Persimmons? Really?

It’s pretty clear by now that Tsai Ing-wen has taken a fairly serious hit in popularity over the fruit fiasco.  Both China Times and TVBS have now released polls that show her support levels have fallen quite a bit from their previous polls.  Meanwhile, the KMT continues to gleefully bash her over the head with this issue.

Other people can debate the actual price of persimmons and what that says about the KMT’s agricultural policy.  I just want to point out how ridiculous this particular controversy is.

As we all know, the Tsai campaign released a calendar with a fruit for each month, accompanied by a very low price.  The KMT has argued that these prices are too low and thus drives down the actual market price, and the DPP is sacrificing farmers’ interests to score political points.  The DPP replies that it posted the price of a cheap variety of persimmon next to a picture of an expensive variety, so this was just a mistake.

What I want to point out is that this is fairly unrelated to public policy.  Does anyone think that President Tsai’s agricultural policy would be to deliberately drive down prices?  You might argue that de-emphasizing trade with China will, in fact, lower prices, but that is not what the current controversy is about.  Rather, the current fiasco is simply that Tsai has inadvertently done something that hurts farmers.  However, Candidate Tsai has not argued that lower prices are good; she just thinks they are too low and wants to change policy in some way because she believes that will raise prices.  From the other side, Ma doesn’t seem to think that President Tsai would systematically go about trying to talk prices down; she has just done it once.

One might argue that this shows that Tsai is incompetent.  I don’t really think that’s a good argument.  Candidate Tsai has a team of volunteers and advertising people putting together campaign literature; it’s not that surprising they made a minor mistake.  President Tsai would have the Council on Agriculture at her disposal; they probably know the difference between persimmon varieties.

You might also argue that this shows that Tsai and the DPP are willing to sacrifice farmers’ (and by extension, any of their supporters’) interests in order to score political points.  I also don’t buy this.  Imagine what that requires.  Someone creates the calendar and presents it to Tsai.  “This calendar will drive down fruit prices, they explain, but you will score political points.  Are you willing to make that deal?”  Tsai nods, not caring at all about the consequences of her campaign literature.  “Screw the farmers,” she sneers dismissively.  This just doesn’t seem plausible to me.  If Tsai believed the calendar would affect fruit prices, she would have also seen the potential for it to backfire.  No rational candidate would make that choice, no matter how callous.  And I don’t think Tsai is a particularly callous politician.

Finally, you might argue that Tsai’s unwillingness to apologize immediately or sincerely shows her stubbornness, and good leaders are not overly stubborn.  (This also has the advantage of equating Tsai and Chen Shui-bian, who the KMT also hung the S-word on.)  Of all the attacks, this may be the only one that I consider to have even a bit of merit.  However, Tsai did apologize, even if the KMT wasn’t satisfied with her sincerity.


Of course there are fundamental differences in the two sides’ agricultural policies.  If this argument were over those differences, I wouldn’t be so perplexed.  Instead, this is really a fight over candidate image.  Which candidate is more compassionate about the plight of the weak?  That’s also not a bad argument.  But is the best way to discern who is more compassionate to argue about whether persimmons currently cost NT2 or NT42?

In the end, I don’t expect this fiasco to have much lasting effect.  There simply isn’t enough substance underpinning it.  Tsai’s poll numbers have fallen quite dramatically this week, but I think they’ll bounce back gradually as we moving on to other topics.  I just don’t think such a superficial controversy will have a decisive effect on the race.

I’ve been wrong before, though.

15 Responses to “Persimmons? Really?”

  1. Rust Says:

    According to my observation of the polls in the past few months, I think this wave of assaults did not actually lower Tsai’s support (at least not significantly), but rather lower the willingness of her supporter to declare their support (especially in the face of pan-blue media polling). The same goes for the farm-house issue, where there may have been a slight dip in Tsai’s support, Ma’s number didn’t seen to have benefited.

    I think in the end of the day, this issue won’t play a major role in affecting the electorates. Most people probably will not be thinking about Persimmons when they enters the booth. It does however, give blue supporters a reason to legitimize their support for the kmt! (One of my deeply pan-blue friend declare this will be his reason for voting Ma excitedly, but he probably would’ve voted Ma even if there’s no good reasons to.)

