Aggregated Presidential Polls

August 12, 2019

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The party list debate

December 16, 2019

Today, Citizens’ Congress Watch held a debate for the party list ballot. There are 19 parties registered for the party list section, but only eight were invited to participate in this debate. The debate lasted nearly three hours and each party only had five scheduled two-minute slots, so it’s hard to blame CCW for limiting participation to the eight leading contenders.

What follow are my general impressions of each party’s overall performance. I did not take notes and I’m writing this from memory several hours later, so it’s possible I am remembering something incorrectly or overlooking something. That said, here are my impressions, party by party.



This was a pretty forgettable performance by the DPP, and that counts as a success. Each party had two representatives, and while the small parties sent their best people, the big guns from the two major parties were all out on the campaign trail. The DPP had a party spokesperson and the #28 person on the party list (that is, an anonymous person with no hope of getting into the legislature this time). They did a fairly competent/bland job of presenting party positions and rebutting various attacks.

Let’s be honest, this was not an important forum for the DPP. They get lots of media attention, and they have lots of opportunities to define their party positions. Today, they just needed to avoid any major errors. Mission accomplished.

Grade: B-



The KMT was roughly in the same position as the DPP, though it did not handle the challenge as well. They also sent two relatively obscure people, Chen Yi-hsin (#10 on the party list) and former legislator Chang Hsien-yao. Chen did fine. The problem was that Chang spoke about two-thirds of the time, and he was terrible. He was very shouty, shrill, and complainy. He was also unprepared. Some of the other parties prepared visual aids; Chang scribbled some unintelligible diagram on a blank sheet of paper and screamed about some conspiracy theory. He also got off topic repeatedly. And he complained about “being labeled” as pro-China. (Recall that four years ago, it was President Ma who accused Chang of being a Chinese agent.) Basically, every time Chang appeared on the screen, I spent the next two minutes cringing.

One thing the KMT has repeatedly failed to do in this campaign (and again in this debate) is to present an alternative vision of how they would govern. It is the biggest opposition party and the only one with a plausible chance of replacing the DPP in power. However, its campaign has been entirely devoted to attacking the DPP’s record. The KMT has not explained at all what it would do in office. I guess that is (barely) defensible in the presidential race, but the party list is exactly the place where that argument is insufficient. If you don’t like the DPP, you have 18 other options, including several other blue and/or viable options. The KMT didn’t give anti-DPP voters any positive reason at all today to vote for them.

Grade: D+


New Party

The New Party complained very loudly and energetically about the DPP, so its supporters are probably mostly happy with their debate performance. However, I feel frustrated by the New Party. They have an honest substantive argument to make. The New Party should be making the case that unification with China is in Taiwan’s best interest. They started out that way, talking about the necessity of peace. However, they shied away from embracing the full argument, talking about pride in their Chinese identity, the prosperity resulting from being part of a huge economy, and things like that. Instead, they tried to downplay their pro-unification position and spent a lot of time talking about conspiracy theories, such as President Tsai PhD dissertation. What kind of tiny radical fringe party is afraid to boldly proclaim its core beliefs?

Grade: C+


Taiwan Statebuilding Party 台灣基進黨

I think the Statebuilding Party was one of two clear winners in today’s debate. They spoke entirely in Taiwanese, the only party to do so. My Taiwanese is worse than rudimentary and the time-pressured format makes debaters speak in a machine-gun rapid-fire pace, so I had no chance of following their content. However, I could tell that they focused heavily on sovereignty.

The Statebuilding Party’s task today was to define itself as the main party for radical Taiwan independence supporters. In a sense, they won by simply being on the stage. Their main competitors (TSU, Formosa Alliance 喜樂島聯盟, Taiwan Action Party Alliance 一邊一國行動黨) for this bloc of votes were not invited. The Statebuilding Party can now make a simple argument: don’t waste your votes on them, we are the only Taiwan independence party with a chance of passing the 5% threshold.

The Statebuilding Party is different from those other three parties in another sense. Those are all parties for old men trying to relive the glory days; the Statebuilding Party is run by young and energetic people. Those other parties have stopped doing things to attract any new voters, while the Statebuilding Party has worked hard to build itself up over the past four years from almost nothing to earning a place on the debate stage. I don’t think they are going to get into the legislature this year, but they might establish themselves as the only viable vehicle for the independence movement going forward.

Grade: B+



To some extent, the remaining four parties are all in the middle of the political spectrum. Moreover, their strategies are all being affected by the fact that the KMT is failing to hold massive numbers of voters who would have traditionally voted for them. As a result, all these center parties are shifting toward a bluer position or reacting to other parties shifting in that direction.

The PFP’s job today was to establish itself as the main option for people who can’t stand the DPP but aren’t comfortable with the KMT this year. It did an ok job of attacking the DPP, but it did take some uncomfortable fire from the Green Party (see below).

Grade: B-


Green Party

The Green Party was the biggest winner today. They had the best performer on the stage (Wang Hao-yu 王浩宇 is a future political star) and also the most coherent message. Unlike everyone else, they had a consistent theme throughout the debate: the Green Party has ideals – environmentalism, pluralism, and sovereignty – that guide its decisions. Wang used this theme to attack the other parties. He asked the PFP why it was acceptable for one of its senior leaders to attend a PRC event, equating his action to KMT list nominee Wu Si-huai. He asked the TPP exactly what its ideals are, asking who they supported for president and whether they would vote for Wu Si-huai as a committee convener in the legislature. He also took a couple of shots at the NPP, though he didn’t explicitly name them. Party ideals had led them to support Tsai for re-election, even back earlier in the year when her polling numbers were low and “other parties” were on the fence. If elected to the legislature, party ideals would guide their actions, so they wouldn’t play games like introducing incomplete bills on marriage equality and then screaming that the DPP was against marriage equality when it blocked those flawed bills. In short, the Green Party landed shots against all its major competitors, painting them as speculators interested in short-term gains and devoid of guiding ideals.

Grade: A-



The TPP had an ok performance. I think we learned two things about them.

First, they explained their position on cross-straits issues. The USA will not permit unification with China or Taiwan independence, so it is useless to spend any time on sovereignty questions. [Note: It’s worth reading that sentence again and thinking about its assumptions and implications.]

They stuck to this position in other answers. The TPP representative refused to endorse anyone in the presidential race, saying that was up to each individual voter. However, he did say that, just speaking for himself personally, if elected to the legislature he would not vote to make Wu Si-huai a committee convener.

Second, if they don’t have any opinions on cross-straits issues, what do they stand for? They believe in budgeting. Apparently, the most important thing a party can do is to spend money carefully and repay outstanding public debt.

[Note: That doesn’t help. What is worth spending money on? Anything?]

Grade: C



I think the NPP might have had the worst performance of all today. They tried to talk about detailed public policy today, but you simply cannot do that in this format. You only have a few speaking slots, so you really don’t have time to develop any detailed ideas. Moreover, if you try to talk about public housing, you don’t have any time to talk about any of the other public policies you stand for. You get lost in details, and you look like you don’t have any broad vision.

Unfortunately, the NPP is in the middle of a vision crisis. Half the party has defected, not because they think there is a problem with the details of the party’s public housing platform, but because they think there is a problem with the party’s grand vision. What does the NPP stand for? What position does it occupy within Taiwan’s political space? We didn’t get any answers to those big questions.

Grade: D+


Ultimately, this debate won’t matter very much. I doubt many people watched it, and most who did are probably political junkies who made up their minds a long time ago. However, if it does matter for anyone, it could be precisely the type of highly educated but somewhat ambivalent voter that the TPP, NPP, Green Party, and PFP are fighting over in the middle of the political spectrum. Of those, the Green Party was the least popular going in but (I think) did the most in the debate to improve its position.

The state of the polls: 2019 vs 2015

December 11, 2019

Today is Dec 11, exactly one month before the election. Now seems like a good time to look back four years and compare the polls today with the polls four years ago. If you remember, Tsai Ing-wen eventually won the 2016 election with 56% to Eric Chu’s 31% and James Soong’s 13%.

During the summer and early fall this year, lots of people were speculating that the KMT would once again change its nominee. I argued that this was highly unlikely, in part (ok, mostly) because the KMT’s polling numbers were so much better this year than in 2015. This is no longer true. After Han’s recent slide in the polls, we are now in roughly the same place that we were in in Dec 2015. If anything, the KMT’s position might even be a little worse today than it was four years ago.


Here is my updated chart with the aggregated polling average for this election.

I didn’t do one of these four years ago, but fortunately our good friends who edit Wikipedia did a lot of wonderful work collecting polls and making pretty pictures. Here is their picture for the summer months when Hung Hsiu-chu was officially the nominee.

Tsai spent the first half of this period at about 40% and then drifted up to about 45%. Hung was in the low 20s in July and the high teens in August and September. Soong was actually slightly higher than Hung in August, which is one of the main reasons the KMT panicked and revoked her nomination. They were terrified of the possibility that they might slip into third place. As we are all quite aware, third place is not a good place to be in a majoritarian system like Taiwan’s. In mid-September, when the KMT announced the switch, Tsai’s lead over Hung was roughly 25-30 points.

Compare that to this year. In mid-September, when Gou and Ko had to make their decisions whether to run as an independent and the speculation about the KMT changing nominees was loudest, Tsai’s lead over Han was only about 10 points.

After the KMT switched to Chu, its polling numbers improved a little. Most importantly, Chu maintained a clear lead over Soong, about 10 points in October and shrinking to about 5 points in December. Maintaining second place was Chu’s most important duty, and he managed it adequately. During the last three months, Tsai held steady at about 45%, while Chu drifted downward from the low 20s to the high teens. By election day, Tsai led in the polls by about 25 points, which, not coincidentally, was exactly her margin of victory when the votes were counted.

This year, Tsai spent October and early November at around 45%. When Soong entered the race, her support dipped a few points. That is, her support this year was similar to her support levels four years ago. Han, in contrast, was considerably better than Chu, spending October and early November in the low 30s. The gap had grown slightly from September, but it was still only in the low teens.

