to attack or not to attack

I’m quite confused by Ma’s choices in the 2nd presidential debate this afternoon.  For the past two days, I’ve been reading stories in the media about how Ma’s team is going to change its focus from attacking Tsai’s image to public policy.  All the signs point to the Yu-Chang case as a colossal failure for the KMT, and they seemed to be backing away from it.

Then in today’s debate, Ma used nearly every opportunity he had to set the agenda to talk about Tsai’s image, not about public policy.  Ma started out his introduction by accusing Tsai of smearing him with her response to Yu-chang.   Both his two questions to Tsai and Soong were about Tsai’s image.  Only his concluding remarks focused mostly on other ideas.  I don’t think this worked to his advantage at all.  Tsai’s response to his first question was extremely forceful, and Soong gave a devastating response to Ma’s second question.  In my judgment, Ma completely wasted his two questions.  Indeed, he might have been better off just saying, “Pass.”

As an observer, I am just as interested in Ma’s choice to pursue this line of questioning as in whether it was successful.  If Ma’s team was going to change topics, why was he asking these questions?  If they weren’t going to change topics, why have I been reading media stories saying that they would?  I wonder if there is a struggle within Ma’s team over the best strategy.

If they continue to attack, does this mean that they have decided that they simply need to consolidate their base?  I can imagine someone arguing that (a) the blue camp has a slight majority in the electorate, (b) they just need to mobilize all blue voters, and (c) the way to do this is to go negative.  In this 51% strategy, the KMT seems to be playing to its base rather than worrying about undecided voters (or their legislative candidates in the south).

That’s my best guess right now, at least.  Mostly I’m simply confused.

33 Responses to “to attack or not to attack”

  1. 金熙燮 Says:

    I’m curious: how well is the Taiwanese economy doing these days? The state of the voters’ well-being and the fact that Ma is the incumbent probably account for a lot of negativity-positivity balance (rather like that in the States…)

    • frozengarlic Says:

      In fact, the economy here is a lot like that in the USA: outsiders look at it and think it’s doing fine. (Seriously, lots of people here think the USA economy is fine. The stock market is up, there is no debt crisis, and it is a lot better than Europe.) Ask Barack Obama how much credit he is getting for the “fantastic” US economy. Taiwan is very similar (aggregate growth is ok, no serious debt problem, unemployment figures better than most countries), except the stock market isn’t doing as well as the Dow Jones. Of course, if you ask ten ordinary people how the economy is, you’ll get eleven versions of “terrible.” The main difference might be that Ma isn’t getting as much blame for economic difficulties because voters understand that Taiwan’s government doesn’t have all that much influence over the world’s economy.

      I don’t understand your basic point. Are you suggesting that candidates tend to go negative when the economy is bad? If so, why?

      • 金熙燮 Says:

        Actually, you are suggesting exactly what I was wondering. The perception among the populace here is that US economy is doing pretty rotten, Obama’s negativity rating is running fairly high, and the only thing he can do, I think, for 2012, is to point to the other guys and say how awful they are–i.e. go negative. There really isn’t much that Obama can say positively about himself past four years and be taken seriously by the vast majority of voters, so all he can do is attack, like any incumbent who has failed to compile a credibly defensible record for himself during his term of office would. Even if he might try to go positive, and start suggesting new policy initiatives, the natural reaction by the electorate is to ask: “why haven’t you done it already?” or “why is it going to work any better than everything you’ve already done.” Going positive simply cannot work for an incumbent without too much (credited) accomplishment.

        If Taiwanese economy, among other things, is (seen to be as) tanking (as it seems to Taiwanese voters), Ma, as the incumbent, just doesn’t have anything positive to say for himself, so all he can do is to keep yelling “the other person looks scary.”

  2. Vent Says:

    The peace message came from Premier Wu, who will eventually need to take responsibility of Liu, the CEPD minister who faked/misstated the documents to accuse Tsai. Wu knows it’s screwed and is trying to dig himself out. If the same thing happened in the U.S. or Europe, Ma and/or Wu would probably need to withdraw from the election in exchange of amnesty already. Taiwanese voters knowlingly are more lax, but probably not that lax.

    However, Ma and his campaigh manager Kim apprently want to fight on. First, even if they lose, Ma can blame the reponsibility on Wu and Liu, and keeps some power within KMT after leaving office. Second, they may choose to go nuclear, directing the speical procecutors to find some dodgy witness to accuse Tsai. It could create the worst poticial chaos in decades in Taiwan if they were to do this.