  2. tommyinasia Says:

    I might also note that the China Times poll only had a sample size of about 750 and had several misleading questions. Then there was the poll by one US academic that was released today as evidence that Tsai has taken a big hit. Since we don’t have anything to compare his poll to, and since he has no obvious record of polling success, we can’t make any judgments. Then there is the United Daily poll, which is the bluest of the blue and always seems to show Ma ahead. TVBS is another story. Still quite pro blue. Remember, the last TVBS poll did not say Tsai was ahead. It just said that Ma’s lead had fallen to within the margin of error. Tsai’s popularity might have taken a hit, but it is hard to say by how much. I think a lot will depend on the result of the debates. If she performs well, then persimmons will not be a very salient issues. If she gets trounced on again, as she was trounced on during the last debate, then I think that this might be the start of a slide for Tsai. It’s a shame really. The persimmon issue is, as you say, a dumb issue to rate a candidate based on.

  3. njyoung Says:

    I don’t know if one should analyze much into a sample size of just 200+. how do you guys make of the sharp support increase for Ma in the Taoyuan/Hsinchu/Miaoli area. a week ago, China times poll said Ma was leading by 10%, now it is 30%. the fruit fiasco had such a huge effect? interestingly Tsai’s support did not drop in the South during the fruit fiasco. the middle ground votes of Tsai went away to undecided. this group of peoples are fickle, probably light green supporters and will return to declare their support for Tsai again when this issue died down.

    TVBS said DPP bought NT$10 per persimmons to sell to the public and DPP claimed the persimmons were $2 each.
    any truth in that?

  4. frozengarlic Says:

    I think Rust is probably right that what we are seeing is simply fewer Tsai supporters willing to actually express their support. Right now, they are having doubts, but these people usually end up back in the same place. When it comes time to vote, you curse a little, and then mark the ballot for the person you originally planned to vote for.

    In my experience, a sample size of 400 is the absolute minimum for any analysis. When you are doing interviews, you can watch the average move as you do more interviews. (Think of flipping a coin and calculating the average percentage of heads after every ten flips.) The average moves around quite about at first, and then somewhere around 400 it usually stabilizes. Almost none of these surveys have a large enough sample size to look at regions, Hakkas, Mainlanders, first-time voters, or even Soong supporters. They do it anyway, but there is no reason for us to take those results too seriously.

    “Facts” from talk shows are about as reliable as “facts” from the internet. Believe it at your own risk.

  5. Vent Says:

    Hi FG- Just curious, are you really trusting polls from pro-blue media as real “pools” or actually political “tools?” Also, how do you see the reliability of Global Views (before they were shut; actually that is a quite serious case of press freedom deterioration) and Xfuture?

    Wikileak cable said something about Taiwan’s polls ( It may seem a bit old, but most of the content holds true imo.

  6. frozengarlic Says:

    I think the media polls are basically honest. I’m speaking specifically of China Times, United Daily News, Liberty Times, United Daily News, and Global Views. I’m much more skeptical of the polls commissioned by think tanks and other organizations that publish one poll and disappear. There are also several private polling companies that have the capacity and expertise to do good polls. Some of these will compromise their results for a payoff, and some won’t. But I think the polls done for the DPP nominations, for example, are basically honest. The DPP polling center is well-respected, but it doesn’t release its results systematically. Instead, you often hear about the results third hand. Someone tells someone else who slips a remark to the media about the state of the race. By the time I hear about it, I assume the message has been so corrupted that it isn’t worth listening to.j

    I don’t really care for the Xfuture predictions. The NCCU center is based on the Iowa futures market, which is well-respected. Unfortunately, the NCCU center cannot copy the Iowa center in one crucial respect: they cannot use real money. If people were able to bet (and lose) real money, they would be forced to bet with their heads and reveal their true feelings about the state of the election. However, since they are betting imaginary money, there is no penalty for betting with your heart. There is also no reason for people to look for market inefficiencies to exploit. I have gone on the site a few times with the intention of playing, and there are enough crazy prices quoted that I’m sure I could win. However, I never actually got around to betting because I never managed to finish the full registration process. It’s just not worth my trouble.

  7. Michael Turton Says:

    Haha. Nathan, the China Times poll on farmers is so blatantly loaded. Check question six.

