what would happen if…

So here’s a fun little exercise.  I took the election results from the 2009 and 2010 local executive races and plugged them into the 73 legislative districts.  The blue camp wins 39 seats, and the green camp wins 34.  For reference, in 2008 the blue camp won 60 of these districts.  In this exercise, the green camp picks up 21 new districts (relative to 2008) without losing any.

Of course, we have had several by-elections since the 2008 general election, and the green camp has won several unlikely seats, such as Taoyuan 3 and Hsinchu County.  In this exercise, the green camp loses three of these seats (those two plus Taidong).  The blue camp also wins back Miaoli 1, which is currently held by an independent who has some ties with the green camp.

This does not represent an upper limit for the green camp.  In this exercise, it loses several seats by narrow margins.  Some of these include Taipei County 7, Taipei County 10, Taoyuan 4, Taichung City 3, Taichung County 2, and Penghu.  Chiayi City is also a strong candidate to go green in the next election.  The four Changhua seats look a bit precarious to me; the same phenomenon that has affected Yunlin, Chiayi, and seems to be slowly transforming Taichung could also be operating in Changhua.  However, the DPP doesn’t appear to have any candidates strong enough to match the KMT incumbents there.

Of course, there are a few seats that this exercise gives to the DPP that I am skeptical of.  I don’t think the DPP will sweep all eight Kaohsiung seats.  (Note: Chen Chu got an outright majority in six of the eight.  She was close enough to a majority in the other two that I awarded them to the green camp.  In the closest race (Kaohsiung City 1), you would have to assume that over 90% of Yang’s votes came from the blue camp to throw that seat to the blue camp.)  The green camp also wins several seats by razor thin margins, including Taipei County 6, Taoyuan 1, Taichung County 1, and Taichung County 3, as well as a few others by merely close margins.

Now, I know that you can’t just plug mayoral numbers into legislative races.  There are different issues, a different national swing, and different candidates.  This last point deserves highlighting: the KMT has an overwhelming advantage in incumbency.  However, I’m not convinced that incumbency is quite as overwhelming an advantage as many people believe.  In American politics, many people see very high re-election rates and conclude that incumbency confers an overwhelming advantage.  How else could incumbents win so many districts in which their national party is so unpopular?  It must be all that constituency service and pork.  I’m not so sure.  I think that American legislators are also very successful because they can position themselves as “a different kind of Democrat.”  American politics has enough dimensions that you can be against gay rights, for gun rights, and against abortion and still be a good Democrat if you are against the war in Iraq, against tax cuts, and for health care.  In other words, legislators can adjust their ideological packaging to fit their district.  In Taiwan, this is not so easy because there is only one big political cleavage.  Attending funerals will only get you so far if voters think you consistently disagree with them on the big picture.

Moreover, plugging executive races into representative districts is not as unreasonable as it used to be.  For years, there was a big spread between executive races and representative races.  The DPP might do 10-15% better in the former.  This was mostly because of the multimember district electoral system, which allowed local factions to avoid conflicts in representative elections.  The system also played into the KMT’s advantage in personal networks.  However, the new legislative electoral system has single seat districts, so these races, like executive races, are largely one-on-one contests.

I’m not suggesting that we should expect exactly this result if the legislative elections were held tomorrow.  However, I imagine that those election results would look more like the table below than like the 2008 results.

The point of all this is that control of the legislature will be at stake in the next election.  There is a real possibility that the DPP could win a majority.  There is a very large group of seats that flip to the DPP right around the point that the DPP gets 50% nationally.  Many people assume that because the KMT has several “cheap” seats (six aboriginal seats, Jinmen, Lianjiang), that the DPP would have to win the national vote by something like 55-60% to win the legislature.  In fact, 51% would probably be enough.  Unlike in 2000 or 2004, if the DPP wins the presidency in 2012, it might also win the legislature.


