Immediate reactions

Sometimes it is easy to forget how stable Taiwan’s party politics are.  This election result reflects that underlying stability.  It is hard to move the national vote more than a few percentage points.

I previously wrote that even if Ma Ying-jeou won, it would be an ugly win.  I was wrong.  His 6% win seems like a substantial win, especially when you consider that the blue-green balance is 54-46.  This is a little smaller than the 58-42 balance of four years ago, but 54-46 is still a substantial gap, especially since the KMT did not have the advantage of running against an unpopular and discredited incumbent.  With a sizeable 70-43 majority in the legislature, Ma Ying-jeou is not going to immediately become a lame duck president.  Instead, he probably has enough power to do most of what he wants.  He will almost certainly have the power to implement the next stage of ECFA, and it is not out of the question that he could push through the peace agreement that he mentioned during the campaign.


Because the blue camp vote was split between Ma and Soong, I am going to look primarily at the green camp vote.  Four years ago, Frank Hsieh got 41.6% of the vote.  This year, Tsai Ing-wen got 45.6%.  The interesting thing is that the DPP’s vote grew just about 4% everywhere, regardless of how much they had four years ago.  The only major exception is Taipei City, which has always been the most stable place in Taiwan.  The increase is slightly higher in Tsai’s childhood home of Pingtung and in the northern Hakka areas (Taoyuan, Hsinchu County, and Miaoli), but the difference is not too great.  The DPP even increased by nearly 4% in Jinmen and Lianjiang which is particularly startling since this meant that they nearly doubled their previous levels of support.  I’m not sure what this nearly uniform increase means, but it certainly is interesting.





Taipei City




New Taipei












Hsinchu Cnty
























Chiayi Cnty
































Hsinchu City




Chiayi City














I had thought that Tsai Ing-wen would run a bit ahead of her party, but this turned out not to be the case.  If you take the party list votes and break them into their traditional blue and green components (KMT, PFP, and NP are blue; DPP and TSU are green), the balance is 51.5-43.6, or a 7.9% lead for the blue camp.  That is only slightly smaller than the gap in the presidential election.  The other parties collectively took about 4.9% of the party list vote.  If you really want to apportion their votes to the blue or green camps, I would put the People Party (人民最大黨) and the Green Party in the green camp.  The former advocated a pardon for former President Chen, and the latter had a strategic alliance with the DPP in one Taipei district.  I’d put all the others in the blue camp.  That produces a blue-green balance of 54.0-46.0%.  At first glance, it doesn’t look like Tsai Ing-wen was able to take any votes from the other side of the political divide.  This presidential election ran along familiar partisan lines.



Turning to the 73 single-member districts, the KMT won these by a 46-27 margin.  (I am counting the two independents as KMT candidates.)  I don’t know the breakdown of party votes for these constituencies yet, but I imagine it is fairly close to the presidential and party list results.  This has turned a small blue camp advantage in votes into a sizeable advantage in seats.

Four years ago, it was assumed that the new electoral system had given the KMT an almost automatic majority in the legislature, and this election seems to confirm that idea.  Even though the election was fairly close, the KMT has easily won a majority.  However, I would argue that the DPP came as close to winning a majority in the legislature as it did to winning the presidential election.

Let’s do a small thought experiment.  Suppose that the DPP had one 1% more of the national vote.  Assume that the actual results already contain all the malapportionment and personal votes, so we simply add 1% to the DPP candidates’ votes and subtract 1% from the KMT candidates’.  If you do this, the DPP wins 5 additional seats, and the overall result is a 41-32 balance.  If we assume that the DPP won 2% more (which was roughly my pre-election guess), add 2 more seats for a 39-34 balance.  If the swing is 3% (putting Tsai and Ma in a dead tie), 4 more seats switch and the green camp wins the SMD seats by 35-38.  In this scenario, the KMT’s advantage in aboriginal seats would still give the blue camp a slight overall edge in the legislature, but let’s remember that in this scenario, the green camp’s overall vote is still slightly below 50% (at 48.6%), so it isn’t unreasonable that their legislative seats are also slightly below 50%.  If you assume the swing is 4% (putting the green camp at nearly 50% of the national vote, the SMD seats go 32-41 for the green camp.  This would be a large enough margin to give them a majority even after the KMT wins all the aboriginal seats.  In sum, the DPP had to win just about the same number of votes to win the legislature as it did the presidency.  It fell short on both counts.


