. In the nominal tier, Party A has won 76 seats, so in order to get to a total of 80, it needs an additional 4 seats. Note that Party A gets the most party list votes, but it actually gets the fewest party list seats. Under the MMP logic, winning more districts doesn’t help a party win more total seats, it only changes which people get to sit in those seats. If Party A had won a 77th seat by beating one of the Party C district winners, it would have only won three list seats. Party C would have then gotten a 39th list seat. Either way, Party A gets 40% of the total seats and Party C gets 20%.

So the biggest difference between MMM (Taiwan’s current system) and MMP (which Tsai Ing-wen is promoting) is that MMM has majoritarian tendencies because the tiers are independent while MMP is proportional because the tiers are linked.

There are lots of arguments to be made for why MMP is better. My personal opinion is that just about anything other than a straight American-style single seat plurality system would be better than Taiwan’s current MMM system. However, I’m not going to go into these arguments right now. What I want to look at now are the arguments for why MMP won’t work. The concern is not that MMP will produce bad politics, but rather that, if we are not careful, MMP could simply self-destruct. Most of these concerns center around “overhang seats.”

Go back to the previous example. What if, instead of winning 76 district seats, Party A had won 82? Its 40% list share vote only entitles it to 80 seats, so perhaps it should get -2 list seats! What the Germans and most other countries using MMP do is to create overhang seats.

A B C D Total
List votes 40% 30% 20% 10% 100%
Total earned seats (A) 80 60 40 20 200
District votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (B) 82 16 2 0 100
List seats (A-B) 0 44 38 20 102
Total seats 82 60 40 20 202
Seat share 40.6% 29.7% 19.8% 9.9%

Party A is allowed to keep all 82 of its district seats, and it does not get any list seats. Party B is supposed to get 60 total seats, so it gets an additional 44 list seats. Likewise, Party C gets 38 list seats, and Party D gets 20 list seats. You will notice that this makes 102 list seats. The total chamber is thus enlarged. Instead of 200 members, there are now 202 members. Because of the overhang seats, Party A has a slightly larger seat share than vote share, while the other three parties are slightly underrepresented.

This may not seem so serious, but Germans think it is. In Germany, overhang seats have caused the parliament to expand by as many as 29 seats or about 5% of the total chamber (if my memory is correct). In Taiwan, we are used to the idea that a party’s seat share and vote share might be a little off, but Germans take the principle of proportionality much more seriously. In fact, the German constitutional court has ruled the current system is unconstitutional since it can produce such disproportional outcomes, and it has demanded that the overhang system be revamped. They haven’t finalized how they will reform the system, but one possibility is to expand the seats going to the other parties as well. In the above example, Party B might also get two more seats, and Parties C and D might each get one more seat. Thus, instead of having 202 seats, the two overhang seats might require a chamber with 206 total seats. With a lot of overhang seats, the chamber size might spiral out of control.

If this were the main problem, I wouldn’t be too worried. Taiwan has historically been willing to put up with modest amounts of disproportionality. Moreover, the modest disproportionality from a few overhang seats would be less than the average disproportionality incurred under either the current MMM system or the former SNTV system. Moreover, as long as the list tier is expanded from the current 30% of all seats to closer to 50% of all seats, we shouldn’t expect to see too many overhangs. The main reason Germany has overhang seats is that they have party lists in each state rather than one national list. If Taiwan had one list for Taipei City, the KMT might easily sweep all the district seats with less than 50% of the party vote (especially with revitalized PFP and New Parties), thus creating the potential for overhang seats. However, with a national list, the KMT’s overrepresentation in the north is balanced out by their underrepresentation in the south, so overhang seats are unlikely. (The 2008 sweep would have been just shy of requiring overhang seats.)

However, what if the KMT or DPP cynically set out to create overhang seats? Could they crash the system? Let’s go back to the first MMP example, where Party A won 76 district seats and only 4 list seats. What if Party A decided that 4 list seats wasn’t enough for their 40% list votes? What they could do is to form a fake party called Party A*. All of the district candidates would run under the Party A* label, and all of the list candidates would run under the Party A label. Now let’s look at the table:

A A* B C D Total
List votes 40% 0% 30% 20% 10%
Total earned seats (A) 80 0 60 40 20 200
District votes 0% 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (B) 0 76 22 2 0 100
List seats (A-B) 80 0 38 38 20 176
Total Seats 80 76 60 40 20 276
Seat share 29.0% 27.5% 21.7% 14.5% 7.2% 276

Since Parties A and A* are legally unrelated, Party A gets a full 80 list seats to reflect its 40% party list vote share, while Party A* gets to keep all of its 76 district seats as overhang seats. Of course, they are actually the same party, and instead of 40% of the total seats, they have managed to win 56.6% of the total seats. Well now, that’s quite a difference.

Of course, if Party A did this, Party B would respond with a fake Party B* and so on. The logical result is that the MMP system of 100 nominal tier and 100 list tier seats would be transformed into a de facto MMM system with 100 nominal tier and 200 list tier seats. If we change the constitution to replace MMM with MMP, we probably don’t want to end up back with MMM. Moreover, it would be dishonest MMM, all the parties would snipe at each other for refusing to honor the rules of the game, the general public would think even less of politicians’ sense of fair play, and satisfaction with the way democracy works would probably sink even lower.

Would the parties really do this? In Italy, they actually have. About a decade ago, both of the major alliances came up with fake party lists precisely to avoid having success in the nominal tier count against the list tier. Not coincidentally, Italy recently discarded its mixed member system altogether. Germans have also recently become aware of what they call “negative voting,” though they haven’t yet been cynical enough to present fake party lists. (Insert your own joke about rule abiding German culture and corrupt Italian cultures here.) I have a hard time believing that the largest party in Taiwan would see an opportunity to turn a mere plurality in the legislature into a majority and wouldn’t seize it. If Taiwan does opt for a MMP system, there needs to be some way to prevent the fake list problem. I’m not quite sure how to do this without causing all sorts of other problems.