    However, surely Ma will have the final say in the campaigh management. So you may see more stupid smear campaigns on the director of Academia Sinica and David Ho (yes, the man who could beat AIDS). This is probably going to backfire, worsening the blue’s credibility and support even more and increasing the chance of going nuclear. Not really good at all.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      You are overestimating (or maybe underestimating) American and Europeans. They are also pretty good at smear campaigns. Also, your “decades” might be about five years long. There was some pretty serious chaos in Taiwan just a few years ago.

      You seem to be right on about splits in the Ma campaign.

      • Fifteen Says:

        I think if KMT go nuclear it would def create the worst chaos in “decades”. What happened 5 years ago is nothing compare to what might happen.

      • Vent Says:

        Well, I tend to think if Bush Sr. were to show something from the government indicating Clinton was corrupt and should be sentenced for life in 1992, but Clinton provided strong proof otherwise, Bush will be asked by the Repulican establishment to withdraw immediately. I could be wrong.

        And what happened in 2006 is nothing compared to pre-90s imo.

  3. frozengarlic Says:

    Maybe I should read the morning newspapers before I share my brilliant insights with the world. This is the front page headline of today’s Taipei Times:
    I guess this is more proof that I should never share my instant reactions with the world. Fortunately, scholars are expected to be a few years out of date.

  4. Fifteen Says:

    I agree with Vent. The worst case is that KMT goes nuclear, and get a dodgy witness ( which it’s been done before). I hope that doesn’t happen, but am also curious / worried what would the society react? See most Taiwanese growing up learning/buying the stuff KMT gave out. Including textbooks and the whole education system. ( Which is why KMT might have the slight majority in electorate.).Would most buy it again and get Ma elected for another term? DDP’s been doing great with the new image. Would they be able to keep it that way if the worst happen?

    • Vent Says:

      I don’t really agree that most Taiwanese are still growing up learning/buying the stuff KMT gave out and believing in them so much–that was probably before the 1990s. But even then, when the dodge witness thing happened, it was quite bad if I remember right.

      It may well become a trust game of Ma + Wu + Liu + blue media + procecutors vs Tsai + Academia Sinica researchers + David Ho. Tsai’s side probably wins hand down, but Ma controls the police and prosecutors. That’s why I hope it doesn’t happen.

      Actually, the best way for Ma’s campaigh and Taiwan’s democracy is probably he fires Liu and blame everything on her, and says he is sorry, on Wednesday. But he is like a gambler who continues to raise bets when losing.

      • Echo Says:

        Something very seriously wrong in Ma’s campaign decision core. Looking from outside, just like Vent said, Ma “continues to raise bets when losing” … it looks as though someone in his core team intentionally wants him to lose, and that someone is powerful enough for Ma to follow self-damaging moves again and again.

      • frozengarlic Says:

        I also like the line about continuing to raise bets, but I think there may be some less insidious explanation. If it is true that someone is actually doubling down even though he knows that the strategy isn’t working, it probably has to do with power dynamics within the campaign. If you put all your weight behind a certain strategy and then you admit that strategy has failed, you will usually become much less powerful. The next time you propose a strategy (or anything else), people won’t listen. It might simply be that someone is afraid to admit failure because he can’t accept the consequences that admission would imply to his own position.

      • Fifteen Says:

        It’s very clear to see. If you ask a couple dozen local Taiwanese how do they think of Chiang kai sek, Most of them would simply say he was a great president, he watched fishes swimming up the river…etc. Very few would actually tell you that he was a dictator. I was born in the late 80’s. Educated in local schools in Taiwan before age 10. All I learned in school is that chiang kai sek was the greatest person. History books actually did make up some crap stories to emphasize how great and sacred KMT is. ( Wu-Feng). I don’t think I learned anything about mei-li-dao either. I have heard the term, but they didn’t say much about it. Most people in education- including the textbooks makers, are hardcore KMTs. One of the thing Taiwan really needs is a whole new Education system. Hell, I called myself Chinese for a few months when I first moved to US. I basically learned everything I needed to know about Taiwan-China history online.

  5. Echo Says:

    I also want to bring up one thing. Back in 2000 president election, when Lian Chan vs Soong vs Chen SB, Ma Ying-jeou (being campaign manager of Lian Chan) announced a poll in a press conference right before the voting. He said, Lian was leading far ahead of Soong, but might not be able to beat Chen. So he called for blue voters all switch their votes from Soong to Lien.

