Gerrymandering in Taiwan?

So we all know that the 2008 Legislative Yuan elections were a bloodbath for the DPP.  With the new MMM system and the overall 55-40 advantage for the blue camp over the green camp, the DPP ended up with only 27 of 113 (24%) seats.  Most of us assumed that the DPP made a huge mistake in agreeing to the new system.

In fact, it goes further.  Aborigines’ seats typically all go to blue camp.  In fact, in all the different sorts of national elections (legislative, national assembly, provincial assembly), the DPP has only won one seat.  (Chen Ying 陳瑩 won a legislative seat in 2004.  Her father was an old KMT politician, and she relied heavily on his networks.  Her election did not signify a new partisan regime.)  Depending on how and who you county, aborigines make up 1.5-2.0% or so of the total population.  Since they are acknowledged as a disadvantaged group with a special place in Taiwan, they have always been overrepresented in the legislature.  In the 1998-2008 legislature, aborigines had 8 of 225 (3.6%).  Now they have 6 of 113 (5.3%).  I don’t know why the DPP agreed to this.

According to the rules, each county gets at least one seat.  The four smallest counties, Taidong, Penghu, Jinmen, and Lianjiang, had 262,016 eligible voters in 2008, or 1.6% of the total SMD electorate.  In the previous legislature, they had 4 of the 168 SNTV seats (ie, 225 total minus the 8 aborigines’ seats and the 49 party list seats).  Now they have 4 of the 73 SMD seats.  That’s an increase from 2.4% to 5.5%.  In case you’re wondering, these four seats have always been solid blue.  (Well, until last month’s shocking by-election in Taidong, that is.  But more on that later.)

So according to the rules, roughly 3% of the population that is reliably blue elects 11% of the seats in the new system, up from about 6% in the old system.  That sounds like a solid case of malapportionment to me.[1] It also sounds like a significant systemic advantage for the KMT.  If the DPP wants to govern, it should need to get quite a bit more than 50% to overcome this malapportionment.

Just for fun, I took the 2008 presidential vote and cut it into the 73 SMD districts.  Since the KMT won 58-42, not much different from the blue camp’s victory in the party list (55-40), I didn’t expect a much different outcome.  In fact, it’s basically the same.  The DPP actually won 13 seats in 2008, but the green camp led the blue camp in the party list tier in 15 districts.  For the presidential election, the green camp led in 16 districts.

What about the 2004 vote?  If we wanted to know what a DPP majority would look like, this is the best we’ve got.  Recall that the DPP won the 2004 election by a whopping 50.11-49.89%.  In other words, it was basically tied.  If we assume that on such a 50-50 vote, the KMT and DPP would each get 17 list seats, and we further assume that the KMT would sweep the six aboriginal seats, the DPP would need to win the 73 districts by a 40-33 margin.  This seems unlikely, given a 50-50 vote, but that’s exactly what you get.  Chen’s vote was higher than Lian’s vote in 40 of the 73 districts.  In other words, this little exercise produces a one seat DPP advantage, 57-56.

I was absolutely shocked by this result.  Somehow a system that looks skewed in favor of the KMT is actually quite fair.  A 50-50 election produces a 50-50 legislature.  There must be something offsetting the malapportionment.

In my previous post, I pointed to 16 districts that were very close to the overall national average in the 2008 party list vote.  Chen won almost all of these districts (by very small margins).  Ten of the twelve districts in Taichung and Changhua (in Central Taiwan) are among these 16 bellwether districts, and Chen swept them all.  In other words, the DPP has an advantage in that a large group of districts tip its way slightly before the party gets to 50% overall.  This is what offsets the malapportionment.

I had never done this exercise before, but I’m sure that both the KMT and DPP did it before agreeing to the new system.  No one wonders why the KMT agreed.  They expected to benefit from it because they didn’t expect the DPP would ever get to 50% again.  In 2008 at least, they were clearly right.  The question is why the DPP agreed, and now we have another piece of the answer.  If they can get to 50% they can win power.  This system is not as skewed as it looks.

Oh, before we conclude, let’s revisit that malapportionment.  Now that the DPP has won Taidong (albeit in highly favorable conditions unlikely to hold in the future), we probably have to stop thinking of that seat as an automatic KMT victory.  Penghu also deserves a second look.  While the DPP hasn’t won anything there since 1993 and blue incumbent seems quite well-entrenched, this is not an unwinnable district for the green camp.  According to the 2008 party list vote, this is a 52-40 district.  Last December, the DPP candidate for county executive only lost by 600 votes, or about 1%.  So really there are only 8 overrepresented seats that the KMT seems sure to win, not 10.  Even the malapportionment isn’t as severe as it appears at first glance.

[1] If you’re really a nerd and need to know these things, I figured the Samuels-Snyder Malapportionment Index to be .0704, which makes the Taiwanese legislature a moderate, though not a severe, case of malapportionment.

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7 Responses to “Gerrymandering in Taiwan?”

