DPP’s drop since 2010

Many of us were surprised at the size of the KMT’s victory yesterday.  This is most likely due to the fact that the DPP did so well in the 2009-2010 local elections, and we assumed that it would at least hold that level of support in this presidential election.  It did not.  There was a significant retreat in the DPP’s support levels in many big cities and counties.

For reference, here is a table with the DPP’s performance in the 2008 presidential election, the 2009/2010 mayoral races, and the 2012 presidential election.  Note how well the DPP in the mayoral races in several populous areas, including Taipei City, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, and Tainan as well as a few more rural areas such as Yunlin, Pingtung, Taitung, Penghu, and Ilan.  The only places where Tsai clearly beat the mayoral performance were Kaohsiung, Changhua, and Nantou.





Taipei City




New Taipei












Hsinchu County
























Chiayi County
































Hsinchu City




Chiayi City













So what accounts for the drop in the DPP’s fortunes since 2010?  I have several plausible answers.

  1. This is a question of candidate quality.  The DPP mayoral candidates were much better than their KMT opponents, but Tsai was not clearly much better than Ma.  You can explain a few of these results in terms of candidate quality.  The KMT’s candidate in Yunlin was extremely weak, and the DPP faced two very strong opponents in Kaohsiung.  However, I don’t think you can make the argument that the DPP’s parachute candidate in Taichung was stronger than the two-term KMT incumbent.  Likewise, it is a bit of a stretch to argue that the DPP enjoyed an advantage in candidate quality in Taoyuan.  Overall, I don’t think this argument works.
  2. This is the difference between local and national elections.  In local elections, voters are willing to vote for the DPP.  In national elections, they are afraid of the DPP’s cross-straits policies (or some similar explanation).
  3. The 2009/2010 elections were effectively midterm elections.  The opposition party always does well in midterm elections.
  4. The DPP suffered a real decline in popularity (or the KMT gained in popularity) over the past year.


Explanations 2-4 are all plausible, and I don’t have any evidence for one or the other.

I think it is plausible that the KMT did increase in popularity over the past 12-24 months.  In particular, Ma’s first year and a half was a mess.  He fooled around with delegating power to KMT elders like Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung while he entrusted the government to technocrat Liu Chao-hsuan.  Ma arguably found his footing when he realized that the presidency is not a ceremonial post in Taiwan, assumed the KMT’s chair, and appointed a savvy politician (Wu Den-yi) as Premier.  In addition, the benefits from ECFA might be starting to kick in.


Sorry if you wanted a clear answer.  I’m just thinking out loud.


15 Responses to “DPP’s drop since 2010”

  1. tommyinasia Says:

    I would think there would be a lag time from when the benefits of ECFA kick in and when people start offering greater support to the party. If there was any increase in popularity, I would argue that it was rather a decrease in unpopularity. 1) Cross-strait meetings were cut back in the election season. 2) Ma did start to make fewer gaffes.

  2. oolongtea Says:

    >>”…but Tsai was not clearly much better than Ma.”

    Care to elaborate? Ma’s incompetence is widely acknowledged by the political pundits and by voters that I have spoken to. Some of them still voted for Ma, but they admitted that Ma is simply not a good leader. Tsai, on the other hand, shows the qualities of a political leader even though she lost the election. I would be interested in your explanation.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I do not think that there is a consensus that Ma is incompetent. Many people would disagree vehemently.
      At any rate, Ma is the incumbent and had previously won three high profile elections. Tsai is much less experienced and has never won an election. According to standard coding schemes, Ma would be considered the better candidate by quite a large margin.

      • JC Says:

        The impression that Ma is incompetent was mostly reinforced by iteration, ie this statement gets replayed over a million times each day in different forms. From a more scholarly perspective there is no evidence that Ma is incompetent (or competent). But people are not interested in scholarly perspectives.

  3. oolongtea Says:

    Thanks, FG. I don’t disagree with your analysis on the advantages of an incumbent and that some people don’t doubt Ma’s ability, but to say Tsai is not clearly much better than Ma in terms of candidate quality isn’t a conclusion I would draw from your explanation, though.