    Nobody knows how many blue voters did do that. But, the result is that Chen/Soong/Lien = 39.3/36.8/23.1.

    That is, Soong lost to Chen by only 3%, and Lien was only a little more than half of what Soong got.

    Ma’s move is a devastating move to the blue camp. From the result, it is impossible that Lien led Soong by a huge edge as Ma announced. There were probably many blue supporters wrongfully believe in Ma and switched their votes from Soong, which possibly caused Soong to lose the president seat.

    If Soong were elected, even the KMT loses, at least the government is still in blue’s hand. But Ma blew it all up.

    Because of his action that possibly causing the blue to lose the government, the Legislative Yuan passed a law prohibiting poll announcement one week before the voting.

    Looking from this angle, it seems not an unusually thing for Ma to believe in something non existing. He’s the grand master of using a falsified poll to attack opponent in Taiwan election.

    Just look at it this way: if I am winning, then, I am winning; if I am losing, then, I will lose anyway, why not enjoy a little more time of feeling winning ?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Echo, you have mentioned polls and the 2000 election before, and my recollection of the event is a bit different from yours. One of the reasons I have been collecting survey data on this site is so that we don’t have to rely on memory for these things. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to searching for 2000 polls yet. However, as I remember it, in the weeks before the election most media polls showed all three candidates bunched between 20-25%. On the last day before the blackout (which already existed), the United Daily News poll had Lien winning with 27%, and this was his best poll result of the entire campaign. I’m not sure if this is the poll you are referring to. However, it is hard to accuse the UDN of manipulating poll results for their own political goals since they had publicly endorsed Soong. Many, maybe most, people thought Lien had a better chance to win than Soong. The Taipei Times had a triumphant editorial saying that the UDN’s endorsement destroyed the last chance of beating Chen, since the only way to do that was to concentrate votes on Lien. Lien’s dismal result was quite shocking and unexpected to most people.

      • Echo Says:

        as I remember it, in the weeks before the election most media polls showed all three candidates bunched between 20-25%. On the last day before the blackout (which already existed), the United Daily News poll had Lien winning with 27%, and this was his best poll result of the entire campaign.

        From the 2000 polls you provided today, it seems that my memory is better than yours … 🙂

      • frozengarlic Says:

        My wife always insists that I remember things wrong. Fortunately there isn’t always a record to show what I did or did not say.

    • Echo Says:

      Garlic, I’ll have to double check my memory, then. Thanks.

      • josephtyw Says:

        Here is a video discussing the 2000 election Ma incident (post by Soong supporters):
        As far as I can see, Ma was talking about an internal poll of KMT, not a public poll, so the UDN poll is irrelevant. I believe it is after this incident that the law bans people from “discussing poll results” a week before election day.

  6. Echo Says:

    As an observer, I am just as interested in Ma’s choice to pursue this line of questioning as in whether it was successful. If Ma’s team was going to change topics, why was he asking these questions?

    One more comment on this: do we notice the timing of Tsai’s second press conference in response to the Yu Chang case?

    She had the 1st p.c. on 12/9, right after the case was blown out to the public. Then, during the whole week, disregarding so many shouting from the blue camp to ask her to come out to clarify, she holds and holds and holds, then she picked the day before the debate to have her second one.

    I think it was timed precisely to set a trap to invite Ma to talk about it next day. And Ma jumped right into it.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Could be. If so, it was executed brilliantly. However, I’m still leaning to the dumb luck explanation. I simply haven’t seen evidence of this sort of Machiavellian scheming often enough in the past to believe that it is part of Tsai’s arsenal. Who is the tactical mastermind in her campaign team?

    • Echo Says:

      It’s Tsai herself, I believe, ‘cos, like you did, I don’t see anyone else could have that skill.

      Remember, Tsai is an expert on negotiation tactics. In the history of negotiation between Taiwan and China, she was probably the only one who gave China Communist headache. They described her as smart, sharp, and none can ever take advantage of her on the negotiation table. They fear her, but, at the same time, they respect her very much, ‘cos she’s a person who is good at cutting others a little slack, won’t push others to the end of road.

      I can offer another example. Remember the peace agreement that Ma threw out in mid October?

      During the entire campaign period that covers months, Tsai in fact talked relatively little about Ma gov’s down side. Instead she focus most of the time on economic issues.

