DPP’s evolution in Taichung County

Today I want to look at the political evolution of the DPP in Taichung County.  The DPP’s slow building of support there has been one of the more overlooked changes in Taiwan’s political map.  Many people have noticed the dramatic changes in the partisan balance of Yunlin and Chiayi over the past decade.  Before that, Taian County underwent a similarly sharp tilt toward the DPP in the mid-1990s.  Taichung County has not experienced that kind of change.  Rather, this has been a much slower and less dramatic evolution.  However, the overall effect is that, where Taichung County used to be a weak area for the DPP, it is now average.

A useful contrast is to compare Taichung County with its neighbor, Taichung City.  Compared to Taichung City, Taichung County is, of course, less urban.  However, I’ve never really thought of Taichung County as rural, in the way that Yunlin or Miaoli Counties are rural.  Rather, much of Taichung County is made up of fairly large towns.  A lot of Taiwan’s light manufacturing industry is in places like Wuri 烏日, Shalu 沙鹿, and Tanzi 潭子 townships.  They are a little gritty, a little congested, and a little out of the way.  Taichung County also has two quite urban areas, Fengyuan 豐原 (to the north of Taichung City) and Dali 大里 / Taiping 太平 (to the south).  The latter has grown quite rapidly over the last two decades and now is indistinguishable from neighboring areas in Taichung City.  There are a few rural places, such as Waipu 外埔 and Daan 大安 near the coast and Shigang 石岡 and Xinshe 新社 near the mountains.  These latter places, centered around Dongshi 東勢 Township, are the center of most of Taichung County’s Hakka population.  Most of the rest of Taichung County is Minnan; there are some mainlanders, though the percentage is lower than in Taichung City.

Here is a table of single seat executive races over the past 20 years.  Perhaps the best way to look at the partisan trends is to concentrate on the gubernatorial and presidential races, where the candidates were held constant.  In the 1990s, Taichung County was generally about 3% lower than Taichung City.  In recent years, this has reversed; now Taichung County is generally about 3% higher.

Taichung 

County

Taichung 

City

All 

Taiwan

1993 County Executive 41.1 41.9 41.0
1994 Governor 34.7 37.4 38.7
1996 President 16.2 19.6 21.1
1997 County Executive 37.6 49.6 43.3
2000 President 36.5 36.9 39.3
2001 County Executive 41.0 40.7 45.3
2004 President 51.8 47.3 50.1
2005 County Executive 39.1 39.0 42.0
2008 President 41.2 38.3 41.6

If you prefer graphs, here’s the same data. [Sorry, I can’t figure out how to put in a graph from Excel.  Crap.]

It used to be that Taichung City was an average area for the DPP, and Taichung County was below average.  Now, it is the opposite.

We can see the same sorts of trends in elections for legislators and other members of national-level assemblies.  (Numbers in parentheses are DPP allies.  In 1998, they are the New National Alliance 新國家連線.  In 2001-8, they are the TSU).  In the 1990s, Taichung County was something of a wasteland for the DPP.  These numbers don’t tell the full story.  As devastating as these vote shares are, the lost races were probably more demoralizing.  For a while, no DPP politician could get re-elected, and they never seemed to be able to win multiple seats in any race.  Tian Zai-ting 田再庭 won in 1989 but lost in 1992.  Liao Yong-lai 廖永來 won in 1992 but lost in 1995.  They came into the 1994 provincial assembly race with no incumbents and left it with only one, the other nominee having barely lost.  Lin Fengxi 林豐喜 finally managed to win re-election in 1998, though Guo Junming 郭俊銘, the incumbent provincial assembly member, lost.  (They did win one other seat that year).  In short, Taichung County was just a disaster for the DPP.  In Taichung City, in contrast, the DPP enjoyed so much success that it became overconfident.  It went two for two in both 1992 and 1994, and then it started overnominating in the late 1990s.

Taichung 

County

Taichung 

City

All 

Taiwan

1991 National Assembly 18.8 26.6 23.3
1992 Legislative Yuan 24.8 39.4 31.0
1994 Provincial Assembly 23.4 34.6 32.5
1995 Legislative Yuan 27.6 32.2 33.2
1996 National Assembly 26.9 31.4 29.9
1998 Legislative Yuan 21.0 (0.3) 26.7 (0.0) 29.6 (1.6)
2001 Legislative Yuan 34.8 (4.6) 32.6 (9.7) 33.4 (7.8)
2004 Legislative Yuan 35.7 (6.1) 32.0 (8.7) 35.7 (7.8)
2008 Legislature – Party List 36.2 (3.9) 34.2 (3.9) 36.9 (3.5)
2008 Legislature – districts 33.5 (6.2) 39.1 (0.0) 38.7 (1.0)

At the city and county assembly level, Taichung City is still far ahead of both Taichung County and the rest of Taiwan.  In a sense, the local DPP is about 20-30 years behind the national DPP, with low support and more support in the cities than in the rural areas.  I expect to see a fairly big change in this table in Taichung County this year as the higher level partisanship infiltrates the lower level races.

Taichung 

County

Taichung 

City

All 

Taiwan

1994 County Assembly 10.1 16.2
1998 County Assembly 15.5 17.8 15.8
2002 County Assembly 19.7 24.8 18.2
2005 County Assembly 20.5 28.3 22.3

This year, Su Chia-chuan’s strategy is to try to attain the Golden Intersection, in which one party wins Taichung County and the other leads in Taichung City.  Had this race been run 20 years ago, he probably would have had a similar hope.  The difference is that, back then, he would have hoped to win Taichung City.

Sam Huntington writes, “In a modernizing society, the successful party is born in the city but matures in the countryside” (1968, 433).  Taiwan is probably more “modern” than the societies he was thinking of, but we do see exactly the process he had in mind.  The DPP was born in the cities, with a group of urbane, intellectual radicals at its core.  It has slowly penetrated into the rest of society, building alliances with local powerholders and attracting new supporters with continually moderated (relative to the current spectrum of public opinion) appeals.

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