What happened in Taoyuan?

So what the hell happened in Taoyuan? I didn’t expect John Wu 吳志揚 to lose, and no one I have talked to saw it coming either. I went to Cheng Wen-tsan’s 鄭文燦 rally on two nights before the election, and I don’t think anyone there expected it either. It was a rather small event. They had extra seats and a big grassy area with an extra screen just in case more people showed up, but they didn’t even fill the main seating area. I guessed that about 4000-5000 people were there. The atmosphere wasn’t exactly electric. The true believers were there fighting the good fight, but knowing in their hearts that the real battle would have to wait until 2016. When Tsai Ing-wen told the crowd that Cheng would win and asked them (as they do at every rally for every hopeless candidate), “Do you have confidence?” The answer “Yes!” was decidedly halfhearted.

Here, the Light Bulb makes a point. He is really a master on the stump.


Maybe this is when Tsai asked the crowd who would win.


Lots of empty spaces where there were supposed to be more people.


Then on Saturday night, we all watched in disbelief as Cheng took an early lead in the counting. A half an hour later, it dawned on me that we were no longer merely looking at a few strange early reporting ballot boxes, and it was possible that Cheng might win. When the DPP finally lost its lead in New Taipei but Cheng expanded his lead in Taoyuan, my brain nearly went into shock. Rationally, I could see what was happening and tell you that Cheng was going to win, but that simply didn’t make any sense to me.

Let me start by saying that we probably won’t ever be able to decipher exactly what happened because we don’t have data. Taiwan doesn’t allow exit polls, so we will never precisely know the demographics of voters who turned out or stayed at home. The main academic post-election survey won’t cover Taoyuan. Due to budgetary constraints, we simply can’t do a survey in every jurisdiction for local elections. This year, the Taiwan Election and Democratization Survey (TEDS) will study Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. A week ago, those seemed like a fairly obvious choices. (They are also the ones studied in the last election round, and if you want to look at continuity you can’t change places every cycle.) There will, of course, be telephone surveys, but you can ask far more questions (and far more complicated questions) in face-to-face surveys. Moreover, post-election surveys have the same limitations that pre-election surveys had. If we weren’t reaching the people who made up this anti-KMT wave before the election, how can we be confident we are reaching them after the election? At any rate, the point is that this election result will probably always be something of a mystery.

(You can also believe that losing candidates will use it for the next decade to try to inspire their supporters. “Who cares about the polls? Remember how the polls said Cheng Wen-tsan had no chance? We’re gonna win!”

Still, maybe we can find something in the patterns of votes.

My first reaction was that this result had something to do with ethnic politics. Taoyuan is often divided into a Min-nan north and a Hakka south. A few decades ago, there was some discussion about whether the county should be split into two new counties. That never happened, but the KMT incorporated the ethnic divide into its unofficial rules. The county magistrate always rotated between Min-nan and Hakka. In Legislative Yuan and Provincial Assembly nominations, the KMT was always careful to nominate the appropriate number of Hakka and Min-nan candidates. Those candidates were then expected to campaign in their half of the county, so that Min-nan candidates got almost all of their votes in the north and Hakka candidates were concentrated in the south.

The traditional Min-Ke divide was further complicated by the Mainlander population. Taoyuan is also home to an enormous military presence. Unlike Taipei’s Mainlander population, which was much more diverse (in terms of social status, education, occupation, and income) and was spread out into the regular society, Taoyuan’s Mainlander population was much more concentrated in military villages. The townships with the largest military populations were Bade (north), Longtan (south), Zhongli (south), and Pingzheng (south). In the last two decades, the military has razed almost all of the old military villages. Some of the previous residents are housed in newer military-built buildings, but many have moved out into normal society. The residents of the newer buildings are also not exclusively military families. The units can be bought and sold, so regular people can also move in. As a result, the old segregation of military families from regular society is no longer so prevalent. Still, Taoyuan County – especially the four aforementioned townships – continues to have a disproportionate number of Mainlanders.