This brings us to the second serious problem. If you do find some way to ensure that all of a party’s candidates actually use the party’s label, what do you do about independents? Consider Yen Ching-piao 顏清標. Because of Yen’s background with organized crime, he and the KMT have decided that it is better for him not to officially join the party. In the past two elections, the KMT simply didn’t nominate a candidate in his district, and Yen won as an independent. He isn’t the only one. Both the KMT and DPP have found it useful at various times to defer to independents. However, these arrangements essentially take us back to the previous problem. Any seat won by an independent will, by definition, result in overhang seats. As such, if you allow independents, the KMT and DPP have an incentive to encourage their members to run as independents (or at least not to force allies to join their party). One solution is to not allow independent candidates. In Bolivia, all candidates must represent a party, and every party must nominate a candidate for every office. I don’t think this is a plausible arrangement for Taiwan. There is a very strong tradition of independents going back to the authoritarian era. Many people consider the option to quit their party and take their candidacy directly to the people to be a basic democratic right. Again, I’m not quite sure how to square this circle.

MMP could work in Taiwan, but the details matter. If reformers ignore potential abuses, they might be burying a time bomb right in the heart of the democratic system. I’m actually starting to think that these problems are sufficiently serious that we should consider a different electoral system, such as the old SNTV system or some version of Open List PR.

Eric Chu takes center stage

December 15, 2014

We have certainly learned a lot about Eric Chu in the past three weeks, though since we started knowing almost nothing, we still have a lot of blanks to fill in.

In the last few days of the campaign we learned that he can be petty. In the immediate aftermath of the election, we learned that he is not shy about trumpeting modest achievements. He might also be aggressive in pursuing power, but he prefers not to be seen as doing this. In the old fawning bureaucratic-authoritarian political culture, it is inappropriate and sometimes dangerous to nakedly pursue power. You have to pretend not to want it while your supporters clamor for you to accept leadership. Only after declining power several times is it acceptable to begrudgingly accept the heavy burden of political power. Chu seems to feel comfortable in this old-style political culture rather than the more open and honest culture of most democracies.

That is relatively small potatoes. We learned an enormous amount over the weekend when Chu announced he would run for KMT party chair. Where he had been a blank sheet of paper, he suddenly took a whole set of important political positions. Among the highlights are:

He won’t run for president in 2016.

He wants a parliamentary system.

He will consider revising the electoral system.

The KMT should become an internally-organized party. He will not be a superstar or a party dictator.

He will return all the KMT’s “ill-gotten” property to the state.

The KMT has become too close to large corporations and too enthralled with free-market ideas. In cross-straits dealings, this has allowed “compradore-type 買辦型” figures and unscrupulous Taiwanese businessmen (with dealings in China) 惡性台商 to emerge.

He and President Ma have completely different personalities.

He hinted that he would drop the purge against Speaker Wang.

And I’m probably forgetting some of the other important things he said. But holy cow, that’s a lot! He is setting out a radically different vision of what the KMT should be, and he is basically repudiating 70% of President Ma’s economic strategy.

I have two main thoughts about this.

First, the proposal to adopt a parliamentary system seems extremely hurried and might not be well thought out at all. This is not a minor change. It would impact everything in the entire political system, and we haven’t even begun to think about the first-order impacts, much less the third-order impacts. Moreover, every parliamentary system is somewhat different; there isn’t a simple off-the-shelf model that you can buy at your local Carrefour. It’s one thing to ask for a parliamentary system; it’s quite another to hammer out all the little details. Who gets to have the first shot at forming a coalition government? How will confidence votes be handled? Will the president continue to be directly elected? What happens to the National Security system? If this were New Zealand, they would appoint a Royal Commission that would take a year or two to consider all aspects of the question and make various proposals. There has been discussion of adopting a German-style MMP electoral system, and the intellectual community is exploring this. At the Taiwanese Political Science Association conference last weekend, there were several papers examining how Germans see their electoral system and what kinds of problems have surfaced. We are far less prepared to give useful advice about how to design an appropriate parliamentary system. Chu is suggesting that Taiwan can figure this all out in the midst of an election year, get a bill through the legislature, and then have sufficient time to educate the public so that they can vote on it in a referendum in a mere thirteen months. It would be far better to slow things down. You can’t afford to make rash and uninformed changes to the constitution, much less to the heart of the constitution.

Frankly, I’m a little concerned that Chu doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of what he wants. Today he clarified that he would be fine with either a pure parliamentary system or a system in which the directly elected president maintained considerable political powers (such as in the French system). Wait a minute, those are two entirely different systems that operate according to entirely different political logics! Choosing between those two is not at all like raising taxes by either 2% or 3%. To give just one example, having a directly elected president with considerable powers tends to drive the parties into two big camps. In pure parliamentary systems, there are often centrist coalitions. (To my knowledge) Chu hasn’t commented on why he wants to change the system. Why does he think a parliamentary (or French-style semi-presidential) system will work better than the current semi-presidential system? Is he trying to revamp the party system? Is he concerned about lines of authority from the elected politicians to the bureaucrats? Does he think a parliamentary system will discourage corruption or promote political consensus-building? He hasn’t told us why he wants this fundamental change and he doesn’t seem to know what change he wants, so why is this his big idea? It’s almost as if he wants to look like a reformer so he has picked out the biggest damn hammer in the whole toolbox in order to make the biggest impact on his public image. I hope he’s thought this through better than it appears so far.