district district 2008 “2010” flip
Taipei City 1 Beitou B B  
Taipei City 2 Datong-Shilin B G G
Taipei City 3 Zhongshan-Songshan B B  
Taipei City 4 Nangang-Neihu B B  
Taipei City 5 Wanhua-Zhongzheng B B  
Taipei City 6 Da-an B B  
Taipei City 7 Xinyi-Songshan B B  
Taipei City 8 Wenshan-Zhongzheng B B  
Taipei County 1 Danshui B B  
Taipei County 2 Luzhou G G  
Taipei County 3 Sanchong G G  
Taipei County 4 Xinzhuang B G G
Taipei County 5 Shulin B G G
Taipei County 6 Banqiao north B G G
Taipei County 7 Banqiao south B B  
Taipei County 8 Zhonghe B B  
Taipei County 9 Yonghe B B  
Taipei County 10 Tucheng B B  
Taipei County 11 Xindian B B  
Taipei County 12 Xizhi B B  
Jilong City   B B  
Ilan County   B G G
Taoyuan 1 Guishan-Luzhu B G G
Taoyuan 2 SW coast B* G G
Taoyuan 3 Zhongli B* B  
Taoyuan 4 Taoyuan B B  
Taoyuan 5 Pingzhen-Longtan B B  
Taoyuan 6 Bade-Daxi B B  
Hsinchu City   B B  
Hsinchu County   B* B  
Miaoli 1 Coast (Minnan) B* B  
Miaoli 2 Inland (Hakka) B B  
Taichung City 1 W: Xitun-Nantun B B  
Taichung City 2 N: North-Beitun B B  
Taichung City 3 Central-South-East-West B B  
Taichung County 1 NW: Dajia-Qingshui B G G
Taichung County 2 SW: Da-Wu-Long B B  
Taichung County 3 SE: Taiping-Dali B* G G
Taichung County 4 NE: Fengyuan-Dongshi B G G
Taichung County 5 N: Tanzi-Daya B G G
Changhua 1 NW: Lugang B B  
Changhua 2 NE: Changhua City B B  
Changhua 3 SW: Erlin B B  
Changhua 4 SE: Yuanlin B B  
Nantou 1 N: Caotun-Puli B B  
Nantou 2 S: Nantou-Zhushan B B  
Yunlin 1 Coast B G G
Yunlin 2 Inland B* G G
Chiayi City   B B  
Chiayi County 1 Coast B G G
Chiayi County 2 Inland G G  
Tainan County 1 NW: Xinying G G  
Tainan County 2 NE: Shanhua G G  
Tainan County 3 SE: Yongkang G G  
Tainan City 1 North G G  
Tainan City 2 South G G  
Kaohsiung County 1 NE: Meinong B G G
Kaohsiung County 2 NW: Gangshan B G G
Kaohsiung County 3 SE: Daliao G G  
Kaohsiung County 4 Fengshan B G G
Kaohsiung City 1 Nanzi-Zuoying B G G
Kaohsiung City 2 Gushan G G  
Kaohsiung City 3 Sanmin B G G
Kaohsiung City 4 Lingya B G G
Kaohsiung City 5 Xiaogang G G  
Pingdong 1 North G G  
Pingdong 2 Pingdong City B G G
Pingdong 3 South G G  
Taidong   B* B  
Hualian   B B  
Penghu   B B  
Jinmen   B B  
Lianjiang   B B  


Blue 39

Green 34


7 Responses to “what would happen if…”

  1. Greg Charlton Says:

    Out of curiosity, in the US, the drawing of the districts have a significant impact on a party’s propensity to carry a district where the larger “at larger” seats will most certainly carry a differnt party. That leads to plenty of political fun times every 10 years when districts are to be remapped.

    Certainly the drawing of districts in Taiwan has similar impacts on the seats that are gained and lost, especially at the council level. I can only assume that it leads to some very interesting political showdowns when it comes time to redraw the districts. How often does Taiwan redistrict, and what goes into account for the new districts.

  2. frozengarlic Says:

    Good questions. I just presented a conference paper last Saturday on the last round of redistricting, so these matters are all on my mind right now.

    How often? This is still unsettled since we have only had one election with the single-seat districts. In the past, seats were reapportioned in every election cycle. However, that usually only meant that a county would go from having a multimember district with seven seats to one with eight seats. No new lines needed to be drawn.

