The race in Taipei 4

Today I want to take a look at the race in my local district, Taipei City 4.  This is the district on the eastern edge of the city, covering the Nangang and Neihu Districts.  Taipei 4 should be an easy KMT victory.  Four years ago, the KMT won this district by a whopping 45,000 votes, or 27%.[1]  Even if you assume that the distance between the two big parties will be smaller because this is 2012, not 2008, you have to remember that the changes are always smaller in Taipei City.  An optimistic guess (for the DPP) might be that about 10000 votes could change sides, but that would still leave the blue camp a comfortable 25000 votes ahead.[2]  However, that assumes a “normal” race, and this race is anything but normal.

Our story starts with the KMT incumbent, Tsai Cheng-yuan 蔡正元.  Tsai has been in the legislature since 2001, and he is a quite articulate person.  In fact, he served as spokesman for the KMT as well as for Ma’s 1998 mayoral campaign and for Lien’s two presidential campaigns.  Tsai is also, as I understand it, a fairly wealthy politician.  I’m not sure he was wealthy before he became a politician.  (I could be wrong, but this is my strong impression.)

Tsai served as the Chairman of the Board for Central Pictures Corporation 中影董事長, and in 2010 he was convicted of embezzling about NTD 7 million.  He was sentenced to 13 months in prison, but he appealed the ruling.

According to KMT party rules, candidates who have been convicted are not eligible to register for a party nomination, even if the case is still being appealed.  Tsai was thus not allowed to enter the party’s primary.  However, he was quite open about his intention to run for re-election, no matter who the KMT nominated.  In fact, from start to finish, he never wavered in this stance.  Tsai was always going to run.  He made sure that voters were aware of this too by advertising fairly intensively throughout the district.  For the past year, Tsai’s signs have been a constant presence.

Only one person registered for the KMT nomination, city council member Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀.  Lee is a second generation city council member; her father was on the city council for several terms before turning the seat over to her in 1998.  Together, they have constructed a solid local following in Nangang, and her past few city council campaigns have been relatively easy victories.  Even though she is now in her fourth term, she is still quite young at 40.  She could move up to the legislature and still have a long and promising career ahead of her.  The KMT, however, never seemed very enthusiastic about her candidacy.  From the very start, they emphasized that she would not get the nomination just because she was the only person to register.  She still had to get at least 30% expressed support in the telephone surveys.  Remember, Tsai was still actively campaigning and encouraging people not to support anyone other than him, even though he wasn’t eligible.  In the event, Lee easily passed the 30% threshold, getting 46%.  That should have clinched the nomination.

However, less than a week after the surveys were held, Tsai’s court case was resolved.  In the appeal, the judge ruled that Tsai was not guilty.  Suddenly, Tsai was eligible for the KMT’s nomination.  The KMT reacted immediately, saying that the most important thing was to win the election and they were open to holding a second round of polling to determine the nominee.  They certainly were in no hurry to announce her as the nominee.  Lee was furious about this and insisted that she had played by the rules and deserved to win the nomination.  The KMT subsequently announced that Lee had agreed to decide the nomination by holding a new round of surveys, though Lee never admitted that she had acquiesced to this request.  However, since the KMT was going to hold the new surveys anyway, Lee eventually agreed to contest them.  She even went so far as to say that if she lost, she would respect the outcome.  Tsai declined to make the same promise.

In the second round of surveys, Tsai won by a mere 0.6%, 50.3% to 49.7%.[3]  That is well within the margin of error, so there is no way to say that Tsai had more support than Lee.  However, margins of error are irrelevant in the nominating process.  According to the rules, Tsai was the winner.  (Although, given how much the KMT seemed to want to nominate Tsai, I have to wonder whether margin of error would have suddenly become a critical point if Lee had won by 0.6%.)

Tsai was announced as the party nominee three days later.  Lee sulked and eventually announced she would not run against him.  When asked if she would campaign for him, she remained pointedly silent.

 

Lee is not running against Tsai, but another pan-blue candidate is.  Huang Shan-shan 黃珊珊 is a four term city council member running under the PFP banner.  As far as I can tell, Huang is as close to universally respected as any politician in Taiwan.  I can’t recall anyone accusing her of being corrupt, lazy, incompetent, or even being an ideological demagogue.  She is, by all accounts, a diligent, competent, and reasonable person.  Of course she has firm partisan beliefs, but she doesn’t smack opponents in the face with them, even though she is currently the Soong campaign’s main spokesperson.

The big question is whether Huang’s supporters will actually vote for her.  I think a large number will.  To explain why, it helps to think about the conditions for strategic voting (ie: dump-save voting).  There are four necessary conditions for strategic voting to occur.  All are problematic in this case.

First, voters must be short-term rational.  What that means is that voters must care first and foremost about the outcome of this election.  If they care more about other goals, such as long-term party building, expressing their voice, or not offending their family members or friends, they may not vote strategically.  A colleague of mine has made a fairly convincing argument concerning this point.  As you walk around Nangang and Neihu, you will see Huang Shan-shan posters in the windows of many shops.  This is highly unusual.  Most shopkeepers don’t want to advertise their political loyalties, since that is likely to drive away far more customers than it attracts.  However, many of Huang’s followers support her so strongly that they are willing to pay this very concrete cost to express their support for her.  I can’t think of any other politician in Taiwan who has inspired this sort of display.  Those supporters are highly invested in her, and they are not likely to desert her.  They are probably not short-term rational.