Second, Friday was the first day of Chu’s major league political career. Up until now, he was either in local politics or not on the front lines. Suddenly he is at the center of national politics in the brightest media spotlight. Everything he does and says will be picked apart in a way that he has never had to deal with until now. As mayor of New Taipei, he could say that he is a guy who gets things done, and the country basically let that go unchallenged. No longer. He said a lot of great sounding things on Friday, but now he will actually have to deal with the consequences of those statements. If he doesn’t do something with party property, people will ask questions. Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung aren’t just going to ignore his comment about “compradore-style figures.” Most importantly, Ma Ying-jeou is not just going to yield to Chu’s ideas about economic policies. Chu might complain that Ma’s policies unfairly benefit the richest people, but Ma is still in charge of the government and he doesn’t seem to want to reverse six years of economic “achievements.” The business world isn’t going to sit idly by if Chu tries to change the economic policies they want. They have lots of power within the KMT, and they will defend their interests. Chu is going to have to engage in a full-blown power struggle to force the cabinet to follow his new line. Otherwise, Chu is going to look pretty weak if he, as KMT party chair, is calling for one set of policies and President Ma continues to push ahead with his entirely different political priorities. The media will be watching intently and screaming loudly through this entire process. Chu will find that he cannot control media agenda the way he could in local politics. He will be forced to take a stand on hot topics that he would rather avoid, and he won’t be facing a group of cooperative local reporters who will give him the benefit of the doubt when he puts his foot in his mouth. Chu is a smart guy, and he apparently has guts. I’m sure he knew that he was picking a fight with the KMT power structure and that it will fight back. In addition to the brighter spotlight and the more intense power struggles, he has to face a much harder set of problems. Dealing with national security, the national economy, leading a party, and fostering a vision for the future of the country are much harder than building an MRT line or upgrading sewer lines. Chu has been building his career to play the lead role on the center stage, and we’ll see if he is ready. From now on, everything is different.

Translating mayoral votes into legislative seats

December 13, 2014

The DPP won a smashing victory over the KMT two weeks ago. If those results are duplicated in the legislative elections coming up in a mere 13 months, the DPP will take firm control of the legislature. Of course, you can’t assume that the mayoral vote will be replicated. For one thing, all those national issues (ie: 92 Consensus) that largely stayed off the agenda will be unavoidable in 2016. For another, the candidates will be different. The KMT will be fielding a roster of quality incumbents while the DPP will have a higher share of unproven challengers. Still, these results should scare the pants off of some incumbent KMT legislators. In this post, I’m going to look at who should be the most terrified.

In 2012, the DPP won 40 seats and the TSU took 3, so the green camp needs another 14 seats to win a majority. They probably shouldn’t count on keeping the Taitung seat, since the KMT vote might not be split next time. So let’s see how likely it is that the DPP can win 15 more seats.

Legislators will be ranked from one to four, with four exclamation marks being the most alarmed.

The south

Lin Kuo-cheng 林國正, Kaohsiung 9  (!!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 32.3%;      2012 Tsai: 56.1%;   2014 DPP: 71.6%

Weng Chong-chun 翁重鈞, Chiayi County 1  (!!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 49.7%;      2012 Tsai: 58.8%;   2014 DPP: 60.0%

Chang Chia-chun 張嘉郡, Yunlin 1  (!!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 49.6%;      2012 Tsai: 56.2%;   2014 DPP: 55.6%

Wang Chin-shih 王進士, Pingtung 2  (!!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 51.5%;      2012 Tsai: 51.1%;   2014 DPP: 59.7%

Huang Chao-shun 黃昭順, Kaohsiung 3  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 46.1%;      2012 Tsai: 46.6%;   2014 DPP: 63.7%

Lin Kuo-cheng holds the Kaohsiung 9 seat because Chen Shui-bian’s son split the DPP vote. This district is so solidly green that the DPP might take it back even if they split the vote again.

Weng Chong-chun and Chang Chia-chun won improbable victories in 2012. If this election is any indication, they won’t be able to repeat that feat in 2016. In 2014, Weng ran personally and Chang’s aunt ran in Yunlin. Both were resoundingly thumped in their own legislative district. Chang’s father has already announced the family won’t be running for re-election. I expect Weng will give it a try, but he is trying to run up an ever steeper hill. At least he should be facing a weaker opponent.

Wang Chin-shih has somehow managed to retain his seat for two terms. This is not an overwhelming DPP district like the previous three, but it was already green in 2012 and will probably tilt even greener by 2016. The KMT had a competent candidate in Pingtung, but he could barely manage 40% in this district. Wang should be terrified.

Huang Chao-shun is the only KMT legislator in the south with a reasonable shot at keeping her seat. This district went roughly as green as the entire country in 2012, which was not enough to win the presidency or this seat. However, Huang should probably be alarmed by the unfathomable 63.7% Chen Chu won in this district. Chen won such an enormous victory that it is hard to imagine how it will translate to the next election. Some of those people will certainly go back to the KMT, but some probably will not. Huang needs an awful lot of people to return to the KMT fold in 2016.

Central Taiwan

Ma Wen-chun 馬文君, Nantou 1  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 38.6%;      2012 Tsai: 40.4%;   2014 DPP: 52.0%

(open seat), Nantou 2  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 45.7%;      2012 Tsai: 44.1%;   2014 DPP: 46.3%

Wang Hui-mei 王惠美, Changhua 1  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 35.0%;      2012 Tsai: 47.5%;   2014 DPP: 53.8%

Lin Tsang-min 林滄敏, Changhua 2  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 44.5%;      2012 Tsai: 44.1%;   2014 DPP: 47.9%

Cheng Ju-fen 鄭汝芬, Changhua 3  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 44.1%;      2012 Tsai: 48.0%;   2014 DPP: 54.2%

Yen Kuan-heng 顏寬恆, Taichung 2  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 40.2%;      2012 Tsai: 45.3%;   2014 DPP: 58.6%

Yang Chiung-ying 楊瓊瓔, Taichung 3  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 37.4%;      2012 Tsai: 47.2%;   2014 DPP: 59.5%

Tsai Chin-lung 蔡錦隆, Taichung 4  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 46.3%;      2012 Tsai: 40.7%;   2014 DPP: 53.3%

Lu Hsiu-yen 盧秀燕, Taichung 5  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 40.9%;      2012 Tsai: 41.0%;   2014 DPP: 53.2%

Chiang Chi-chen 江啟臣, Taichung 8  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 39.5%;      2012 Tsai: 47.1%;   2014 DPP: 58.0%

The DPP won a higher vote share in Nantou 1 this year, but Nantou 2 has always been the better target for them. Nantou 1 has an entrenched incumbent, and Puli is famous for rallying around native candidates. Nantou 2, however, is now an open seat, and without Lin Ming-chen 林明溱 to hold down the fort, it should ripe for the picking. The DPP needs to win this sort of district, in which Tsai Ing-wen got 44% or more, if they are to win an overall majority. Fortunately for them, they will get a shot to win the seat in a by-election, where conditions tend to favor the DPP. Assuming the DPP wins Nantou 2 now, it will have an incumbent defending the seat in 2016 and might be hard to dislodge.