    4. Which of the following three candidates do you think is capable of solving farmers’ problems?
    KMT Ma Ying-jeou
    DPP Tsai Ing-wen
    PFP James Soong

    5. Do you think that the DPP’s propaganda helps or harms farmers?
    Harms farmers
    Helps farmers

    6. Do you think that the DPP should apologize for the harm they inflicted on innocent farmers?

    The polling in Taiwan’s media is basically bad, IMHO. I found Global Views to be the most useful — too bad the KMT shut it down for revealing bad news about Ma — followed by the TVBS poll, which is almost always wrong, but wrong in very predictable ways, which makes it quite useful (I’d love to understand their methodology, which is so predictably wrong). The other polls are not very useful at all. The Liberty Times is completely untrustworthy. UDN is a joke. China Times always has the same numbers for Ma — up by about 6! — what does that mean? Apple’s polling is often at odds with the other polls.


    • frozengarlic Says:

      It is, of course, well-known that various items in the survey can affect each other. This is why (in an honest survey) you always ask who they intend to vote for BEFORE you ask the questions about any recent news that paints one candidate in a particular light. The TVBS surveys, for example, always ask (1) if you plan to vote, and then (2) who you plan to vote for. Everything else comes later. So far as I can tell, this is also true of the China Times surveys.

      I’m not saying these surveys are always flawless. Rather, I simply assume that they don’t set out to produce numbers that benefit the KMT. I certainly believe they don’t have a meeting after looking at the data to decide whether to “adjust” any of the numbers to make the KMT look better.

  8. Michael Turton Says:

    Actually, it is a measure of how well Tsai’s campaign has been run that the biggest issue is a misprint on some campaign information about persimmons. It will all blow over.

  9. Michael Turton Says:

    However, I never actually got around to betting because I never managed to finish the full registration process. It’s just not worth my trouble.

    I had the same reaction. Also, the prediction market can be spammed, and has been. It was spammed by pro-Ma types earlier this year hoping to skew the results.

    It had Tsai up by 8 over Ma the other day (feels too high) and in the who will win section, Ma was selling for 36, Ma for 51.


  10. Tim Maddog Says:

    The first sentence of this post (followed by polls from two deep-blue media outlets as “proof” of the statement) is its biggest failure. (As Michael Turton quoted from a China Times poll in an earlier comment: “6. Do you think that the DPP should apologize for *the harm they inflicted* on innocent farmers?”) Just how biased can they make their questions?

    Meanwhile, your third sentence also “continues to gleefully bash [Tsai] over the head with this issue.” At least, that’s what it sounds like after reading the first two seriously-biased sentences.

    To correct one of the counterarguments, in Michael’s Dec. 5, 6:53 AM comment, it should actually read :
    – – –
    “On the possibility of being elected, the exchange on Thursday gave Tsai 51 percent, Ma 37.1 percent and Soong 12.5 percent, with Ma’s success rate falling by 4 percentage points since Nov. 25, while Soong’s rate increased by 4 percentage points.”
    – – –

  11. frozengarlic Says:

    If you think there is nothing to be learned from media polling, then please disregard it. I believe it conveys valuable information, so I choose not to ignore it. If you want to believe that the fruit fiasco has not adversely affected Tsai’s support, you are also welcome to believe that. I think it has, and I base this on (1) every poll released since the controversy broke, (2) the KMT’s eagerness to keep bringing this topic up, and (3) the DPP’s defensive tone, culminating in Tsai’s awkward apology (which she then basically disowned in the debate).

    If you think I am gleefully bashing Tsai with this post, please read the rest of the post.

  12. Fruits and Votes » Prof. Shugart's Blog » Fruits and votes in Taiwan Says:

    […] Batto has all the juicy details at his Taiwan politics blog, Frozen Garlic. Propagation: Seeds & scions […]

  13. Vent Says:

    Well Frozen Garlic, I respect your opinions and understand that when you mention honesty you are not exactly saying accuracy. However, if running tests of confidence levels and bias for all media polls related to elections by using real results over the past five years, one may find it could be quite difficult to extract real valuable information from them (except for maybe Global Views and Xfuture, the latter of which is not even really a poll). With samples drafted by them so biased, there is really not much need to do stupid things like adjusting final data.

    The problems are mainly that too many people are not willing to answer to some particular media, imo. CT and TVBS often claim less than 10% of people decline to finish the whole surveys for them – if you believe that you probably haven’t really run social science-related surveys yourself, or the two are just using different definition of declining.

  14. frozengarlic Says:

    If you’re interested, I have written at length about the shortcomings of polling as practiced in Taiwan.

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