      When the peace agreement came out from Ma, she launched in a stunning pace — a press conference in the same day of Ma’s peace agreement. If you watch that video, you’d be scared how serious she looked. Simply the way she walked into the room is full of power, confidence and determination. Then, you can imagine what she’s gonna say, simply from the look of her.

      Ma panic, responded with a “must go through referendum” announcement in the mid-night that day. The next day, Tsai followed up with another press conference, using Ma’s word on referendum to propose “lets do it.” Then, the DPP made a proposal in the LY. The KMT rejected it. That’s it. A peace agreement plan that could be a good weapon in the eyes of both Ma’s and the China’s and could have made a huge indent in Tsai’s image, was finished and trashed in less than 10 days, as though it never happened before.

      If you watch it step by step — I don’t know about others — but I was really really shocked by how precise, how razor-sharp, and how powerful her attack is.

      So don’t underestimate her by her calm and soft appearance. It’s not the luck that brought her through those bloody intra-party battles and made this far.

  7. frozengarlic Says:

    I have added a page with the 2000 survey results from TVBS and UDN if you are interested.

  8. M Says:

    Frozen Garlic – Can you explain Ma’s disastrous campaign so far? It looks like the Ma camp have managed to stuff their own chances without the DPP really doing anything at all.
    They should have just emphasized stability and continuity and reminded voters of Chen Shui-bian when the opportunity arose. Instead, they embarked on a highly risky attack strategy which they have not abandoned despite evidence that it is hurting them.Bai Bing-bing’s idiotic comments have made things even worse for them.
    The only explanation I can think of is that some people in the KMT actually want Ma to lose.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I’m not convinced that Ma’s campaign is going as terribly as the English-language blogosphere seems to think. Ma’s poll numbers have barely changed over the past couple of months — he’s been right around 40% since forever. How will 40% poll numbers translate into election results? No one knows, but I’m certainly not convinced that he will lose. Heck, if I had to lay down money right now, I’d probably bet on Ma winning.

      • Echo Says:


        How do you see the XFuture prediction market ? You can argue all you can based on all academic hypotheses that the market is unreliable, but you can’t deny the fact that (1) they have record of doing much better than other polls in Taiwan; (2) other media often provide data that is not consistent with the result. The poll data of 2000 election you showed is an example of that.

        These are all facts, man.

        And this year, the XFuture market predicts that Tsai/Ma/Soong = 51/41/9, consistently, for couple of weeks already. The curve also shows that Ma’s rate has been dropping from near 60 to 41 — during the past couple of months — the time that you said it barely changed. You have seen that trend from my blog. Or you can see 未來交易所資料:宇昌陰謀恐將造成馬英九崩盤 and 2011/12/16 未來事件交易股份有限公司 新聞稿.

        These data don’t bother you at all ? Or you knew some secrets that we don’t know, allowing you to make a bet against all these odds ?

      • M Says:

        I think he will probably end up winning as well, but it is going to be a lot closer than everyone thought it would be a couple of months ago. They have definitely made several quite major mistakes. If Ma does manage to lose, it will really be a case of electoral suicide.
        Ma is still ahead in the polls, but the English-language blogosphere is mostly deep green and they think that polls in the blue media are wildly inaccurate. 2008 and 2010 showed that is not necessarily the case.

      • Echo Says:

        M:“hey think that polls in the blue media are wildly inaccurate. 2008 and 2010 showed that is not necessarily the case.”

        There’s a table of the opinion polls for the 2008 president election in wiki.

        Just browse through it quickly, it seems that the blue media underestimated Ma by average ~5%, and Hsieh by ~15%.

        If we apply that to the polls for 2012 so far, the final result would probably close to what the XFuture market has been predicting.

      • M Says:

        Echo: The TVBS polls had Ma up between 15 and 25 points in the month before the 2008 election. Ma ended up winning by 18 points, so they were not that far out. The other blue media was less accurate though.
        In 2010, polls in the blue media actually underestimated the blue vote (with the notable exception of Taichung). There is also a table of opinion polls for 2010 on Wiki.

  9. frozengarlic Says:

    I have no inside info. You probably have more inside info than me.

    Is it a fact that xfutures has actually predicted outcomes successfully in the past? The people running the site keep repeating this, but I’m not sure I have seen any actual data.

  10. Daily shorts Dec 19 « Jon Sullivan's Research Pages Says:

    […] discussing the KMT’s smear tactics. Frozen Garlic discusses Ma’s strategy in the debate to continue to attack Tsai personally rather than discuss public policy and how the KMT has dominated the agenda of the campaign issues. […]

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