In Changhua, the KMT has three seats, and the Changhua 4 seat has now become open. In the presidential election, Changhua 4 was not the DPP’s best district. Rather, Tsai was slightly stronger in both Changhua 1 and Changhua 3. The KMT incumbents in both of those districts should be extremely concerned. Changhua 2 might be a little different. This has always been a more blue-leaning district, and Lin Tsang-min will be defending his seat. On the other hand, Lin lost his home district in 2014, so he can’t be too confident. My guess is that, if you strip away all the influences of individual candidates, districts 1, 3, and 4 are currently leaning toward the DPP with district 2 just about a tossup. However, candidates matter a lot in places like Changhua, and the KMT will be fielding three incumbents. The DPP might beat them, but they won’t go down without a vigorous fight.

There are eight districts in Taichung which can roughly be divided into two groups. Districts 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 were all fairly close in both 2012 and 2014. Tsai won about 46% and Lin Chia-lung got about 58% in all of them. The DPP currently holds three of these seats (1, 6, and 7), and it should vigorously contest the other three. The District 8 incumbent, Chiang Chi-chen, seems the most likely to fall, as there have been rumblings that the local factions have not been happy with him. In District 3, Yang Chiung-ying has been in the legislature since 1998, and she was in the provincial assembly for a couple of terms before that. She has very deep connections running throughout the district. However, precisely because she is so deeply entrenched in clientelistic politics, she might be vulnerable to the same sort of wave that drowned Sean Lien and John Wu this year. In District 2, the Yen family seems to be dug in. They managed to transfer the seat from the father to the son in a by-election last year even though by-elections in this political climate tend to overwhelmingly favor the DPP. In a general election, the DPP will have an even harder time overcoming the unique appeal of the Yen family. To unseat them, the 2016 presidential candidate might need to replicate Lin’s 58.6% performance in this district. In both 2008 and 2012, the DPP has utterly failed to challenge Yang or Yen. If they are serious about these seats, they have to find more capable candidates than the cannon fodder they have previously presented to the electorate. It might be that the top quality candidates were scared off because the races looked nearly impossible. That should not be as much of a barrier in 2016.

The other two Taichung districts are much bluer. Lin won Districts 4 and 5 with about 53%, while in 2012 Tsai could only manage about 41%. These are the richest parts of the city, and they also have a higher proportion of Mainlanders than any other district. Even assuming the current anti-KMT wave is most intense in the most urbanized areas, I don’t expect the DPP to be able to take District 5 from Lu Hsiu-yen. Tsai Chin-lung in District 4 looks much weaker. He only won re-election in 2012 by a 54-46 margin, and he will probably face the same strong opponent (Chang Liao Wan-chien 張廖萬堅) again in 2016.

New Taipei City

Wu Yu-sheng 吳育昇, New Taipei 1  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 42.4%;      2012 Tsai: 42.5%;   2014 DPP: 46.6%

Lee Hung-chun 李鴻鈞, New Taipei 4  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 46.6%;      2012 Tsai: 48.8%;   2014 DPP: 54.2%

Huang Chih-hsiung 黃志雄, New Taipei 5  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 45.7%;      2012 Tsai: 47.4%;   2014 DPP: 52.5%

Lin Hung-chih 林鴻池, New Taipei 6  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 45.9%;      2012 Tsai: 47.1%;   2014 DPP: 52.4%

Chiang Hui-chen 江惠貞, New Taipei 7  (!!!)

2012 LY DPP: 42.8%;      2012 Tsai: 45.9%;   2014 DPP: 51.7%

Chang Ching-chung 張慶忠, New Taipei 8  (  )

2012 LY DPP: 39.8%;      2012 Tsai: 37.5%;   2014 DPP: 43.5%

Lin Teh-fu 林德福, New Taipei 9  (  )

2012 LY DPP: 27.6%;      2012 Tsai: 31.3%;   2014 DPP: 37.1%

Lu Chia-chen 盧嘉辰, New Taipei 10  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 43.4%;      2012 Tsai: 44.8%;   2014 DPP: 50.1%

Luo Ming-tsai 羅明才, New Taipei 11  (  )

2012 LY DPP: 33.4%;      2012 Tsai: 32.9%;   2014 DPP: 38.3%

Lee Ching-hua 李慶華, New Taipei 12  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 35.9%;      2012 Tsai: 42.2%;   2014 DPP: 47.0%

KMT legislators from New Taipei have to look at the 2014 results differently than their colleagues from other cities or counties. In New Taipei, the pre-election consensus was that the KMT had an extremely popular candidate running against a lackluster DPP candidate. Eric Chu, with all of his personal popularity, barely survived this election. In places like Kaohsiung or Taichung, it is unlikely that the DPP can replicate such impressive numbers in future elections. In New Taipei, after stripping away the 2014 candidates’ personal influences, the DPP vote shares might actually be too low. Every KMT legislator has to ask him or herself, “Am I as good as Chu and will my opponent be as lousy as You?” The answers aren’t encouraging for the KMT in 2016.

Districts 8, 9, and 11 are safe KMT districts. In 2014, these three districts won the election for Chu. The Xindian Luo family’s seat is far safer than the Yunlin Chang family’s or the Taichung Yen family’s seat. (Quick quiz: What is the common thread tying those three families together?) In Zhonghe, Chang Ching-chung will go down (as a footnote) in history for triggering the Sunflower movement. However, the Sunflowers and their supporters would be wise to direct their energies elsewhere, since the New Taipei 8 seat is unwinnable. KMT supporters might not want to be too happy about having these three safe seats. One of the classic gerrymandering strategies is to pack all of your opponent’s strongest neighborhoods into one district. Assuming the overall balance of power is roughly even, by sacrificing that single district, you can win by a small margin in all the other districts. New Taipei City is a natural DPP gerrymander. If the DPP can get to 50% overall, it will win more than half of the seats. In 2014, even though the KMT won New Taipei by 1.3%, the DPP won 7 of the 12 legislative districts.

