Archive for October, 2015

Hsinchu City LY race

October 27, 2015

What’s going on in the Hsinchu City legislative race? Hsinchu has always been a pretty solid blue district, but the DPP surprisingly and spectacularly won the mayoral race in 2014. It would have been impressive enough for the DPP merely to win, but they were facing an incumbent KMT mayor running for re-election, and the green vote was split between the DPP nominee and a former DPP mayor running as an independent. On a night filled with jaw-dropping results, the KMT’s failure to break 40% in Hsinchu might have been the most stunning of all.

The KMT incumbent in the legislature, Lu Hsueh-chang 呂學樟, isn’t running for re-election. He wanted to run, but he lost his primary race to city council member Cheng Cheng-chien 鄭正鈐. Like last year, the green side is split. Last year the DPP ran Lin Chih-chien 林智堅, who looks so young that you wonder if he is even old enough to vote. Ker Chien-ming 柯建銘 is just about the polar opposite. Ker has been in the legislature since 1992 (and on the party list since 2008), and he is the epitome of a grizzled, veteran lawmaker. Ker, who will probably speaker if he wins this race, is a back-room deal-maker in the best tradition of Wang Jin-pyng. He has often been the official DPP caucus floor leader, but, even when someone else is the floor leader, Ker is often still the key person negotiating on behalf of DPP legislators. Because he has been knee-deep in so many messy deals over the years, he has inevitably sullied his image. In particular, younger voters tend to think of him as a corrupt old-style wheeler-dealer who needs to be retired from politics. It is no accident that the sunflower movement spawned its own candidate in this district, Chiu Hsien-chih 邱顯智 of the New Power Party. The main question in the race right now is whether Ker and Chiu can negotiate for one of them to withdraw and thus consolidate the green vote. But let’s be honest. No one expects Ker to be the one to withdraw. The pressure is on Chiu, who has to continually defend his presence in this race.

Storm Media has published three really interesting stories about this race in the past few days. Both Ker and Chiu have released polls, which show the race in very different lights. Chiu has also expressed a willingness to sit down and talk about one of them yielding.

Let’s look at the polls. Remember, you should never trust polls released by a campaign since they often have a powerful incentive to mislead you. However, since the media doesn’t seem interested in looking at individual races, this is all we have.

source Date Cheng Ker Chiu Org
Ker 10/20 29.9 27.0 14.6 山水
Ker 9/29 28.2 23.8 10.9 DPP / 山水
Ker 9/10 28.7 22.6 14.9 DPP / 山水
Ker 8/29 24.7 24.4 6.7 DPP / 山水
Ker 8/23 37.5 22.0 14.8 DPP / 山水
Chiu 10/20 18.9 21.9 18.2 趨勢
Chiu 10/20 28.0 34.1 趨勢
Chiu 10/20 28.4 37.3 趨勢
Chiu 10/20 36.2 39.8 趨勢

Ker has done five polls. The first one (8/23) showed Cheng with a big lead. The second one indicated that Cheng’s popularity plummeted and his lead vanished a week later. That big difference seems strange to me. The third and fourth polls are similar, with Cheng having about a 6% lead over Ker. In the most recent poll, Ker has closed the gap and the race is within the margin of error. (One of the Storm articles gives a nice rationale for why Ker’s support should have increased in recent weeks. The Ker campaign has kicked into high gear, and lots of heavyweight figures (with good images), such as Tsai Ing-wen, Ko Wen-je, Tien Chiu-chin 田秋堇, and You Mei-nu 尤美女 have strongly endorsed Ker.) In all five of these polls from the Ker camp, Chiu is consistently far behind in third place and never breaks 15%. If one believes these polls, Ker is close enough that he would probably win a head to head race with Cheng. The implication is clear: Chiu should drop out.

The poll released by Chiu’s campaign sends a very different message. It shows that the three candidates are basically tied. That is, Chiu is not actually trailing far behind in third place. Moreover, if either Chiu or Ker dropped out, the other would clearly beat Cheng. From this vantage point, it isn’t so obvious that Chiu should be the one dropping out. In fact, a head to head matchup between Chiu and Ker (which presumably would be part of any polling primary) shows a slight advantage for Chiu!

Which polls should we believe? I don’t completely trust any of these polls, but the polls coming from Ker’s camp are closer to my expectations. There is also something strange about the Chiu polls. The percentage of respondents with a preference is actually lower in the three-way matchup than in any of the two-way matchups, which is the opposite of the normal pattern. If I had to guess, I would guess that it is more likely that the Chiu campaign “adjusted” their numbers a bit. But that’s just a guess.