Things changed dramatically in the second half of November, when news about Han’s Nangang luxury housing and the KMT party list dominated the political discussion. Since Soong announced his run on Nov 13, Tsai has gained about seven points and Han has lost about seven points. The gap between the two has exploded from 13% to 27%. This is firmly in the range that we saw four years ago.

You might be skeptical of the polls since Han asked his supporters not to participate or to say they support Tsai. Before, that took place on Nov 28, the polls had already begun to shift. The gap on Nov 28 was 21%, which is already arguably at the lower end of the 2015 range. I argued in a previous post that Han’s move probably didn’t have too much effect on the polling numbers. However, if you want to make a mental adjustment, feel free to choose a number somewhere between 21% and 27%. No matter what you choose, it’s a big number.

I think it is also notable that Tsai’s support is slightly higher this year than it was four years ago. In 2015, Tsai only broke 50% in two polls. This year, she has broken 50% in the three-way race in eleven polls, five of which were completed by Nov 28. (She also broke 50% in several two-way polls before Soong entered the race.) Since Soong is polling well below his 2015 levels, it is entirely plausible that Tsai could win by the same 25% margin while also beating her 2016 results by 3-5%, say 61%-36%-3%. Remember, the margin in the polls has historically been a pretty good predictor for the final vote margin, even though there are no undecided votes in the final tally. It doesn’t always work out exactly that way, but it is more likely than any other outcome.


This brings us to the second half of this topic: the legislative district races. I’m going to ignore the party list votes today because control of the legislature will be decided by the 73 single seat districts, which tend to swing disproportionately to one side or the other. The legislative races have historically been very similar to the presidential results. Again, there are sometimes individual legislative candidates who outperform the presidential candidate in their district, but the two vote totals are usually very close.

For the purposes of the legislative election, it is critical to remember that Tsai did not actually win the presidential race by 56% to 31%. Almost all Soong voters ended up voting for KMT district candidates, so the actual national partisan balance was 56-44%. That is, the green side’s margin of victory was 12%, not 25%. That 12% margin enabled the green side to win 53 of the 73 district seats.

In 2015, Soong polled pretty well. If you look at the poll numbers for Chu plus Soong, the blue side had around 30-35% in most polls. In the final polls, the blue camp trailed the green camp 44-33%.

This year, Soong is not polling as well, and the green camp lead in the presidential election is actually larger than it was four years ago. Right now, the green camp leads 49-30%. Even if you go back to Nov 28, the lead is 46-32%. That is, the lead is somewhere between 14 and 19 points. That might not sound too different from a lead of 11-12 points, but it is. Different seats have different tipping points, so each additional percent flips a new set of seats. Given the DPP’s fantastic performance in 2016, it seems almost unfathomable that they might not merely hold all those seats but actually win some new ones. However, that is what the polling suggests as a likely outcome.

At this point, I can almost hear everyone screaming at me. Yes, I know. Four years ago, most of Tsai’s supporters voted for DPP legislative candidates, but this year is different. The polls say that lots of Tsai supporters do not plan to vote for the DPP in legislative races. This might be correct. However, indulge me while I make two points.

First, I am not thinking about the party list vote. I expect that lots of Tsai supporters will vote third party on that ballot. Four years ago, the DPP got 44% of the list votes, 12% fewer than in the presidential race. (The KMT got 27%.) This year, the DPP might suffer an even bigger drop off from the presidential vote to the party list vote. You know what, I don’t much care. The party list vote is relatively unimportant. It takes about 2.5% to add or subtract a seat, so the losses would need to be massive before they affect the final seat total in a meaningful way.

Second, there are some polls that ask how people plan to vote in the district elections, but I don’t think these are very reliable indicators. I’m not sure how many people know who all the candidates are in their local race. Further, the two main blue and green candidates will finish first and second in all 73 races; there are no seats that promise to have anything resembling a true three-way race. As such, when it gets down to the end, if voters wish to cast a useful vote, they will have to decide which of the main two candidates to support. Minor candidates often find that their polling support evaporates on election day in the face of strategic voting. I think the presidential polls are probably a better indication of which side voters will eventually end up on in the legislative races.

But hey, just for fun, lets look at some polls. This year, MyFormosa has asked about the both the district and list races. In order to make sure Han’s ploy isn’t affecting things, lets look at the late November poll.

  president district list
DPP 51.2 33.9 34.1
KMT 23.7 22.9 25.1
TPP   4.5 9.5
NPP   2.4 5.3
PFP 5.2 0.6 2.5
Green   1.3 2.0
Statebuilding   1.1 1.7
others   1.3 2.0
Won’t vote 8.2 5.6 4.9
undecided 11.7 26.3 13.0

In this poll, there is a huge dropoff from the presidential vote to the district and list votes for the DPP, but no dropoff at all for the KMT. DPP support in the district races is only 65% of its support in the presidential election. One very reasonable explanation is that the KMT presidential vote has been stripped down to hardcore party loyalists, while the DPP presidential vote is an enormous (unwieldy) coalition of everyone else. Once all those people vote for Tsai in the presidential election, they will go their separate ways in the legislative elections. That’s reasonable. There are a couple of important features, though. For one, the number of undecided voters is twice as large in the district elections as in the list elections. That is a very big pool of floating voters, and, since Han’s voters are basically all accounted for, almost all of those undecided voters will have already expressed – however begrudgingly – a preference for the green camp over the blue camp. Second, even though the numbers of voters planning to vote for third parties in the districts is low, it is probably still too high. For example, 2.0% want to vote for the Green Party on the party list, and about 2/3 of them want to also vote for the Green Party in the districts. However, the Green Party is only fielding ten candidates. Probably fewer than 20% of Green Party list voters will have an opportunity to vote for a Green Party district candidate.

Ok, let’s see what the polls looked like four years ago. I’m going to look at the Dec 20, 2015 results; this was the last poll TVBS published which asked about both district and party list vote intentions.

  president district list
DPP 46 31 26
KMT 26 27 26
PFP 10 2 6
Independents   2 2
MKT   1 2
NPP   1 8
Green/SDP   1 2
TSU     2
New     2
others   1 2
undecided 17 33 20

Would you look at that! There is a huge dropoff for the DPP from the presidential election to the legislative races, and no dropoff for the KMT. DPP district support is only 67% of its presidential support. In the district elections, there is a large pool of undecided voters who mostly supported Tsai in the presidential race. This result looks eerily similar to the MyFormosa result from two weeks ago.

What didn’t happen four years ago? Even though this looks like a big tent coalition for Tsai in the presidential election that might splinter in all directions in the legislative races, that isn’t what happened. The legislative results, mirrored the presidential results to a striking degree. Will the same thing happen this year? There are no guarantees, but this reminder of what happened four years ago knocks away the strongest argument for expecting the DPP presidential coalition to split apart in the legislative races. Polls showing lower DPP support in legislative races do not necessarily actually portend lower support in the district races.


After staring at the polls for a long time, I’m coming to expect a substantial DPP victory in both the presidential and legislative races. It may be even larger than the 2016 victory.

Strangely, no one wants to hear this conclusion. I guess it’s reasonable that KMT supporters don’t want to hear it. It’s a nightmare outcome for them, and many would prefer not to face that possibility. (I must be strange; I want the bad news in advance so I can be psychologically prepared.) What is more unexpected is that none of my green friends are happy to hear my conclusions. They are terrified that something might go wrong if they are overconfident. If you talk openly about good things, you might curse it. They would prefer a tighter race so that everyone is a little scared and everyone feels the need to go out and vote. Well, I’m not trying to make you feel better. Or worse. I don’t care how you feel. My job is to give you my best answer, not the most politically correct answer. In fact, after staring at the data, I don’t think it is likely at all that the KMT will win a majority and I don’t think that it is likely that the DPP will fail to secure a majority. In fact, I don’t think it is likely that the DPP will lose more than a handful of seats. My best answer is that, as things stand right now, we are staring at another DPP tidal wave, roughly the same size and perhaps a bit bigger than the one four years ago.

Is Han succeeding in ruining polls?

December 10, 2019

On November 28, Han Kuo-yu decided that he had had enough of bad polling numbers and asked his supporters not to answer any more polls. The next day, he went one step further and asked them to tell pollsters that they “only supported Tsai Ing-wen.” Yesterday on a TVBS talk show, he explained his decision.

The DPP, he claimed, had two main campaign tactics, polls and mudslinging. He was taking one of those tactics away. He expressed doubt about the veracity of polls. A recent poll had shown him losing by over 30 points, and, to Han, it seemed like this pollster was doing a survey in a karoke bar. These “fake surveys” were affecting his supporters’ morale, and overseas supporters were starting to doubt whether it was worth it to return to Taiwan to vote since the polls looked hopeless. As a result, he decided to cover his tiles [note: mahjong analogy] and wait until election day to uncover them.


So, has Han’s tactic worked? Has he completely scrambled the polls? The polls certainly do look different after his gambit. Before Nov 28, only one poll was published showing him trailing by 30 points. In contrast, four of the seven polls conducted entirely after Nov 28 have shown him trailing by at least 30 points (and two others had the lead at over 28 points).

However, this does not necessarily imply that his supporters are following his instructions and deliberately misleading pollsters. There are three plausible scenarios that might be creating this result.

First, Han’s gambit is working. Many of his supporters are telling pollsters that they support Tsai. Alternatively, they are simply declining to participate. Either way, this implies that the published gap is unrealistically large and we will be in for a big surprise on election day.

Second, people could be ignoring Han and answering sincerely. Han did not randomly choose to attack polling. He did so in the face of a spate of bad news that threatened to drive his support down dramatically. In the weeks before and after his instruction we have seen the following stories:

–Han’s Nangang luxury housing dealings

–the controversial KMT party list

–the Chinese spy case

–Han’s family was accused of illegally mining gravel

–the opposition swept local elections in Hong Kong

–a retired ROC general was convicted of illegally funneling PRC money to Ma Ying-jeou

That list doesn’t even include the most recent bombshell: the Han campaign released a picture – which he claimed was doctored – of himself with another woman. [Note to Han: Next time, maybe wait until the other side accuses you of infidelity before you refute the charge.]

