What are the expectations for Saturday night when the votes are counted? I’m going to try to give an overview of the range of expectations as well as my personal expectations. Remember, we’re all guessing here, and all of us will be at least a little wrong.
There is a wide divergence among expectations, but the first thing to note is that everyone expects Tsai Ing-wen to win the presidential election. Taiwan throws out a shocking electoral result every now and then, but it would be beyond shocking for Tsai to lose. The presidential race has been heavily surveyed, and all the polls agreed that Tsai was way ahead. Perhaps even more importantly, all the secondary evidence supports this conclusion. The party ID numbers, the numbers from the legislative races, President Ma’s satisfaction ratings, the hints from KMT legislators who are acting like they are in trouble, and so on all suggest that the DPP is well ahead in the presidential race.
I think most people expect Tsai to get an outright majority, and the question is just how big that majority will be. From the diehard deep blue camp, there are some people who think there is a possibility of holding Tsai under 50%. The extreme optimists also think that Chu will break 40%, leaving the margin of victory at under 10%. On the other side, there are deep green optimists who are thinking about Tsai’s big lead in the polls and counting on a low turnout among demoralized blue camp voters. The most extreme of these might put Tsai’s vote share in the low 60s. I am expecting Tsai to end up somewhere around 58%. A good friend of mine disagreed with that, pointing out that Tsai’s polling numbers are not as good as Ma’s were in 2008, so he expects her to end up closer to 53 or 54%. It is a reasonable objection, and my impression is that most people’s expectations fall in that 53-58% range.
What of Chu and Soong? At one extreme, there is a possibility that Soong will outpoll Chu. This would be a pretty shocking result, but it isn’t unfathomable. At the other extreme, Soong’s support could evaporate and flow toward the two main candidates. In this scenario, Soong would be left with 5% or so, and Chu would end up close to 40%. I don’t think that will happen, however. There is very little incentive to vote strategically if you don’t think the gap between the top two candidates is small. This year, everyone thinks Tsai is far ahead, so Soong supporters don’t really have any expectation that they can change the outcome by throwing their support to Chu or Tsai. I expect them to stay with Soong. In fact, I think the opposite effect is perhaps more likely. Erstwhile KMT supporters might take out their frustrations with the KMT’s past four years by casting a protest vote for Soong. My guess is that Chu and Soong will split the 42% that doesn’t vote for Tsai roughly two to one. So let’s say, Tsai 58%, Chu 27%, and Soong 15%. I feel much more confident about the first number than the second and third numbers.
What about the legislature? Again, let’s start with the most optimistic expectations I have heard for the blue side. I have heard a couple of people say that they think the expectation for the KMT should be about 48-52 seats (out of a total of 113). To put it another way, the KMT should only end up within 3 or 4 seats of the DPP. In this group’s most optimistic scenario, the KMT could get as many as 55 seats, which would put it in a position to form a majority coalition with independents or sympathetic smaller parties. My friends with this view thought that a bad result for the KMT would be in the low 40s or even the high 30s.
At the other extreme, people who think that Tsai is going to break 60% also see the DPP headed for a landslide in the legislature. One person suggested that this year will be the mirror image of 2008, with the KMT only managing 27 seats. A few other people I know also think the KMT will end up with fewer than 30 seats.
These are wildly divergent expectations. My own expectation falls between them, though it is still clearly worse than the disaster outcome for the blue optimists. I’m expecting the KMT to end up in the mid-30s.
How is it possible for so many smart people to have such divergent expectations? There are, in fact, good reasons. First, we are in a period of flux in public opinion. KMT party ID has unraveled quite a bit in the past four years, but we still haven’t settled into a new equilibrium. We don’t know if all those erstwhile KMT supporters will angrily punish the KMT or if they will, holding back tears of frustration, mark their ballots for the KMT because they simply can’t stomach the idea of a DPP government. Second, we don’t have good survey data on legislative races. The surveys were spotty, and the results weren’t always stable from one survey to the next. Unlike the presidential race, we don’t have very powerful expectations. Third, most of the tossup races feature a KMT incumbent in a district that used to favor the KMT but will probably go heavily for Tsai this year. We don’t know whether the KMT incumbents’ years of hard work doing constituency service will be enough to overcome the partisan deficit.
