KMT links mayoral and city council campaigns

Several days ago the KMT announced that it would require all its candidates for city councils to coordinate campaign materials with the mayoral campaigns.  The most noticeable result should be that there will be two people in every photo in direct mail, billboards, and other campaign advertisements.  I’m not sure if the KMT will require them to coordinate slogans, policy positions, campaign events, TV commercials, and so on.

From my standpoint as a SNTV nerd, this might be the most interesting development in Taiwanese elections in quite a long time.  (For those of you who aren’t electoral systems specialists, SNTV (single non-transferable vote) is the electoral system used in city council elections.  It was used in legislative elections until 2004.  SNTV features multi-member districts — more than one person is elected from each district — and each voter only casts one vote for a single individual.)  When I was first exposed to Taiwanese elections, I used to always wonder why DPP candidates always prominently displayed their party logo while KMT candidates rarely did.  I assumed that being identified as a KMT nominee must be a bad thing, probably because the party’s image had been sullied by years of corruption, the authoritarian era,  and all the baggage that comes from several decades in power.    I also assumed that this was an indication that the KMT was incapable of operating as a unified team.  Since the KMT was ridden with factions both at the national and local levels, the KMT party logo was simply not a useful device to ask voters for support.  Then, when the DPP and New Party started running unified campaigns in the mid- and late-1990s, I was rather confirmed in these thoughts.  Now those were unified parties.

As you might infer from the tone of the previous paragraph, I have exchanged those ideas for a set almost diametrically opposed.  The fact that KMT candidates in SNTV elections do not usually display their party identity is a triumph for the party.  DPP logos, likewise, are a sign of weakness.

Getting people who are already predisposed to your party to actually vote for your party is not much of an accomplishment.  The real challenge is to convince people who don’t care much for your party to vote for your party’s candidates.  Going back to the beginning of the Dangwai era over 30 years ago, the KMT has consistently been able to get more votes in SNTV elections than in one-on-one executive elections.  There are lots of possible reasons for this.  The KMT has been able to recruit more quality candidates.  The KMT candidates are better at doing constituency service.  KMT candidates have talked more about local matters and other things unrelated to national politics.  The KMT buys votes.  And so on.  However, in multi-member SNTV districts, the KMT has usually gotten a higher vote share than in straight party to party contests.  Likewise, the DPP has done worse.  This gap narrowed in Legislative Elections through the 1990s, and in the 2001 and 2004 elections was basically gone.  However, in lower level elections this gap has been enormous.  In the early 1990s, it was not unusual for the DPP to have a credible shot at winning a county executive seat in a county that it could only win 3 or 4 county assembly seats.  While the DPP has gradually raised its share of these local seats, it still wins far too few, given its vote share in national level party to party contests.  In short, while the DPP has not even been able to win all the votes of people who would generally support it, the KMT has not only been able to defend its vote share, it has also won the votes of people who don’t generally support it.

So now the KMT has decided to link its mayor and city council candidates together as tightly as possible.  They are hoping that this will pull up their Tainan and Kaohsiung mayoral candidates.  One of the Tainan mayoral candidates even said that he thinks this strategy will raise his vote share by 6-8%.  I think this is mistaken.  I do not think that people will vote for a mayoral candidate (identified very closely with the national party and national party cleavages) just because they like that party’s local city council candidate.  Just because you think your local KMT council member is good at getting local pork, because he is your mother’s brother’s friend’s boss’s golfing partner, because you know him from school or whatever does not make you likely to change your opinions on the broad national questions critical to support for a political party.  If the candidate who you know and like in spite of his party is packaged with the mayoral candidate who you don’t know personally (and you still don’t like his party), you are probably more likely to reject both of them than to accept both of them.  After all, what you are doing is emphasizing the part of the city council candidate’s background (his party affiliation) that many voters do not like.  The KMT would be better off trying to hide this, which is exactly why KMT candidates have not put their party logo on their campaign materials.  In other words, instead up lifting the KMT’s unpopular mayoral candidates up, I think the KMT will pull down its popular city council candidates.

The DPP is in exactly the opposite situation.  It would reap major gains in city councils if only it could convince all the voters who lean Green to actually vote for DPP city council candidates.  The DPP city council candidates would love to turn their election into a straight party contest.

(By the way, when I talk about people supporting or not supporting a party here, I am talking in a very loose sense.  I do not mean party identifiers or hard-core supporters.  Rather, I’m talking about the preferences revealed when you force voters to choose between the parties, as in a presidential election or the party list section of the new legislative electoral system.  Voters may not prefer one side over the other by very much, but they end up making a choice.  Even if the preference for one party is not very strong, that means they have (slightly) less reason to support candidates from the other party.)

Let’s look at how this might turn out in Greater Tainan.  In 2005, the city and county assembly election results were as follows:

votes Vote % seats 2008 party list vote
.
Tainan County
Total 530931
Blue Camp 173323 33 19 42
Green Camp 143934 27 10 54
Independents 211428 40 21 4
.
Tainan City
Total 323905
Blue Camp 116041 36 18 48
Green Camp 119190 37 14 50
Independents 88674 27 9 2

Ok, so I forgot that Independents have been eating into the KMT’s dominance in several counties.  It’s less important than it looks, because the overwhelming majority of independents end up cooperating much more closely with the KMT than with the DPP.  (This is why one of Frozen Garlic’s most important rules is always look at the DPP/Green camp first.  The KMT/Blue Camp totals can be misleading if there are strong independents in the race.)

By the way, the Blue and Green Camps in Tainan are almost entirely the two big parties.  There were a total of six PFP and TSU candidates.

Look at these results from the DPP point of view.  These elections are a disaster.  In Tainan, the DPP is the majority party.  Even in 2008, when DPP popularity was at its nadir, the DPP still won a majority of the party list votes in Tainan.  However, they lost half this support in Tainan County and a quarter of their support in Tainan City.  (Historically, this is fantastic for the DPP – they used to do far worse!)  (The DPP was also lousy at turning their votes into seats.  Their seat share is less than their vote share in both places.  However, that is a different essay.)  Would the DPP candidates love to turn these elections into a straight party fight?  You betcha!

What about the KMT?  It is tempting to conclude that the KMT candidates would do better with a party-dominated election.  They could take back all those votes that the independents have stolen away.  To some extent, this may be their calculus.  However, remember that the KMT is highly unlikely to be as popular in 2010 as it was in 2008.  Right now, I think the possible KMT nominees all look like 35% candidates.  I’d be very impressed if any of them broke 40%.  So even if the KMT grabbed a huge chunk of its support back from the independents, it would likely still be splitting a smaller pie among its own candidates if it had to divide the mayoral votes among it and (most of) the independent candidates.

The KMT would also be messing up years of carefully constructed support constituencies.  Lots of KMT candidates have spent years cultivating voters who are ambivalent about the KMT.  However, perhaps the worst affected would be the solid, true-blue KMT city council members.  In the past, they could show off their position and appeal to the hard-core KMT supporters by running party-dominated campaign ads.  Now everyone will have party-dominated campaign materials.

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