These are important and possibly devastating news stories for the Han campaign. It would be very surprising if these did not have a detrimental effect on his polling numbers. It is possible that we are simply seeing the effects of all this bad news, and Han’s instructions haven’t mattered at all.

If scenario two is correct, then the polls are mostly accurate, and Tsai is headed for a massive landslide on election day.

Third, it is possible that Han’s supporters, in the face of worsening poll results, have been slowly drifting out of the polls. That is, when a pollster calls, disheartened Han fans find an excuse to refuse to participate. When things are going badly, many people would rather watch TV than talk to a pollster about politics. [This is probably what happens in the USA in the week after national nominating conventions. Pundits make a big deal of the post-convention bounce, but it probably is an entirely artificial phenomenon.]  This is somewhat like the first story, but the difference is that this is a gradual effect rather than something that should change sharply after Nov 28.

If scenario three is correct, there is a pool of Han sympathizers that the polls are not adequately capturing. However, there is a caveat. These are demoralized Han sympathizers, and their low morale will probably lead them to turn out at lower rates than more enthusiastic Han sympathizers. In other words, Han might do a bit better than the polls suggest, but not as well as we might see in the first scenario.

For people like me, the problem is that it is very difficult to tell the three scenarios apart using only publicly available data. You simply cannot look at the topline survey results and determine conclusively what is happening. And of course, the correct answer is almost certainly that all three scenarios are happening simultaneously, and the real question is which predominates. Still, there are some hints in the data about what is happening.


Both the MyFormosa and Apple Daily polls have tried to answer this question, so let’s start with their angles. The MyFormosa pollsters noted that Han asked his supporters to answer that they “only supported Tsai,” which is not the normal way to answer the question. (Most people would simply respond “Tsai” rather than “only support Tsai”, which is a phrase that is more appropriate in a polling primary for a multi-seat district.) So they counted how many people answered in that clunky way, and they found that fewer than 2% did. 2% is not a large number, and does not account for the changes since Nov 28. Also, it is possible that some of those people sincerely support Tsai. MyFormosa concluded that Han’s effect was not very large.

Apple Daily’s approach was a bit more complex. They added two questions. First, they asked whether Han’s gambit was a smart strategic move 高明的選舉策略 or a silly political deception 愚蠢的政治騙術. Then, they asked, assuming there were no major changes between now and election day, whether there will be a big difference between the current polls and the actual voting results. Apple then tabulated how many respondents (1) supported Tsai, (2) thought the gambit was a smart strategic move, and (3) expected a big difference between the polls and the election results. These people were identified as latent Han supporters. However, they only made up 3% of the sample. Apple’s conclusion was also that Han’s effect was rather small.


Can we add anything? Look at the chart of the race since November. This is my Official Frozen Garlic Weighted Average of Polls™, and I have also added a trend line for undecided voters. The vertical line denotes Han’s call to boycott/mislead polls on Nov 28.

If Han’s call were having an effect, I would expect the percentage of undecided voters to increase noticeably. Han asked voters to lie, and I suspect that would be too much for many voters. They might be willing to say they don’t know, but most hard-core partisans have a hard time saying anything nice about the other party. In fact, there is almost no change in undecided levels. That number has fluctuated between 18 and 21 for a month and a half, and there is no sudden increase after Nov 28.

There is a noticeable change in Tsai’s and Han’s support, but those lines start to shift before Nov 28. Tsai’s lead was consistently around 13-15 points until about Nov 18, when it started to expand. By Nov 28, Tsai had increased about 3 points and Han had dropped about 3 points. After Nov 28, Tsai’s lead continued to expand. She has improved by another 3 points while he has dropped by another 3 points. This process may not yet be complete. As the older polls with smaller gaps drop out of my polling average, Tsai’s lead might inch up a little further. Still, what we see is that about half of the recent change takes place before Han’s gambit and only half takes place after it. That is more consistent with the second or third scenarios than the first. Again, the implication is that Han’s request is not being heeded by very many people.


A different way to look at this is to ask how many people are refusing to participate in polls. The first scenario suggests there should be a sharp spike in people refusing to participate after Nov 28, while the third scenario suggests there should be a more gradual increase. Fortunately for us, Apple Daily has reported participation results for its weekly polls since early October.

date answered refused completed ??
12/9 3456 644 1068 1744
12/2 3633 694 1074 1865
11/25 3433 647 1069 1717
11/18 3323 601 1084 1638
11/11 3315 643 1073 1599
11/4 3428 701 1076 1651
10/28 3219 716 1074 1429
10/21 2965 678 1068 1219
10/14 2752 654 1070 1028

The refusal rate over the past three months has been steady; it has not either increased gradually or increased suddenly. In each poll, about 650-700 people answer the phone but then refuse to participate in the survey.

Apple only reports the first three numbers (answered, refused, completed). However, those numbers don’t add up. There are lots of cases in which someone answers the phone, but it doesn’t count as a refusal or a completion. For example, the number might be for a business rather than a residence, the person answering might be under 20 years old, they might only speak an indigenous language, they might ask you to call back in 20 minutes but then something goes wrong, or they might be a foreigner. The number of these unexplained results has been steadily increasing over the past three months. I don’t know why this would happen. It is a short-term effect, so long-term factors (such as an increase in the proportion of phones belonging to businesses) shouldn’t matter. It could be something innocuous, such as higher turnover among interviewers (resulting in lower success rates) at the polling company. However, it could also be people politely finding an excuse to opt out of the surveys because they don’t want to talk about politics. Even if this is what is happening, those people aren’t necessarily all demoralized Han supporters (from scenario 3). It could also be that as the campaign heats up, more and more people from all sides of the political spectrum are sick of politics and don’t want to answer polls. Nevertheless, the gradual increase (most of which occurs in October, not immediately after Nov 28) in unsuccessful answered calls looks like it might be evidence for scenario 3.


I don’t have a clear conclusion. As I said at the outset, I think that all three scenarios are happening in some blend. However, it does not look to me like the polling results have been scrambled beyond comprehension. Only a small percentage, somewhere between 2-5% seem to be following his directions. There might also be a number of demoralized KMT supporters who are dropping out of survey samples because they can’t stand to talk about politics tonight. I don’t have an estimate for the size of this group. However, Han’s instructions to ruin polling might actually create exactly the terrible survey results that further demoralize KMT sympathizers. And if low morale depresses turnout – a fairly uncontroversial assumption – Han’s gambit might backfire.

I suspect that scenario 2, that polls reflect sincere voting intentions, might still be the closest to the truth. Even if the actual gap is not 35% (as in today’s Apple poll) or 28% (as in today’s UDN poll), it probably isn’t all that much smaller. Han argued that fake polls were creating a false impression that he is trailing by a wide margin. However, the polls are quite consistent. Every poll, no matter the partisan leaning of the pollster, shows Tsai leading by a considerable amount. For example, UDN is a reputable pollster which certainly does not do polls in karaoke bars and certainly does not purposely skew its results to make KMT candidates look bad. Han might have increased the level of uncertainty a bit, but the bad news coming from the polls is pretty convincing.

Campaign Trail: Han events in Hsinchu

December 10, 2019

I’ve gone to a few hundred election rallies over the years, and one of the most important lessons I have learned is not to take crowd size or enthusiasm too seriously. Sure, you’d always rather have a bigger and more enthusiastic crowd than a smaller and quitter one, but it doesn’t really matter as much as you might think. After all, each person only gets one vote, and the number of people at even the biggest events is far, far smaller than the number of people necessary to win an election. In the 1990s, I saw time and time again the DPP have big, hot rallies only to see the KMT mobilize enormous numbers of disinterested voters on election day.

The question is, does the reverse logic also work? Do smaller and less passionate crowds mean anything?

Over the past 16 months, Han Kuo-yu has taken Taiwan’s political world by storm. One of the principal features of Han’s wave has been his ability to hold massive, intense political rallies. Every time Han has held an event, throngs of enthusiastic Han fans have shown up. Of course, the rallies in and of themselves have not been the key to Han’s rise (see above), but they have played a critical role in communicating his strength to the wider political world and energizing lots of KMT-leaning but less engaged voters. Over a year into the Han phenomenon, I’ve started to take for granted that Han’s events will be bigger and hotter than everyone else’s.

However, three weeks ago I went to two Han events in New Taipei, and I was surprised to find that, while large and peppy, they seemed to be smaller than the organizers had expected. I haven’t had time to go to many rallies over the past two weeks, so I was eager to get back out to see what Han’s events looked like in the wake of the spy case, accusations about illegal gravel mining, and Han’s call to ignore/manipulate the polls. Would Han fans still come out in force?

On Saturday, I went to a Han rally in Hsinchu County. It was a cold (about 15C) day, but it wasn’t rainy. Everyone was bundled up, but I’m not sure if the weather was bad enough to affect turnout. I estimate there were just under 10,000 people at the event. 9,000 is a nice crowd, but it isn’t up to the standards I have come to expect from Han. It also wasn’t as many as the organizers expected. There were stacks and stacks of extra stools that hadn’t been put out. I was able to walk easily through the entire space, since the center aisle was wide (and empty) and there was lots of open space around the edges. I watched most of the event from the front right corner. There were several empty seats in the front few rows, and workers invited a few of us standing at the edges to sit down. Again, this is only telling when compared to earlier Han rallies. To get a seat in the front in an earlier rally you had to get there two hours before the event started, and if you needed to leave and come back, you had to squeeze uncomfortably through a mass of humanity.

The other notable feature of the crowd was that it was almost entirely mobilized. Han crowds are typically almost entirely self-mobilized. Even when they take buses, it isn’t necessarily the campaign organizing things. This time, every section of the crowd had a sign indicating which bus they were on. Groups sat together with different hats, vests, and signs, which usually means they passed out different paraphernalia on different buses. Now, I’m not criticizing mobilized crowds. This event was to open the campaign headquarters in Hsinchu County, and you can hardly expect people from the various far-flung places in the county to come on their own scooters. Still, it was surprising that it seemed that almost everyone had come on a bus; usually you can see pockets of people who don’t look like they are part of a group. It seemed like almost nobody who wasn’t committed in advance showed up to the rally. Again, maybe the weather discouraged people.