Further muddying the picture is that Taoyuan has experienced tremendous population growth over the past three decades. This has diluted the traditional ethnic residence patterns quite a bit. It also continually brings in new voters who are outside the traditional mobilization networks.

Still, this race featured a Min-nan candidate (Cheng) against a Hakka candidate (Wu), so you would expect to see Cheng doing particularly well in the north. In fact, Cheng beat Wu by a margin of 54.6 – 47.2 in the seven northern townships, while Wu beat Cheng 51.7 – 44.4 in the six southern townships. Aha! It’s an ethnic war! Not so fast. For one thing, the same pattern held five years ago, when Wu barely Cheng in the north (49.7-48.7) but swamped him in the south (54.9-42.6). Cheng went up everywhere, not just in the north. Moreover, the north-south gap is baked into the party system. The DPP always does better in the north than in the south. For, example in 2012, Tsai Ing-wen got 41.6 in the north, but only 37.4 in the south. The gap was a bit wider in this election, but there isn’t much evidence for the idea that Cheng won with an unprecedented mobilization of Min-nan voters.

A second idea is that turnout was decisive. Lots of people are comparing the raw numbers of votes with previous elections an claiming that they can see evidence that blue voters stayed home, new voters turned out in droves, or something else. I’ve stared at the data for a few hours today, and I just don’t see it.

The CEC hasn’t released the full file of official turnout data yet. I can approximate the turnout at township levels by looking at the number of eligible voters (which they published a few weeks ago) and adding up the number of valid votes for each candidate. This is only an approximation, since it does not include invalid votes. In this case, it also might be fruitful to look at neighborhood-level data, but that would take a lot of time and we don’t have that data yet anyway.

2009 2014 Increase 2009 2014 Increase
Cheng Cheng Cheng Turnout Turnout Turnout
桃園 Taoyuan (n) 48.4 56.3 7.8 50.1 57.9 7.8
八德 Bade (n) 45.2 50.6 5.4 52.0 62.4 10.4
蘆竹 Luzhu (n) 52.5 57.4 4.9 53.8 59.7 5.9
大溪 Daxi (n) 51.2 55.3 4.1 60.8 63.2 2.4
大園 Dayuan (n) 53.2 56.6 3.4 61.7 65.7 4.0
龜山 Guishan (n) 47.3 53.8 6.5 50.2 58.2 7.9
復興 Fuxing (n) 22.3 27.2 4.9 57.7 74.5 16.8
中壢 Zhongli (s) 39.5 45.6 6.1 54.5 62.2 7.7
平鎮 Pingzhen (s) 41.9 48.1 6.2 51.3 62.5 11.2
楊梅 Yangmei (s) 42.2 45.6 3.4 53.3 61.6 8.3
龍潭 Longtan (s) 38.6 44.9 6.4 54.3 61.1 6.8
新屋 Xinwu (s) 55.0 53.6 -1.4 66.1 72.2 6.2
觀音 Guanyin (s) 56.9 55.3 -1.6 61.3 69.4 8.1
total 45.7 51.0 5.3 53.7 61.5 7.8

One idea is that hard-core deep blue voters were disgusted with Ma’s performance and simply stayed at home. The overall (estimated) turnout in Taoyuan was rather low, at 61.5%, so many people did not vote. However, it was even lower in 2009 (53.7) when the KMT won. Looking at the township level, if the deep blue voters didn’t turn out, the effect should be biggest in the places the KMT is strongest. Alternatively, it could be the opposite. Perhaps only the deeply committed KMT voters turned out, and the less committed stayed at home. (Ignore Fuxing. It is an aboriginal township, and the patterns may be completely different. It also is tiny, so it can’t be driving the overall patterns.) Cheng is weakest in Zhongli, Pingzhen, Yangmei, and Longtan. However, the turnout increase is just about at the overall average in three of these, and it is a bit higher in Pingzhen. Cheng’s support increased a bit more than average in three of them, but in increase quite a bit below average in the other (more on that later). There doesn’t seem to be support for this hypothesis (or its opposite).