What’s more important is that the pressure will probably continue to build on Chiu to withdraw. As Ker employs his massive advantage in resources and continues to call in favors from his wide network of friends, he will be able to paint Chiu as clearly in third place. By agreeing to sit down and negotiate who should withdraw and how the procedure should unfold, Chiu has already taken the first step toward surrender. Even if he stays in the race to the bitter end, his support will probably melt away as strategic voters shift over to Ker’s side. I suspect he might also face pressure from within his NPP. Other party figures could reap significant benefits from good relations with the DPP. The other three (or perhaps five) serious district candidates will want DPP figures to continue to campaign on their behalf. Perhaps even more importantly, the NPP will hope that Tsai sends a signal to DPP supporters that it is ok to vote for the NPP’s party list, the way she did for the TSU four years ago. If he withdraws now, Chiu might even be able to find a spot on that list. It is very hard to concede defeat, but elections are a cold-blooded sport. If he doesn’t withdraw now, Chiu, his supporters, and his party will probably end up regretting it.

possible outcomes in the LY elections

October 26, 2015

All the media coverage is on the presidential race, even though we all know that it is almost certain that Tsai Ing-wen will win. Again and again, we are reminded that the real fight is for the legislature, but then no one seems to have much to say about that election. I have also been guilty of this, for the simple reason that I don’t have much data to pore through. Without data, I’m spinning my wheels, just like everyone else. Still, I thought I should give it another shot.

Rather than directly predict what is going to happen, I’m going to make a conditional prediction. If you tell me how much the DPP legislative candidates will beat the KMT legislative candidates by in the national aggregate vote, I’ll try to tell you how many district seats each side will get. To put it another way, the polls say that Tsai is winning the presidential race by 20% or so over Chu. We all assume that the KMT district legislative candidates will run ahead of the KMT presidential candidate, but we don’t really know how much better they will do. If they run an average of 5% ahead (and the DPP district candidates run an average of 5% behind Tsai), that would imply that the DPP candidates beat the KMT candidates by a national average of about 10%. What kind of seat distribution would that 10% margin imply?

I’m using a very crude model with lots of assumptions built in. Most of them are untenable. So don’t get too caught up in the individual results. The bigger point is that if the DPP beats the KMT by X%, there has to be an excess vote margin somewhere. Maybe it will be more concentrated in a particular district than I assume, but it can’t all be concentrated in Tainan. If X is larger, the DPP will inevitably win more seats.

I’m basing this model loosely (read: from memory) on a regression model I published from the 2012 election. In that model, I found that DPP district candidates won about 95% of Tsai’s presidential votes. Incumbents running for re-election did a little better, and challengers facing KMT incumbents did a little worse. The KMT model was nearly a mirror image, with the exception that I combined Ma’s and Soong’s votes to create the presidential baseline. So let’s start there. A first expectation is that each party will get 95% of the 2012 presidential vote. Incumbents running for re-election get a bonus of 3%, while challengers facing incumbents get a penalty of 2%.

Right away, you will see several assumptions built in. This assumes that we are still in the old blue vs green world, and each camp will have one candidate. I’m just ignoring three-way races, and I’m essentially assuming that people like Lee Ching-yuan, the blue camp city councilor running in Taipei 8 in alliance with the DPP against the KMT incumbent, are equivalent to DPP nominees.

When you total up those initial expectations, you get a national aggregate vote of 52.4% for the KMT and 43.4% for the DPP. (Note that these are both slightly less than the actual 54.4-45.6% presidential result. The 9.0% gap is slightly larger than the 8.8% presidential gap because the KMT has a lot more incumbents. It is also significantly larger than the official gap of 3.7% between KMT and DPP candidates in 2012, though those numbers don’t include independents such as Yen Ching-piao, who were actually blue or green candidates.) What kind of seat distribution does that 9% gap imply? Based on these initial expectations, the KMT would win 49 seats, while the DPP would win 24.

Ok, no one expects the KMT to have a 9% national advantage. So let’s slowly scale that back. I’m going to subtract 1% from the KMT vote and add 1% to the DPP vote, and we will see how many seats that shifts. Then I’ll do it again and again, and we will try to see when the balance of power switches from blue to green.

Note that there is another crazy assumption built into this. I am assuming that the relative strength of the parties in each district will remain the same as in 2012. In other words, the DPP’s vote share will increase by exactly the same in every district. Once again, I understand that is ridiculous; the DPP vote share will almost certainly increase more in Taoyuan or Changhua than in Taipei or Lienchiang. However, for simplicity’s sake (and because I have no idea how to allow the model to vary increases by district), I’m just ignoring it.

With all these caveats out of the way, here are the results:

DPP Gap KMT DPP changes
-9% 49 24
-7 48 25 Taichung 1
-5 43 30 Changhua 4, Taichung 7, Pingtung 2, Penghu, New Taipei 4
-3 41 32 Taichung 6, New Taipei 6
-1 40 33 Kaohsiung 3
+1 37 36 Changhua 3, Changhua 1, New Taipei 5
+3 35 38 Taichung 3, Taichung 8
+5 33 40 New Taipei 7, Taichung 2
+7 31 42 New Taipei 10, Taoyuan 2
+9 29 44 Nantou 2, Changhua 2
+11 25 48 Taipei 1, Taoyuan 1, New Taipei 1, New Taipei 12
+13 21 52 Taipei 5, Taipei 3, Hsinchu City, Taoyuan 4
+15 17 56 Taichung 5, Taichung 4, Nantou 1, Taipei 4
+17 15 58 Miaoli 1, Keelung
+19 15 58
+21 12 61 Taoyuan 6, New Taipei 8, Taipei 7
+23 10 63 Taoyuan 3, Taoyuan 5
+25 9 64 Taitung
+27 8 65 Taipei 6
+29 6 67 Hsinchu County, New Taipei 11

Remember, because the KMT dominates the indigenous seats, the DPP needs to win more than half of the district seats. It is possible that the DPP will win an indigenous seat this year, but I think that it will be easier to win the 40th district seat than the first indigenous seat. That is, I think that Chen Shih-kai has a better chance of beating Yen Kuan-heng in Taichung 2 than Chen Ying does of winning a lowlands indigenous seat. If this is correct, the (pan-) DPP needs to win 40 district seats to win an overall majority in the legislature. (39 could plausibly suffice if the DPP has at least a 5% advantage over the KMT in the party list vote.)