  1. 金熙燮 Says:

    Now, the interesting thing isn’t really the size of the malapportionment–that’s more for the lawyers, I reckon. As far as I know, vote choices in Taiwan are somewhat predictable on the basis of demographics–more on the green side than the blue side, iirc… So, it should be possible to design a deep blue/green districts by manipulating the reapportionment process, in principle…especially now that you have SMD’s.

    Any thoughts on that prospect?

  2. frozengarlic Says:

    No sophisticated thoughts on that yet. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much manipulation. Most of the choices have historical antecedents. For example, they used old National Assembly districts in several counties. On the other hand, the 20 districts in Taipei City and County clearly could have been drawn in different ways, but I wasn’t here when that process occurred.

  3. Michael Turton Says:

    You’re wrong, I think. The redistricting massively favors the KMT, and the DPP did not do the math — the party desperately lacks voter mobilization geeks. The DPP went along with it because a powerful senior politician, for some insane reason, decided to support it. There is no reason that the KMT should ever lose its grip on the legislature.

    Your error lies in using the 2004 presidential election as the base for analysis. Presidential elections have a different dynamic than local legislative elections.

    I wrote on this a while back. It looks like someone slipped in extra districts in the north, or reduced them in the south (same thing).

    But aside from the occasional surprises, the KMT should retain a solid majority for some time to come.

    There IS one deliberately gerrymandered district, BTW.


  4. frozengarlic Says:

    Michael, I also think the DPP made an error because they have never, except for one highly controversial election, produced a majority. Of course I understand that the dynamics in one presidential and 73 legislative elections are different. The point of the exercise was simply to see what Chen’s vote looked like in the electoral districts. Stunningly, it did not produce a 37-36 result, it produced a 40-33 result. Now is that a reasonable expectation for future elections? Perhaps not. But when the electoral reform was being debated, it was the obvious thing to look at.

    On the other hand, is it impossible that the KMT could lose power in the future? Probably it is no less likely than that the LDP could lose power in Japan.

    The distribution of seats is done according to a fairly standard mathematical formula, the largest remainders. Tainan, Ilan, Hsinchu, and Jilong were unlucky in that they ended up with fairly “heavy” seats. However, that is a function of insisting on 73 SMD seats. As I wrote elsewhere, by the same formula, when the lines get redrawn next time, the new Tainan City will get a seat and Nantou will lose one. I agree with your post that Taiwan needs a larger legislature, but at this size, that’s the way the seats break down.

    I’d love to hear the story of the Pingdong district.

  5. FB Says:

    Hey man, awesome post. It looks like the DPP would be very poor fund managers or insurers as their chances of an OK outcome aren’t high and the chances that things go completely out of control in a completely unbalanced manner (the current situation) is quite high.

    Well, actually, I’m pretty sure that gerrymandering in the US involves giving the opposition guaranteed seats in as many places as possible. The whole point is to concentrate all their votes so that they go to waste as much as possible. Then, you’re up against fewer ideologues in the districts left over.

    Overrepresentation of Kinmen and Matsu will cost Taiwan dearly in the long-run. It’s not just that they are solid-KMT–whenever the legislature starts acting normal and legislators fight for local largesse, Kinmen and Matsu will extract great amounts relative to their size from the Taiwanese mainland…

  6. frozengarlic Says:

    There was a story on the news a couple of days ago about the bridge being built between Jinmen and Little Jinmen islands. It’s too big to make sense. The only way it makes sense is if they eventually extend it to Xiamen. Of course, no one admits that the government is considering that at all. Officially, the bridge is simply for tourism and the 6000 people who live on Little Jinmen.

  7. Michael Turton Says:

    The DPP’s 2004 legislative success was actually blunted by Chen’s strategy that put too many candidates into the legislature and thus the DPP failed to get as many seats as it could have. It was the biggest party in the legislature, nonetheless. 2004 was anomalous not because of the assassination attempt by a blue nutcase, but because for that legislative election, something like 600K Blue voters stayed home. No one has ever explained to me why that happened.

    Except among KMT fruitcakes who think Chen shot himself, the outcome of the 2004 election was written in the polls, all of which had the candidates either neck and neck or Chen slightly ahead, as did the most reliable poll on the island, the DPP internals. The only reason it was close is because new, more stringent CEC ballot requirements knocked out tens of thousands of DPP ballots. I have some private reservations about the integrity of the vote in both 2004 and 2008 which I will share with you if we ever meet in person.

    I think the example of the LDP losing Japan is inspirational, but they did maintain their grip on power for decades. There’s no reason that the KMT, properly managed, shouldn’t stay that way too, but then Ma is in charge of the Party, and the Old Guard is running China policy. So the DPP may make further inroads. Demographics do not favor the KMT either. Its base has peaked in size, growing relatively smaller with each legislative election, and the young are either swing voters or Green. We saw that in the Hsinchu election, I think, where educated voters turned out in droves for the DPP candidate.


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