The crowd might have been small and bussed in, but that didn’t affect enthusiasm one bit. This was one of the happiest crowds I have ever seen. At one point early on they were dancing to a performer, and it was one of the most joyous election rally moments I have ever felt. The crowd kept it up throughout the event, cheering and jeering for several hours. They seemed utterly oblivious to any concerns I might have had.


Han had two events scheduled for Saturday evening, the one in Hsinchu County and a later one in Hsinchu City. I had originally planned to skip the Hsinchu City event. However, after seeing the crowd in Hsinchu County, I decided to head over to the event in Hsinchu City to see if the crowd there was similarly smaller than expected. After all, while you need to mobilize people from around Hsinchu County, the people in Hsinchu City could simply hop on a bus or scooter and get to the rally. Also, there is traditionally a pretty big difference between an urban crowd and a rural crowd, though Hsinchu County is rapidly urbanizing.

In fact, the crowd in Hsinchu City was very different from the crowd in Hsinchu County. The event was in a night market, and the crowd was ringed by rows of vendors. Most were selling food, but a staggeringly high percentage were selling Han paraphernalia. The food vendors were doing good business; almost no one was buying flags, hats, or t-shirts. There were lots of flags, hats, and t-shirts in the audience, so maybe everyone had already bought their swag.

In stark contrast to the Hsinchu County crowd, this crowd was entirely self-mobilized. I didn’t see any signs at all of busses or of groups that had come together. Also in contrast to the Hsinchu County crowd, this crowd seemed pretty bored and disinterested. There were a few eager Han fans up front, but this crowd felt more like a KMT crowd from 2015 than a KMT crowd from 2018 or 2019. Finally, like the Hsinchu County crowd, the size of this crowd was simultaneously large and disappointing. There were somewhere around 6,000-8,000 people, which is objectively a nice crowd for a cold evening. However, this was clearly fewer than expected. Again, there were plenty of extra stools available, and I was able to walk up through the crowd right to the front.

If anything, this crowd made me wonder about Han’s sliding popularity even more than the first crowd had. At least the first crowd had been happy and enthusiastic, and the local party branch had shown off its organizational muscle. This one was smaller and quieter while being located downtown in the middle of a fairly blue city.


On the drive home I kept asking myself whether I should take these disappointing crowds seriously. I think it does matter. Han’s rise has been based in no small part on his ability to mobilize enormous numbers of supporters through the sheer force of his personal charisma. Suddenly, the power of his charisma seems to be eroding. We know his polling numbers are awful, but we never had any doubt about his most fervent supporters. Now, I wonder if even they are losing faith.


In the first event, everyone was happy.

I’m guessing these people came together.

I counted 17 of these racks. 5 were still full of stools.

Drums, flags, and giant balloons. Election rallies are all about pageantry.

Lion dance and confetti.

The former county magistrate, Chiu Ching-chun, opines. Seems he isn’t a big fan of President Tsai.

KMT chair Wu Den-yi railed against Tsai for the lackluster economy and for her misunderstanding of the 1992 Consensus.

I was obsessed with this guy standing right behind Wu. He has the look of … well, when I first came to Taiwan, one of the guys on my study abroad program described this look as “Taiwan Guido.” It’s a special mixture of sleaze, gangster, and that schmaltzy saxaphone-heavy music playing in every taxi when the driver is over 50 and chewing betelnut. When Wu shifted to the side, I was able to read the guy’s name on his vest. He is Fan Cheng-lien, a Wu crony with business interests in China. He #18 on the KMT party list, even though more people in the KMT Central Committee voted against him (89) than for him (75). Does that sound interesting? I haven’t even scraped the surface.

This is an awesome flag. I want one for my office.

The current county magistrate, Yang Wen-ke, flanked by the two legislative candidates. Yang sold Lin Wei-chou, on his right, as a fighter. It was the first time I have heard a KMT figure brag about his party engaging in legislative brawling at a campaign rally. In his speech, Lin Wei-chou said that everything President Tsai does is either to (a) suppress the democratic opposition or (b) to enrich her side. The other candidate, Lin Si-ming, was touted as a legal expert. His speech was full of shouting and obsequious flattery of Han. Let’s just say that I think Yang might be mistaken about which one is the nuanced thinker and which one is the crude fighter.

Han gave a classic Han speech. It was entertaining, engaging, highly critical of Tsai, and somehow also extremely vague and content-free. His central theme involved the characters that United Daily News has chosen to represent the last four years. As you might expect from a blue media outlet, they are not flattering to President Tsai: 苦、茫、翻、亂 (bitter, foggy, overturn, chaos). Han asked, if she is re-elected, what will the characters for the next four years be? Awful, awful, awful, awful! (慘慘慘慘).

The rally in Hsinchu City.

A vendor selling Han swag with a sign saying, “I’m the cheapest.” Other vendors offered buy one, get one free. They were selling almost nothing. To be fair, competition was fierce. There must have been 25 of these stands at each event.

This dog thinks Han would be a terrific president.

campaign trail: DPP rally in Keelung (last weekend)

December 1, 2019

I tried to go to a campaign event today, but I encountered a series of mistakes and misfortunes and never made it to the event. So instead of reporting that, I’m going to talk about an event that I went to last Saturday and never got around to writing up.


Last Saturday, I went to see a DPP rally in Keelung City. I usually don’t have a specific agenda when I go to rallies, but I did for this one. To remind you of the context, earlier that week the KMT had announced its party list which included the controversial retired general, Wu Sihuai. A few days later, my wife pointed my attention to an ad for the incumbent DPP legislator from Keelung, Tsai Shih-ying.

This ad is unlike anything I’ve ever seen the DPP produce. The text reads: “National Security, Soldiers Have Respect.” Below that, it says “choose a real military-system legislator: Tsai Shih-ying.” In the smallest font, it lists his qualifications, including serving as a frontline officer on Kinmen during the 1996 missile crisis, promoting moving the naval base from one side of Keelung harbor to the other, and securing a submarine development center for Keelung.

Remember, the DPP traditionally has an anti-military bias. DPP politicians have run before as military specialists, but what they always meant was that they were going to rigorously scrutinize the military and the military budget to uncover any abuses of power or any wasteful spending. For example, Chen Shui-bian was famous for uncovering military scandals back in the early 1990s. This ad has an entirely different tone. Tsai Shih-ying is positioned as being a representative of military interests, not an opponent. He has served in the military, understands its culture, and can help it to secure the programs it wants. (There is also a good dose of local development pork tossed in the mix.)

Of course, this is all part of President Tsai’s broader reorientation of traditional DPP positions. Tsai has quite conspicuously championed the military during her tenure. The retired soldiers might never like her, but she is energetically wooing the active-duty officers and soldiers, by taking lots of photo-ops, by praising them whenever she has an opportunity, and by vigorously promoting higher levels of military spending. From an even broader perspective, she is wooing the traditionally Chinese nationalist officer corps through her “ROC Taiwan” discourse.

(I’ve been meaning to discuss this discourse in depth for a few months now; it is one of the most significant things bubbling under the surface in 2019. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing about this topic soon.)

At the rally, I was curious to see just how far Tsai Shih-ying and Tsai Ing-wen would take this argument. Would they put his military credentials front and center when selling him to the general public? Or would this appeal get buried beneath the more traditional appeals (local development, Taiwanese nationalism, Tsai being named an outstanding legislator ever session).

It turned out to be the latter. Other than President Tsai, none of the other speakers mentioned the military appeal. She did bring it up, but only briefly. She spent less than a minute on it, basically limiting herself to repeating the points in the advertisement. Everyone seemed to think that all the other arguments would be a lot more persuasive than this pro-military appeal. Perhaps this was due to the nature of the audience. The event was, after all, opening his campaign office. The audience was stacked with older DPP die-hards, the types of people who don’t exactly feel their spines tingle when you talk about purchasing military hardware. Maybe Tsai will dwell on this issue more with ordinary Keelung voters or in the neighborhoods with lots of military veterans and/or Mainlanders.

For now though, it seems there are limits to how much Tsai has repositioned the DPP. Tsai’s pro-military stance is evident, but it isn’t the centerpiece of the DPP’s election campaign. The traditional appeals are still the most prominent appeals. More broadly, this is also the case with the ROC Taiwan discourse. It gets mentioned every now and then, but you can easily miss it if you aren’t paying attention or you haven’t been clued in that this is important. ROC Taiwan hasn’t really become a mainstream talking point the way that “ROC on Taiwan” or “special state to state relationship” did during Lee Teng-hui’s presidency. I suppose that will have to wait until her second term.


Some pics:

It wasn’t a huge event; it was probably just over a thousand people. The rally was downtown, next to the canal. They only had the sidewalk plus one lane of the road. It was overcast, but it never started raining. In Keelung, that counts as spectacular weather.

The very popular mayor, Lin You-chang, talked about what a good job he has done. Oh yeah, Tsai helped, so vote for him.

Tsai Shih-ying leads the cheers for himself.

President Tsai addresses the faithful.

Indigenous legislator Chen Ying is on the left. Keelung has about 3000 indigenous (mostly Amis) voters. They mostly vote blue, but Chen Ying did get nearly 500 votes here four years ago.


While I’m on the topic of Keelung, let me say a few words about the legislative race. Keelung was always considered a reliably blue seat until four years ago. The DPP had never come close to winning it, losing 67.8%-28.6% in 2008 and 52.4%-40.1% in 2012. However, Hsieh Kuo-liang chose not to run for re-election in 2016, leaving the seat wide open. The KMT’s local Keelung politicians failed to coalesce around a single person, and eventually former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin decided to swoop in like a vulture to steal this plum seat away. Unfortunately for him, the local politicians didn’t agree on him either, and two of them launched rival campaigns. Tsai Shih-ying, a fairly anonymous city councilor at the time, didn’t noticeably increase the DPP’s vote share, getting only 41.5%, but since the three blue campaigns split the rest of the vote, it was enough to win.