In this model, the DPP wins that 40th seat when their advantage in the aggregate vote reaches 5%. In other words, if the (pan-) DPP wins the district vote by roughly 50-45%, they will win a majority in the legislature.

My guess is that right now the DPP is easily ahead by 5%. In fact, I have been guessing that the gap is in the low double digits. If this is correct, it could spell disaster for the KMT. When the gap is this large, we start moving from battleground districts into districts that should be reliably blue. Moreover, there are a lot of districts closely bunched in this range. The KMT is predicted to win 29 seats if the gap is +9. When the gap reaches +15, the KMT is all the way down to 17 seats. This is roughly the mirror image of 2008, when the KMT won the aggregate vote by about 15% and the DPP was left with only 13 district seats. That 6% swing (actually only 3% each way) from 52-43 to 55-40 is the difference between a small DPP majority and a DPP landslide. In the past few days, Eric Chu has publicly set his goal for the legislature at 40. Sometimes this seems to mean 40 overall seats, while other times it seems to mean 40%. To get 40 seats, the KMT district candidates will need roughly 41-42%. 40% probably won’t do it.

Another thing this table is good for is thinking about general expectations. A few days ago, someone asked me if Freddy Lim was going to win a seat for the New Power Party in Taipei 5. I’m not terribly optimistic. Look at the seats around Taipei 5 in the table. Do you think that the DPP will be competitive in most of them? Perhaps they might, if the KMT really is so far behind. However, remember that Taipei is historically much more stable than the rest of Taiwan. My gut feeling is that the DPP will likely win Hsinchu City, Taoyuan 4, Taichung 4, Nantou 1, Keelung City, and maybe even Miaoli 1 before it wins Taipei 5. Sweeping those is a tall order, which suggests to me that Freddy is fighting a steep uphill battle. If he wins, the KMT will be in full disaster mode.

just for fun

October 23, 2015

I’ve written enough serious stuff lately. Today is a day for light-hearted fun and gentle ridicule. Fortunately, there are three stories just crying out for a few groans.

First up is a story that my wife has been complaining about for the past few days. Eric Chu claims that his candidacy is causing marital tensions. Apparently his wife did not want him to run for president, so she is unhappy with him. He has apologized to her [Aside: has anyone ever launched a presidential campaign with so many apologies?] and suggested that maybe in her next life she will not want to marry him again. Oh, there’s a raging cold war in the Chu household!

Mrs. Garlic is not impressed. What? Another KMT candidate who has to override his wife’s objections to run for office? Just to name the most famous cases, Ma Ying-jeou, James Soong, and Jason Hu’s wives all opposed their advancement in politics. Hu publicly begged his wife before every campaign to “donate” him to the public for another four years. What is with all of these spouses who want their husbands’ political careers to stagnate? Maybe Chu’s wife wishes he could just go back to being a professor at NTU and enjoy life on a (lavish!) professor’s salary.

I wish we could dispense with the rituals of reluctant acceptance of power. It’s ok to be ambitious. Actually, democracy is more robust with leaders who want to change the world for the better and will dedicate their lives to winning office so that they can do that.

One more thing. Chu’s father-in-law must not have been at the family meeting where they decided to perform this play. When a reporter asked him about his daughter’s opposition, he answered, “What do you mean? Everyone in the family supports it [Chu’s decision to run].” Oops.

Second, Eric Chu is also complaining today about another topic. Some green camp figures wondered whether he had offered anything to Hung Hsiu-chu to entice her to withdraw. If there was an explicit quid pro quo, it technically would have violated the Election Law, which makes it illegal to bribe another candidate to withdraw. [Note: I have serious doubts about whether it would have actually been illegal even if he had offered her a sinecure in some party company. No one has registered as a candidate yet, and parties often coordinate nominations by offering positive sanctions.] At any rate, the green politicians insisted that the Special Investigations Division investigate any possible payoffs, so Chu had to answer a summons today. Afterward, his side about how the green side is abusing the judicial system for political gain.

On the one hand, this is all political theater. I accuse you of looking suspicious. You complain that I am making baseless accusations. Both of us look indignant for our supporters, and nothing comes of it. That’s the standard script.

On the other, the KMT is complaining about the DPP abusing the judicial system?? Chu does realize that his party is the governing party, doesn’t he? He does remember the cynical abuse of that power in 2012 to investigate allegations that Tsai had done something wrong in the Yuchang Biologics case in the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, doesn’t he?

Look Eric, these sorts of complaints will work with the deep blue people who staff your campaign and party machinery, but the rest of us vaguely remember that the KMT has a long, long history of abusing power. When you warn against the abuse of the judicial system or that unchecked one-party rule might endanger free speech or academic freedom, you aren’t really helping your cause. You might want to tone it down a notch.