Districts 1 and 12 are the other two that Chu won a majority in. In previous elections, these have usually been solidly blue. In 2014 Chu won by a surprisingly small margin, especially in District 12, which is mostly Xizhi. This should serve as a wake-up call to Wu Yu-sheng and Lee Ching-hua. They should probably still be able to win, but it is by no means an automatic victory. After 22 years in the legislature, if Lee doesn’t still have the energy to fend off a serious challenge, this might be a good time for him to triumphantly retire.

Districts 7 and 10 are similar and are right on the border between two and three exclamation marks. They are also adjacent to each other, since Tucheng (D10) abuts the southwestern part of Banqiao (D7). These are also just about the median districts nationally, in that one of them might be the 57th seat for one of the parties. Both of these incumbents are fairly anonymous nationally but have spent a lot of time working the district.

Districts 4, 5, and 6 are the most likely dominos to fall. District 6 (northeast Banqiao) will be particularly interesting. A year and a half ago, Lin Hung-chih might have been my choice as the most likely KMT nominee for New Taipei mayor in 2018. However, the last year and a half have not been good for him. He was the KMT whip during the September Struggle and the Sunflower movement. He did much of Ma’s dirty work in the legislature, and Ma tried to use him to bypass Speaker Wang. After resigning the whip position, Lin complained that he had not wanted to do these things but he was obliged to do what the party demanded. Nonetheless, the DPP will almost certainly try to paint him as Ma’s puppet and ask voters to reject Ma. In past elections, Lin’s personal popularity has masked the fact that his district is by no means solidly blue. In 2016, he should be terrified that his willingness to follow Ma’s orders might cost him what looked like a promising political career.


Chen Ken-te 陳根德, Taoyuan 1  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 44.7%;      2012 Tsai: 42.7%;   2014 DPP: 55.6%

Liao Cheng-ching 廖正井, Taoyuan 2  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 49.8%;      2012 Tsai: 44.6%;   2014 DPP: 51.3%

Chen Hsueh-sheng 陳學聖, Taoyuan 3  (!)

2012 LY DPP: 39.9%;      2012 Tsai: 36.4%;   2014 DPP: 46.9%

Yang Li-huan 楊麗環, Taoyuan 4  (!!)

2012 LY DPP: 40.6%;      2012 Tsai: 41.1%;   2014 DPP: 56.4%

Lu Yu-ling 呂玉玲, Taoyuan 5  (!)

2012 LY DPP: 35.1%;      2012 Tsai: 36.1%;   2014 DPP: 47.0%

Sun Ta-chien 孫大千, Taoyuan 6  (!)

2012 LY DPP (ally): 31.3%;     2012 Tsai: 37.8%;   2014 DPP: 49.0%

This glance at Taoyuan is a reminder of just how unlikely Cheng Wen-tsan’s mayoral victory was. He built his winning coalition on a very weak DPP foundation. One of the most important questions for Taiwan’s future is whether the 2014 election was a one-time freakish event based on the personal failings of John Wu or whether these results reflect real underlying changes in the electorate and can be replicated in the future. My hunch is that future elections will look more like 2012 than 2014, but, as the wag quipped, predictions are always shaky – especially the ones about the future.

In the past, District 2 (coast) has been the DPP’s best by far. In fact, this looked like the only one that the DPP had a realistic shot at. What was interesting about this election was that the DPP’s vote exploded in Districts 1 and 4, the mostly Min-nan areas closest to New Taipei City. In 2012, the KMT incumbent crushed his DPP opponent by over 10%. In 2014, Cheng won D1 by 12%. The strange thing is that the DPP’s candidate in 2012 was none other than Cheng Wen-tsan. If I were Chen Ken-te or Yang Li-huan, I would be shocked and very, very concerned. I would certainly do everything possible to distance myself from the Wu family and President Ma. I would also be talking to as many of my constituents as possible to try to figure out what happened. As much as anywhere in the country, these two seats are ground zero for the wave that just swept over Taiwan. If that wave hasn’t receded by early 2016, these two could be in trouble.

District 6 is a bit like New Taipei 1 and 12. This is a district that I have always considered to be an absolutely safe blue seat, yet the DPP came startlingly close to winning it in 2014. District 6 actually has three distinct parts. Daxi is an older area with far less industry, and its population hasn’t grown as fast as the rest of Taoyuan. In past years, this has been the DPP’s strongest part of the district. Most of the electorate resides in Bade. Bade is somewhat like the fast growing Min-nan areas in Districts 1 and 4, although Bade has always favored the KMT more strongly than either of those two areas. Finally, there are also about 25000 votes from Zhongli. While this is the smallest of the three pieces, it is also the most extreme. These areas of Zhongli are mostly military communities, and they have, in the past, gone for the KMT by as much as 80-20. When I studied the redistricting process from the perspective of the 2004 election, District 6 was the safest of all the Taoyuan districts. In fact, the DPP put the Zhongli military votes with Bade precisely because they thought they had a better chance of winning the remaining (mostly Hakka) areas of Zhongli than winning in Bade. In 2014, Cheng shockingly won Bade by 2%. Wu only won District 6 because of his margin in the Zhongli military areas and the mostly Aboriginal Fuxing district. (I ignored Fuxing since Aborigines vote in separate legislative districts.) Because of the safety net provided by the Zhongli military votes, Sun Ta-chien is unlikely to lose in 2016. Still, he should be jolted by the realization that his district has suddenly become competitive.

I am not going to bother with Taipei City. Ko and Lien had such a strong personal influence on the race that I’m not sure it can tell us much about how voters will decide in 2016.