This year, Tsai is an incumbent, and that comes with significant advantages. He has had four years to work the city. He is also aligned with a very popular mayor, and he can take some credit for city government achievements by claiming to have been the city’s representative to the national government. He has also been recognized by Citizen Congress Watch as an outstanding legislator all seven sessions of this term. In sum, he is a much more formidable candidate in 2020 than he was in 2016. The KMT candidate is Song Wei-li, the speaker of the city council. She is an old-fashioned patronage-oriented politician. In larger cities, the city council is the primary source for high-quality challengers. In a small city like Keelung, there is reason to doubt Song’s preparedness. Whereas a Taipei city councilor needs to win 20,000-30,000 votes, in Keelung, 4,000 votes is enough to win a seat. Taipei city councilors who want to run for legislator already have a pretty good idea how to do wholesale politics, whereas Keelung councilors are only trained in retail. In addition, Taipei council districts are a lot larger. When I lived in Taipei, my city council district and legislative district were exactly the same (covering Nangang and Neihu). An ambitious city councilor already had years of experience familiarizing herself with the voters in the legislative district. Keelung, in contrast, is cut into seven city council districts, so Song Wei-li is an absolute stranger to voters in the six other districts. There is a pretty big gap between the Keelung city council and a national legislator, and this might make the incumbency advantage even bigger.

I love her English slogan, but probably not in the way she intends it. Every time I pass this billboard, I imagine someone sarcastically sneering, “be real!” In my head, sometimes they’re talking to her about her chances of winning, sometimes it’s her responding to a presidential proposal, and sometimes they’re responding cynically to her slogan about taking care of ordinary people (she’s quite rich). For the record, what I think she wants to say is that she is sincere.

Song Wei-li has another problem. Once again, there are two other rival blue candidacies that will steal votes from her. Moreover, both of them have track records of taking significant numbers of votes. Four years ago, Yang Shih-lung won 10.0% representing the MKT, while eight years ago Chang Keng-huei won 5.9% as an independent. Song is already in a tough race, but if Yang and Chang replicate those performances this year, she is doomed.

At the beginning of 2019, all this wouldn’t have mattered. Back when Han Kuo-yu was soaring in the polls and the KMT thought it would waltz back into power, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the KMT would recover Keelung. However, as national polls shifted, this seat became competitive and perhaps even leaning green. As unlikely as it seemed several months ago, I think Tsai Shih-ying is in pretty good shape to win re-election.


Tsai’s lead grows; Han tries to burn down polls

November 29, 2019

There are two big developments in the polling world.


First, it is becoming apparent that Tsai’s lead over Han has dramatically increased in the last week or so. Eight polls have been published in the past four days. Two show a gap in the mid-teens, four have a gap in the low 20s, and two have (massive!) gaps of around 30 points. Even more importantly, six of these pollsters have published polls regularly throughout the campaign. Of these six, the current gap is the largest that pollster has ever found for four of them (PinView, Formosa, Apple, Green Party) and the second largest for the other two (ETtoday and Cross Straits Policy).  In my own Frozen Garlic weighted average of polls, Tsai’s lead broke 20 points for the first time today.

What happened? There have been a few important developments over the past two weeks, but I think the most important were the fracas over the KMT’s controversial party list and the Chinese spy case. One could argue that this change in the polls is mostly due to the spy case, which became public last Saturday. However, I suspect the two had an interactive effect in which the party list case enhanced the effect of the spy case.

In the party list case, the KMT presented a party list that was roundly criticized by most of society for having several members with suspiciously close ties to China. In fact, in the reporting of how the list was made, several news stories – usually citing anonymous “KMT insiders” or sometimes even naming specific KMT figures – suggested that some people had actually been put on the list at China’s behest. Chiu Yi, who was later taken off the list, was specifically mentioned as having been put on the list at the last minute due to a Chinese demand. There were three or four other suspects as well. Che Yi-ching was originally thought to have been one of Wu Den-yi’s faction, since she was rumored to be close pals with Wu’s wife. However, both Wu and his wife denied having anything to do with Che’s selection, as did Ma Ying-jeou. Reporters finally tracked down the person who had officially recommended her, former legislator Liu Sheng-liang. When asked on camera to comment on her qualifications, Liu clearly had no idea who she was, why she would be a good legislator, and he declined to explain why he had recommended her. Meanwhile the KMT itself was furious about the list, but not because of the purported Chinese infiltration. They were busy with factional infighting, with the Han faction trying to cripple the Wu faction. Both factions seemed oblivious to the accusations of Chinese influence.

After a week of social uproar about the party list, the spy case broke. The KMT’s immediate reaction was to parrot China’s official response and denounce the whole thing as a fraud. Here was sobering evidence of Chinese attempts to undermine Taiwan’s democracy, and the KMT refused to even entertain the possibility that it was real. For the past week, people had been questioning whether China had infiltrated the KMT. Now, in the face of a serious national security question, the KMT seemed to be reflexively adhering to China’s line. Instead of anger at China for attacking the integrity of the electoral process or indignation that China’s actions might delegitimize the KMT’s very real complaints about DPP governance or last year’s clear KMT victory, the KMT speculated that the DPP was somehow stage-managing the entire thing. As DPP chair put it earlier this week (in response to KMT accusations that the DPP was painting it red, “you poured the bucket of paint on your own head.”

At least that’s my guess as to why the polls have shifted so dramatically.


The second big development comes from Han Kuo-yu. Today, in the face of bad and worse polling news, he asked his supporters to stop participating in polls. Yesterday, he said that seeing polling results was like getting hemorrhoids. Today, he decided that he doesn’t want to see any more poll results. From now on, he will be able to dismiss any bad results by saying that his supporters aren’t participating. And since many (most?) of his supporters will heed his instructions, the poll results will all be bad for him. The worse they look, the more skeptical we will have to be. In other words, we are all flying in the dark until election day.

Strategically, this is a reasonable decision. Polls were a constant source of bad news dragging his campaign down. Without informative polling results, he has removed one source of disadvantageous topics from the conversation. He has also increased uncertainty, which will help him convince his supporters to turn out to vote. After all, he will be able to say that things have turned around in the last fifty days, and no one will be able to contradict him. Of course, this works both ways. With more uncertainty, the DPP will also have an easier job mobilizing its supporters, since they will have a nagging fear that Tsai’s lead might not still be so secure.

Han’s decision to light polling on fire will not make the media happy. It is an absolute disaster for academics like me who are trying to figure out what is going on. This could also have continuing effects if some Han supporters decide that polling is simply illegitimate and continue to boycott pollsters even after the election. Also, there are probably a lot of KMT legislative candidates who would like to do more polling to figure out their best strategy in the last six weeks. That option is no longer available to them.

We’ll see how this shakes out, but it is possible that today’s polls are the last reliable ones we will see this year.

(insert vociferous cursing here)

Campaign Trail: Han rally in New Taipei (2)

November 18, 2019

On Saturday evening, I went to another Han rally in New Taipei. This one was in Tucheng, in New Taipei 10. Like New Taipei 5, the KMT won this district in 2008 and 2012 but lost it in 2016. Unlike New Taipei 5, this district does not feature a pair of young, promising, nationally-prominent legislative candidates. The DPP incumbent is one of the most anonymous members of the legislature. I’m struggling to think of anyone from the Taipei area with a lower national profile. Wu Chi-ming is a classic grassroots politician. He votes the party line in the legislature, but his main job is working the district, securing development funds, and ensuring that the DPP continues to hold this seat. His opponent promises to be pretty much the same. Like Wu Chi-ming, Lin Chin-chieh comes out of the city council. He was closely allied with the previous KMT legislator, Lu Chia-chen. Lu was also a fairly anonymous grassroots politician except for one thing. Lu was noted as perhaps Wang Jin-pyng’s closest follower in the legislature. During the primary for the legislative nomination however, Lin Chin-chieh hitched his wagon to Han Kuo-yu, a move which surprised some people. So here’s what I know about the two main candidates: Wu is associated with the Yu Hsi-kun faction, Lin is allied with the Han faction, both are boring and locally-oriented, and that is all. This district is slightly bluer than New Taipei city as a whole. In fact, in 2012 it was the median district in the entire country. That is, this is arguably the swingiest of all swing seats. Win New Taipei 10, and you will probably win a majority in the legislature.

The event was large, but I got a very strong impression that it was not nearly as large as the organizers had expected. There were a few areas of mostly empty seats, and you could find seats even in the more densely populated areas. I think about 75% of the seats were filled. There was an overflow section that was completely empty. Campaigns usually don’t set up seats in overflow areas until its clear that they will need them in order to avoid embarrassing photographs (and also to concentrate the audience into a smaller space since more concentrated audiences are more responsive). There was also a standing-room space at the back of the plot that was mostly empty. A lot of people did gather on the sidewalk just outside the space (on the other side of a fence). I think there might have been 10,000 people, but it looked like they expected at least 15,000. It wasn’t a huge space; if it had been packed to the gills it might have held 20,000 people. (If 10,000 seems too low, remember that my estimates are notoriously stingy.) Early on in the event, the hosts asked the crowd, “Do we have 50,000 people?” I had to suppress a giggle, since it looked to me like they might have had 8,000 at that point. Campaigns always inflate their numbers, but that was way too far from reality. Anyway, 10,000 people is still a lot of people, and it was a good crowd. They were self-mobilized and enthusiastic. This was a successful event.

There were several speakers, and they were feeding lots of red meat to the crowd. Tsai Ing-wen, it seems, has been a complete disaster as president.

Hong Kong came up a few times. This audience clearly disliked the common rhetoric that Taiwan is trying to avoid becoming a second Hong Kong. The speakers told them not to let themselves be blackmailed by this argument. There wasn’t much sympathy for the Hong Kong protesters. One speaker said that it was fine to demonstrate for democracy, but their tactics had gone far beyond acceptable levels and they no longer could express any reasonable goals or demands. The protesters were now the ones to blame.