The third story is the best, and it comes to us from our good friends across the Black Ditch. This year’s Confucius Peace Prize winner has been announced, and it will be awarded to a tireless champion of basic human dignity, luminary of economic development, and model among aspiring nation-builders. Yes, the Confucius Peace Prize will be awarded to Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe.

It’s hard to think of a person who better embodies the ideals that China wishes to promote to the rest of the world.

Actually, I was talking to a reporter today about why most citizens here identify as exclusively Taiwanese. Here is another example. I’m fairly sure that the twisted values that most Taiwanese hold dear would make it impossible for them to understand that Mugabe (like previous honorees Vladimir Putin, Fidel Castro, and Lien Chan) is deserving of the highest accolades. Most Taiwanese would improperly focus on Mugabe’s frequent use of violence to intimidate the population and ensure the proper outcome in several presidential elections. However, that is obviously wrong. Mugabe has done what was necessary to preserve order, and for that he is worthy of our respect and praise. Social stability is, after all, the highest of all Chinese values.

[Really? Zimbabwe has social stability? Maybe they should do a bit of background research before they award the next prize.]

[I wonder if Mugabe recently signed his country’s natural resources over to Chinese interests.]

[Honestly, the organizers immediately delegitimized their own peace prize by awarding the first one to Lien Chan, a choice nakedly inspired by their own self-interest. In retrospect however, I have to admit that Lien is still the most deserving recipient of the award. This thing gets more cartoonish each time. How are they going to top this next year? Assad? Khameinei? Cameron?

A back-of-the-envelope guesstimate

October 20, 2015

Where does the presidential race stand now? Eyeballing the most recent polls, it looks to me like it is roughly Tsai 44, Chu 22, and Soong 11. Conveniently, that is a neat-looking 4-2-1 pattern. Ok, but what does that mean for actual votes? Is Tsai likely to break 50% in the actual votes? If so, by how much?

Each election is a new soap opera, so there is a limit to how much we can learn by looking at old results. Still, it would be nice to see what similar polling results produced in the final vote tallies. I’m looking for races, preferably with lots of poll taken close to election day, in which one side was clearly ahead For polls, I will look at the last few polls listed in my list of survey results on the sidebar of the front page of this blog. As above, I’m going to eyeball the results and blurt out a rough average.

race candidates Polls Votes Increase
2014 Taipei Lien (K) 30 41 11
Ko (I) 45 57 12
2014 New Taipei Chu (K) 49 50 1
Yu (D) 28 48 20
2014 Taoyuan Wu (K) 49 48 -1
Cheng (D) 28 51 23
2014 Taichung Hu (K) 28 43 15
Lin (D) 44 57 13
2014 Tainan Huang (K) 16 27 11
Lai (D) 66 73 7
2014 Kaohsiung Yang (K) 16 31 15
Chen (D) 58 68 10
2014 Keelung Hsieh (K) 15 27 12
Lin (D) 38 53 15
Huang (I) 11 16 5
2010 Tainan Kuo (K) 25 40 15
Lai (D) 48 60 12
2010 Kaohsiung Huang (K) 13 21 8
Chen (D) 45 53 8
Yang (I) 25 27 2
2008 president Ma (K) 52 58 6
Hsieh (D) 30 42 12

A few patterns stick out. First, New Taipei and Taoyuan were completely wrong in 2014. They weren’t heavily surveyed, but all the survey data we had showed the two KMT candidates way ahead. [Edit: This was also the case in the Taiwan Election and Democratization surveys for those two cities. Oops. I am working with the TEDS data today, and I was wrong. The TEDS surveys, which were done in early November 2014, show Chu with only a 8% lead in New Taipei and a dead tie in Taoyuan. If I had seen these results before the election, I wouldn’t have been so shocked on election night. However, none of the media polls showed these to be close races.] Sometimes things go in a completely unexpected direction.

Second, what usually happens is that the main candidates all increase by about the same amount, especially in two candidate races. It is rare that one candidate increases by twice as much as the other main candidate.

Third, in the two three candidate races, the independent candidates got a much smaller bounce than the major party candidates.

Fourth, trailing candidates tend to make up a little ground on the leaders, but not too much.

Intuitively, there are compelling reasons for these patterns. On the one hand, a disproportionate amount of undecided voters will decide to stay at home. If they don’t vote, everyone else’s vote percentage increases proportionally. Trailing candidates often have a somewhat larger pool of undecided voters they can appeal to. If they are unknown or a bit personally unpopular, it may take some wooing to convince party sympathizers to vote for them. On the other hand, many other undecided voters are actually neutral. When it comes time to vote, it would be unreasonable to expect them all to swing the same way. Some will go one way at the last second, and others will opt for the other candidate.

What does this all imply for this year’s election? Keep in mind that we aren’t at the end of the campaign yet. I expect that Soong’s support will further erode between now and January. I don’t have clear expectations for the other two candidates, but I’d be surprised if the polls don’t move at all over the next three months. Still, if this were the end of the campaign, I’d expect Soong’s 11% to stay about the same and for Chu to take slightly more of the remaining 23% than Tsai. Let’s say that Chu would get 13 and Tsai 10. That yields Tsai 54, Chu 35, and Soong 11.

