First reactions

As I write, the broad outlines of this election are coming into focus. At first glance, this is a tremendous loss for the KMT. The DPP is winning all the races that were supposed to be close by large margins, and the KMT is barely eking out victories in areas that it was supposed to win handily. It looks as if Eric Chu will barely survive, but John Wu will suffer an unthinkable upset loss in Taoyuan. The KMT will barely break 50% in Miaoli, and they might even lose Hsinchu City. Even without candidates in Taipei City, Hsinchu County, and Hualien County, the DPP might get more votes nationally than the KMT. This is simply stunning.

We are seeing a national wave of voters withdrawing previous support from the KMT. There are individual stories in each race, but the national trend is clearly against the KMT. What’s more, this is a trend that did not show up in pre-election polls. (Indeed, there was a huge mess of rumors claiming that various unpublished polls had showed the KMT closing the gap in Taichung City.) The easiest inference is that the wave of young voters came out overwhelmingly against the KMT. Young voters often do not reside in the place where they vote, so they might not have been counted in pre-election polls. Many people will attribute the result to Sunflower students going home in droves to vote, and they might be correct. However, this wave is so large that it might be more than that. It seems that people who were undecided broke against the KMT in the last few days. It could be that they were simply silent all along, or it could be that many of them made similar decisions in the last few days.

What is clear is that my earlier insistence that Sean Lien’s problems were all personal was missing a big part of the picture. I suggested that if the KMT lost Taoyuan, that would be a good indicator that something deeper was happening in Taiwan. Well, something deeper has happened.

More to come.

9 Responses to “First reactions”

  1. Koji Monkey Says:

    Really looking forward to see your analysis about this election. The waves has come and even as young political participants we have no idea why.

  2. Joseph Wang Says:

    Yup deeper stuff. A lot of this seem similar with US politics. Obama like Ma came in in 2008, won in 2010, but got beat badly in just this month.

    1) There are two major demographic trends in Taiwan that provide the background for what is going on. The first is that there has been a general south->north movement. The second is that young people are less likely to identify with traditional blue/green demographics, and are less receptive to traditional identity politics, and more concerned with government effectiveness.

    These trends mean that the idea of north=blue, south=green is incorrect. The south is very solidly green, whereas the north is a battleground.

    2) The preceding demographics work against the KMT. What this means is that there are no “safe-seats” for KMT. In the south, the DPP has a base area. In the north because you have so many voters in play there are no safe areas. This also means that DPP did not have to use resources to contest Kaohsuing and Tainan. The DPP is putting together an impressive political machine in Tainan, where because the KMT does not back “base areas” they cannot build a similar machine in the north.

    You can see this in previous elections, where the KMT had won by narrow margins which went in the other direction in this election.

    3) With this demographic background, you had Ma’s very unpopular background. Worse yet, Ma’s efforts at centralizing control of the KMT meant that, there was no way for the KMT to distance themselves from Ma’s unpopularity. Finally, the fact that there has been a civil war in the KMT meant that they were unable to mobilize people, and capture KMT moderates. The mess in Keelung showed pretty clearly how weak the KMT organization was. Also losing even the small islands (Penghu) was just embarassing.

    4) There was a general desire for change. What this meant was that being from a political family became a liability rather than an asset, and this is one thing that likely led to Wu’s loss in Taoyuan. There was a disconnect between the KMT selection process in which KMT named people that were “familiar” to the run, because this appealed to the KMT core voters, but this meant the “same old faces” which killed them in the election.

    5) For its part the DPP was very strongly helped by the Taipei elections. Ko Wen-je was able to attract KMT voters by promising to move beyond the blue-green divisions. The other DPP candidates ignored identity issues and campaigned mainly on governmental effectiveness and change.

    6) What this means for 2016 is that the KMT has some serious work to do, and it looks pretty bad for them. To have even a remote chance of winning in 2014, they have to move Ma out of the picture, and then clean up their own house in a massive way.

    What will be more interesting is to see what impact this has on the 2016 legislative races. This would involve a lot of data-centric analysis starting with the margin of victory in 2012, and seeing the impact of a general shift out of KMT.

    As far as the broader cross-straits dynamic, one thing that I noticed is that Beijing has been reading the tea leaves and has been distancing themselves from the KMT and trying to set up working relationships with the DPP. On the bright side, because the DPP won by deempaszing identity politics, it is pretty unlikely that the DPP will deal with symbolic issues (the flag, the constitution, and the name of the country) in 2016, and because the effort is on governmental effectiveness, there will be some pressure to develop a working economic relationship with the Mainland.

    I’m also not seeing any deep and sudden political alignments. There are shifts, but these are slow and gradual. There is now a critical number of “uncommitted” voters who went for the DPP in this election, but could flip back very quickly. The KMT is unable to create a political machine in the north, but neither is the DPP.