The DPP has to win 15 more seats. I have marked 14 seats with three or four exclamation marks. If the DPP can move the needle enough to put some of the districts with two question marks into play, they can certainly win a majority. If they can replicate the 2014 result, they will easily win a majority. In fact, they don’t have to do quite that well. The DPP won 50 of the 73 districts (assuming the KMT keeps 7 of the 8 Taipei seats). If you give the KMT all six of the aboriginal seats and split the party list seats 17-17, that produces a 67- 46 DPP majority. Again, I don’t expect the 2016 elections to replicate the 2014 results, but 2014 should be a clear message that the legislative majority is up for grabs.

DPP votes in Aboriginal townships, part 2

December 5, 2014

In a recent post, I pointed out that the DPP received an unprecedentedly high vote share in the 30 predominantly Aboriginal townships. This seems to be evidence that preferences are changing among Aboriginal voters. Even if those votes reflect opposition to the KMT rather than support for the DPP, at least the DPP party label is no longer the ballot box poison that it seemed to be in the past.

In a comment on another post, Joseph Wang offered an alternative hypothesis. Maybe large numbers of Han people are moving into these traditionally Aboriginal townships. The DPP’s higher popularity among the increasingly populous Han residents might be what is driving the overall rise in DPP vote share. This seemed quite a reasonable suggestion to me, so I thought I’d look into it.

There is no way to tell Aboriginal and Han voters apart in the executive elections I looked at in the previous post. However, in legislative elections Aborigines have separate districts, so we can count how many Han and how many Aboriginal voters there are in each township. I looked at the 30 townships with a predominance of “mountain Aborigines” (roughly speaking, all tribes except Amis). This time, I also looked at 5 townships in which at least half of the population was “plains Aborigines” (ie: Amis).

30 mountain 5 plains
Eligible Aboriginal Voters (1992) 93851 27764
Eligible Han Voters (1992) 31921 27162
Eligible Aboriginal Voters (2012) 115473 26066
Eligible Han Voters (2012) 32490 21683
% Aborigine (1992) 74.6 50.5
% Aborigine (2012) 78.0 54.6

It doesn’t seem to be the case that Han migration is driving the trends. The Aboriginal townships have a higher overall percentage of Aboriginal voters in 2012 than they did in 1992. It’s also not the case that individual townships. The biggest drop was in Lanyu 蘭嶼 (8.0%), followed by Namaxia 那瑪夏 (4.1%), Wulai 烏來 (3.8%), Chenggong 成功 (0.5%), and Wutai 霧臺 (0.1%). The other 30 townships all saw the percentage of Aboriginal voters increase.

If the number of Han voters is not increasing, it is certainly possible that their political preferences have changed over the past 20 years (just as in the rest of Taiwan). I have heard one story about Han people in Aboriginal townships countless times over the years. Many (most?) of them are Mainlanders, retired soldiers who married an Aboriginal woman and moved into the Aboriginal community. I don’t know how much truth there is to this stereotype. At any rate, it is possible that the Han population in Aboriginal townships has evolved, either in its demographic composition or simply in its political preferences.

Has the DPP gotten more votes among Han voters in Aboriginal townships over the past 20 years? Again, this can be examined in legislative elections, where Han voters choose from a different set of candidates than Aboriginal voters. The 30 mountain townships are probably a better indicator since they encompass a wide range of electoral districts and are thus far less sensitive to variations in candidate quality. (I don’t think it is advisable to duplicate this methodology among Aboriginal voters since the quality of DPP candidates in those elections varied too widely.)

30 mountain 5 plains
DPP votes (1992) 3416 3281
DPP votes (2012) 7063 4130
DPP vote share (1992) 14.9 19.1
DPP vote share (2012) 25.7 24.8

The DPP has clearly made inroads among Han voters in Aboriginal townships. In the 30 mountain townships, the DPP’s vote share was about 10% higher in 2012 than twenty years earlier. However, remember that only about a quarter of the electorate in those areas was Han. That implies that, if there was no change among Aboriginal voters, the DPP vote share in executive elections should have gone up by only about 2-3% of the past 20 years. The DPP’s increases prior to this year were modest, but they seemed to be more on the order of 5% or so. Han voting might be one part of the changes, but there had to be some changes in Aboriginal voting behavior as well.

All this says very little about the DPP’s huge spike in 2014. That change is so large and so sudden that it simply cannot be explained by changes among Han voters. Aboriginal voters had to have changed as well.

Coordination failures in City Council races

December 4, 2014

Consider the city council election in New Taipei District 5. This is the Zhonghe 中和區 district, traditionally a KMT stronghold. It elected 6 seats this year. Here are the results.

votes party Win
江永昌 Chiang 38,503 DPP Y
邱烽堯 Chiu 28,764 KMT Y
陳錦錠 Chen 26,290 KMT Y
游輝宂 You 24,703 Ind Y
張瑞山 Chang 21,768 DPP Y
林秀惠 Lin HH 21,678 DPP Y
金瑞龍 Chin 21,159 KMT
戴德成 Tai 13,965 New
林朝鑫 Lin CH 8,788 Ind

The DPP won half the seats with only 39.9% of the vote. (They actually won more votes than the KMT, though that isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Both of the independent and the New Party candidate are from the blue camp, so the district is basically 60-40 in favor of the blue camp.)

The KMT nominated three candidates, but it only won two seats. Could it have won all three seats? It certainly looks like it could have. The third KMT candidate (Chin) lost the last seat by only about 500 votes. If the KMT had been able to shift a thousand votes from their top candidate (Chiu) to Chin, they would have won the last seat. This is what we call a coordination failure. If the KMT had coordinated their electoral strategy more successfully, they might have won another seat.

But wait, you say. The DPP could play that game too. The top DPP candidate had lots of extra votes. If we imagine the KMT could have rearranged its votes, why don’t we assume that the DPP could have as well? In fact, if you allow both parties to distribute their votes perfectly, the DPP comes out on top. The DPP had 81949 votes, so each of its three candidates could have won 27316. The KMT only had 76213, or 25404 for each candidate. But wait (again!). The independent candidate (You) won with only 24703 votes. If both parties had rationed their votes perfectly, the DPP would have won the first three seats, the KMT would have won seats four through six, and the independent candidate would have lost. So the KMT really could have won three seats with better coordination.