The Mainlander/military presence also doesn’t seem to be driving things either. Three of the four military townships overlap with the strong KMT townships. Trading Bade for Yangmei doesn’t produce any clear patterns.

Maybe someone with sharper eyes than mine can find something in the turnout numbers, but I just don’t see anything. This is not a surprise to me. In the days before every election, pundits scream that turnout will be decisive. They make amazingly precise predictions. If turnout drops below 65%, the DPP will win for sure. If it is over 68%, the KMT will definitely win. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Everyone has a guess about how turnout will affect the race, but they often have very different stories and come up with very different conclusions. The problem is that all these stories require heroic assumptions about what kind of people are ambivalent about voting, and there is no evidence for these assumptions. Many of them are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. After two decades of staring at data, I have never been able to find any consistent effect of turnout.

I do see one interesting pattern in the election results. Comparing Cheng’s vote share in 2009 and 2014, the two southern coastal townships stand out. Cheng actually got more votes in these two townships in 2009 than in 2014. Moreover, the next smallest increases are in neighboring Dayuan and Yangmei townships. Something about Xinwu and Guanyin townships is different, and that may be the key to understanding what happened in Taoyuan this year.

Two possibilities come to mind. First, the coastal areas are traditionally the DPP’s strongest areas. Second, the southern coast is the least industrialized part of Taoyuan. In my previous post, I pointed out that the national wave was larger in northern and central Taiwan and smaller in the rural parts of southern Taiwan. Here we are seeing the same thing. Just to corroborate this point, the next smallest increase is in Daxi, which is another corner of Taoyuan relatively less affected by industrialization and fast population growth and which traditionally is one of the DPP’s better areas. The biggest increases are in Taoyuan and Guishan townships, where much of the recent population boom has been centered.

It is going far beyond the data to speculate why we are seeing this pattern. It could be anger over food safety, which might be a non-partisan middle class issue. It might be something about urban class conflict. It might have something to do with the Sunflowers. However, I’m becoming more and more certain that the answer has to have something to do with city life.

14 Responses to “What happened in Taoyuan?”

  1. Joseph Wang Says:

    Can you pull in data from the 2012 Presidential elections? I’m interested to see if you have any systematic variations.

    Also is there any way of pulling in telephone coverage data. It could be that the polls are underestimating districts in which telephone data is sparse.

    Something else would be to overlaw with a chart of campaign apperances.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I looked at the 2012 data but chose not to present it because I didn’t see any different patterns. Campaign appearances probably aren’t that critical; they affect a tiny slice of the population and probably don’t change many votes anyway.

      • Joseph Wang Says:

        Maybe the pattern is no pattern.

        The thing that I’m interested in is that the 2012 vote tally seems to be what the polls suggested would be the final reason. So I’d be interested to see if there were any places with an unusually heavy shift in KMT support between 2012 and 2014. Or maybe it was a general shift across all sectors.

        Campaign appearances may not be critical, but they are often a proxy for something else.

  2. Joseph Wang Says:

    Anyone in Taoyuan interested in walking to those places and telling us what they see?

    The other thing I’d be interested in seeing is if we are looking at a general shift across all of Taoyuan, or if there is a “hot spot” pattern. In other words, if mathematically it’s possible for a shift in one place to make a big difference.

    The other thing is that I’d like to see a turnout comparison with the 2012 election. My reading of the total vote totals is that there really wasn’t that much of a difference between 2014 and 2009, and in 2009, Wu won by a relatively small margin. The big shift was with 2012, were Ma won by a landslide. So I’d like at who voted in 2012 that didn’t vote in 2009 and 2014.

  3. Joseph Wang Says:

    Just did a google tour of Pingzhen and Baide


    The impression that I get from the websites is suburban, professional, young families. What would be in the US be called “soccer moms.” I think the rebellion didn’t come from the sunflower kids, but their slightly older brothers and sisters. I should point out that this group of people is the locus of the “rebellion” here in Hong Kong.

    Also doing a google for Fuxing, I spotted something that might explain the aboriginal shift. There were quite a few real estate listings for high end houses there, so it might not be the aborigines that are shifting votes but newcomers. One other thing that I noticed about Fuxing is that the township office seems unusally concerned about nationality and immigration issues (i.e. how to get household registration to a foreign spouse.)

    The other thing is that for a political scientist, “we well never know what happened” is acceptable. But since I’m a “deep blue” partisan, I’m praying to heck that someone in the KMT central office (and I’m imagining a Taiwanese Malcolm Tucker here) is screaming “I want you to find out what *exactly* what happened in Taoyuan and everywhere else since otherwise we are doomed in 2016.”

    • frozengarlic Says:

      “Suburban, professional, young families” might be the image the townships are trying to convey, but that’s definitely not the first thing that comes to my mind. Pingzhen is a gritty overflow place for people who can’t afford to live in Zhongli or Taoyuan, which are themselves cheaper alternatives to New Taipei City, which is where you go when you are priced out of Taipei. That might be overstating it, but Pingzhen and Bade aren’t on anyone’s list of glamorous residential areas in Taiwan. Remember, all the factory workers in Taoyuan have to live somewhere. The “young families” part is probably pretty accurate, since people who need space and have to pay for it on a miserable income have to settle for places like Pingzhen.

      • Joseph Wang Says:

        That makes even more sense. Pingzhen and Bade are places full of people who *want to be* suburban, professional, young families, but aren’t be. I think the websites are useful, because they provide in insight into what people want to be, and if you compare them to what they are, then you end up with a lot of class resentment.

        I.e. it’s not the sunflower kids, but their older brothers and sisters.

        One thing that I would be interested in is to look at the educational level of people in Pingzhen and Bade. I’d be willing to bet that it’s quite high.

  4. Joseph Wang Says:

    The other thing about the Pingzhen government website was that they are really into multiculturalism. Pingzhen isn’t that far from the airport, so that there seems to be a concerted effort in Taoyuan to increase globalization.

    So I doubt Lien Chan’s remarks late in the campaign went down well.

  5. Greg Says:

    You may have covered it in the past and if so I apologize for the newbie question but why doesn’t Taiwan allow exit polling? I understand not releasing polls 1 week prior to election (well, sort of), but why the ban on exit polling?

  6. Ben Goren Says:

    Taoyuan is not the only surprising result. It appears the DPP increased its overall vote share, building on its strong showing in the 2010 elections. This makes me think that Ma’s victory in the 2012 race (not the Legislative races which are an entirely different animal altogether) is starting to look like an outlier result amongst a slow but steady trend of the DPP building a nationally spread supporter base. Although Tsai could have done better in her campaign, compared with Hsieh’s attempt in 2008 Tsai was leagues stronger all the way into the final two weeks. So how did Ma manage to corral so many votes? Moving on though two questions come to mind: were these elections in 2014 freak results for the DPP or do they represent a solid swing that the party can build on into 2016?

    • Joseph Wang Says:

      Policy matters.

      In 2008, we saw a massive financial disaster, and Ma’s efforts at increasing free trade in his first term were generally well received because it was clear that more interaction was better.

      After 2012, Ma pushed free trade further than the public was willing to accept, and I suspect his gamble was that there would be enough economic benefits by 2016 to counter the drop in popularity, and he lost that gamble.

      There are general demographic trends, but at the end of the day, it looks like we are moving into a stable two-party system in which both parties can swing the election by focusing on policy.

      One reason that I find long term demographic arguments suspect is that people used them in 2008 versus Obama to explain why the Republicans were totally doomed, and that turned out not to be the case. The reason I think that demographic arguments make less difference than one might think is that parties will react to demographic changes by changing policy.

  7. Bruce Says:

    Seems like the same thing about city life is also happening in New Taipei City.
    See https://i.imgur.com/69ykd1X.jpg

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