As I said above, I expect that Soong will continue to fade, and polls show that his supporters will go about half and half to the other two candidates. Thus, my best guess right now is that the election will be roughly Tsai 57, Chu 38, Soong 5.

Keep in mind that these calculations were all done very roughly, and so this is a very imprecise guess. The big point is that it isn’t that unreasonable to expect Tsai’s current 20% (or so) lead in the polls to translate into a 20% (or so) victory in the final vote tally. Of course, every once in a while something really strange happens, so don’t write this in stone.

Two weekend events

October 19, 2015

This weekend, each major party held a big event. The KMT retracted its nomination of Hung Hsiu-chu for president and replaced her with Eric Chu, while the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen opened their presidential campaign headquarters with a festive outdoor rally. I watched most of the former event on TV and Youtube, and I attended the latter event in person. I’m going to comment in this blog post about some of the contrasts between the two events, which could not have been more different. Warning: Like most comparisons of the two major parties over the past couple of years, this one isn’t going to be very flattering to the KMT.

At the most basic level, the KMT event was a hastily planned emergency event designed to try to take drastic action to prevent a rapidly approaching catastrophe. It was a closed event in which the party looked inward, trying to figure out how it would deal with a platform that was not gaining much popular support. The DPP event was scheduled long ago. It was a smoothly run rally that reeked of advance planning and attention to detail. It was outward-looking, with the public invited to enjoy the good cheer along with the party faithful.

Substantively, the Tsai campaign wanted the audience to know that it is thinking seriously about all sorts of policy questions. They introduced about three dozen scholars and experts in various policy areas who were leading teams for both the campaign and for Tsai’s think tank. This took two full sets of the program, with each consisting of a parade of experts and a speech. In between the various sets, they showed videos of Tsai’s campaign ads, and many of these were also policy-oriented. The message to the audience was clearly that, even though they didn’t have time to go into detail about each individual policy, they could easily do so if necessary. When Tsai spoke, she echoed this. She didn’t focus on any specific policy, but she stressed that her people had spent a lot of time in preparation, they had already announced several policies, and they would continue to roll out other policies over the next few weeks. Of course, white papers are a dime a dozen, but this fits in with my impression built up over the past few years of Tsai as a dead-serious policy wonk. A few months ago, the KMT tried labeling her as kongxincai, a play on the name of common leafy green vegetable with a hollow stem, implying that she has no substance undergirding her charisma. I never understood why they thought this was a promising line of attack, since substantive policy is probably one of her strongest points. They might do well to seek a more vulnerable angle.

(Aside: As I watched Tsai give a rousing speech while still conveying substantive heft, I couldn’t help but think back to her 2010 campaign for New Taipei mayor. I watched dumbfounded as she told a raucous crowd to calm down so she could lecture them on policy. After five years of nearly non-stop campaigning, she has learned an immense amount about how to work a crowd, giving them an opportunity to roar, building their excitement and commitment to the campaign while still sneaking in a bit of substantive policy. It’s hard to believe that this is the same person from five years ago.)

At the KMT event, there was a notable absence of any concrete policy discussion. Instead, when the KMT talked about ideas, they stuck to broad themes, such as maintaining the 92 Consensus and defending the ROC. They went out of their way to make it clear that they were not repudiating Hung Hsiu-chu for taking a position that was clearly outside the party’s mainstream. Speaker after speaker (including Chu) apologized to her (for the unfairness of retracting the nomination??). They are taking the position that the problem is entirely with the messenger and the presentation of the message rather than with the message itself.

The other big contrast that I want to focus on is the assumed relationship between the party and the state. Near the beginning of his remarks, Chu stated that the KMT’s future is tightly bound up with the future of Taiwan and of the ROC. In other words, an election disaster leading to the demise of the KMT could be expected to spell ruin for Taiwan and the ROC. Chu was not alone in tying the party and state together. Several previous speakers made similar remarks. The KMT is, in essence, the ROC. It is disheartening for me to hear this sort of rhetoric after more than two decades of democracy. The KMT elite seems to still believe the Leninist assumption that it is a vanguard party leading the state. They seem not to understand that in democracies, parties are a level below the state. The democratic system can remain quite healthy even as new parties emerge and old ones fade away (or crash and burn dramatically). No party is irreplaceable.

Tsai’s rhetoric was the polar opposite. She proclaimed that the KMT does not equal the ROC, and the DPP does not equal Taiwan. If the current generation fails to protect the democratic system, no one will regret it very much if the KMT and DPP are both swept into the dustbins of history. To my mind, this is a much more democratic way to think of parties. If they don’t perform well, they deserve to die. They also have no hegemonic claim to represent the entire population or state.

Tsai elaborated on this by talking about the DPP’s crushing defeat in 2008. Their only option, she said, was to rebuild the party through even more transparent and democratic means, trusting the people, trusting democracy, and trusting the institutions. When a politician talks about trusting democratic institutions, I get a little teary-eyed. Some might argue that the DPP’s actions haven’t always matched its rhetoric, but intellectually the current DPP leadership is far superior to the current KMT leadership in its understanding of the relationships between the party, the people, and the state.