Second, voters must have accurate information about the horse race.  They must know who the leading candidates are, and they must know who the trailing candidates are.  This also implies that the trailing candidate must be far enough behind the leaders that voters can be sure that she will remain the trailing candidate.  Information usually comes from surveys publicized in the mass media.  However, there have been no media polls on this race.  No one quite knows how much support any of the three candidates have.  We generally think that the KMT and DPP are leading and Huang is trailing, but we can’t be too sure.  Has the embezzlement case hurt Tsai’s popularity?  Is Lee Yan-hsiu secretly diverting support to Huang?  Is Huang’s good reputation attracting erstwhile KMT voters?  No one knows for sure.  If you like Huang best and you aren’t sure she is actually losing, maybe you should just go ahead and vote for her.

Third, the voter has to have a clear preference between the top two candidates.  That is, Huang supporters will only vote strategically if they clearly prefer Tsai over the DPP candidate.  Of all the conditions, this one is the least problematic.  However, there will be some voters who are disgusted by corruption and want nothing to do with Tsai.  They might decline to vote for either of the two (lousy) leaders and simply stick with Huang.

Fourth, the race between the two leaders has to be close enough that strategic voting might change the outcome.  If Tsai is sure to win, why should a Huang supporter bother voting for him?  He doesn’t need the vote.  The voter might as well vote for his favorite candidate, Huang.  Again, the lack of information about the horse race discourages strategic voting.  There will be some people who look at the results four years ago and conclude that Tsai will win easily.  Four years ago, he won by 45,000 votes, and the DPP candidate only got 60,000 votes total!  Even with a little slippage, there should be no danger.  I think this estimation of the race is flawed, but there is not much hard evidence available to contradict it.

Some of Huang’s supporters might vote strategically for Tsai, but I expect most of her base to hold firm.  That could be as much as 30,000 votes, depending on how the campaign unfolds.

 

Let’s go back to Lee Yan-hsiu.  We know she has a grudge against Tsai and would love to see him lose.  Actually, even if she didn’t have a grudge against Tsai, she would probably love to see him lose.  If she ever wants to move up to the legislature, this is the critical moment.  Tsai is not old.  If he survives this year’s test, he will probably be entrenched for many terms to come.  If he loses, the DPP will hold the seat for four years.  However, this is still a heavily blue district, and the KMT would be likely to regain the seat in 2016.  Lee would be at the top of the list for the nomination.  This logic applies not only to Lee, but also to two other KMT city council members.  Que Mei-sha 闕枚沙 and Wu Shih-cheng 吳世正 are both also young and ambitious.  (A fourth KMT city council member, Chen Yi-chou 陳義洲, is closely allied with Tsai and is working hard for Tsai’s re-election.)  Surreptitiously mobilizing your supporters against your party’s nominee is a very dangerous game to play, but the stakes are quite high.  I would not be surprised if Lee, Que, or Wu were secretly helping Huang.  I would be quite surprised if any of them were actively supporting Tsai.

 

Some of Tsai’s campaign has been quite traditional.  He crows loudly about all the development money he has brought back to the district.  He has tried to deal with his fat-cat image by sponsoring a law protecting consumers of financial instruments (such as mutual funds) and claiming to be the champion of the weak.  And he tries to fight the perception that he is corrupt by … well, he doesn’t fight it.  Instead, his strategy seems to be to say that the DPP is corrupt too.  If we’re all corrupt, he seems to be telling his supporters, you might as well vote for me.

His ads are shameless.  I saw one tonight that said, “Tsai Ing-wen.  Lee Chien-chang.  18%.  They both complained about it.  They both took it.”  Lee 李建昌 is the DPP nominee.  The 18% refers to a preferential savings rate that civil servants were entitled to before the law was changed under heavy DPP pressure.  This ad implies that Tsai and Lee are two-faced and corrupt.  However, taking the money was completely legal.  I also don’t think it is hypocritical at all to benefit from a rule while demanding that it be changed.  The rules apply to everyone, and while the rule is in effect, everyone is allowed to follow it.  When the rule is changed, everyone is obliged to follow it again.  As an American, I want higher taxes, but I’m not about to start unilaterally paying higher taxes unless the law is changed and everyone pays higher taxes.  Likewise, some people want lower taxes, but until the law is changed, they are not allowed to unilaterally pay lower taxes.  Yet, this is what Tsai Cheng-yuan is demanding of Tsai Ing-wen and Lee Chien-chang.

This ad made the newspapers.  Lee Chien-chang put up a banner saying, “Legislator Tsai, haven’t you earned enough?”  Tsai responded by putting up one right next to it that read, “Tsai Ing-wen, haven’t you earned enough?”  Tsai defended this by saying that Tsai Ing-wen once served in the legislature and she is rich, so he assumed that she must be the “Legislator Tsai” the first ad referred to.  Of course, Tsai Ing-wen hasn’t been convicted of embezzlement.  However, the insinuation is that she is as corrupt as he is (or perhaps that he is as innocent as she is).

 

Tsai will probably manage to win re-election.  The DPP’s ceiling in this district is probably about 44%, but 40-42% is more realistic.  Huang Shan-shan can probably win 10% of the vote, but 20% might be asking too much.  In the end, Neihu is so solidly blue that even a controversial figure like Tsai can manage to skate by.


[1] More precisely, the KMT candidate got 105375 (62.2%) and the DPP got 60004 (35.4%).  A couple of minor candidates got the other votes.

[2] For reference, last year Hau beat Su by roughly 31,000 votes, or about 57-42% in this district.

[3] The KMT contracted TVBS and UDN to do the polls.  Lee won the TVBS poll 50.4-49.6.  Tsai won the UDN poll 51.0-49.0.

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