  4. JC Says:

    FG – maybe instead of looking at the percentages it may be instructive to look at the actual number of votes. From what I understand a difference in voter turnout impacts votes for greens vs blues asymmetrically. So it could be that DPP neither gained nor lost support between 2010-12, but they experienced a decrease in share of votes because more KMT supporters are voting.

    I think this is a plausible explanation esp when taken into account with #2.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Some people like to think in terms of raw numbers, but I’ve never found it helpful. We just don’t have any solid evidence about who voted and who didn’t. The normal assumption is that higher turnouts help the KMT, but I don’t see any systematic evidence for that either. To me, raw numbers just add one more level of guessing.

  5. Carlos Says:

    I spoke to my aunt in Kaohsiung who’s generally voted DPP, and this time she voted for Ma Ying-jeou out of fear that China would derail economic relations if Tsai won.

    If the voting was determined by China’s economic threats, then I’m ready to declare Taiwan’s democracy all but dead. I think that’s premature, since I figure the election results were more about the incumbency effect, but well, I can’t help but be a pessimist.

    • T Says:

      with stories like this, i’m beginning to think more and more that 台灣人真正無路用.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Economic policies are a choice made by people elected under democratic rules, not an indication of democracy itself. Every policy choice is made under some kind of pressure.

      Don’t confuse democracy with the DPP winning. They are two different things. I have lots of American friends who threaten to move to Canada every time the Republicans win because they think that, if the Republicans win, the USA must not be a democracy any more. That is ridiculous. Losing is a crucial part of democracy.

      • T Says:

        Economic policies are certainly legitimate factors in choosing how to vote in any riding and of course, each citizen is entitled to their decision. But like you said before, Taiwan faces existential questions. By extension, Taiwan’s democracy also faces existential questions. Hypothetically, if a Taiwanese person voted with purely economic concerns while fully knowing she was risking her nation’s soverignty, that is certainly her democratic choice. But I do not think that’s a very noble reason. Rather, it might imply that she can be bought.

      • Nawakiri Says:


        A question: in an imagined scenario, if one decides his/her vote purely by the candidates’ policy on issues such as animal rights, death penalty, or gay marriage, while fully knowing that the candidate so voted may risk the nation’s sovereignty, would you consider that noble or not?

      • T Says:

        Totally not noble. Each one of these people should be lined up against a wall and rapped on the forehead. No, seriously, I was joking. Your scenarios strike at home questions and I honestly do not know. Perhaps I was a little too hasty in using the word “noble” since it is such a judgmental word. I am sorry if I offended anyone. Lord knows I am nowhere near noble and I think I chose that word in the spur of the moment. Yet the issue of China’s largesse towards Taiwan does upset me, since I am sure almost everyone knows China’s end goal is to integrate Taiwan’s economy and force unification. Yet they continue to accept candy from a bad-intentioned stranger, thinking they can win this game. Maybe they can. Or maybe they do not care if they lose. If they really do not care if they lose, I think that is sad. But enough of my ramblings. Such emotional and non-objective comments are not helpful. Sorry, Frozen Garlic, for wasting your space.

      • frozengarlic Says:

        Space here is free. Waste away.

        You have to ask whether the people who voted for Ma see the world the same way you do. Do they think they are voting under coercion for short-term breathing space? Or do they perhaps believe that it really is in Taiwan’s best interests to engage more intensively with China. Do you think Ma sees himself as you see him?

        “…maybe they do not care if they lose.” See, this is the point. They might see the world differently. In fact, they might think they won. All the people on the stage with Ma Saturday night seemed pretty happy. They seemed to genuinely believe they are taking Taiwan in a good direction, not that they are begrudgingly following a path that they know will eventually lead Taiwan to disaster.

        Democracy is about letting people with different perspectives each have their say.

      • T Says:

        No, Mr. Garlic you are correct. Democracy is, indeed, about letting people with different perspectives each have their say. I guess deep down, I just want everyone else to think the way I do. So I guess what I really want is a dictatorship with me in charge. 😉 And since I can not have that, what Taiwan has now is the next best thing, I suppose. 😀

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