Some of these differences naturally arise from the very different challenges the two parties currently face. The DPP expects to win and is preparing to govern. Thus, it looks outward. The KMT is trying not to implode, so it wants desperately to consolidate its previous support. This leads it to look inward.

The KMT did unleash one outward appeal. Defeatism be damned, Chu launched his campaign with the checks and balances appeal. What if, he asked, the KMT collapsed in the 2016 election? What if a party that has relied on mass conflict, street protests, and occupying the speaker’s podium won complete control of the executive branch, complete control of the legislature, complete control of local governments? There is no democracy without checks and balances! If that happened, would people be afraid and lose their freedom of speech or freedom to participate in politics? Would all public servants have to make decisions according to one party’s ideology? Would all teachers have to teach according to one party’s ideology? If that party completely controlled the central government, it could revise the laws and even amend the constitution at any time! We would really need to worry for the future of Taiwan’s democracy, Chu fretted.

I should note that Chu is not particularly famous for his sense of irony, and no one in the hall seemed to think he was joking.

They’re going to have to work on the delivery a bit. Maybe they will just focus on the part about democracy working better with a robust system of checks and balances and junk the “what if” scenarios. Eventually they should be able to figure out how to make this point without causing widespread snickering. If they do, it will be a powerful argument. Almost everyone, even those who want to see the KMT thoroughly rejected and discredited, wants a credible opposition force to keep the future DPP government honest and on its toes. I’m a bit surprised that Chu is pulling this appeal out so early since it is traditionally something that pops up in the last week or two. By raising it so early, Chu might be giving the DPP time to present counter-arguments (“That’s the only reason they have for you to vote for them??” “A crushing KMT defeat will be healthy for the system in the long run since it will force the KMT to fundamentally reform itself and become a healthy democratic party.”), and other parties might get in the act (“We in the PFP/MKT/SDP promise to rigorously watch over and challenge the DPP government!)

I warned you that this post wouldn’t flatter the KMT, but I feel like I should say one nice thing about the KMT’s weekend, so here goes. They managed to retract Hung Hsiu-chu’s nomination without inciting a rebellion. Good job.

However, …

No, I’m going to stop there.

Should Chu resign as mayor?

October 16, 2015

Now that Eric Chu is going to run for president, the chattering class has turned to the question of his present job. Should he resign as New Taipei City mayor?

Let’s start with the calendar. The election law requires that a by-election be held within three months of a resignation. A few days ago in the legislature, the head of the electoral commission stated that they would need at least two months of preparation time after the resignation to hold a by-election. In other words, if Chu were to resign between October 16 and November 19, the by-election would almost certainly be held on January 16, concurrent with the presidential and legislative elections. If Chu wants the by-election to be held after the presidential election, he has to wait until at least November 20. Elections are always on a Saturday, and it is highly unlikely the CEC would schedule such a large-scale by-election on Jan 23 or 30, the two Saturdays immediately after the general election. Feb 6 and 14 fall during the lunar new year holiday, so the earliest reasonable date for a by-election is Feb 20. (February 27 is also out of bounds due to the national holiday for Feb 28.)

What about the politics? New Taipei City is extremely important, and Chu and the KMT cannot afford to treat it cavalierly. Because of their electoral debacle last November and their impending defeat in the presidential election, New Taipei City will be the only large territory the KMT has jurisdiction over for the next three years. A lot of KMT operatives will be trying to land jobs over the next few months, and New Taipei is by far the most desirable landing spot.

If there is a by-election, the KMT could easily lose. In fact, I think it is likely that the KMT would lose. They barely won in 2014 with a popular candidate against a ho-hum challenger. In the by-election, they will either be running a ho-hum second tier candidate or a decidedly tarnished Eric Chu coming off a year of disastrous KMT leadership and probably a thrashing (both nationally and in New Taipei) in the presidential election.

The cold-blooded choice would be for Chu to simply decline to resign. He should tell the public that he can manage the task of juggling the presidential campaign, the party chairmanship, and his duties as mayor. After all, he has a team of trusted subordinates to take care of the technical details while he is away.

The problem is that the previous two sentences sound terrible. Chu cannot say those things without admitting that he won’t be paying attention to the small (but often important) details. Moreover, his public reason (in the spring) for not running for president was precisely that he felt an obligation to the citizens of New Taipei to focus on his mayoral duties. He even tried to absent himself from an important KMT central standing committee because he was scheduled to appear at the city council. In other words, he was already having a hard time juggling duties as the party chair and mayor, and now he is going to add an even more demanding job. The New Taipei DPP politicians are going to have a field day asking why their mayor is not at work and pointing out problems that he is neglecting.

From the other side of the spectrum, there will also be some pressure from within the KMT for Chu to resign. Some campaign people will grumble that he is spending too much time on his mayoral duties rather than on their campaign events. This will be one way for them to avoid blame for the impending defeat: “Don’t blame me. There was nothing wrong with my strategy. It would have worked if the candidate had bothered to show up.” Other people will grumble that by refusing to resign, Chu is running a defeatist campaign. By holding on to the mayor’s position, Chu will effectively be publicly admitting that his presidential campaign is hopeless.

If Chu does not resign, he will have to answer a question about resigning every day for the rest of the campaign. It will wear on him, sucking the energy out of his campaign much as the questions toward Hung about being replaced on the KMT ticket wore on her campaign.