Of course, we are knee-deep in questionable assumptions. Most importantly, many of the KMT’s (and DPP’s) votes are personal, not partisan. A person might like Chen because Chen did some constituency service for her or because Chen was her elementary school classmate, and that voter’s second favorite candidate might not be another KMT nominee. Still, it is probably safe to assume that there is a pool of KMT supporters who would be willing to switch to any KMT candidate if that helped to produce more KMT winners. It is not entirely unrealistic to think about moving votes around.


Coordination failures are at the heart of the Single Non-transferable Vote (SNTV) electoral system. Like in every system, the most important thing is winning popular support. However, votes must be turned into seats, and this is particularly convoluted in SNTV. Some systems are proportional, such as the party list system used in Taiwan’s legislative elections. If a party gets 35% of the votes, they should get 35% of the party list seats. Some systems are majoritarian, such as the geographical seats in Taiwan’s legislative elections. If a party gets 35% of the votes, it might end up with a very low seat share (if it is opposed by one large party) or a very high seat share (if the other 65% of the votes are fragmented among many smaller parties. SNTV is generally considered to be a semi-proportional electoral system, since parties usually win roughly similar proportions of votes and seats. However, there are no guarantees of proportionality, and a party that suffers too many coordination failures can win a far lower seat share than one might expect.

There are three ways to mess up. A party can nominate too few candidates, it can nominate too many candidates, or it can fail to distribute its votes appropriately among its nominees. In the above example, the DPP had enough votes for three seats. It could have messed up by nominating only two candidates. That doesn’t happen very often. It generally only happens when a party does unexpectedly well at the polls. More commonly, a party will nominate too many candidates. Sometimes this happens because the party’s support is shrinking. Usually, there simply are too many people who want to run, and none of them are willing to step aside. In the last two election cycles, the KMT has suffered both of these. The 2010 Taichung city council race was a particularly stark example. In the old Taichung County, the KMT’s vote share fell from 45% in 2005 to 35%, while the reduction in total seats meant that there were lots of incumbents who were unwilling to step aside. The result was too many candidates chasing too few votes and a KMT bloodbath. The third failure is the one we saw in 2014 New Taipei 5, the failure to ration votes evenly to each nominee. This is the most common error.

One of the big questions in the academic literature is whether SNTV is good for small parties or for big parties. The initial answer was that it must be good for small parties. Small parties face much simpler coordination problems. It is much easier for small parties to figure out how many people to nominate. The answer is almost always one. With only one candidate, vote rationing is not a problem. Supporters simply vote for the only party nominee on the ballot. If there are enough votes for two seats, things get more difficult. The small party might nominate incorrectly, not believing it really has that much support. More importantly, with two candidates, vote rationing becomes a challenge. It is hard to ensure that both candidates will get the same number of votes. If two is hard, three is harder. Compared with four, three is a breeze. In general, the more seats a party can win in a given district, the harder it is to turn those votes into the full number of seats. If this is correct, it should be very hard to hold big parties together, since the electoral system rewards smallness.

That logic seems sound, but observers noticed that big parties always seemed to win a seat bonus. For example, in the 1992 Legislative Yuan elections, the KMT won 53% of the votes but 59% of the seats. How could this be? There are two answers. First, in the absence of any coordination failures, SNTV will produce results exactly equal to the D’Hondt system of proportional representation. Among all the PR systems, D’Hondt is the friendliest to big parties. (I’ll explain this later on.) Second, some big parties are governing parties. Governing parties can use their control of state resources to mitigate coordination problems. If too many people want to run, a governing party might convince one of them to withdraw by offering her a position in the cabinet, by promising a big bank loan to the candidate’s company through a state-run bank, by threatening to start inspecting the candidate’s food oil company every month, or by using the judicial system to investigate unethical financial practices. Governing parties might also be better at figuring out how many nominees are appropriate, since they can draw on information about economic development, the popularity of various government programs, and other national trends from their control of the government bureaucracy. Finally, they should be better at vote rationing. If one candidate is weaker than other nominees, they can shift state resources to that candidate. For example, the government could suddenly pave a lot of roads in the candidate’s home area. (Note: Before you start screaming at your computer about how this is blatant abuse of power and the goddamn KMT cheats like hell and the playing field isn’t level and that is Taiwan’s democratic birth defect, please be aware that this literature was all developed by scholars studying Japan, not Taiwan. Taiwan was merely a corroborating case.)

So who made more errors this year, the KMT or the DPP? On the one hand, the KMT was the governing party, so we should expect it to do better. (National governing power has generally been a better indicator than local governing power.) On the other hand, the KMT had a surprisingly awful election in terms of winning votes. It is always harder to shrink than to grow, so we might expect that the KMT overnominated in too many places.

Measuring coordination failures is a subjective matter. Some people insist that we should judge whether the KMT erred based on the actual performance of all the other candidates. In the Zhonghe example, the KMT should have known that its candidates each needed at least 21679 votes (since the last wining non-KMT candidate got 21678), so it failed. I think this demands too much, since it assumes the KMT could estimate how many votes each individual candidate would get (after the other parties rationed their votes) and then ration its own votes appropriately. I prefer to assume simply that the parties can estimate how many votes each party will get, but not how many votes each individual candidate will get. We can then assess how many seats each party “should have” won (with no errors) and how many it actually won.

If no one makes any errors, SNTV becomes equivalent to the D’Hondt system. D’Hondt is a system of divisors which essentially asks how many votes you can pay for each seat. Take all the parties’ vote totals, and give the first seat to the highest number. So the DPP wins the first seat. Then divide that party’s vote by two. The next seat goes to the new highest number, so the KMT wins the second seat. After that, the DPP wins the third seat, and now the DPP’s vote total is divided by 3. Eventually, the KMT and DPP both win three seats. Given the KMT’s 76213 votes, it can give three candidates 25404 each. The DPP can’t take away and of those seats. If it tried to nominate four candidates, it could only give each one 20487. This would put them behind not just the KMT’s three candidates, but also behind You. Thus, my expectation for this district is that the KMT and DPP should both win three seats.

votes 2 3 4
KMT 76213 (2) 38107 (4) 25404 (6) 19053
DPP 81949 (1) 40975 (3) 27316 (5) 20487
New 13965
You 24703
Lin CH 8788

In the actual election, the DPP won three seats, so they did not suffer a coordination failure. The KMT only won two seats, so they failed. (Note that this can seem a little unfair. The KMT’s three candidates were more closely bunched together than the DPP’s three, but because the DPP had more overall votes it had a larger margin for error. In the end, winning seats is what matters.)

