As we wake up this morning, we are still trying to figure out where the hell that tidal wave that blindsided us last night came from. The polls gave us fair warning about some of the races. The Taipei result was clearly within the realm of possibility. I actually scribbled down a few back-of-the-envelope numbers a few days ago for Sean Lien’s vote share and came up with 41%. Of course, I didn’t believe that and I actually put down 44.5% for our office prediction pool, but the point is that you could have seen that result from the polling data. Similarly, Keelung City wasn’t a big surprise, and I wasn’t shocked that the DPP easily won in Yunlin or that the Nantou race ended up being pretty close. Some of the other results, though, simply came out of the blue. In particular, Taoyuan and Hsinchu City were complete shocks. I hadn’t seen any hints that those races might even be competitive. Taichung City, Changhua, Chiayi City, and New Taipei City were surprising to me, though not as unfathomable as Taoyuan and Hsinchu City. In general, the pre-election polls simply didn’t prepare us for yesterday’s results. So what did the polls completely miss?
The simplest answer is that many undecided voters made up their mind at the last minute to vote against the KMT. I have serious doubts about this, but there is no way to test this hypothesis with the data available right now. The KMT should hope that this was simply lots of last-minute decisions, since that would imply that the wave against the KMT was rooted in very shallow disapproval and could easily be reversed by 2016.
I suspect what may have happened is the emergence of the new economic cleavage as a powerful electoral force. I see two big groups of people who might have been vastly underrepresented in the surveys: younger people who have completely cut their landline connections and lower-wage labor who rent apartments in one district but vote in another. We have good reasons to believe that both of these groups are especially dissatisfied with the current government, so it is plausible that they were the bulk of the surprise wave. Of course, this will need a lot of testing before it is anything more than mere speculation.
Let’s look at the wave to see a few trends. I’m comparing the KMT’s performance in yesterday’s elections to the KMT’s 2012 presidential vote share. I know that comparing presidential votes to mayoral votes is like comparing apples to oranges, so don’t bombard me with complaints about this. The purpose of using the presidential vote as a baseline is precisely to strip away the local factors to see what the partisan balance used to be. The difference between the two elections is a combination of (1) the national wave and (2) the local factors specific to that race.
I usually look at things from the DPP’s point of view because that usually provides a clearer picture. In this election, however, I think it is more appropriate to look at things from the KMT side. For one thing, I think that this was almost certainly an anti-KMT wave driven by dissatisfaction with the national government rather than a pro-DPP wave driven by widespread attraction to the DPP and its platform. For another, the KMT only had one serious split (Keelung) while the DPP arguably had three (Changhua, Hsinchu City,and maybe Miaoli).
The six direct municipalities are the least localized of the races. If we see national forces acting on the existing partisan structure, it should be most evident in these races. So in the six direct municipalities, here is how the KMT fared:
|City||2012 president||2014 mayor||Increase|
Taipei City is by far the worst, but we expected that. Sean Lien was a special disaster, and the blue coalition broke apart in Taipei in a way that it did not anywhere else. In Tainan and Kaohsiung, extremely popular DPP incumbents were running against weak challengers. Here, the KMT dropped about 13%. In Taichung and Taoyuan, we had KMT incumbents running for re-election. In these two races, the KMT dropped 9%. New Taipei City is the obvious outlier. Eric Chu was also a KMT incumbent running for re-election, but the KMT vote in New Taipei dropped less than 4%. It was very surprising to many people (including me) that Chu made such a proud and aggressive victory speech last night. This is why. He can point out that he alone withstood the wave and, due to his personal popularity, held onto almost all of the previous KMT coalition. Even with his surprisingly narrow margin of victory, he is a clear winner in this election.
Another interesting facet of this wave is that it was much more powerful in the north than in the south.
|City||2012 president||2014 mayor||Increase|
(Note: In Keelung, I included the votes for Huang Ching-tai and the official KMT nominee in the KMT’s vote share. I left off Hualien, Kinmen, and Lienchiang because those races did not run on party lines at all.)
In the north, there are specific local factors that depressed the KMT’s vote in nearly every race. Still, there was almost certainly a national effect underneath the local effects. The Taoyuan swing of -9% might be a fairly representative effect. In central Taiwan, both Taichung and Changhua also saw roughly 10% swings. However, once you get to southern Taiwan, things look different. Put aside Tainan and Kaohsiung (and their highly popular incumbents seeking re-election), and look at the mostly rural and more heavily agricultural south. The standard swing seems to be only about 5%, or about half that of northern and central Taiwan. I don’t want to cut things too fine here, but the crude pattern of a bigger swing in the north than in the south seems evident to me. (The fact that the KMT is stronger in the north and therefore has more votes to lose doesn’t account for the difference. If you divide the swing by the KMT’s 2012 vote share, the swing is still larger in the north than in the south.
Why? Again, these are all guesses at this point. I wonder if this has to do with urban labor forces. I think this pattern is compatible with the idea that the crucial group withdrawing support from the KMT is the lower income, renting, predominantly younger, wage labor or low-salaried labor force.
(Isn’t it intellectually thrilling to be bewildered!)