One of the DPP’s more controversial campaign decisions this year was to form alliances with various “progressive” parties and politicians in legislative races. The DPP did not nominate its own candidate in 11 of the 73 legislative district races. Instead, it supported a hodgepodge of 3 New Power Party, 1 TSU, 1 PFP, 1 Green/Social Democrat, and 5 independent candidates. All of these were nominated in what the DPP formally designated as “difficult” districts, so it seemed unlikely that the DPP could win any of them on its own. Instead, the DPP (probably Tsai) decided to follow last year’s successful Ko P model, cooperating with a candidate who might have some appeal across party lines.
How did this turn out? The NPP won all three of its races, and an independent candidate in Taoyuan 6 also won. It’s hard to fault any strategy that produced 4 victories in 11 seemingly impossible races, right?
Hold on there, hoss. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know what’s coming. I think the cooperation strategy was actually not very successful at all. I think the DPP could have won all three districts that the NPP ran in, and it might have won two or three others. In other words, their alliance strategy may have cost them seats.
The DPP’s definition of a difficult district was always too restrictive. They designated 29 districts as “difficult” since their legislative candidates had won less than 42.5% in 2012. Given the DPP’s difficulties in indigenous districts, they needed to win at least 40 of the 73 districts. By designating 29 as difficult, they were considering 44 as clearly winnable. In hindsight, that seems laughable now. It should have been clearly wrong then too, since the DPP did quite well in the presidential and party list votes in some of the districts. At any rate, the 11 districts that they eventually yielded were chosen from these 29 difficult districts.
As we all know now, there has been a major swing in partisan patterns over the past four years. Districts that seemed close four years ago were landslides this time. Districts that were solidly blue last time were close or even flipped green this time. If the DPP’s allied candidates won five seats, was it because of their personal attractions, or were there simply enough green votes to go around this time?
My strategy for this analysis is to look at the party list votes. There were 18 parties. I classify five of them as green parties (DPP, NPP, TSU, Free Taiwan, Taiwan Independence), six of them as blue (KMT, MKT, PFP, New, MCFAP, Chinese Unification) and seven as unclear. The smaller parties were not formally allied with the camps, but I’ll assume that diehard independence (unification) voters would usually vote for the green (blue) camp candidate if forced to choose. It isn’t very many votes, so classifying the tiny parties doesn’t really affect things very much anyway. The most important unclear parties are the Green/SDP, Trees, and Faith and Hope Alliance. I’ll assume that, if forced to choose in a blue vs green legislative race, these voters would either abstain, vote for a minor party, or split their votes fairly evenly. (Green/SDP and Trees would probably tend to support the green side, while Faith and Hope would probably support the blue side.) To put it another way, we can probably simply ignore the unclear parties and concentrate on the blue and green camp votes.
Let’s look at Taipei City first. Unfortunately, the CEC aggregates party list votes up to the administrative district, and six of the eight electoral districts cross administrative lines. Still, these numbers are revealing.
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Taipei 1, where DPP city councilor Wu Su-yao beat seven-term KMT incumbent Ting Shou-chung, includes Beitou and a small portion of Shilin. Many people have talked about this result as an upset, but it is clear from the party vote that the green camp has a solid majority in this district. Wu simply consolidated the green vote and won easily. Taipei 2 (Datong and most of Shilin) was already a DPP district, so we’ll ignore it.
Taipei 5 (Wanhua and most of Zhongzheng) was Freddy Lim’s district. Many people, including me, thought that this should be considered a blue-leaning district, but the party vote shows us wrong. The green side had a significant advantage in Wanhua and was almost even in Zhongzheng. Freddy didn’t win because Lin Yu-fang self-destructed. Freddy won because the national partisan patterns shifted, and he was running in a majority green district.
Taipei 6 is Da-an. The DPP yielded this district to Fan Yun, of the SDP. She lost to the KMT candidate by a 46-35% margin. According to the party list votes, this district is about a 49-42 blue camp advantage. Fan Yun not only didn’t bring any extra votes to the table, she wasn’t even able to soak up all the available green camp votes. The DPP probably wouldn’t have won this race with a DPP candidate, but it might have been closer.
In Taipei 7 (Xinyi plus a bit of Songshan) and Taipei 8 (Wenshan plus a bit of Zhongshan), the DPP allied with two independents who until 2014 were deep blue KMT city councilors. Yang Shi-chiu in Taipei 7 surprised many people by coming within a few thousand votes of winning, a result that seemed to justify the collaboration. However, a look at the party list votes shows that, once again, it was the new national partisan balance that was doing much of the hard work. It must be pointed out that Yang’s vote was not simply the green vote. There were over 17,000 votes cast for the Green/SDP candidate, while the Green/SDP list only got about 5,000-6,000 votes. Many of these extra votes were probably from green camp supporters who could not stomach voting for an old deep blue politician such as Yang, regardless of the DPP’s recommendation. Yang may have brought a few votes with him from the blue side, but since the final margin looks like the difference in the party list vote, it appears that for every vote Yang brought over from the blue side, there were two green voters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him. The same sort of thing seems to have happened in Taipei 8, where the Green/SDP candidate got over 22,000 votes (but their list was under 10,000). In Taipei 8, the partisan balance was probably not close enough that the DPP could have won, but it might have had a chance in Taipei 7 if everything had gone just right. At the very least, those 30,000 or so green camp sympathizers who cast a protest vote for the Green/SDP would have been much happier at the voting booth, and that should count for something.
