definitions of winning

One of the most basic questions that will be asked next Saturday evening is who won.  There will be several answers to this.  The dominant answer will almost be that the party that wins the most mayoral races will be the winner.  This is a pretty good answer.  In fact, it’s probably the best answer.  However, there are other things to look at as well.  Most people don’t care much about the city council races, but they do matter a bit.  I’ll discuss them in a different post.

Here, I want to talk about vote totals.  It matters who wins, but it also matters how many votes they get, especially when you are trying to figure out the longer term consequences of this election.  One commonly heard opinion is that, even if the KMT wins three races, the DPP, by virtue of huge margins in the south, will win an outright majority of votes.  Ok, let’s imagine for a second that the DPP does win a majority.  So what?  How important is that?  We need some context.

Here are the results of the recent presidential (2004, 2008) and mayoral (1997/8, 2001/2, 2005/6) races in the five municipalities.  I threw in 1997/8 because I thought it would be fun to look at an extreme value, and that was the DPP’s biggest triumph.  This table includes all blue and green camp candidates, including ones who ran against their party’s official nominee.

5 metros blue green Valid b% g%
2008 4565012 3426119 7991131 0.571 0.429
2005/6 3440225 2975056 6463160 0.532 0.460
2004 3850441 3997111 7847552 0.491 0.509
2001/2 3278314 2930442 6371243 0.515 0.460
1997/8 3030511 2837835 6006990 0.504 0.472

The first obvious thing is that it would be a pretty big deal for the DPP to break 50%.  They only managed to do that one time, in 2004, and that was barely over 50%.  (I didn’t bother to look up data on other election cycles, but I’m pretty sure that the DPP did not beat 50% in any of them.)  Even in 1997, the DPP’s triumph was more due to splits in the KMT than winning over new votes.

It looks like a “normal” split is about 53-46, and each side can stretch that about 4% in a really good election.  If the DPP were to break 50% by much, it would be moving into uncharted territory.  The fact that some pundits are starting to expect this results shows that expectations for the DPP are historically extreme.  If the DPP “only” gets 48% and wins two seats, there will be calls for Tsai to resign, even though such a result might be considered above average with a bit of perspective.

Of course, the election night swing might go in the other direction.  Chu might end up winning Xinbei by a significant margin, and Hu might romp in Taichung.  I don’t think we will end up at 53-46, but that is within the realm of possibility.


Many of us want to look ahead to the 2012 presidential and legislative elections.  The five metro areas make up about 60% of the electorate.  How does these areas compare to the rest of Taiwan?  I produced the same table for the other 40% of Taiwan.

others blue green Valid b% g%
2009 2094518 1982914 4374932 0.479 0.453
2008 3094002 2018830 5112832 0.605 0.395
2005 2207110 1764734 4467939 0.494 0.395
2004 2592011 2474859 5066870 0.512 0.488
2001 2092906 1744462 4156931 0.503 0.420
1997 1730950 1639024 3956171 0.438 0.414

You will notice that the DPP is a little weaker in these areas.  It has never broken 50%.  There tend to be a few more independents taking votes in these areas, and most of those votes are drawn from the blue camp pool of votes.  If the “normal” result in the five metro areas is about 53-46, here I’d put it at something like 56-43.

In this light, last year’s election was a very good one for the DPP.  While the undecided votes probably skew toward the blue camp, the two camps were not very far apart.  2009 is roughly comparable to 2004.  Blue camp commentators on TV have lamented losing a million votes from 2008 to 2009, and they fear a similar loss in this year’s election.  It could be more.


So what if the DPP breaks 50% in this year’s election, or if it wins by so much that it has a majority in the 2009-2010 election cycle.  Well, that would have important implications for the 2012 presidential election.  Ma might try taking a more moderate or populist line.  The DPP might get overconfident.  China and/or Washington might panic.  Something else might happen.  I’m just sure it would matter.

It would also matter for the legislative election.  When the national balance hits 50-50, lots of individual seats swing toward the DPP.  (Actually, this happens right before the national balance hits 50-50.)  One of the most surprising (to me) things I have posted on this blog was what would happen if you put the 2004 presidential vote into the legislative districts.  The DPP wins them 40-33.  So if the DPP can break 50% plus a little more this year, we might be right near the tipping point for the legislative election as well.

Of course, these results will not translate directly to 2012.  This is a midterm election, and opposition parties typically do well in midterm election.  Things might swing back toward the KMT a bit before the presidential election.  At the very least, I’m pretty sure that, no matter what the results are, both parties will nominate a field of candidates for 2012.  In early 2012, neither side is going to be conceding defeat because of the election results from next week.


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