Third party candidates did not hurt the KMT in this election.  There were nine races that the DPP could have stolen because the KMT’s vote was split by a third party candidate.  The KMT only had one opportunity.  However, the DPP only succeeded in one of its nine opportunities (Taitung), while the KMT succeeded in its only opportunity (Kaohsiung 9).

In five of the eight missed opportunities for the DPP, I am surprised by the DPP’s failure to win.  In these cases, if you had told me how much the third party candidate won, I would have confidently predicted a DPP victory.  Instead, very weak performances by these five DPP candidates allowed the KMT to hold these five seats.


district KMT DPP 3rd notes
Taipei 4 48 34 17 missed chance
New Taipei 7 44 43 13 Missed chance
New Taipei 8 48 40 11 Improbable
New Taipei 9 49 28 23 Improbable
New Taipei 12 42 36 21 Missed chance
Taoyuan 5 45 35 19 Improbable
Taichung 8 45 39 16 Missed chance
Changhua 1 35.2 35.0 28 Missed chance
Kaohsiung 9 38 32 27 Steal
Taitung 30 42 28 Steal


I had thought that with the focus so heavily on the presidential elections, the outcomes in the legislative races would be pulled closer to those in the presidential election.  This doesn’t seem to have happened.  At first glance, personal votes are still quite important.  In fact, with the closer national balance, it looks like personal votes were decisive in a number of elections.


Turnout was lower than expected at 74.3%.  Most people had expected something in the range of 78-80%.  At first glance, it looks like the KMT mobilized their best areas better than the DPP.  Turnout is a bit higher in Taipei and New Taipei Cities and a bit lower in Yunlin and Chiayi Counties.  This might simply be an urban/rural divide, but I’d bet that turnout worked slightly in the KMT’s favor overall.  I don’t think that this was sufficient to swing the overall outcome, but that is unknowable.


Finally, as the results of the presidential race slowly solidified, it occurred to me that I have seen this result before with a very similar cast of characters.

  1998 Taipei Mayor % 2012 President %
KMT Ma Ying-jeou 51.1 Ma Ying-jeou 51.6
DPP Chen Shui-bian 45.9 Tsai Ing-wen 45.6
New/PFP Wang Chian-hsuan 3.0 James Soong 2.8

How is that for similarity in what will probably be the first and last elections of Ma Ying-jeou’s career!

27 Responses to “Immediate reactions”

  1. Pat Says:

    In spite of Tsai’s strength as a candidate, all the DPP essentially managed to do was win back the parts of its base which were so disillusioned with Chen they either stayed home or voted for Ma in 2008. I think this ultimately comes down to the DPP’s failure to move towards the center and accept growing economic ties with China.

    There were various moments in the campaign where it seemed Tsai was appealing to swing voters and light blues, but she was weighed down by having to push the ‘Taiwan Consensus’, which was essentially a non-policy. I’m sure she herself realized she’d have to continue establishing economic links with China if she became president, but her hand was forced as the DPP candidate and the result was a rather unclear and unfeasible cross-strait policy.

    The KMT has essentially given up its goal of unification by deferring the issue to ‘future generations’ and in doing so has developed a stance that a clear majority of the population supports; if the DPP doesn’t do the same, it’s doomed to keep losing. Unfortunately, if Tsai couldn’t do push that change I don’t know who can.

