Archive for May, 2015

Voter Education: How (Not) to Win a Poll

May 29, 2015

I got this leaflet for Lin Pei-hsiang 林沛祥 in my mailbox today. Lin is vying for the KMT nomination in Keelung City. On the right side of the fold, Lin teaches voters how to respond if they are sampled in the KMT’s polls. I don’t think this ad hurt Lin, but I don’t think it helped him very much either.


The most basic problem is that Lin put this leaflet in my mailbox – and presumably everyone else’s mailbox as well. Lin wants to teach his supporters how to effectively answer the survey questions, but instead he is teaching everyone, including people who support his opponents. I have heard of a candidate who did much better than expected in the polls by activating a local organizational network. Instead of teaching everyone, the campaign only taught a few trusted people in each neighborhood. Each of those people was then supposed to find a couple dozen people who they could count on to support the candidate and teach them how to answer correctly. In this way, that candidate only educated supporters and helped to maximize the effects of their support. Lin isn’t doing that. He doesn’t have a good enough network (unlikely), doesn’t know who his voters are (perhaps), or doesn’t understand how to game the system (probably).

The orange characters in the purple section instruct voters to tell the interviewer, “I only support Lin Pei-hsiang.” I’m not sure why they want the respondent to say this (and everyone seems to want it), since that doesn’t count as an answer to any specific question and, as the line right below it points out, they have to answer all nine questions for the interview to be considered a valid case.

Ok, let’s look at the nine questions. First, “Which of Keelung’s administrative districts is your household registration in?” Hold on, that’s not the first question! The first questions in KMT polls are, “How many eligible voters are there in your household? How many are male, and how many are female?” The KMT probably didn’t tell Lin about these questions because they are considered pre-questions, not part of the regular survey. The purpose is to do in-house sampling. Depending on how many eligible voters there are, the interviewer will ask to speak to the oldest male, the second youngest female, or whoever else the sampling table indicates. In the KMT protocol, if the first person is unavailable, they can substitute one other person (according to the table). If that person is also unavailable, the interviewer thanks the person and hangs up. This process is intended to ensure that there is no bias in the sample due to particular types of people always being at home or always answering the phone. From a candidate’s point of view, the difficult part is for the polling house to sample one of their supporters. It would be terrible if one of their loyal supporters answered the phone, and then was rejected because the interviewer demanded to talk to someone else who wasn’t at home. Don’t laugh, this happens all the time. If there are three eligible voters, one is not home from work yet and another is taking a shower, the interviewer will thank the person (who was ready to express support) and hang up. However, in-house sampling is an opportunity for organized campaigns. If you can teach (only) your supporters how to answer, tell them to only answer “one” or “two,” regardless of how many people actually live there. This ensures that either the person answering the phone or another person who is present will have an opportunity to respond to the survey. If your campaign can teach supporters this trick and other campaigns cannot, you have an advantage. (Of course, you have to teach this trick off the record. It wouldn’t look good if you passed out a leaflet telling voters to lie to your party’s pollsters. This is another way in which organization on the ground can help you in a poll.)

Ok, question 1. Which district do you live in? The leaflet doesn’t teach them how to answer. Since Keelung is a single district, it really doesn’t matter. The only wrong answer is that your household registration is actually in New Taipei City. For goodness sakes, don’t tell them that. (If you are not an eligible citizen, don’t tell them that either!)

Question 2 starts the real meaty part of the survey. “According to news reports, the possible legislative candidates for Keelung City include the KMT’s Lin Pei-hsiang, DPP’s Tsai Shih 蔡適, and the PFP’s Liu Wen-hsiung 劉文雄. Among these three, which would you vote for?” The leaflet tells voters to respond, “the KMT’s Lin Pei-hsiang!”

[Aside: I wonder if any voters who read this leaflet and are actually interviewed will be confused when the interviewer mentions the DPP’s “Tsai Shih-ying 蔡適應.” It’s not a good sign that Lin Pei-hsiang’s campaign doesn’t know the correct name of their expected principle opponent. Also, the DPP hasn’t nominated Tsai yet. I guess the KMT isn’t giving any respect to the other two DPP aspirants.]

Question 3-6 ask the same question, but substitute the other four KMT candidates in the race. Respondents are instructed to answer, “I don’t support any of the them.” This is a fine answer for Lin. However, if you really wanted to support Lin, you would tell the interviewer you supported the DPP candidate in these four matchups. That doubles the effect of your support for Lin. However, many KMT identifiers can’t bring themselves to express support for another party, so it may be best not to ask them for too much. Also, Lin wouldn’t want to tell voters to do this in a publicly distributed leaflet. There might be repercussions. Again, an unobservable network teaching supporters one-on-one is the way to go.

Questions 2-6 count for 85% of the result. Question 7, the internal party matchup, is the remaining 15%. “According to news reports, in the KMT there are several people who wish to run for legislator, including Lin Pei-hsiang, Ho Sheng-lung 何聖隆, Han Liang-chi 韓良圻, Lu Mei-ling 呂美玲, and Yang Shih-cheng 楊石城. Among these five, who do you support to become our legislator?” Of course, voters are asked to respond, “Lin Pei-hsiang.”

Questions 8 and 9 are demographics (age and education level). No instructions are given. I’m not sure if the KMT uses these questions to do weighting. If they do, I suppose you could really maximize your influence by claiming to be a 23 year old with a post-graduate degree. However, the more people who do that, the less influence each one has. It’s probably not worth it for a campaign to try to organize its supporters to lie on the demographics questions.