Is Chu really mentally tough enough to resist the enormous pressure he will face to resign? I have no idea. He was tough enough to resist running for president all spring and summer, and then he suddenly caved in a few weeks ago.

The recent speculation about the electoral calendar seems to imply that he will wait until late November or early December to resign so that he can run in the by-election. This is a bad strategy. If he waits until then to announce his decision, he will still have to answer questions for a full month. In other words, he will have a month of telling the public that it isn’t a problem, and then he will backtrack and admit that he needs to resign. He could also announce today that he will resign, but he won’t officially submit his resignation until late November because of the calendar. In that case, he will be open to attacks that he is playing politics with the mayor’s office. In order to maximize KMT interests, he will be leaving New Taipei City effectively rudderless for four full months. Moreover, if he resigns but then runs in the by-election, he will still be open to these same charges. What is the difference between having a lame-duck interim mayor appointed by the central government and delegating most of the power to his deputy mayor while he is away? Either way, the city government is leaderless for several months.

Chu doesn’t really have any good options. I think the least bad is for him to doggedly hang on to his office. That way, he (and the KMT) will still be holding one important office on Jan 17. Moreover, on Jan 17 he can immediately revert to full-time leadership of the city, so he will minimize any damage caused by an absence of leadership. However, if he is going to resign, he should probably do it immediately. Holding out for another month will simply suck energy out of his campaign. The KMT does have a somewhat higher chance of winning the by-election on Feb 20 than on Jan 16. They will almost certainly lose on Jan 16, since it would likely be swept along in the national DPP victory tide. On Feb 20, they could plead with voters to restrain the new majority party’s absolute power by reminding it that it can still lose elections. Historically, this “balancing” appeal has been a fairly effective campaign appeal. However, I doubt this would be enough to propel the KMT to victory in what will be an uphill race. If there is a by-election, they shouldn’t count on winning it.

The effect of replacing Hung with Chu

October 14, 2015

This weekend, the KMT will hold an extraordinary party congress in which it plans to retract its presidential nomination of Hung Hsiu-chu and instead give it to Eric Chu. I have a few scattered thoughts on this.


In the next few presidential election cycles, trailing candidates will have to constantly answer questions about whether they should be replaced. In the past, the nomination settled that question. Once a party nominated someone, the choice was final. That was even true for lousy candidates (read: Lien in 2000, Peng in 1996). Now a precedent has been set. Underperforming candidates can have their nominations retracted. Trailing candidates will have to spend energy and resources fending off that possibility, which will make it even harder for them to close the gap with the leader.


This is the backroom dealing everyone was waiting for and expecting to see in February through May. The KMT power brokers sat down, came to an agreement on how to run the party, and the inconvenient procedural barriers to that decision simply melted away. Precisely because this is so easy once the big boys came to a decision, everyone was shocked that the party actually followed its official rules in the spring and summer and ended up nominating Hung.


When I say “party leaders” came to a consensus, I primarily mean Ma and Chu. President Ma has been the real power the entire time. Chu may be the party chair, but Ma was the one who vetoed Wang’s candidacy and legitimized Hung’s. Several months later, Ma has retracted his support of Hung, and decided to find a new person to represent the party. Once Ma indicated his decision, most of the KMT rank and file fell quickly into line. Chu’s role in this is the same it has always been: he had a veto over his own candidacy. Once he decided not to exercise that veto, Ma was free to throw Hung overboard. Without Chu, Ma may have still decided to replace Hung, but there are no good options to run in her stead. The fact that it took Ma and Chu so long to come to this consensus is an indictment of their political acumen. They both willfully ignored the impending train wreck, insisting on only thinking happy thoughts. This was always the obvious best choice; they should have reached in in February when they still had an outside chance to win.


The replacement of Hung with Chu is not a fundamental policy change for the KMT. This is more like replacing the advertising agency for a product rather than revamping the product itself. Hung was perhaps too overt and too shrill for the general electorate in her advocacy of ever-closer relations with China. However, her position was not too far away from that of the Ma administration. In fact, she defended herself precisely by saying that she wasn’t saying anything that Ma hadn’t already said first. Lest one think that the KMT leaders (including Ma) have decided to fundamentally rethink their party platform in the face of electoral pressure, Ma’s National Day address should have put that notion to rest. He defiantly insisted that the country was solidly on the correct path, and it would stick firmly to that path. You can be sure that Ma would not be willing to endorse Chu for president if Chu were about to repudiate Ma’s line on relations with China. Chu might present the policy to the public in a more soothing tones or less incendiary verbiage, but it will be essentially the same policy.