The KMT’s party list came up once or twice. One person, from the KMT youth department, told the crowd enthusiastically that their first vote should be for Han Kuo-yu. Hooray! And of course, everyone knows who should get your legislative district vote! The crowd roared back, “Lin Chin-chieh!” And about the party list vote… Suddenly her tone changed from confident and enthusiastic to hesitant and defensive. She told the crowd that they should feel welcome to complain or swear a bit first, but they eventually needed to vote for the KMT party list as well. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

They talked a lot about Han’s real estate dealings. They discussed at length how rich President Tsai is and how much property she Tsai owns. It was totally unfair that the media was only talking about Han and not about Tsai. They also defended Han’s actual dealings, explaining that NT70 million is not all that much and that Han had to take out loans like a normal person. Again, the tone was always defensive. It seems pretty clear to me that they don’t want to talk about this topic, but they feel they need to. The attacks seem to be hitting home.

At first glance, it seems a bit strange that the real estate “scandal” is having an effect. There really isn’t much of a scandal. The DPP and media aren’t directly accusing Han of doing anything illegal. At most, there are hints and innuendos that he might have improperly used his political influence to persuade financial institutions to loan him money. As corruption scandals go, it’s pretty tame stuff. However, this isn’t really about corruption. It’s really about trust. This attack is persuading voters that Han isn’t who you thought he was, and he isn’t who he says he is. He claimed to be one of you, just an ordinary person. In fact, he was always one of the predatory elite class using his power and influence to get rich off property schemes while ordinary people are stuck trying to get by on a fixed salary. If you give Han your trust, he will abuse that trust to enrich himself.  Trust is the most basic ingredient of political power in democratic politics, so this attack on Han’s trustworthiness is actually potentially quite lethal.

Han had another good speech last night. He spoke mostly about economics and how Taiwan has fallen behind its peers over the past thirty years. While this was an inherently negative message, his tone was generally positive. He wasn’t projecting anger; rather he was identifying a problem (bad economy) and telling people how to fix it (vote for me). As always, there weren’t any specifics in his speech. The crowd didn’t mind. They were highly enthusiastic for him. It wasn’t a coincidence that the most intense roar of the entire day came when someone (I can’t remember if it was Han or someone else) said that “we need to throw the DPP out of office!” That is what they really want, and they believe that Han is the one to do it.

The event was over before 8:00pm, which seemed unfathomably early to me.

This section of seats was empty because the view was blocked by a tree. On the right side of the picture, there is a building at the back. (The lot was empty because they will build a brand new fancy apartment building here, and that temporary building is where they pre-sell the units.) Most of the seats on the side in front of that building were empty because of the terrible acoustics caused by the sound bounding off the wall at the back. You would think that campaigns would know a thing or two about sound systems by now, but I’ve been to more events with terrible sound systems than with good ones. The crowd goes back to about where the two tents. Between those two tents and the billboard, there was a large, conspicuously empty space.

This picture was taken from the same place as the previous one; I just turned around to face the front. It’s a nice-sized crowd, but it isn’t like people are crammed in.

The sad, sad overflow space. Campaigns hate it when jerks like me publish pictures like this.

It was a spirited rally. The crowd was roiling when Han took the stage.

The rally was in New Taipei 10, but several KMT candidates from nearby districts also showed up. Here, Han introduces Lo Ming-tsai (NT 11), who waves to the crowd. Lin Chin-cheih (NT 10) is in the dark blue vest standing next to Han. Ko Chih-en (NT 7) is on the far left in the pink vest. Huang Chih-hsiung (NT 5) is in the blue and yellow jacket two people away from Han. Lin Kuo-chun (NT 6) is the tall guy standing right behind Han.

Dong suan! Dong suan!

Bonus picture: This is not from the rally. This billboard is for a candidate running as an independent against Lin Chin-chieh. His father is Lee Chia-chin, a KMT legislator from this area back in the early 2000s. Lee wanted to run for this seat, but lost to Lin in the KMT primary (when Lin cozied up to Han). Lee’s son is now running with the endorsement of Terry Gou and Ko Wen-je. These are the kinds of candidacies that can get anywhere from 2,500 to 25,000 votes. This is already a tough race for the KMT, but they have no hope of winning unless they can suppress Lee’s vote.

Campaign Trail: Han rally in New Taipei (1)

November 18, 2019

On Saturday, I went to two Han campaign events in New Taipei city. The first one was an afternoon rally in Shulin. The event was billed as a sports policy event. This makes sense since the KMT’s legislative candidate in the district is Huang Chih-hsiung, who won a bronze medal in Taekwondo at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and then a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Huang served three terms in the legislature (2005-2015), one on the party list and then two from New Taipei 5th district. He lost his re-election bid in 2016 to Su Chiao-hui, who is Premier Su Tseng-chang’s oldest daughter. The 2020 election is a rematch of the 2016 election, with Huang trying to regain his old seat. Both of the candidates are hard-working, well-liked, and well-respected. This district is slightly greener than the rest of New Taipei and the overall national partisan balance, but it is certainly one that can swing either way.

I should note my personal bias at the outset. I don’t think sports administration should be a priority for any government. I don’t think public money should be pumped into creating elite athletes, building sparkling stadiums for professional (or “amateur”) games, or trying to host major international sporting events. The big competitions affiliated with the Olympic associations are extremely corrupt schemes designed to divert public money into expensive and unnecessary construction projects. I’m all for schemes to improve public health, but there isn’t much evidence that big sporting events help this. Speaking as an American, we have a constant stream of sporting spectacles and an ever-fatter population. If you want to improve public health by encouraging exercise, build more parks and bikeways and create more youth sports programs. Don’t bother with the elite sports. I guess what I’m saying is, I wasn’t ever going to be receptive, much less sympathetic to the message at this particular event.

The event was in a sports park. On the way to the event, I walked through an extreme sports park, with facilities for skateboarding, rock climbing, and other things that idiots do on made-for-TV sports shows on ESPN. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, this section of the park was nearly completely empty. The event itself was indoors, in a basketball gym. The acoustics were horrible, with the sounds echoing off all the walls. I had to stand near a speaker to get an intelligible soundstream. Of course, since I was standing near a speaker, I’m deaf now. There were about two or three thousand people in the arena, mostly people in their 50s and 60s. A few groups sat together in the stands, but the majority sitting on the floor looked as if they had not been mobilized. The crowd wasn’t huge, but it was fairly energetic and enthusiastic.

The event started just before 3:00pm with something I have never seen before at a political rally. The host led the audience in calisthenics. It was like a low-impact workout video. The were marching in place, stretching their arms, opening and closing their hands, and so on, all while the host was counting them off: one, two, three, four; two, two, three, four; three, two, three, four; four, two, three, four. At first, I was amused by this little stunt. What better way to emphasize the theme of sports than by getting the audience to participate in a bit of exercise? But it kept going on. And on. And on. I think Han Kuo-yu was a bit late in arriving, so they kept going. They did a full 20 minutes of vigorous calisthenics. I was starting to wonder about the effect of this on the rally. Either the audience would be exhausted by the time the rally started, or they would have all their blood pumping and be extra enthusiastic. (It turned out to be closer to the latter, I think.) After the 20 minutes of exercise, the hosts spoke briefly. However, they were clearly stalling for time, so they tried to do more calisthenics. The audience didn’t respond as enthusiastically the second time, and, after about five minutes, Han finally arrived.

Only three people spoke at the event. Huang Chih-hsiung talked about the details of Han’s new sports administration policy. There were three major components. First, the sports administration government agency would be upgraded to a full ministry. Second, its budget would be tripled. Third, the Han administration would make sure that Taiwan’s elite athletes could go out to participate in major competitions and that major international athletic competitions would be able to come into Taiwan. With a more robust sporting infrastructure and lots of sporting events, the whole sporting section of the population would get rich! If you think this sounds almost exactly like rhetoric from Han’s mayoral campaign last year, so do I. The KMT thinks that the Tsai government, not the PRC, is responsible for Taiwan’s isolation. When the KMT comes back into power, its new cross-strait policy will open up the world of international sports to Taiwan and everything will be glorious again. I should note that I do believe this policy will, in fact, lead to a lot of people getting rich. Unlike most of Han’s policy proposals, which depend almost entirely on the magic of opening up the China market, this one has a funding source. People will get rich because he will triple the government budget. It’s a nice marriage of classic sporting corruption with classic Han ideology!

Han Kuo-yu spoke next. I have totally forgotten what he spoke about. This is not unusual. Han has a talent for giving an engaging speech in which he doesn’t actually say anything substantive. The crowd was very responsive.

Former Taipei County magistrate Chou Hsi-wei was the last speaker. Chou was the ideological attack dog. He mostly ignored sports policy, focusing more on the controversies of the day. On this day, that meant defending Han’s real estate dealings and the KMT’s party list. At one point, he argued that, while the KMT list had been controversial, they had resolved the disputes through a series of democratic votes in democratically elected committees. This was much better than the DPP, in which the list was created by a small group of Tsai cronies without any outside influence. Of course, this is total nonsense. The KMT and DPP processes for creating their party lists were almost identical. In both cases, a small committee reporting directly to the party chair put together the list. Both lists then had to be approved by the party’s standing controlling committee. If the DPP process was closed and dictatorial, then so was the KMT’s. If the KMT’s was open and democratic, then so was the DPP’s.

The whole event was over slightly before 4:00pm. It was one of the fastest events I’ve ever seen.

Let’s exercise!

Look at how many people are joining in. It’s usually a struggle to get crowds at a political rally to wave their little flags in unison. These people are standing up and jumping around.

Now that’s enthusiasm!

Hey, remember Han’s promise to build a romantic Ferris Wheel in Kaohsiung?

Eagle? Dove? Either way, this is a pretty cool design.

Gestapo Wanna Be’s. They think they’re bad-asses. I have a slightly different opinion.