I don’t think this ad is helping Lin Pei-hsiang do better in the polls. I don’t think it is hurting him either. The only really helpful pieces of advice are 1) the reminder that the respondent has to complete all nine questions, and 2) the instruction to not support KMT candidates in the other four matchups. I supposed it is possible that more of Lin Pei-hsiang’s supporters will read this leaflet (and supporters of other candidates will spit on it and throw it away in disgust), so he might get a mild advantage. However, any advantage will be very small.

I do expect Lin Pei-hsiang to win the KMT nomination, and he will probably also win the seat in January. There are advantages to being the son of a mayor (1989-1997) and a longtime legislator (1995-present) in a blue city.

Hung Hsiu-chu complains

May 28, 2015

Following yesterday’s proposal in the KMT Central Standing Committee to activate a process to draft the party’s presidential nominee, the tone of today’s news seems slightly different.

As I pointed out in my previous post, Hung did much better in the question that asked whether respondents supported her for the KMT nomination than in the head to head question of whether they would vote for Hung or Tsai. Today Hung is complaining that the KMT should use the “support” question rather than the “comparative” question. In fact, she is complaining that they have changed the rules in order to block her.

Further, Hung is complaining that the KMT is not planning to hold a forum for her to explain her platform to the public. If they don’t want to do it, they should give her back the NT 7 million registration fee so that she can hold the forum herself.

As for the proposal to put her in a four-way poll with Chu, Wang, and Wu, Hung rejects this as “unfair.” They should have registered in the first place.

Why are these stories significant? For the first time, Hung seems to be publicly complaining that the KMT is actively trying to block her. Up until now, she was always sunny and full of confidence that the KMT process would be fair, she would pass the 30% threshold, and the KMT would duly nominate her. This new tone might reflect a shift in her perception. Perhaps now the KMT has finally gotten serious about forcing either Chu or Wang to take the nomination, and it is taking steps to ensure that she doesn’t get in the way.

Her complaining also reflects the sense that she has a real chance to pass the 30% threshold and win the nomination. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t bother protesting so forcefully. I think her quest for the nomination started out as a way to force the other people into the race. However, somewhere along the way, it dawned on her (and everyone else) that she might actually win the formal nomination process. This realization has forced the rest of the KMT to get serious about drafting Chu or Wang, which was probably her original intent. However, Hung might no longer want that outcome.

KMT presidential nomination and filters

May 27, 2015

The KMT presidential nomination is starting to come into focus. At the KMT’s weekly Central Standing Committee meeting, legislator Lu Hsueh-chang 呂學樟 proposed the KMT activate a mechanism for drafting a candidate. His proposal was that they should hold a poll with Chu, Wang, Wu, and Hung, with the winner being the presidential candidate and the second being the vice-presidential candidate.

Chu responded that the KMT would respect its procedures, which for the moment means that he is committed to letting Hung have a crack at breaking 30% in the polls and winning the nomination. However, I think we can see how this is going to shake out. If Hung doesn’t pass the threshold, the party is going to demand that Chu and Wang are considered. The strongest one is going to be presented with the nomination, whether he wants it or not. Since the decision mechanism will almost certainly be some sort of poll, that basically eliminates Wu. It also means that Ma won’t be allowed to block Wang directly.

In the meantime, the KMT has to decide the seemingly technical but actually quite critical question of whether to filter out respondents who self-identify as green camp supporters. A week ago, Hung proposed that the KMT should use a filter question because she thought that eliminating green supporters would help her defeat Yaung Chih-liang in a two-way race. However, Yaung is now out of the race, and Hung’s opponent is the 30% threshold. Many people are wondering if she will be better off with green supporters in the polls. The thinking is that green supporters believe she is the weakest opponent for Tsai, so they will strategically express support for Hung in the polls.

Whaddayaknow, the China Times released a useful poll today. 34% of respondents supported Hung to become the KMT nominee. Look, that’s more than 30%! CT helpfully provided some demographic breakdowns, including by camp. 19% of self-identified green camp supporters expressed support for Hung as the KMT nominee. Wow! Since I can’t believe any more than 2-3% sincerely support her, that is a lot of strategic voters. One of every five or six green camp identifiers is strategically supporting Hung, and there is no organized campaign to tell them to do so. Who says voters are stupid sheep? Still, while 19% is higher than we might expect, it is a lot less than 30%. In this poll, Hung would be better off filtering out the green supporters. Another interesting result is that blue camp supporters apparently aren’t terrified at the prospect of a Hung candidacy. 65% supported her as the nominee, while only 14% did not want her.

Aside: The China Times poll asked whether respondents supported her as the KMT nominee. I think the KMT poll will ask whether a respondent would vote for Hung or Tsai, and Hung has to pass 30% in that hypothetical matchup. That’s a much different question, and Hung only got 17% support on that question in a recent TVBS poll. For one thing, the latter question will evoke far more sincere responses. Call me cynical, but I wonder if the China Times wanted to sell some newspapers and deliberately used a question on which Hung could get 30% support. Still, I don’t think it is out of the question that Hung will be able to pass the threshold, especially if the KMT uses a filter question.

In conclusion, if the KMT wants to give Hung a chance to win, they should use a filter. If they want to avoid her at the top of the ticket, they should include the entire population.

Wait, there’s one more thing to consider, and it is perhaps the most important of all. The decision of whether or not to use a filter will set a precedent. If Hung does not pass the threshold there might be another poll, between Chu and Wang. Wang is much more popular with green voters than Chu. The recent TVBS poll shows Wang with 13% support among DPP identifiers and Chu with only 7%. If a filter is used, Chu will probably win the poll. If no filter is used, Wang has a good chance.

The Ma faction, which supports anyone but Wang, should thus push hard for a filter. The filter would help Hung and Chu, both of whom are acceptable to Ma. The Wang faction should resist the filter, both to ensure that Hung doesn’t pass the threshold and to help Wang win any potential poll against Chu. What about the Chu faction? I haven’t got any clue, since I don’t know if Chu actually wants to be the nominee. If he wants to be the nominee, he should … just say so! Everyone will step aside. If he doesn’t want the nomination, he has a dilemma. The filter will help Hung in the current poll. However, if she doesn’t pass the threshold, the filter might condemn him to getting the nomination.


[Extra thought: I keep seeing parallels between the disastrous Chen and Ma second terms. Here’s another. In 2007, the DPP had a vicious fight over whether to use a filter question. Hsieh, who drew support from the deep greens, wanted it. Su, who was allied with the New Tide and tried to appeal more to independent voters, opposed it. They eventually did use a filter for legislative nominations, but Su dropped out before the presidential poll was held.]

Should the DPP yield districts?

May 27, 2015

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the DPP’s nomination controversies, but while I was dilly-dallying around beat me to most of what I was going to say. Hats off to you,

Let’s recap. Last week, Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄 publicly lambasted the DPP for refusing to yield 20 legislative districts to the Social Democratic Party and the New Power Party. While Lin Yi-hsiung is a self-appointed Moral Beacon who we are not supposed to question, his logic was terrible. This had the useful effect of forcing many DPP mouthpieces to point out all the reasons why the DPP should not simply stand aside. Let me see if I can summarize these arguments (plus a few of my own).



  1. The DPP cannot get a majority on its own. It needs to cooperate with smaller parties. The DPP should extend the Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 model to the legislative elections.
  2. If it only yields 13 districts and the two smaller parties must run in at least 20 to be eligible for the party list, the DPP is effectively suffocating them.
  3. The DPP is nominating several city councilors who just won new terms last December. Those people have a solemn democratic contract with the voters and must serve out their terms.



  1. It is up to the voters to decide if they can accept a serving politician’s decision to try to jump to a new office before finishing the current term.
  2. The Ko Wen-je model involved convincing people who had previously voted for the blue camp to vote for him. There is no indication that the SDP or NPP candidates have cross-camp appeal.
  3. Arguably the most important element of Ko’s success was his opponent. None of the KMT’s legislative candidates seems as inept and unlikeable as Sean Lien.
  4. Ko got DPP support by defeating the DPP choice in a poll. Lin is demanding that DPP aspirants simply step aside. The DPP has been willing to let the strongest candidate run, but the NPP and SDP haven’t been able to find many (any?) strong candidates.
  5. DPP voters might not be able to accept being told to vote for a NPP or SDP candidate. The parties don’t have strong party reputations or popular candidates. How can the DPP tell its supporters to vote for a candidate who is a stranger from a party they know almost nothing about?
  6. It isn’t the DPP’s job to devote resources to other parties. If those people wanted to draw on DPP resources, they should have joined the DPP. In fact, they explicitly decided that they didn’t want to be part of the DPP. They valued purity over power. By the way, Lin Yi-hsiung dropped out the DPP several years ago. Why does he think he can tell the DPP who to nominate?
  7. Electoral politics is a game of opinion aggregation. You have to combine the support of many people who will inevitably have some differences of opinion. Successful electoral parties are all big tents. The SDP and NPP have failed at this basic concept. They started with a fairly narrow base and then further divided into two parties. If they can’t even cooperate among themselves, why should the DPP pay them any heed?
  8. Is the DPP also supposed to yield 10 seats each to the Green Party and Tree Party, who also subdivided an already tiny electoral base?
  9. Taiwan has a majoritarian electoral system that crushes small parties. If the DPP wants to win governing power, it has to pay attention to the incentives created by the electoral rules. By the way, Moral Beacon Lin Yi-hsiung is more responsible than any other person for Taiwan’s current electoral system. Ten years ago, he knew what was Right and used his Moral Superiority[1] to shame anyone who took the Wrong position or simply even dared to question his proposed electoral reforms.
  10. Some of the SDP and NPP candidates want to run in districts such as New Taipei 12, which include significant rural populations. Elections in these areas run along a different logic from urban areas. You need to slowly build organizational power over a period of several years. Yielding to a SDP or NPP candidate in such a district would be tantamount to yielding that bloc of voters to the KMT candidate. That, in turn, would ruin any chance of winning the district.
  11. The DPP can’t afford to even signal to voters that it is ok to vote for the smaller parties in the party list tier. The “progressive” side has six(!) parties (DPP, TSU, NPP, SDP, Green, Tree). With a 5% threshold, that means the DPP would have to yield more than 25% of its support to them (and spread it evenly) or risk throwing away votes. If the five small parties each got only 4%, that would swing about six seats to the blue side. Given that the electoral system already gives a mild advantage to the blue side in malapportionment (ie: Lienchiang and Aborigines are overrepresented), the green side cannot afford to give away any PR seats. Perhaps if the four smaller parties merged into one party, the voters might have some confidence that it could pass the 5% threshold. However, they have instead chosen to subdivide their already tiny base.


If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t think much of Lin’s arguments. Electoral politics is a high-stakes game for political power, not a summer camp for nurturing naïve but earnest activists. Supporting idealistic but hopeless candidates at the cost of yielding governing power to the other side is simply irresponsible.

If the green side is to win a majority, it will have to be competitive in some of the “difficult” districts and even win a few. In fact, the DPP seems to think that its people have a chance in some of them. I have seen comments that the potential DPP candidates lead the KMT incumbents in both New Taipei 1 and New Taipei 12 in internal DPP polling. Take that with a grain of salt, but if there is any chance at all the DPP has to doggedly go after it. They should resist any thought of yielding those districts simply to make some tiny splinter party look better.

If Lin wanted small parties in the system, maybe he should have thought about that a decade ago. Perhaps he should have listened to voices trying to tell him what would happen instead of shouting them down.[2]

One nice thing is that the small parties seem to have clearer heads about their relationship with the DPP than Lin does. A few have commented that they are not in the DPP and want to maintain some distance from it. I don’t particularly share their enthusiasm for purity, but at least they understand the consequences of their choice.



[1] It was a good week for Morally Superior people. Morally Superior presidential candidate Shih Ming-teh 施明德 went on a talk show this week. When DPP city councilor Kao Chia-yu 高嘉瑜 asked him if his proposal of a Greater China above the ROC and PRC was basically the same as the KMT position he threw a temper tantrum. How dare she put a hat on him! She is such a lazy student! Shih punctuated his petty outburst by slamming his fist on the table. Yes, of course! It is completely unacceptable in a democratic system to ask someone running for the presidency to clarify and defend their position on the most important question facing the country, given that that person is Morally Superior. (I wonder what St. Wang Chien-hsuan 王聖人 was doing this week.)

[2] Why am I so wary of people with a strong sense of right and wrong? A basic premise of pluralistic democratic politics is that people have different values and want different things. In an authoritarian society, someone can designate certain values as “correct,” and this implies that other values are “wrong.” People holding “wrong” values are often struggled against. To give two examples, communist states often label people as “enemies of the people,” and Thais will put you in jail if you dare to question the existence of the monarchy. In a democracy, we don’t have to struggle against people who disagree with us. We simply label them as partisans. If they are in the opposition, we ignore them as harmless crackpots. If they are in the governing coalition and implement policies consistent with those values, at least we don’t have to publicly acknowledge that those policies and values are “right.” We can openly disagree and try to reverse them in the future. Acknowledging that there is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” allows us to accept diversity of opinion in society, promotes tolerance, and provides democratic politics with space to breathe.

ICRT smells like garlic

May 22, 2015

I was a guest on Taiwan This Week, talking about President Ma’s seven year speech, the KMT nomination, and controversial language about migrant workers in textbooks.

MCFAP math

May 20, 2015

[Posted in the wee hours; edited heavily for clarity and accuracy after sleeping.]

I generally don’t pay much attention to new and unproven parties. I prefer to make them prove that their viability before I devote much energy to them. Still, this story is too much fun to pass up.

New parties make up all kinds of outlandish claims, so I shouldn’t be surprised when one claims it can win lots of party list seats in the upcoming legislative elections. Still, this one stretches the limits of credulity. The MCFAP[1] claims that it can win 10 PR seats, and it has the numbers to back that up! picked up on a detail that I missed when I originally read the article in Chinese. The MCFAP[2] claims that it asked voters to cast invalid votes in the 2014 elections, and voters responded by casting 1.8 million invalid votes. If the MCFAP[3] can consolidate these 1.8 million votes, it can win 10 PR seats.

Now wait just a minute? Were there actually 1.8 million invalid votes? That sounds like a lot, considering there were about 13 million total votes cast in the 2012 presidential election. Surely we would have noticed if 15% of all votes had been invalid in 2014!

So I went back and checked. Sure enough, there were 1.8 million invalid votes. Well almost. You have to round up from 1.72 million, but that’s just an accounting error. Of course, that 1.72 million is the total number across all nine types of elections, which seems like it might be cheating a bit. In the mayor and magistrate elections, there were only 250,000 invalid votes. Almost half of the invalid votes (857,000) were in the neighborhood chief 村里長 elections. So if the MCFAP[4] thinks the legislative elections are just like grassroots elections and not at all like mayoral elections, they are halfway to their claim! Alternatively, they could try to let their supporters cast three to five votes apiece, just like they did in 2014. That seems fair, right?

But wait, there’s one more problem with MCFAP[5] math: 1.8 million votes doesn’t get you 10 PR seats. In 2012, the TSU and PFP combined to win 1.9 million votes. (That’s 10% more than the total number of invalid votes from last year, by the way.) For those 1.9 million votes, they got 5 seats.

The A in MCFAP stands for academics, by which they mean educators.[6] Let’s give the party the benefit of the doubt and assume those educators are all Three People’s Principles 三民主義 teachers since I’d be terrified to find out any of them taught math.

[1] According to the wiki page, the official English name is the China Production Party, but as ジェームス and R point out in the comments below, that is probably a mistake. I’m going to follow and use the acronym from their website which is, after all, much more fun sounding. Also, I don’t know how to pronounce ジェームス, so in the future I’m just going to read it as “McFap.”

[2] Doesn’t that name sound like it should be some sort of Scottish Independence Party?

[3] Chinese name: 軍公教聯盟黨; literally Military, Civil servants, and Educators Alliance Party. It’s always good to tell the vast majority of society that your party won’t be looking out for their interests.

[4] Why are they both an “alliance” and a “party?” Shouldn’t one of the teachers tell them that redundancy makes for bad writing?

[5] How could they translate that name into “China Production Party” anyway? The party’s website doesn’t explain what the acronym stands for. thinks it is Military, Civil servants, Firefighters, and Academics Party. I suppose it could also by Military, Civil servants, and Fducators Alliance Party.

[6] Unless it means “alliance.”

party politics in Hsinchu County

May 19, 2015

The legislative race in Hsinchu County is shaping up as a really weird one. The incumbent is Hsu Hsin-ying 徐欣瑩, who won in 2012 as a KMT candidate. She is running for re-election, but not under the KMT label. She made the very strange decision leave the KMT – remember Hsinchu County is solidly blue territory – and launch her own party, the Min-kuo Party (MKT). Good luck with that.

[Aside: Every time the media brings up Hsu, they seem obliged to mention that she got more votes than any other candidate in 2012. This is a silly observation. Hsinchu County has more voters than any other district, and since it is a solidly blue district the KMT candidate should get well over 50% in a two-horse race. Actually, she didn’t do particularly well. She only got 62%, while Ma and Soong combined for 69% in the presidential race.]

Last week the KMT settled on its nominee. It has chosen county councilor and former legislator Lin Wei-chou 林為洲. Lin was elected to the legislature in 2004 as a DPP candidate. He was even the chair of the DPP county party branch and ran Chen Shui-bian’s 2004 campaign in Hsinchu.

So, let’s see. The former KMT politician is now the MKT leader, while the former DPP politician will now be the KMT champion.

But wait, there’s more. The DPP hasn’t finalized its nomination yet, but one of the leading contenders is Cheng Yung-chin 鄭永金, a veteran Hsinchu politician. Over the past two decades, Cheng has been county council speaker, legislator, and county magistrate. As you might expect by now, he did this all as a KMT party stalwart. So, in addition to the other two, we might also have a former KMT politician representing the DPP.

What is going on here? Don’t party labels mean anything in Hsinchu? This kind of rampant party switching is simply unthinkable in a place like Taipei. The difference has to do with the personal vote. Political scientists often (crudely) divide voters into party voters and personal voters. The former make their choice solely on the basis of the party label. They will vote for anyone nominated by their party, and they will never vote for anyone from an enemy party. Personal voters might have some party preferences, but they also care about other things. They might vote against their preferred party (if they have one) because a they have a personal connection with the candidate, the candidate takes a certain position on an issue they care deeply about, the candidate has done some sort of constituency service, the candidate represents their social group, the candidate has bought their vote, the candidate is good-looking, or anything else. In places like Taipei, society is more atomized. People move in and out all the time, and you might not know your neighbor. Without dense personal connections, voters rely more on issues and party labels to make decisions. In places like Hsinchu County, social networks are denser. People are more likely to know each other, and politicians can build networks along the social structures. Parties matter, but they aren’t the only thing and sometimes they aren’t even the most important thing. Politicians who have built up a strong personal vote can bring much of that support along with them if they ever find they need to change parties.

This interplay between personal and party votes has meant that when politicians change sides, they usually come from more rural areas. The other district this year with multiple important party switchers is Changhua 1, which (by Taiwan’s standards) is not that urbanized. An even stronger example occurred a decade ago, when most of the Chiayi County Lin Faction switched sides and joined the DPP.

Anyway, just remember that the Hsinchu race could be former KMT against former DPP against former KMT. So if you have a strong party ID, it should be easy to decide who to vote for.

KMT Taipei 4 primary

May 18, 2015

Hey, remember when Alex Tsai 蔡正元 announced he wouldn’t run for re-election, leaving a solidly blue district wide open for any famous national KMT celebrity to simply drop in and take over? There were a few local candidates, but who cares about them? After all, have they ever even been on TV? The national speculators came, of course. Among the eight candidates who originally registered were three former legislators who didn’t think they could win in their old districts, an author, and Sean Lien’s 連勝文 puppet. After the first round of polling, four of the five realized that the local candidates that they overlooked had beaten them soundly, and they conceded defeat. However, the last former legislator, Chiu Yi 邱毅, stayed in the race. After all, with all the other “real” politicians out of the race, he would get all the support from the ideological voters while the local candidates would have to split the votes of people who cared about constituency service. Well, the final results came out this week. City Councilor Lee Yen-hsiu 李彥秀 won with 32%, City Councilor Chueh Mei-sha 闕梅莎 was second with 27%, City Councilor Wu Shih-cheng 吳世正 was third with 22%, and former legislator and nationally known TV personality Chiu Yi came in last with a mere 17%. Gee, maybe this district wasn’t so wide open for just any old KMT reject after all.

You might think that the local candidates had earned a little respect by spanking the rest of the field. Maybe not. The KMT has announced that it won’t nominate Lee Yen-hsiu right away while it determines whether it will be possible to cooperate with the PFP’s Huang Shan-shan 黃珊珊. If I were Lee, I would be furious. Remember, she actually won the nomination four years ago, until the KMT changed the rules and allowed Alex Tsai a second chance at the race. (He had originally been prohibited from registering due to a court case which was dismissed during the primary.)

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the eventual winner of this seat will be a city councilor, not a person with national-level experience.

the KMT nomination fiasco (so far)

May 18, 2015

If the last week of KMT presidential politics hasn’t made much sense to you, you are not alone. I wish I could offer a definitive answer, but I don’t know what the hell just happened either. As for the future, it looks like the KMT is heading for an electoral disaster, but who knows which script it will follow.

I think I should start this post by reminding myself that the KMT presidential nomination is, contrary to everyone’s actions, a very valuable prize. First, the nominee might just win the presidency. Right now, it looks like Tsai can beat anyone the KMT puts forward, but there are still eight months to go. Lots of crazy things can happen in eight months. The world economy could crash, China could have a political crisis, someone could get assassinated, Tsai could have a huge scandal, a massive natural disaster could happen, or a massive street protest could change everything. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be that crazy. The British Conservative Party just won an unexpected victory when all signs pointed to defeat. Gerald Ford was down by over 30% when he was nominated for USA president in 1976, but he eventually lost by only about 1%. Weird things happen in politics. It doesn’t seem all that likely that the KMT candidate would win, but it isn’t impossible. Campaigns occasionally make up large deficits in the polls. Second, even if the KMT loses the race, the nominee can shape the KMT’s party image. After Ma steps down, will we see the Ma Era as an aberration, or will we see the Lee Teng-hui Era as the aberration? Or will we see the KMT as a conflicted party that switches back and forth between its two co-equal nativist and Chinese nationalist wings? Third, after the election, the KMT will need a new set of party leaders. Ma will clearly not be the face of the party. He will be more like Chen Shui-bian was in the 2008-2012 period for the DPP: someone who won’t go away but who the party would rather you forget ever existed. In 2008, the DPP leaders were all somewhat discredited, and they distrusted each other. Tsai Ing-wen emerged from relative obscurity to take over the party, and she has not yet relinquished control. If the KMT nominee performs reasonably well in the presidential race, he could become the post-Ma leader. At the very least, the nominee would be first in line for consideration. No one sets out to become leader of the major opposition party, but it isn’t the worst position to be in if you eventually want to win back power. The point is this: people should want to be the KMT nominee.

So why didn’t Wang Jin-pyng register for the primary? In the last few days, it had become clear that Chu wouldn’t register. Since Chu is the only person who could beat Wang in a polling primary, if Wang had registered, he would have won the primary. Wang was also clearly interested, but apparently he only wanted the nomination on certain conditions. I can think of a few possible conditions that may not have been met.

First, Chu has stated that the KMT will not use any of its funds on the presidential campaign. The nominee will be responsible for financing the campaign by himself. Wang might have been demanding that Chu relax this position and pledge a certain amount of money to the presidential campaign, and he might have been dissatisfied with Chu’s response.

As an aside, why the hell would Chu make such a stupid and self-defeating decision? Everyone knows the KMT is sitting on a mountain of assets, so no one is going to donate money to the KMT when the KMT isn’t willing to spend its own money on itself. Some have suggested that Chu wants to spend the money on legislative campaigns, but raising the presidential vote a few percentage points is a far more effective way of winning legislative votes than blowing money on lavish dinners for grassroots elites or a few more billboards of candidates promising good constituency service. If Chu really doesn’t release the money, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a rebellion within the party. Chu’s chairmanship might not make it to the end of the campaign.

Second, everyone has pointed to Ma’s opposition to Wang. Without Chu in the race, I don’t think Ma could have beaten Wang. However, he could have destroyed Wang’s campaign. Imagine if Ma had openly agitated against Wang during the polling period. Also, don’t forget that the current rules say that party member votes count for 30% and that the deep blue wing is heavily overrepresented among eligible party voters. Ma could have made it clear that the party was not united behind Wang.

I think what Wang must have wanted from Ma was a guarantee that Ma would act something like Lee Teng-hui did in 1998. In 1998, the KMT had a big dispute over who would challenge Chen Shui-bian for mayor. LTH and Ma were not allies, to say the least. Ma was something of a pop idol in this period. Media coverage fawned over his good looks, his jogging, and all the blood he donated. As Minister of Justice, Ma sent several crime lords in helicopters to prison on Green Island, making him even more of a media hero. LTH eventually forced Ma out, demoting him to Minister without Portfolio. When it became clear that Ma had no power in that role, he resigned from the cabinet, famously asking “What am I fighting for? Who am I fighting for?” 為何而戰、為誰而戰 LTH did not appreciate this criticism. During the mayoral nomination decision, the KMT considered a few people such as Jason Hu and (then) Chang Hsiao-yen. However, the polls indicated that Ma was the only person who stood a chance of beating Chen. LTH repeatedly and pointedly declined to ask Ma to run. Eventually, Ma recanted on his promise not to run, and LTH couldn’t block his nomination. During the campaign, LTH maintained distance from the election, refusing to say much in favor of either candidate. The Chen campaign even decided not to criticize LTH in hopes that he might come out and openly endorse Chen in the last few days. In fact, the opposite happened. LTH bowed to the logic of party politics and political power. The president went on stage at Ma’s rally and asked (in Taiwanese), “Ma Ying-jeou, who are you? 馬英九,你是什麼人?” Ma replied (in Taiwanese), “Reporting to President Lee, I am the eater of Taiwanese rice and drinker of Taiwanese water Ma Ying-jeou” 報告李總統,我是吃台灣米喝台灣水的馬英九。 Ma eventually won by 5%, and LTH’s late endorsement may have been a major contributor to this victory. I think it might be reasonable that Wang hoped for similar treatment from Ma. He certainly wouldn’t have expected Ma to enthusiastically support him, but he might have hoped that Ma would stay out of the race or perhaps make a symbolic gesture near the end.

If this is correct and Ma was unwilling to guarantee even this low level of support, the KMT’s toxic internal politics are destroying its post-2016 prospects. The deep blue wing’s refusal to accept Wang does not come from anything Wang has said or done. Wang has always been a party man, following whatever the party line of the day was. Rather, the deep blues have convinced themselves that Wang is a corrupt traitor. After so many editorials and talk show diatribes in the deep blue media echo chamber, they have poisoned their own well and are now unable to accept the one person who is willing and capable of running a moderately competent campaign at the top of the ticket. It seems the KMT will be paying the price for Ma’s ill-advised purge attempt for at least four more years.

After Wang announced that he would not run, some people in Wang’s camp seemed to direct their ire more at Chu than at Wang. One of them even suggested that if Chu didn’t start leading the party more effectively, his term as party chair might not last until August.

This suggests a third possible narrative. It is possible that Wang never had much hope for support or even neutrality from Ma. However, he needed united support from the rest of the party. When Ma objected to Wang’s candidacy, Wang expected Chu to make a forceful gesture of support. Chu, however, said nothing. If Ma was hostile and Chu was indifferent, Wang could probably see that his presidential effort would end in disaster. Further, if Chu wasn’t going to go all out for him, then Chu probably wouldn’t be willing to share responsibility for the inevitable loss. Wang would be hung out to dry. In other words, Wang backed away not because of opposition from Ma, but due to indifference from Chu.

So much for Wang, what about Chu? He’s the one who really is acting strangely. Just for the moment, let’s take him at face value. Chu said that he decided not to run for president when he committed to another term as mayor. He agreed to become party precisely because he wasn’t going to run for president. He has told us again and again of his intent, and we shouldn’t be surprised. When Ma said yesterday that Chu was responsible for this mess and he had the responsibility to run, Chu apparently responded by whining that Ma had insisted that Chu should run for re-election. Chu seems to want us to believe that he is doing the noble thing by acting as a neutral referee and not running. The chairmanship in an election year is a thankless job, he reminds us. If the party wins, the new president becomes chair. If it loses, he has to resign to take responsibility.

So apparently Chu always saw himself as an interim leader? He took over the party with no intention to pursue his own vision, no intention to seek power, and every intention of stepping aside when the next real leader emerged? So why did he bother taking over the party chair in the first place? He should have stuck strictly to running New Taipei City and let the power transition begin several months ago.

My opinion of Chu has dropped precipitously in the last month as Ma has repeatedly kicked him around. Ma first told Chu to attend the KMT-CCP forum. Then he called Chu to a MAC meeting where he informed Chu what his position would be at that forum. Chu dutifully adhered to Ma’s strategy of always taking things one small step further by adding the “we all belong One China” line, but when he came back to Taiwan Ma slapped him down again by “clarifying” Taiwan’s position. Then Ma blocked Wang’s candidacy and blamed Chu for it. When Chu complained that Ma had caused all this by insisting that Chu run for re-election as mayor, Ma rejected that complaint as well. Ma has shown that he is still the alpha dog in the KMT pack, and I’m no longer even sure that Chu has the desire, much less the guts or ability, to challenge him. At this point, if Chu announced that he wanted the nomination, my immediate reaction would probably be that he didn’t have the guts to resist the pressure from the rest of the party.

A week ago I thought it was barely possible, but now I’m starting to believe that the party will eventually turn to Wu Den-yi. First, however, they have to eliminate the two and a half actual candidates in the race. We won’t worry about the turkey who used to work in some local government office; he won’t pass the signature threshold. The problem is the other two candidates. Officially, there is a way out. If they can eliminate one of the candidates in the signature stage, the other will have to pass a 30% polling threshold. Hung Hsiu-chu claims that she has far more than the necessary signatures, but Yaung Chih-liang might not. I suspect the KMT workers will comb through his signatures looking for any excuse to claim that he did not get the necessary numbers. If they can do this, they will then launch a massive suggestive campaign telling voters that they don’t necessarily have to support Hung in the polls. It will be interesting to watch them talk down their potential nominee in public while trying not to say negative things about her or the party. On the other hand, if Yaung and Hung both pass the signature stage, the KMT will really be in a pickle. If there are two candidates, the rules don’t provide for any 30% threshold. The KMT talking heads will argue that the winner really needs to get 30% approval to be a credible candidate and suggest that the party shouldn’t nominate anyone who wins with a lower number than that. However, even that might not work. Yao Li-ming (the political scientist, former NP legislator, frequent talk show guest, and genius behind the Ko campaign) claimed that there was a poll done showing Yaung at 27.5% and Hung at 22% approval. Now, people make up poll numbers all the time, but this story included one important detail. Yao claimed that Hung Yung-tai had conducted the poll. Before he retired, Hung Yung-tai taught at Tunghai, NCCU, and NTU, and he is the godfather of political polling in Taiwan. Countless graduate students, including myself and probably half of all the serious pollsters in Taiwan, learned how the nuts and bolts of survey methodology from him, and we all respect him deeply. If Hung’s name is attached to that poll, it is credible. If that poll is real, there is a good chance that Yaung will pass the 30% threshold. I don’t think the KMT would nominate him, but it would be a public relations disaster for the party. The KMT has never been that committed to their internal party rules. However, to get out of this mess, they might have to blatantly repudiate their entire official process.

[Aside: I think it is legal for the party to ignore its nomination rules. I think the Central Committee always has the authority to overturn any other body’s decision and make the final decision. However, after the Wang Jin-pyng case, I’m no longer 100% sure. It has been pointed out that the Election and Recall Law has been extended so that it applies to party primaries. (This was done partially to make vote-buying in primaries a crime.) However, if party primaries are covered by law, could the primary winner – or a supporter – sue the party if they were denied the nomination, perhaps using the same law that Wang used to claim he had been unjustly denied his rights within the party? I doubt it, but wouldn’t that be fun to watch?]

[Second aside: I think Yaung’s real game is to become the next Tsai Ing-wen. He is putting himself in the public consciousness so that when the dust settles in January and the party needs a new leader, people will think about him. He is one of the few people who emerged from Ma’s government with a good reputation. While he may not be on the current short list of top party leaders, the KMT might be ripe for an outsider like him or former Interior Minister Lee Hung-yuan to take over. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.]

It’s important to keep some sense of perspective here. It feels like the KMT needs to make a decision soon, perhaps because the DPP made its decision so comically early. However, there is still plenty of time. The election is still eight months away, and eight months is plenty of time to put together a presidential campaign. Heck, you can do this in three or four months if you need to. I’m fairly sure that the KMT will eventually get around to nominating someone. There’s a pretty good chance that there will eventually be a poll or two showing the KMT candidate to be fairly close to Tsai Ing-wen. At some point, all of us are going to seriously wonder if the KMT could actually win this race. This nomination fiasco isn’t helping the KMT, but it also might not be the end of the world. By the time October rolls around, we probably won’t be thinking very much about how the drawn-out nomination process doomed the KMT candidate.

Primary ads

May 17, 2015

In the late 1990s when the DPP and then the KMT started experimenting with telephone polls to decide nominations, I wondered why the candidates never bothered campaigning. They went crazy putting up billboards, flags, and banners for the general election, but they did nothing for the primary. One of the main purposes of the telephone primary is precisely to make the primary electorate more like the general electorate. The whole population is eligible, and you don’t know who will be sampled. If you want to get 30% support in a telephone survey, your best bet is to have 30% support in the general population. So it didn’t really make sense that the candidates didn’t advertise or campaign energetically. Over the last two decades, the politicians have slowly figured this logic out. Nowadays they do campaign, though they still don’t start early enough or campaign energetically enough, considering the fact that the nomination race is more critical in many races than the actual general election. This is all a long way of saying that I have taken a few pictures of political ads for this year’s legislative nominations. With one exception, these are from my local race in Keelung City. It seems that both sides have decided to hold polling primaries here, and the candidates are advertising a bit. Let’s look at some of the interesting themes.


This is a pretty standard ad. Tsai Shih-ying poses with Tsai Ing-wen, tells you he is a local guy, emphasizes his good education and his jobs (city councilor, head of city party branch), and asks voters to “only support him” in the poll.


Cheng Wen-ting is also running for the DPP nomination. The main them of her campaign is that she is isn’t a city councilor like the other two DPP aspirants. She suggests that voters just put the other two in their current seats, and they should stay their for the rest of the term. If she is nominated, the DPP can win a legislative seat without giving up a city council seat. We got a leaflet in the mail in which she hammered this point even more forcefully.

This theme has popped up in several places during the primary season. It was prominent in the DPP’s contests in Kaohsiung, and it may be at the heart of Eric Chu’s hesitancy to run for the presidency. The problem is that the local elections are too close to the national elections. Local politicians have to run for re-election to stay in the public mind, but then they have to almost immediately switch gears and start running for national office. Just one more reason to reform the electoral calendar.



Let’s pop over to Taipei City for a second, where Chueh Mei-sha is one of several people trying to take Alex Tsai’s seat in Nangang and Neihu. Unlike most politicians, Chueh usually puts concrete policy issues into her ads. In this one, she argues that the current education policy is a mess and she wants to clean things up. She doesn’t hint at how she would do this, but at least we know what her top issue would be.


Back to Keelung, where this year’s theme seems to be public service announcements. Han Liang-chi reminds us all to donate blood. Coincidentally, he’s also running for legislator, though he doesn’t mention that in this ad. He must believe in subtlety. By the way, Han ran for the KMT mayoral nomination in 2014, but he lost to Huang Ching-tai. When the KMT revoked Huang’s nomination and drafted Hseih Li-kung, Han was furious. He insisted that they should go back to the primary system where he might be the winner. Han eventually decided to run for re-election to the city council, but he ran as an independent to protest the party’s unfair processes. He won easily. I guess he reconciled with the KMT, because this year he is back in the party trying to win the legislative nomination.


Han also wishes all the mothers a happy Mother’s Day. Wow! This guy takes some controversial positions!


Ho Sheng-lung is another contestant for the KMT nomination. He wants us to know that he has two MAs and did well on one of the national civil service exams. This makes him a finance and economics expert! Also, this is a public service ad, since he and nine lawyers will consult with you twice a week. Ho is a bit like Han. He is a longtime politician in Keelung. He used to be on the city council, but he has bigger ambitions. He has run for legislator and mayor a few times, though sadly he seems unable to connect with voters. His only victory in these higher-level races was in a legislative by-election several years ago.


Chen Tung-tsai does a two-for-one. This ad wishes you both a happy Mother’s Day and a happy Dragon Boat Festival. Clearly Chen understands the concept of economies of scale. I’m not sure if this is significant, but the kids in the ad are wearing shirts that say “I heart Keelung.” This was the logo from Lin You-chang’s mayoral race last year, so the unstated implication is that Chen is Lin’s candidate.



Hey, check it out! Here’s a sign inviting us all to join the Min-kuo Party. For a party with no ideals, no political stars, and no reason to expect to win anything, someone sure is optimistically spending an awful lot of money.


The rest of my pictures are ads for this guy, Lin Pei-hsiang. If it looks like he has a professional photographer doing his ads and a professional campaign consultant running things, he probably does. His mother is longtime KMT leigslator Hsu Shao-ping, and his father was former mayor Lin Shui-mu. His mother is retiring this year, and she is trying to pass the family business onto the next generation. Interestingly, he never tells us about his parentage in his ads, even though they all mention his mother. In this one, the final line says that Hsu “guarantees and recommends” him.



On this sound truck, Lin tackles a concrete issue. He promises to protect the rights of Keelung residents to a reasonable commute. This refers to the Taipei city government’s decision to close down the bus station next to the Taipei railway station, where many of the Keelung-Taipei buses disembark. Note the small print. In addition to his mother, Lin is also endorsed by KMT deputy chair Chiang Hsiao-yen. I’ve seen KMT candidates associating themselves with lots of stars, such as Jason Hu, Eric Chu, Hau Lung-bin, and so on, but this might be the first time I’ve seen an ad touting Chiang’s support. If Chiang’s son wins his district, Chiang Hsiao-yen might have two seats in the legislature!


“If you drink, don’t drive. If you drive, don’t drink. Lin Pei-hsiang!”



This is the kicker. Lin Pei-hsiang tells us that “Mothers, you are really fantastic!” Oh, and don’t forget to support him in the telephone polls. In the bottom right corner, it says “Legislator Hsu Shao-ping.” I think that means that this banner was officially put up by Hsu’s office, and since it marginally passes as a public service message extolling the virtues of mothers, it might have been paid for with public funds. Mothers really are fantastic!