  2. Anon Says:

    FG: There were some media reports that flights back to Penghu and Matsu were cancelled due to fog and this prevented some voters from voting. Do you think this effect was negligible? I’m wondering this because I know that the population in the outlying islands is pretty small compared to the Taiwan mainland.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I don’t know if your reports are correct or not, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume there were some flights cancelled. In Penghu, it would not have made any difference. The DPP candidate won by a full 3000 votes. That is roughly seven full 747s. The planes that fly to Penghu are considerably smaller. I don’t know how many seats there are going to Penghu each day, but it is almost inconceivable that this could have changed the outcome. In Lianjiang, it is not as clear. The race was decided by 167 votes. The planes that go to Lianjiang tend to be pretty small, and I doubt there are 170 seats on any given day, but I suppose it is plausible especially if they added extra flights for the election. However, would all those extra voters have voted the same way? Almost certainly not. Some of them would have voted for the winner. If you want a swing of 170 votes, you probably need at least 500 extra voters (and that’s still assuming a 2-1 advantage). I’m pretty sure that bad weather didn’t strand 500 extra voters.

      So the short answer is, no.

  3. Mike Says:

    Looking some very crude/ rough data, Tsai’s votes and the legislator votes nationwide are on the whole roughly similar.

    There is however, a major exception in Taitung County, where Tsai won around 30.50%, while Liu won around 41.60%. In Penghu, Tsai won 45.65%, while Yang was able to win 53.44%.

    I’m wondering whether in these places, the merging of the presidential race and legislative races did not have a major effect on the voting behaviour? Are they indicative of the fact that the DPP may be a one or two person party in these places, i.e. that Liu and Yang will be ideal DPP county magistrate candidates in the 2014 elections?

    There is also a notable difference in Hsinchu where Tsai won 30.93% while Peng won 37.05%.

    A large proportion of the rest of the counties/ cities has Tsai slightly (2-3%) above the legislators, which somewhat seems to indicate the merging of the presidential and legislative races did have an effect on voting behaviour. Question. So why in some places the merging may appear to have an impact, while in others, it didn’t?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Yang did very well, and there will be pressure for him to run in 2013. However, he probably needs to consolidate his victory by doing a LOT of constituency service. His win might have been as much about fatigue with his opponent as about him.

      Be careful about the Taitung interpretation. There were 109,000 valid votes in the presidential election and only 76,000 valid votes in the legislative election. The other 33,000 votes are Aborigines, and they tend to vote overwhelmingly for the KMT. I haven’t looked closely enough at the Taitung data to say whether Liu ran much ahead of Tsai. My guess is that he did, but not by very much.

      There are a few candidates who ran significantly ahead of their party, but not as many as I thought at first glance. And I think combining the elections made a difference even for people who ran ahead. For example, Weng Chung-chun (KMT) in Chiayi 1 ran 13% ahead of Ma in 2008. This time it was more like 7-8%.

      In addition to Yang and Peng, other DPP candidates who ran quite a bit ahead of Tsai include Lin Shu-fen (New Taipei 2), Huang Wei-che (Tainan 2), and Chen Ting-fei (Tainan 3). There were also a few who ran significantly behind Tsai. The worst might be Shen Fa-hui (New Taipei 12), who appears never to have set foot outside Xizhi City. In the other townships, he only got about 60% of Tsai’s support, and this miserable performance cost the DPP that seat.

      I’m going to do serious research on this topic, so I might not write about it on my blog.

  4. Michael Turton Says:

    If you assume that most TSU voters would vote DPP if there were no TSU, the TSU+DPP vote % for the legislature is real close to Tsai’s actual percentage.

    I don’t know any serious analyst who was thinking Tsai would win that last week. I expected it to be a close Ma victory, 2-4%. I didn’t think Soong would get more than 3%. But I thought Tsai and Ma would split the 10% swing vote 60-40 and Tsai would get 47 to Ma’s 49-50. In fact that did split it 60-40, but Tsai got the 40. To win she would have had to pick up that entire 10%.