Electorally, I don’t expect this move to have much of an impact. Remember those polls from late last year and early this year showing Chu running neck and neck with Tsai? (For example, a February 6 TVBS poll had Tsai leading Chu by only 2%, 43-41%.) Back then, Chu was the Golden One. We didn’t know too much about him, and people were eager to project all their hopes and good will on him. Those days are long gone. When he entered the national fray as party chair, he stepped into the harsh light of daily scrutiny. He hasn’t shown much policy leadership. In his biggest opportunity to carve out a unique identity for himself, he simply echoed the Ma administration’s positions in his trip to China. He has been distracted from focusing exclusively on national politics by the responsibilities of running New Taipei City. (That also hasn’t gone well. His current approval ratings are far below those from his first term.) However, his biggest failing has been his bewildering indecisiveness and refusal to take an active leadership role. As party chair, he had the responsibility to ensure that the KMT nominated one of its two viable candidates, himself or Speaker Wang. When he took the party chair, most people assumed he would also accept the presidential nomination. Inexplicably, he staunchly refused that responsibility. However, he also never had the guts to stand up to President Ma and insist that the party should nominate Wang. Instead, he tried to dodge responsibility by insisting on being a neutral referee. He didn’t even seem to want to take responsibility for the technicalities: all the rules and decisions – many of which were quite important – were announced by Secretary-General Lee Si-chuan or Deputy Chair Hau Lung-pin. At one point, Chu even tried to absent himself from the KMT Central Standing Committee weekly meetings. The result was that the KMT ended up nominating Hung, a decision that pleased the DPP more than the KMT. And now? Now Chu has reversed himself again by deciding that maybe he is willing to accept the presidential nomination. Apparently the convictions that were so powerful eight months ago when he was still a viable contender have evaporated into thin air. I suppose it is simply one more self-inflicted body blow. (I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he repeats this indecision on the question of whether to resign as New Taipei mayor. I can easily see him insisting for two and a half months that there is no need to resign, panicking and resigning in the last week, getting no political gain because both those who want him to resign and those who want him to stay in office will be unhappy, and then losing the seat to the DPP in the by-election.) At any rate, a TVBS poll last week shows him trailing Tsai by 48-29%, only slightly better than Hung’s 48-24% deficit. (Remember, KMT candidates generally do better in TVBS polls than in most other polls, so a 19% deficit may be overestimating Chu’s current popularity.)

Of course, the KMT has long since given up on the presidential race. They are changing presidential candidates in an effort to save a few more of their legislative candidates. I don’t think this will very effective.

The KMT probably isn’t winning any new votes this year; their challenge is to simply maintain as much of the 2012 coalition as possible. The problem is that many former supporters have withdrawn their support in the 2016 presidential election. Some specifically dislike Hung, but many others dissatisfied President Ma’s performance or the entire KMT. The real root of the problem is that the KMT has been bleeding party ID for four years, probably because of the high levels of dissatisfaction with President Ma’s policies and actions. Hung hasn’t helped. The fact that the party has happily spent half a year with her as its main presidential contender has probably solidified the image that the party is resolute in its desire to move ever closer to China. However, merely retracting her nomination does not undo that damage. Rather than fundamentally repudiating her (and President Ma’s) position toward China, the KMT has apologized to her for the retraction. At any rate, most of those voters aren’t coming back to the KMT regardless of who is on the top of the ticket unless the KMT undergoes fundamental change.

With Hung Hsiu-chu as the KMT’s presidential candidate, I expected most KMT legislative candidates to run ahead of the presidential candidates. There are a certain number of voters who are unwilling to vote for Hung but would still be willing to vote for the local KMT nominee. These voters might specifically dislike Hung or they might dislike the current KMT more generally, but they are willing to overlook these negatives because they like the local legislative candidate. Hung isn’t costing the KMT these legislative votes, so replacing her with the (presumably less offensive) Chu doesn’t add any extra votes here. In other words, Chu might run 5% better in the presidential race, but that doesn’t mean that the KMT’s legislative candidates will do any better with him at the top of the ticket.

Instead, we need to imagine that there are some voters who dislike Hung so much that they will refuse to vote for a KMT legislative candidate that they prefer to the DPP candidate. That is, they would penalize the legislative candidate – who they like – for associating with Hung. The local candidate will certainly remind them that Hung is not the party leader, she has no chance to win, she is ready to retire will be out of the picture on January 17, and that the best way to repudiate her faction is for her to be humiliated in the presidential election while the other faction proves it can still successfully appeal to voters). Still, these voters will refuse to be swayed. However, with Chu (who also represents President Ma’s KMT and has no chance to win) at the top of the ticket, these same voters will overlook any misgivings and vote for the local KMT candidate. Are there really that many of these voters? My guess is that there are fewer than most pundits would have us believe.


Updated poll of polls

October 11, 2015

Did anything happen while I was gone? Really?!? Well, I might have some opinions about that…

While I think about what to make of recent events, here is an updated poll of polls. (For methodology, see the previous post.) Things have been fairly stable over the past month. Ever since the PRC’s big parade, Tsai has held a (bigger) lead, Soong has slumped into the oblivion that is third place, and Hung hasn’t managed to make any headway.  Also note the steady rise in Don’t Know over the past four months. This increase comes entirely out of the two blue camp candidates’ ledger. I imagine some of them are undecided between Hung and Soong and will continue to be blue camp voters one way or another. However, many of them will stay home, and some of them are probably now considering Tsai. There just isn’t much good news for the blue camp (or the PRC) to be seen in these data. (There is a small spike for Hung in the past week, but there are two reasons that the KMT might want to restrain its excitement. On the one hand, Tsai’s support has remained high. On the other, that spike is driven entirely by two recent TVBS polls, and TVBS has generally produced higher KMT estimates than other survey organizations in recent years.)

prez poll of polls 20151011a