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.
|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|
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.