    I wish we had credible exit polls, I want to see whether Soong hurt Tsai more than everyone thought. Given that the DPP base is ~41%, the KMT base is ~47%, and the swing vote is ~10%, and Tsai picked up 4, Ma picked up 4 to move to 51, then the other ~2% must have gone to Soong. No direct evidence for that, though.

    The legislative election was a surprise to me. I expected the DPP to get about 30 seats, so 27 is no big deal. But their percentage did not change from the previous election; they just spread their vote out better. The KMT didn’t do as well as I thought it would, small party intervention.

    Also, where is your post crowing about the complete failure of the prediction market, totally spammed by punters pushing Tsai? That was a great post of yours that totally showed how biased it was and I was looking forward to your snarky follow up.

    Election work this election, your posts are always a joy to read.


  5. J B Says:

    Another question: Tsai’s share of the vote in the south seems much smaller than I would have expected, given that DPP mayoral/ county chief candidates in Yunlin, Tainan and Pingdong all pulled around or above 60% of the vote. Following American electoral logic, I would have assumed that Tsai would have outpolled local DPP candidates because she is more moderate and therefore more acceptable to a wider range of voters. Why is this not the case in Taiwan? Kaohsiung’s case is also interesting, since I would have assumed a fair portion of Yang Chiu-hsing’s supporters were green and would have supported a DPP candidate in the presidential election, and yet Tsai barely did better than Chen Chu.

  6. JC Says:

    I read the most recent two of your articles and was extremely impressed that we have such a blogger from Taiwan who manages to write about politics/elections without (detectable) bias and only focusing on publishable facts. This is not very typical of the Taiwanese electorate at all.

    Then I looked up the “about me” page and realized that you’re trained in political science and are not Taiwanese – wow the disappointment. It seems like democratic activities – where people only focus on salient issues no matter how distorted the information is – tend to preclude objectivity.

    But great work there, and I hope Taiwan has treated you well.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Thanks, but I’m a bit hurt that you so cavalierly label me as “not Taiwanese.” It is true that I am not an ROC citizen, but I do think of myself as a certain sort of Taiwanese. I am certainly part of Taiwan’s 生命共同體。

      Many of my colleagues are similarly clinical about analyzing politics here. They simply have better things to do than write (English language) blogs.

  7. les Says:

    While I’m very sad the majority thinks it can vote status quo and still keep it’s sovereignty and identity, there is at least the consolation of seeing the despicable Chiu Yi out on the street. It’s going to be interesting to watch him adjust to having to watch his words going forward.
    OTOH, I’m at a loss as to where DPP should go from here. They’ve tried tub-thumping, populism and this time the reasoned and sophisticated approach to campaigning, and all have failed. Where to next DPP?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Chiu Yi’s comments after losing were precisely what I wrote that piece about. He failed the democratic test spectacularly on a day when it should have been easy for him to celebrate his party’s victory. I couldn’t believe that he would blame his defeat on anything other than his positions being out of touch with the mainstream values of his district. Let’s just say he is not one of my favorite politicians in Taiwan.

  8. A Says:

    Personally, if you want to be Taiwanese, I say we would be darn lucky to have someone like you. I think the “共同” IQ would only increase. Please consider becoming a citizen so that you can vote next time. I kind of find it ironic that all you can do is observe and not participate (or maybe that’s why your observations seem so neutral). BTW, any credible allegations of voting irregularities this year? Or does it really look like everything was done in a transparent manner?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      We foreigners occupy a strange place in Taiwan’s society, neither completely in nor completely out.

      I have not seen any credible allegations of systematic irregularities in the presidential election this year. There is an assortment of vote buying cases in the legislative elections, and I imagine we will have a few by-elections before 2016.

  9. Michael Turton Says:

    Ha that should read EXCELLENT work this election…

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Thanks Michael. My official position is that elections are excellent, so I understood what you meant. Thanks for all your hard work, too. Your blog is one of the few must-read things on the internet for me.