Han tells a funny story. Huang Chih-hsiung is on Han’s right. Standing next to Huang is his wife, Hung Chia-chun. Hung is a member of the New Taipei city council and is also formerly competed for the ROC in international Taekwondo competitions. The tall guy on the far right is former Taipei County commissioner, Chou Hsi-wei.

The seven items in Han’s sports policy. None of these say anything about tripling the sports administration budget, which Huang specifically mentioned in his speech. Others, like distributing funds from the sports lottery to local levels and providing lifetime income guarantees for elite athletes were not mentioned in the speech. A few other items are pretty vague and useless, like providing sports for ordinary people and developing sports enterprises.



KMT VP and party list

November 16, 2019

One of the questions that people often ask me is, given that they are trailing in the polls, how could Han Kuo-yu and the KMT turn the election around. I typically oblige, trying to spin the most realistic scenario that I can imagine. A few months ago, that scenario started with Hong Kong fading from the news headlines or Han Kuo-yu dazzling American experts in the closed-door meetings during his late October trip to the USA. Unfortunately for the KMT, these things aren’t unfolding that way. China is ensuring that Hong Kong remains prominent in the international news. Han cancelled his American trip, probably because he didn’t see much chance of realizing my optimistic outcome. One by one, the items on my list of things that might change the race are being eliminated, and Han still trails by a large margin in the polls.

This week, we saw another item checked off the list. Han announced his vice presidential choice, choosing former (caretaker) premier, Simon Chang Shan-cheng. Chang was leading Han’s policy team, and he is supposed to be the serious technocrat who will give Han some governing credibility. It isn’t a bad choice. It might convince some wavering blue voters, especially the so-called “intellectual blue” voters, that Han is qualified to be president, or at least that he might allow qualified and reliable people to make the important decisions. However, this is not a game-changer. No one outside the blue camp will be swayed. It certainly is not the type of choice that might jolt the polls. I don’t know who could have done that (Terry Gou?? Ko Wen-je?? Morris Chang??), but it definitely isn’t Simon Chang.

The only major set pieces remaining on my checklist are the presidential debates and election day mobilization. For the debates, Han might have a charisma advantage, but Tsai has a massive advantage in knowing all the details of government policy. I suppose it is possible that on election day the KMT will mobilize all of its potential supporters and the DPP will fail miserably at mobilization. However, it seems unlikely that the KMT could make up a double digit gap through mobilization. That leaves the unknown factors. I think the most likely unknowns are some sort of scandal or some sort of Chinese action, both of which are much more dangerous for Han than for Tsai. This is Tsai’s third presidential campaign; there aren’t likely to be many shocking skeletons in her closet. And overt Chinese interference is more likely to cause a pro-DPP backlash among voters than to convince undecideds to vote en-masse for the KMT.

I’m not going to say the presidential race is over, but I’m not optimistic for the KMT. I don’t see many realistic remaining paths to victory.


This week, many of the parties announced their party lists. This was not on my checklist of potentially game-changing moments. Very few voters can tell you anything about who are actually on the various party lists. At most, they get a vague positive or negative impression that a particular party’s list is pretty good or pretty bad. This year’s DPP list is a perfect example of ho-hum. There was some mild controversy and the list had a few last-minute changes. However, two weeks from now, most ordinary voters won’t be able to name a single person on the list, much less tell you specifically why it is fantastic or lousy. Even super-attentive voters will be able to tell you more about President Tsai’s cats than the #2 person on the party list.

The KMT list, however, might be controversial enough to break that normal pattern of anonymity. When the KMT announced its list, criticism was intense and nearly universal. (A guest on one of the political talk shows joked that he had never seen such agreement before on both the blue and green talk shows.) Everyone hated the list, though everyone had slightly different reasons for hating it.

The green side was appalled by the KMT’s decision to include several extremists with histories of repeating Chinese rhetoric. Three people were singled out. Ye Yu-lan was ranked #1 on the New Party’s list in 2016, and she has publicly advocated One Country, Two Systems. Former legislator Chiu Yi has long been one of the green side’s most hated figures. He has spent the past three years in China, where he frequently appears on talk shows supporting immediate unification and parroting Chinese talking points. Four years ago, he was #2 on the New Party list. Former general Wu Si-huai went to China, where he stood and sang the PRC national anthem at an event sponsored by the communist party. This action caused so much anger back in Taiwan that the legislature passed a law stripping pension benefits for retired military officers who engaged in such actions. He is basically the boogeyman inspiring the proposed law trying to deal with Chinese agents in Taiwan. He also led a group opposing pension reforms. The green side screamed that if a party list is supposed to be a statement of a party’s values, why was the KMT nominating overt collaborationists? Why was it nominating people who openly supported the PRC’s formula (one country, two systems) for cross-strait relations rather than the KMT’s official formula (1992 consensus)? What horrifying effect on national security could these people have if they obtained sensitive intelligence through their positions in the legislature? The green side is simply mortified by the KMT’s list. The green media has intimated that the PRC used various back-channels to coerce/persuade/order the KMT to put several of its choices on the list. The first day, these were mere hints and innuendos. However, more recent stories have made increasingly direct accusations of PRC involvement. The KMT has not indignantly denied anything. I don’t know whether there is any substance to the rumors, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t let my opponents make such explosive charges without a forceful response.

Maybe it isn’t shocking that the green side hates the KMT list. Far more surprising is that the blue side is also angry at the list. I’m not sure I have figured out everyone’s beef, but everyone has a complaint. KMT chair Wu Den-yi was originally scheduled to be listed as #8. However, when the final list was produced, Chiu Yi was unexpectedly added to the list in the #8 position, and Wu was pushed down to #10. After announcing the list, Wu cried (literally) about how shabbily he had been treated. #10 is still a safe position; the KMT should win at least eleven or twelve seats. However, Wu clearly felt insulted. [The rearranged lists also angered some of the other factions. For example, one of Ma Ying-jeou’s people was pushed from a safe position to a (barely) marginal position.] The blue talk shows, especially those from the Want Want media group exploded with anger at Wu’s placement. How dare he put himself on the list! How dare he put together such an awful list of old people!

Wu insisted that the list had already passed the KMT Central Standing Committee, so it could not be altered. However, within hours he had reversed himself. He called for an emergency meeting the next day, where he presented a revised list. The new list put him at #14, a very marginal position. It also removed Chiu Yi and made minor arrangements to a few of the other rankings. This list passed the Central Standing Committee, and then it was presented to an emergency meeting of the Central Committee. (Note: I am confused by why they needed this step.) Today, the Central Committee voted on each person. The vote was to veto, not to pass. With 189 people present, 95 “no” votes were needed to veto someone. In fact, there were “no” votes cast against every single person on the list. Everyone is angry about something. Even the least controversial person, Tseng Ming-tsung, got 13 no votes. Only one person was vetoed. Sorry, let me rephrase that. One person, Chang Hsien-yao, was even vetoed!! (Huh??) This is unprecedented. Chang, who was listed in a very shaky spot at #17, was a surprise addition to the revised list. He also has a longstanding spat with Ma Ying-jeou. Two other people were not vetoed, but they got more no votes than yes votes. (Holy Cow!!) Wu Si-huai, the controversial general, got 84 yes votes and 82 no votes. He remains on the list. (What the hell is going on??)

Again, voters usually don’t know much at all about the makeup of party lists. However, the KMT is taking extraordinary steps to try to ensure that people will have a general impression that this is a terrible list. They put extremely controversial people on it, and the DPP will be able to question the KMT’s commitment to Taiwan. Moreover, they engaged in vicious infighting and put it on the record that even KMT elites think that every single person on the list is questionable. For a couple people still on the list, MOST KMT elites think they are a bad idea. Han’s VP candidate, Simon Chang even said publicly that blue-leaning voters should consider voting for the PFP or TPP lists. Will this affect the KMT’s support? If I were the PFP, TPP, or any other blue-leaning list, I’d be eager to find out. More dangerously, the KMT doesn’t want any blue supporters on the losing side of this fight to feel so disgusted that they consider staying home or casting a protest vote for Soong. The more Soong takes from Han, the less enthusiasm blue voters will have. And if they stay away (again) on election day, the DPP will cruise to victory in most of the legislative district races. This is not something the KMT should be risking.


Let’s step back here and look at the bigger picture. I think the backdrop to this fight over the party list involves a bigger fight over who will lead the KMT after the election. It looks to me like, even though they hope to win, everyone in the KMT is preparing for a loss. Traditionally after a party loses, the party chair resigns to accept responsibility for the defeat. I think Wu was preparing to defy that pattern. He was going to try to put the blame for the defeat on Han’s ethical problems, Han’s poor performance as mayor, Han’s campaign aimed almost exclusively at the base, and Han’s position on how to deal with China. It was all Han’s fault! In the post-election world, Han would be exiled back to Kaohsiung, where he might even be removed from office in a recall vote. With Han neutered, the KMT’s power center would shift to the legislative caucus. During his first few years as party chair, Wu was somewhat marginalized because he didn’t have much control over the legislative caucus. By putting himself on the party list, Wu could become the leader of the caucus, effectively combining the party apparatus with the legislative caucus to produce one unified voice – his own – for the KMT. Brilliant! The only problem is that it isn’t working. Wu is quite unpopular with the general public and not terribly popular within the KMT. Even if he manages to make it into the legislature, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the rest of the legislative caucus would defer to his leadership. He was publicly humiliated and strategically defeated in this struggle over the party list. The other factions – probably mostly the Han faction but perhaps some other factions as well – want to force Wu out of the party chair. At the Central Committee meeting today, Han ally and #15 on the revised list Hsieh Lung-chieh promised that as soon as the election was over, he would run for the party chair. That must have been humiliating for Wu to hear. (In the old days, if such a low-ranking KMT member – Hsieh is just a Tainan city councilor – had dared challenge CKS or CCK to his face, he might have been arrested and shot on the spot!) Han’s position might be severely weakened the day after the election, but the Han faction is trying to make sure that Wu’s position is fatally damaged long before that. Right now, they’re succeeding.