    It will be interesting to see how the youth vote went this election, but even if it is the case that they went massively for DPP, it would be unwise to assume that this is a permanent shift, which was the mistake that commentators made with Obama in 2008.

    • Pat Says:

      The young don’t relate to the identity question in that they overwhelmingly identify solely with Taiwan and reject unification, and the China question was a massive factor in the KMTs defeat. I doubt China is pleased by this or that cross strait relations will be smooth sailing going forward. If anything, the DPP will be emboldened by the events of this year with respect to its China policy.

      It was telling that, after being the central focus of media attention throughout the campaign, the Taipei race felt like a footnote last night as the results came in. The scale of the DPP’s victory across the country puts the prevailing opinion that Ko’s victory came down to his personal attributes and overcoming the party divide; clearly he was massively helped by the general environment.

      • Joseph Wang Says:

        It’s not going to be smooth sailing, but the question is how bumpy the ride is going to be.

        The young do identify with Taiwan, but their definition of Taiwan excludes changing anything that is likely to cause a major crisis (i.e. flag, name of country), and I think that it is unlikely that the DPP will propose major constitutional changes if they get back into power, and as long as they don’t touch those issues, I think we are just going to see “grumbling and sniping” rather than a full blown crisis.

        I doubt that the DPP is going to revise the independence platform. On the other hand, they’ve won now after several years of losses, and it’s partly because of backpedalling the identity issue.

  3. Joseph Wang Says:

    I’m not sure how the “sunflower students going home” will explain much. The DPP won by huge amounts in the south. In the north, the sunflower students might have been critical, but then it’s not a matter of going home.

    As far as the polls. There are two possibilities I can think of. First it could be that technology is causing the polls to miss voters that don’t spend much time in the telephone, but rather use instant messaging for everything. Second, it may be that you had a large number of people decide at the last moment in which bad organization for campaign events proved critical.

    Something that would be interesting is to do post-election polling, and run a poll in which you ask people who they voted for, and when did they decide. This will tell you if the issue is last minute shifts in the electorate or an issue with polling methodology.

    If it turns out that there were a large number of voters that decided in the last minute, this will make future elections a lot more interesting.

  4. Carlos Says:

    That was a surprise! I bet the DPP is wondering how much more it would’ve taken to take New Taipei too. How’s the media treating Eric Chu? It wasn’t a pretty win, but he’s kind of the last man standing.

    The tide has turned against the more Chinese half of the KMT, probably more over skepticism that closer economic ties benefit enough people in Taiwan. The pro-localization faction shouldn’t have any trouble with the youth vote. But how strong is that faction? Ma will still be the party chairman and it’s been a tightly-run ship.

    • Joseph Wang Says:

      Something that we have to look at is how the polling failed. The Taoyuan loss was a big surprise since even the pro-green newspaper polls failed to catch that.

      I don’t get the sense that the KMT is divided into a “mainstream” and “non-mainstream” faction as it was under Lee Teng-Hui. For that matter the DPP is not really divided into factions any more. I think when the electoral system was changed to first post the post, then then factional system disappeared. Before the FPTP, you could have factions to negotiated with each other, but they’ve pretty much disappeared.

      I think everyone in the KMT hates Ma at this point. Even people that are strongly for more ties with the Mainland hate Ma Ying-Jeou for totally botching things up.

    • Joseph Wang Says:

      One other thing is that since the polls were wrong, I suspect that it will take about a month or two of pretty careful data analysis to figure out exactly what happened. It makes a big difference in electoral strategy if everyone over 30 voted in the same way and people under 20 hate you, versus if there were people who liked you that now hate you versus if the people that normally liked you just didn’t want to go the polls.

      Just talking to people that I know, there are a lot of pan-blue people that really were fed up with Ma Ying-Jeou, and so weren’t that interested in voting. Even the people that I know that tend to be “pro-China” figured out that Ma wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway. If it turned out that a large block of normally pan-blue voters just sat on their hands, that would explain how the polls were so off.

      One bit of data that suggests that it wasn’t people under 20 shifting the numbers is that the numbers today are pretty similar to previous elections in which the DPP won Taipei County and Taoyuan County. UDN has this cool app that lets you graph election results over the last 20 years.

      The other thing is that even if it is the under 20 vote, it’s pretty unwise to assume that their votes are fixed. People made the same mistake with Obama in 2008 in assuming that the strong youth vote and demographics would result in a permanent Democratic majority.

  5. kc Says:

    I think the results is similar to the larger-than-expected defeat the Democrats suffered in midterm 2014 US election. I read a report from the Gallup polls or something, saying that the poll results were accurate in bearing out the Democrat support (poll numbers aligned with election results), whereas the Republican election result numbers would be accurate after adding to them most of the independent support.
    In short, like how the independents broke for the Republicans, the independents in Taiwan broke for the DPP.

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