  10. tough battle Says:

    Tsai ran a good campaign, but in any election, the odds are so highly stacked in KMT’s favor.

    KMT advantages:
    – Vast funding.
    – Most media outlets are pro-blue
    – Financial benefits influence. A lot of people receive pretty good change through programs, pensions associated with KMT.
    – Backings from major business leaders. It is very unprofessional for corp. leaders to be speaking for any party as they strongly influence votes from their employees and partners. You never see this from US companies.
    – The threat and support of China
    – The perceived support from US
    – HIstory. They were the only party for so long that majority of people are loyal to them.

    It really takes a miracle for opposition to win.
    I hope Tsai and DPP stays strong and keep up their battle

    • Sven Mueller Says:

      I don’t really believe in these “KMT advantages”
      – “Vast funding” – The DPP received even more political contribution in the last two years and lots of KMT’s money is locked in real estate and others and not the kind of cash one needs
      – “most media outlets are pro-blue” – No one has to buy United Daily or China Post or has to watch CTN. There are plenty of other choices of pro-green media.
      – “Backings from business…” This is really something special Taiwanese. In Europe it would be just contrapoductive if a business tyconn or the boss of a bank would recommend anyone…
      – “the thread and support of China” – The thread from China was in the past mainly used by the pro-green camp to attract voters. Whenever Beijing gave a clear warning – the DPP could gain votes.
      – ” the support from the US “- you mean Mr. Paal – well he is already retired and makes private remarks. So did for instance Ms. (What was her name?) Sharleen something – in favor of Mr. Chen Shuibian in 2004
      – “History” – the black history of the KMT in Taiwan is well known. I guess they made themself more enemies than loyal supporters in this period.

  11. 18% Says:

    I’m curious what anyone (or the above poster) thinks about the 18% bank account interest rates for retired civil servants/public employees. For those that don’t know, Taiwanese retired civil servants (like military employees, government workers, etc.) and teachers (both public and private schools) are allowed special bank accounts that earn 18% interest rates.on their pensions. It has been like this for many decades. Some say that this is considered a KMT advantage, because these retired civil servants (as well as active, non-retired civil servants) all tend to vote for the KMT because they feel that the KMT will be least likely to do away with this program. Also, some say that teachers and the military also tend to more pro-KMT as well partly because of this program and that has political influences on the education system and military, respectively.

    • Sven Mueller Says:

      I think this 18% privilege is outdated and should be revised. However, its influence on the elections is difficult to measure. First: The DPP also did not try to take away this privilege, on the contrary: DPP high ranking servants also take advantage of it.
      Second: Lots of people dislike this kind of public servant privileges and are more eager to vote for someone who promises to abolish it. I’m unable to say which group of people (voters) is bigger.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I think you have the causality backwards. The KMT govt implemented the 18% law years ago to reward their supporters.

      As a psuedo-civil servant, I’m angry that I don’t get the 18%. I’m never going to vote for the KMT! 🙂

      • Sven Mueller Says:

        You see: Giving benefits to one group means often to annoy others. Who knows, whether this attracts or alienates more voters…

      • 18% Says:

        Sven Mueller: I dunno. Maybe the government should give me an 18% bank account as an experiment. I’ll be glad to let you know who I vote for shortly thereafter.

        FG: I agree with the above poster who thinks you should apply for Taiwanese citizenship. Maybe THEN you will get your 18%. Oh, and when that happens, make sure you also let us know which party you end up voting for.

  12. KCL Says:

    Re: 18%

    The government grandfathered the deal for baby boomers. The current deal is that the amount allowed in this special 18% account is based on years of service up to 1998. It is only possible for baby boomers that started working the 70s and 80s to get anything substantial.

    Obviously, the government can change the rules if the decifict grows even larger. I highly doubt it. There are way too many KMT supporters. Good luck trying to take away anyone’s entitlements.

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