    By the way, the USA only redistricts once every ten years because (a) the constitution requires a new census every ten years, and (b) because we really have no idea what the population of the USA is except when we take a census. Taiwan has much, much more accurate population records and gives a precise number every month. It really isn’t a problem to reapportion every three or four years.

    For the next election, there should be a reapportionment due to the redefinition of county-level administrative districts. Specifically, the former Tainan City and Tainan County both had above average population to legislator ratio. When the two were combined to form the new Greater Tainan direct municipality, they should get an extra seat. However, the legislature revised the law to freeze the electoral districts for ten years. There are three forces that don’t want reapportionment: (1) Kaohsiung City, which would have lost a city, (2) the KMT, since the DPP would almost certainly win a new seat in Tainan, and (3) incumbents, who don’t want any adjustments made to their districts so that they can build up strength through constituency service and personal networks. I think this revision to the law will be challenged in court (and probably overturned as unconstitutional), but right now no one has stepped forward to officially ask the court to consider the case. It might be up to the Tainan City Council to do so. The Central Election Commission seems unwilling.

    As for the actual drawing of the districts, the process is quite a bit more restrained than the process in the USA. The primary reason for this is that the units are bigger here. In the USA, the units are census tracts, which might only have 1000 or so people in them. There are very few limitations on which census tracts should go together, so politicians are free to pick and choose whatever will give them a nice district. Here, the units are townships, which have anywhere from 5000 to 500000 people. Only the largest townships, which are too big for a single district, can be split apart. If your 15 puzzle pieces are generally between 40,000 and 100,000, and a district is roughly 300,000, you don’t have many feasible combinations.

    Another mitigating factor is that Taiwanese don’t have the same sharp geographical political divisions that American cities do. In the USA, there are stark differences between how the suburbs and inner cities vote. Here, those differences are much milder.

    An important result of this is that, where in the USA, maybe 350 of the 435 House seats are reliably safe for one party or the other, this percentage is much, much lower in Taiwan. In fact, that is the entire point of this post. There is a very large block of districts, maybe 30 of the 73, that will tip when the national balance between the two parties tips.

  3. Austin Wang Says:

    The cross-strait relationship still dominates and shadows all other policy issues. As a Taiwan student, I envy that in US and EU there is mutually respective space for discussing homosexual right, nuclear power, death penalty, etc. Nevertheless, cross-strait relationship is still the biggest issue that people in Taiwan should face and struggle to solve.

  4. Greg Charlton Says:

    Great info, Nathan. It is interesting to me at least that parties don’t have the number of “safe” districts, which is part of what I got out of the blog when I read it. I would like to see the USA have much fewer “safe” districts at all levels of government. To me, party dominance breads voter apathy and laziness. Voters just go and vote for a party rather than gathering information about the candidates. This comes on the heels of the elections in November here. In the area you grew up, Dallas, County, it was a bit more interesting than previous elections, but still quite predictable. In my opinion, it is better for everyone, when the results are truly unpredictable. Everybody has to work harder achieve results.

    Then again, I would also remove the straight party ticket option for voting for the same reasons. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my comments. I really do enjoy the blogs.

  5. Rust Says:

    Allo Garlic, hope you are still here.
    According to your calculation, 51% of the popular votes can potentially propel the DPP to a legislative majority. That said, & considering the 6 almost virtually free seats the KMT get (Aboriginal + Islands), it is only logical to assume that one or more of the KMT strongholds have, just like Tainan, a very high population to legislator ratio. Since Taipei, Xinbei, & Taichung have no increases in legislator seats that I am aware of, is it in one of those counties where the KMT dominates? Like Taoyuan, Miaoli, or Zhanghua? What do you think?

  6. frozengarlic Says:

    I think you are missing the point. The crucial factor is that there are dozens of swing seats, and most of them tilt to the DPP right before the DPP’s share of the national vote hits 50%. For example, all five seats in Taichung County are basically swing seats. In the above example, the DPP won 4 of the 5 seats. That’s 80% of those seats with just a hair over 50% of the vote. This kind of pattern could be repeated on a national scale, and that disproportionality could compensate for the KMT’s advantage in “cheap” seats.

  7. A-gu Says:

    Most interesting sir! Good to hear.

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