Party infighting is a normal part of democratic politics, but it is unusual for it to break out so intensely BEFORE the election. There are only eight weeks to go; right now the parties need to present a unified front to the public. This is the kind of thing that parties usually try desperately to paper over until the day after the election. The KMT needs to be making up ground right now. Instead, it seems determined to try to shoot itself in the foot.

Do referendums reflect public opinion?

November 7, 2019

I have previously written that I do not think referendums are a good way to make public policy choices because voters never have sufficient information about the choices to make good decisions. In this post, I’m going to go one step further. Referendums are also a lousy way to make decisions because voters usually don’t care very much about those choices. You might obtain a “clear” result indicating that 53% of the electorate opposes or supports some policy, but the actual public opinion underlying that electoral result is usually far less defined. In some extreme cases, you might as well be drawing random numbers.

Last year, Taiwan put 10 referendum questions on the ballot. We got 10 results, but I don’t think those results reflected any particularly solid attitudes in the overall population.

Fortunately, we have some data. I’m using the Taiwan Elections and Democratization Studies (TEDS) post-election surveys. Three face-to-face surveys were conducted (mostly in February 2019) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung cities. I am merging the three files together. This is NOT a nationally representative sample. Still, if people in the three most urbanized and highly educated areas of Taiwan don’t care about referendums, you aren’t likely to find stronger results elsewhere.

To refresh your memory, the ten referendum questions were as follows (translations from Wikipedia):

#7 Do you agree “To reduce by 1% year by year” the electricity production of thermal power plants?
#8 Do you agree to the establishment of an energy policy to “Stop construction and expansion of any coal-fired thermal power plants or generator units (including the Shen Ao Power Plant currently under construction)”?
#9 Do you agree that the government should maintain the prohibition of agricultural imports and food from areas affected by the Fukushima March 11 Disaster? Specifically, those from Fukushima proper and the 4 surrounding districts and cities of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba?
#10 Do you agree that marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman?
#11 Do you agree that the Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools?
#12 Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in co-habitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code?
#13 Do you agree to the use of “Taiwan” when participating in all international sport competitions, including the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
#14 Do you agree to the protection of same-sex marital rights with marriage as defined in the Civil Code?
#15 Do you agree in accordance with the Gender Equality Education Act that national education of all levels should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, and same-sex education?
#16 Do you agree to repeal Article 95 Paragraph 1 of the Electricity Act: “Should Nuclear-energy-based power generating facilities shall stop running by 2025”?


The first thing to remember is that the turnout in the mayoral elections was much higher than the turnout for the referendums. Many people who voted in the mayoral election, often after waiting for several hours, then looked at the (relatively short) lines for the referendum ballots and decided it wasn’t worth it. About one in six mayoral voters skipped the referendums altogether. Meh.

Seven of the ten passed (all but #13, 14, and 15). Let’s look at how the survey respondents reported their votes. I’m only showing people who said they voted in the referendums. I show four different response categories: yes, no, can’t remember or don’t know, and all others (including invalid votes, refusal to answer, and didn’t pick up this particular ballot).

Ref # yes no forgot other
#7 61.6 14.3 17.5 6.6
#8 54.7 21.5 16.8 7.1
#9 45.6 16.5 8.6 4.9
#10 61.9 26.0 7.7 4.3
#11 47.4 36.6 11.1 4.9
#12 42.0 41.1 11.5 5.4
#13 44.9 39.5 11.1 4.5
#14 31.9 52.4 9.9 5.9
#15 36.9 44.8 12.2 6.2
#16 38.2 38.2 16.4 7.2
average     12.3  

On average 12.3% of voters couldn’t remember how they voted. This doesn’t sound like a population that had thought long and hard about energy policy or marriage equality and had come to solid conclusions (that could serve as the basis for government decisions) about what to do. Nope. It sounds like a lot of them cared so little about the issue that they couldn’t remember what they did. Remember, the one-sixth of the electorate that REALLY didn’t care about the referendums had already left; these are the people who supposedly cared the most.

Perhaps you think that this is normal.  Maybe it is unreasonable to expect that people might remember how they voted two or three months later. Well, let’s look at the mayoral results from the three cities. It turns out, respondents could remember that vote pretty clearly. In a choice that the electorate took seriously, only 1.1% couldn’t remember how they voted. The referendum simply didn’t make as deep an impression in their minds.

KMT candidate 48.5
DPP candidate 30.2
Ko Wen-je 14.3
Other minor candidate 1.0
Forgot 1.1
Other 4.9


But wait, it gets worse. One-sixth of the mayoral voters didn’t care enough to vote in the election, and one-eighth of the remaining voters couldn’t remember how they voted in the referendums. However, it isn’t the case that the rest of the voters all had strong and clear opinions. In fact, their behavior is, if anything, even more discouraging to the pro-referendum set.

Five of the referendum questions dealt with marriage equality. The referendum questions were criticized as being a bit confusing, however, the TEDS survey included a fairly straightforward question on attitudes toward marriage equality. (This question was near the end of a long questionnaire. Most respondents would have had ten to forty minutes between answering questions about their voting choice on the referendums and this question.) The question was as follows: “On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, some people believe that it should be legalized while others do not. Do you agree with legalizing same-sex marriage?” About 95% of respondents provided an answer, and opponents outweighed supporters by roughly a 3:2 ratio.

Legalize same-sex marriage?    
Strong agree 10.1 37.1
Agree 27.0
Disagree 30.0 58.0
Strong disagree 28.0
Other 4.9  

If those attitudes toward same-sex marriage are deep and strong, they should be highly correlated with voting behavior on the five referendums related to same-sex marriage. Let’s see. These tables show attitudes toward same-sex marriage (rows) and reported behavior in the referendums (columns). Each cell is the table percentage (the percentage of all referendum voters in that cell).

Ref #10 (define marriage as one man, one woman)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 12.1 21.9 1.6 1.3 37.1
Don’t 48.2 3.7 5.0 2.1 59.1
Other 1.6 0.3 1.1 0.8 3.8
total 61.9 26.0 7.7 4.3 100.0

Ref #11 (against gender equality education)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 12.2 21.4 2.1 1.3 37.1
Don’t 33.9 14.5 7.9 2.8 59.1
Other 1.3 0.6 1.2 0.8 3.8
total 47.7 33.6 11.1 4.9 100.0

Ref #12 (don’t amend the Civil Code)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 20.7 12.7 2.4 1.3 37.1
Don’t 20.1 27.9 8.0 3.0 59.1
Other 1.1 0.5 1.2 1.0 3.8
total 42.0 41.1 11.5 5.4 100.0

Ref #14 (amend Civil Code)

  Yes no forgot other total
Legalize 25.7 7.3 2.6 1.5 37.1
Don’t 5.8 43.8 6.0 3.4 59.1
Other 0.3 1.2 1.2 1.0 3.8
total 31.9 52.4 9.9 5.9 100.0

Ref #15 (support gender equality education)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 25.7 7.7 2.3 1.4 37.1
Don’t 10.5 36.1 8.6 3.9 59.1
Other 0.7 1.0 1.3 0.9 3.8
total 36.9 44.8 12.2 6.2 100.0


Focus on the four upper-left cells in each table. For example, people who support legalizing same-sex marriage should probably be against Referendum #10 while people who are against legalization should probably support it.  In fact, 70.1% of the respondents fall into one of these two boxes. However, 15.8% voted the “incorrect” way. That is, their vote contradicted their stated attitude. This wasn’t the most egregious example.

  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 70.1 15.8 14.1
#11 55.3 26.7 18.0
#12 32.8 48.6 18.6
#14 69.5 13.1 17.4
#15 61.8 18.2 20.0
average 57.9 24.5 17.6

Referendum #12 was confusingly worded, and respondents mostly got it wrong. A whopping 48.6% reported voting in a way inconsistent with their attitude toward same-sex marriage, while only 32.8% got it “correct.” Referendum #14 asked basically the same thing, but in a much clearer way (and from the opposite direction). On this question, far more respondents reported a “correct” vote. However, even with a clearer question, 13.1% got it wrong.

It really isn’t great if voters are reporting behavior inconsistent with their values. Any way you slice it, the implication for referendums is pretty terrible. If you suggest that they are just misrembering their votes, doesn’t that imply that the vote wasn’t important enough to them to make a deep impression? If they remembered correctly, does that mean that the attitude is very shallow (and thus not something you want to base public policy on) or that the referendum result did not reflect public opinion (and thus something that you should not base policy on)?

Did anyone vote “correctly”? Theoretically, the people with the strongest attitudes should be the ones most likely to match up their votes with their attitudes. So let’s divide the respondents into “extremists” and “moderates,” depending on whether they strongly agreed or disagreed with legalizing same-sex marriage or just moderately agreed or disagreed. Here is the above table for these two groups:



  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 83.0 7.4 9.6
#11 61.9 24.1 14.0
#12 37.0 48.8 14.2
#14 82.6 5.9 11.5
#15 72.7 12.4 14.9
average 67.4 19.7 12.8
average w/o #12 75.1 12.5 12.5



  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 66.1 22.7 11.2
#11 54.5 30.3 15.2
#12 32.0 51.8 16.2
#14 65.3 18.9 15.8
#15 58.4 23.5 18.1
average 55.3 29.4 15.3
average w/o #12 61.1 23.9 15.1

On average, extremists produce more “correct” votes than moderates, as expected. However, this is not as evident on #12, the confusingly worded question. On that one, extremists were nearly as likely as moderates to answer “incorrectly.” However, if we exclude that question, extremists only voted “incorrectly” half as often as moderates.

This is still dismal. Even setting aside the confusing #12, extremists voted incorrectly one-eighth of the time and moderates did so nearly one-fourth of the time. Oh, and don’t forget all the people who can’t remember how they voted and the people who showed up to vote but thought that referendums weren’t worth their time.


Ultimately, the point is that most people don’t know enough or don’t care enough about specific policy questions to make a good decision. It sounds high-minded and democratic to bypass the elected politicians and put a question directly to the people, but, in practice, “direct democracy” is a disaster.