You will notice that in this example, when a coordination failure occurs, it costs a big party a seat and a little party (in this case, an independent) benefits. This is not unusual. Little parties often depend on big parties making mistakes. Little parties might not have enough votes to be assured of winning a seat, but they might have just enough to be able to sneak in whenever a big party messes up.


I looked at the city council races for all 375 seats in 83 districts in the six metro city council elections this year. There were a total of 33 errors. The KMT made 18 mistakes, the DPP made 14, and the New Party made one. Most of those seats went to independents and small parties. Independents won 18, the TSU gained 3, the PFP got 2, and the New Party got 1. The two big parties did get a few, with the KMT taking 6 and the DPP winning 3. Here is how this affected seat shares:

votes seats seats
SNTV D’Hondt
actual no errors
KMT 36.5 40.3 43.2
DPP 41.6 44.5 47.7
New 1.6 0.5 0.5
PFP 2.0 1.3 0.8
TSU 2.3 1.3 0.5
Green/Tree 1.1 0.3 0.3
Independents 14.9 11.7 6.9

The KMT won 36.5% of the votes and had a potential seat bonus of 6.7%. However, it only managed to realize part of that and had to settle for 40.3% of the seats, a seat bonus of 3.8%. The DPP’s potential seat bonus was a bit smaller (5.9%) as was its actual seat bonus (2.9%). Overall, I think the two parties both did quite well. They both had numerous districts with four, five, or more nominees, and these are extremely difficult to get right. Both big parties are getting quite good at playing this game.

There are people who think that this need for appropriate nomination and vote rationing strategies is an argument for abolishing the SNTV system. Sometimes more seats can go to parties that have won fewer votes, and that is a basic failure for any electoral system. However, the more I think about it, the more I like it. SNTV rewards parties for developing the capacity to act collectively. If you want to be big enough to win governing power, you need to be able to resolve your internal differences. Parties that can overcome these coordination challenges are rewarded with more seats. There are always temptations to break ranks, but parties that can effectively cooperate will reap an electoral reward.


Just for fun, let’s try something else. Remember that I said the D’Hondt system was the friendliest PR system for big parties? Note that in the above table, small parties and independents (who are simply single person parties) are dramatically underrepresented. What would produce a more proportional result?

There is already a much more proportional system in use in Taiwan. The Central Election Commission uses a quota formula used to determine party list seats in the legislature and also to apportion legislative or city council seats to various districts. Again, start with the party totals in Zhonghe. Calculate the quota by dividing the total number of votes by the number of seats. Quota=205618/6 = 34269. Divide each party’s vote total by the quota to determine how many complete quotas each party gets. In this example, the KMT and DPP both have enough votes for two full quotas. However, that is only four seats, and this district has six. The last two seats are determined by comparing the remainders. In this case the largest two remainders belong to You and the New Party.

votes quotas Remainder Largest? total
KMT 76213 2 7675 2
DPP 81949 2 13411 2
New 13965 0 13965 1 1
You 24703 0 24703 1 1
Lin CH 8788 0 8788 0

This formula is clearly more favorable to small parties. The DPP has 5.8 times as many votes as the New Party, but it only wins twice as many seats. Whether you think that is reasonable probably depends on how you feel about small parties.

The difference between the two systems is roughly the difference between preset prices and haggling. In the quota system, the price of each seat is fixed. If you have a quota, you can buy a seat. In D’Hondt, you can bargain. Ok, I’ll give you x votes for 2 seats or y votes for three seats. The critical difference is that the price for a full seat is lower in D’Hondt. Big parties buying multiple seats at full price can thus buy more seats. If the price of a quota is higher, why do small parties do better in a quota system? They don’t pay full price! The last seat a party wins can come at a discount. For small parties, the last seat is the first seat. Thus the New Party was able to win a seat with only 40% of a quota.

These extremely cheap first seats can cause major problems. While they help ensure a voice for small parties, they also create a strong incentive for big parties to splinter. Remember, if the DPP breaks into three parties called Chiang, Lin, and Chang, it can win three seats instead of two. The DPP is actually penalized for presenting a common name and a common platform. It should split up into lots of small parties. If you think this sounds far-fetched, it is actually an accurate description of what happened in Colombia. After several election cycles, the politicians figured out how to work the system and eventually every party list elected only one person. In other words, they turned a quota system into SNTV. This eventually led to electoral reform to a German-style mixed electoral system.

These problems haven’t cropped up in Taiwan for two separate reasons. In seat apportionment, each district is guaranteed one seat regardless of size, so the various districts are only competing for full quotas. Anyway, cities and counties aren’t really strategic actors that can split up or merge for electoral gain. In the legislative elections, the 5% threshold ensures that parties cannot win one cheap seat. Any party that gets at least 5% will win at least two seats, so all additional seats require a full quota.

What happens if we use the quota rule on the 375 municipal council seats?

votes seats seats seats
SNTV D’Hondt Quota
actual no errors CEC rule
KMT 36.5 40.3 43.2 37.9
DPP 41.6 44.5 47.7 41.1
New 1.6 0.5 0.5 1.3
PFP 2.0 1.3 0.8 1.1
TSU 2.3 1.3 0.5 1.6
Green/Tree 1.1 0.3 0.3 0.5
Independents 14.9 11.7 6.9 16.5

This is a much more proportional result. The two big parties get roughly the same seat share as their vote share. The four small parties also do much better, though they still don’t get quite as many seats as votes.

Anyway, this little exercise was just for my fun. Some people like to think about how to get more votes. I like to think about how to turn the votes you already have into more seats. I’m just a nerd that way.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers