Archive for April, 2011

KMT telephone primary rules

April 19, 2011

The KMT recently announced rules for its telephone surveys.  85% of the result will be based on comparisons between each of the KMT candidate and the DPP nominee.  Green camp supporters will be included in these calculations.  The other 15% will be determined by a direct comparison among the KMT contestants.  In this section, green camp supporters’ opinions will not be considered.

This controversy is being reported in the context of  Taipei City 3 (Zhongshan-Songshan), and I’m not sure if it applies to all races, only races in Taipei City, or just this race.  Luo Shu-lei 羅淑雷 expressed satisfaction with these new rules.  She expects to do better among the undecideds and green supporters, and was against any efforts to exclude their opinions.

manipulation and DPP telephone surveys

April 15, 2011

Right now there is a controversy stewing over the DPP’s telephone polls for the presidential primary.  It seems that some people (and most people are pointing at Tsai Ing-wen’s supporters) are telling their supporters to only support Tsai.  Other people seem to think that this is a betrayal of democratic ideals.  I think there are (at least) two ways to think about this.

But first, let’s look at the rules.  According to the DPP rules, presidential nomination polls must compare the DPP contestants to the KMT candidate, not to each other.  So each respondent is asked for his or her preference on Su vs. Ma, Tsai vs. Ma, and Hsu vs. Ma.  The respondents are not asked which of the three DPP contestants they like the best.  If only one DPP contestant beats Ma, that person wins the nomination.  If more than one beats Ma or if no one beats Ma, then the person with the highest percentage of supporters wins.  If there are two people tied, then the person with the largest advantage (or smallest deficit) over Ma wins.  However, ties are extremely unlikely since they will figure each person’s support out to four decimal places.

Let’s think about this from a DPP supporter’s point of view.  You prefer Su to Ma, and you prefer Tsai to Ma.  Essentially, your response has no impact at all on the result of the nomination contest because you have raised both candidates’ support by an equal amount.  However, what if you strongly prefer one to the other?  Without loss of generality, let’s suppose you strongly prefer Tsai to Su, but you also prefer Su to Ma.  The only way you can help Tsai to win the nomination is to not express support for Su.  Is this unethical?  I don’t think so.  Every election has strategic voting, and this is just another form of strategic voting.  Moreover, these strategic voters don’t have to actually support Ma.  They merely decline to answer the Ma vs. Su question.  This is sufficient to make their preferred outcome more likely.

From the DPP’s point of view, things are a bit murkier.  The DPP rules are set up to privilege moderate swing voters, not their core party supporters.  That is, the DPP made a strategic choice to let swing voters choose their party nominee because that should maximize their chances of winning the general election.  However, their core supporters might not appreciate effectively being told that they don’t matter, and those supporters might respond strategically, as described above, in an effort to play a more decisive role in the nomination process.  So party supporters are effectively subverting the party’s strategic decision to marginalize them.  This does not seem surprising to me.  Why should the people who care most passionately about the DPP not be intensely interested in who it nominates?  I think the DPP rules create incentives that most supporters should not be terribly happy with.

There is something else going on that I find much more interesting.  One DPP member is accusing another of instructing supporters not only to answer that they only support Tsai, but also to misrepresent their age.  Why would you want to misrepresent your age?  This has to do with survey methodology.  Your goal is to infer from the survey respondents what the general population looks like.  Unfortunately, your survey sample (the people you actually interview) rarely looks exactly like the general population.  On some variables, such as age, sex, and geographical distribution, we have very good statistics about what the population looks like.  So we have a pretty good idea if there are too many men or too many senior citizens in the sample.  The usual way to deal with this is to weight the sample.  Suppose people 60 and over are 10% of the total population and you interview 1000 people.  Your sample should have 100 respondents aged 60 and up.  However, suppose you actually only interview 80 such people.  The idea behind weighting is to inflate these 80 people so that they represent the 100 people you should have.  So you multiply each of them by 1.25.  Likewise, if you are supposed to have 200 people aged 30-40 and your sample actually includes 250 such people.  You would multiply each of them by 0.8.  So the devious strategy is to lie about you age and put yourself into one of the chronically underrepresented categories (which if memory serves me correctly are almost always 20-30 and 60+) so that your answer gets inflated, not deflated.

Well, now this is blatant manipulation.  However, there really isn’t much the DPP can do about it.  Once the public learns this trick, the only thing the DPP can do is to stop weighting, which makes the overall results less accurate.  Eventually, I wonder if this (as well as the feeling that strategic voting is immoral or otherwise undesirable) won’t be the eventual catalysts for the DPP (and maybe the KMT) to move away from telephone surveys.

2nd DPP presidential debate

April 14, 2011

Today I write through the haze of severe jetlag.  I’m supposed to be experienced at dealing with time travel by now, but for some reason, this is one of the worst cases I have ever had.  So if I am not entirely lucid, bear with me.


I want to comment briefly on the second DPP presidential debate, which was held last night.  Everyone else is talking about Su’s claim that he is the victim of dirty tricks or that no one is answering the questions raised by Hsu Hsin-liang.  I’m not terribly interested in either one of these things.  The former happens in nearly every intensely contested race, and there really is no reason for either Tsai or Su to lose focus and allow Hsu to steer the debate.

Instead, I want to talk about two things.  One is perhaps important.  The other is not.

The most revealing comment (in my opinion) last night came from Su Tseng-chang.  In a question about rising prices, Su said two notable things.  First, he suggested that the government should actively try to keep hot money out of Taiwan, as this destabilizes the economy in general and prices in particular.  Calling international capital “hot money” is, in and of itself, a revealing statement.  “Hot money” has very negative connotations, and suggests that Su believes it is generally more harmful than beneficial.  If you believe the opposite, you call it international investment or some better sounding term.  I had always thought of Su as fairly pro-business, but this statement sounded quite skeptical of free-market economics to me.  I don’t know that Su intended for viewers to extrapolate from this one little answer about his more general attitudes toward capitalism, but it seemed revealing to me.

Su followed that up by suggesting that state-owned enterprises could be used to prevent rises in commodity prices.  I didn’t get the exact details, but I think he suggested that state-owned companies should simply resist raising prices on commodities such sugar, salt, grain, and oil when the international prices shoot up.  I think he meant that they shouldn’t follow short-term spikes, and not that they shouldn’t raise their prices when commodity prices go up for long-periods.  Again, this answer suggests that Su is skeptical of letting market forces have free reign.  Instead, the government has a legitimate role in intervening in the market to ensure public goals are not sacrificed.

Again, this is interesting to me because I did not think that Su espoused these sorts of ideas.  This puts him much closer to (my understanding of) Tsai Ing-wen’s view of the market) than I had previously imagined.

There was also a nice contrast with Hsu Hsin-liang.  While Su voiced caution toward hot money, Hsu positively welcomed it.  Of course, he didn’t call it hot money.  He called it capital investments from China, and he said enthusiastically that this could double the value of the stock market.  How could this be bad, he asked?  (I think Ma Ying-jeou’s stance is fairly close to Hsu’s.)


The other thing that struck me about the debate was what a lousy job ETV (東森) did in hosting it.  They had technical difficulties with their broadcast.  That was forgivable.  Their host would not stop talking.  She seemed to think that she was the star of the debate.  I kept yelling at her to shut up and to let the politicians talk, but she ignored me.  ETV also had a very annoying 10 second intro graphic to the questions that they played every time.  Once was enough.  Twice was annoying.  The third through ninth times just made me madder and madder.  But the worst thing was that they completely butchered the questions from the public.  Somehow, Hsu got three questions about diplomacy or national security, Su got three questions about economics, and Tsai got three questions about disadvantaged groups in society.  What the hell?  I hope they assigned these questions randomly.  If they didn’t, they would have to be willfully incompetent.  Even if they just pulled the questions out of a hat, they are still negligent.  How hard would it have been to separate the questions into three general categories so that each candidate would get a variety of different questions?  Tsai was particularly hurt by this since she was sidetracked on secondary issues such as whether to lower the voting age to 18 the whole debate.  Sure enough, today’s United Daily News makes it look as if she was lacking in content.  Of course she was.  She was never asked to talk about the economy or national security!  (She compounded this by wasting about a fourth of her opening and closing remarks on contentless platitudes.)  ETV, you should be embarrassed.