I have divided the 73 districts into five categories. This is entirely my subjective judgment, and a few of them are sure to be wrong.
|Safe green||Lean green||tossup||Lean blue||Safe blue|
|Tainan 2||New Taipei 5||New Taipei 7|
|Tainan 1||New Taipei 6||Taichung 2||New Taipei 8||Taipei 8|
|Pingtung 3||Taoyuan 2||Pingtung 2||Hualien||Taipei 7|
|Chiayi 2||Changhua 3||Taichung 3||Taitung||Taipei 6|
|Tainan 3||Kaohsiung 3||New Taipei 10||Hsinchu County||New Taipei 11|
|Pingtung 1||Changhua 2||Taipei 5||New Taipei 9|
|Kaohsiung 4||Taichung 8||Miaoli 1||Taipei 4|
|Kaohsiung 9||Taoyuan 1||Nantou 1||Taichung 5|
|Yunlin 2||Changhua1||Taoyuan 3||Lienchiang|
|Kaohsiung 1||Taipei 1||Kinmen|
|Kaohsiung 2||Taichung 4||Taoyuan 6|
|Kaohsiung 7||Hsinchu City||Taoyuan 5|
|Yunlin 1||Keelung||Miaoli 2|
|Chiayi 1||New Taipei 1|
|Kaohsiung 5||New Taipei 12|
|Tainan 5||Taoyuan 4|
|Kaohsiung 6||Taipei 3|
|New Taipei 2|
|New Taipei 3|
|New Taipei 4|
|30 districts||5 districts||18 districts||8 districts||12 districts|
If the KMT sweeps those 18 tossup districts and adds 4 indigenous seats and 15 list seats, that would give it exactly the magic 57 seats. I don’t think that is going to happen, but you can see that the optimistic KMT projections aren’t entirely based in fantasy. My gut feeling is that the pendulum will probably swing the other way, with the DPP winning most of those tossup districts due to their heavy partisan advantage. If the KMT wins four of those tossup seats and adds 4 indigenous seats and 10 list seats, it would end up with only 38 seats. If I have been unable to put aside my slavish devotion to past election results and have drawn the line too generously toward the KMT (as I suspect I may have), it could be even a bit lower. My best guess right now is that the green side will have a 51-22 advantage in the 73 district seats. In a party breakdown, that is 48 DPP, 21 KMT, 3 NPP, 1 PFP.
For the six indigenous seats, I think the general expectations are that all four KMT nominees will win, the DPP will win one (lowland) seat, and the last seat will go to deep blue independent Kao Chin Su-mei. The conventional wisdom sounds about right to me.
The party list votes are much harder to predict, and expectations are all over the place. The survey results varied wildly from poll to poll, so they didn’t provide all that much guidance. I think a lot of voters won’t make their decision until the last few days. They know which camp they are in, but they don’t necessarily know if they should vote for a big party or a small party (or which small party). A lot of this comes down to who has the best messaging in the last week to convince sympathetic voters to go their way. I think the PFP has a small core of supporters – maybe 4-5% – and the TSU has a smaller core of supporters – perhaps 2-3%. The other newer parties, including the NPP, SDP/Green, MKT, and New Party might have a core group of about 1-2%. However, each of these parties is trying to siphon away votes from the two big parties but claiming it can pass the 5% threshold. On the blue side, they are also appealing to voters to cast happy votes rather than voting for the KMT with frustrated tears in their eyes. Prior to this last week, the NPP had done the best job of creating a positive atmosphere, and it did very well in the last polls. However, this success apparently spooked the DPP, which has made concentrating votes on the DPP list one of its big three closing messages (along with preventing vote buying and going back home to vote). I think it is possible that the NPP could crash and fall below the TSU, though it is also possible that they could surge and win four seats. It’s just hard to predict. On the blue side, I think that a generous number of voters will defect from the KMT and support a smaller blue party. My gut says that the New Party, which has launched a series of flamboyant attacks in the past week, might be surging. If I had to guess, I’d say that we’ll get something like this:
|Faith and Hope||1.00%|
(My refusal to translate tiny parties’ names accurately reflects my disdain for these vanity parties.)
That adds up to 55.6% in the green camp (including the two tiny Taiwan independence parties), 39.3% in the blue camp (including the unification party), and 5.5% for all the others (including the two environmental parties). Of course, this is now a ridiculous exercise, since this is a wild stab in the dark.
So, just for fun, that all adds up to 68 DPP, 35 KMT, 5 NPP, 4 PFP, and 1 (deep blue) IND. In blue/green terms, that makes a 73-40 green advantage, which would be just a little more than the blue camp’s advantage in the old legislature but nowhere near the KMT’s majority in 2008.
Going back to the wider world of expectations, I think this puts me a little out of the mainstream. I think most people are expecting a somewhat smaller DPP majority, with the DPP in the low 60s, the KMT in the upper 30s, and the smaller parties doing a lot better.
On Saturday night, a lot of the celebration or mourning will be done in relation to these expectations. However, in the longer run, we will look back in a more absolute sense. In 2008, the DPP did surprisingly well relative to pre-election expectations. However, these days no one puts it that way. Every description of the 2008 elections starts with something like, “the KMT swept into power on an overwhelming wave of support,” rather than, “the KMT took power with a big majority, though with not quite as much support as some had expected.” When we write about the 2016 outcome, we should probably do the same. The headline should be in absolute terms rather than whether one side beat the pre-election expectations.