This leaves Taipei 3 and 4, the two really interesting districts. Taipei 3 (Zhongshan and two-thirds of Songshan) is very similar to Taipei 5 in partisan balance. In the past it has had a clear blue camp advantage, but this year the party list votes say it should have been a green district. The DPP originally nominated a candidate who would have been a strong contender to knock of the KMT imperial prince, Chiang Wan-an. Instead, the green camp support was split between a controversial doctor and a Green/SDP candidate. The cooperation strategy very probably cost the DPP this seat and launched the political career of a possible KMT star. Bad, bad mistake.
In Taipei 4 (Nangang and Neihu), the DPP supported PFP city councilor Huang Shan-shan. Huang came within 4,000 votes of winning, so it looks like the strategy almost paid off. The primary reason it failed was that a lot of – perhaps 30,000 – green camp voters simply couldn’t stomach voting for a PFP politician and voted for the TSU, NPP, or Green/SDP candidates. However, a look at the party list votes suggests that a straight KMT/DPP race would have been a tossup, or perhaps even favor the DPP. If Huang had run in a KMT/DPP/PFP race (as seemed likely), the DPP would have had a decisive advantage. They had a perfectly capable candidate who was eager to run, but DPP party leaders decided not to nominate her. The cooperation strategy probably cost the DPP this seat. It also pissed off a lot of loyal green camp voters, which is not a great party-building strategy.
These party list figures also call into question the effectiveness of the so-called “Ko P” strategy. Unlike most people, I’ve always assumed that Ko Wen-je’s personal appeal had very little to do with winning the 2014 mayor race. I have always thought that Sean Lien’s ability to drive away blue camp voters was the most important factor in Ko’s victory and that, if the KMT had nominated a relatively uncontroversial candidate such as Ting Shou-chung, it would have easily defeated Ko. Now I’m not so sure. These party list numbers suggest that the green side has an advantage in Taipei City. It isn’t big, but in a straight blue/green fight, the green side has a better chance of winning. In other words, the effect of Ko’s personal appeal and/or Lien’s negative personal appeal may have been simply to turn a narrow Ko victory into a Ko landslide.
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New Taipei has apparently become a solidly green city. (I am of the opinion that Eric Chu’s win in 2014 was a tremendous personal achievement, but, because the halo around him has faded so badly, there is no way he would win again if the mayoral election were held today.) Eight of the twelve electoral districts in New Taipei cross administrative lines. I am showing the four that do not plus two very interesting ones (D8 and D9).
D1, D10, and D11 all ended up being simple KMT vs DPP races. In all three, the final outcome came very close to the aggregated party list result. We always try to focus on the unique factors of every race, especially in one with as many twists and turns as D1 had this year, but sometimes the easiest answer is best. These races basically fell along party lines.
D12 was one of the districts that the DPP yielded to the NPP. Huang Kuo-chang beat seven term KMT incumbent and scion of the royal vizier’s household, Lee Ching-hua. For all the uniqueness of the two candidates, the final result was almost exactly the same as the blue/green party vote.
D9 includes all of Yonghe plus a bit of Zhonghe. D8 is the rest of Zhonghe. The part of Zhonghe in D9 is bluer than the rest of Zhonghe and almost as blue as Yonghe. On the table, I show all of Zhonghe as ~D8 (read: not quite exactly D8) and all of Yonghe as ~D9. You should mentally adjust D8 to be a bit greener.
The DPP didn’t bother nominating anyone in D9, one of the bluest districts in the country. The alliance with independent Lee Hsin-chang didn’t seem to work out very well. Lee ended up with under 30% while the green camp party lists had almost 40%. This is still a very blue district, and there was very little chance of winning. Still, parties should try to soak up all their potential votes, and this alliance led 10% of voters who might want to support a DPP candidate to look elsewhere.
D8 was a straight party to party fight, so it isn’t relevant to this post’s topic. However, I can’t resist a tangent. D8 is Chang Ching-chung’s district. You might remember him as the guy who set off the Sunflower movement. The party list numbers say that D8 is – incredibly – now almost a tossup district. However, “30 Second Chang” lost by a whopping 25,000 votes. This might be one of those rare districts in which the partisan balance can’t explain almost everything. It is quite possible that a number of voters who would have otherwise voted for the KMT were disgusted by Chang’s behavior in the legislature.
On to Taoyuan. Four of the six electoral districts cross administrative lines. D4 is most of Taoyuan District, but a little bit goes into D1. This doesn’t have much partisan impact on either D1 or D4. D3 includes most of Zhongli, but a little bit of Zhongli goes into D6. This is important, since the part that is in D6 is almost entirely military communities and votes heavily for the KMT. In your head, please adjust D3 to be somewhat greener and D6 to be somewhat bluer than the table shows.
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For this post, we are mostly interested in D6, where the DPP cooperated with an independent. However, I can’t resist a comment or two about Taoyuan as a whole.
Holy shit! Taoyuan is green?? I know the DPP won the mayoral election in 2014, but I’m still coming to grips with this stunning transformation of the political landscape. (Ok, sorry for that outburst.)
All the races except D2 were very close. D1 and D4 should have been comfortable DPP wins, but the KMT incumbents seem to have made up some ground and turned them into closer races. D3 is probably still slightly blue, even after accounting for the parts of Zhongli that are in D6. However, this party list result goes a long way toward explaining the tight district race.
The independent allied with the DPP won D6 in one of the biggest upsets of election night. However, the party list results suggest that maybe it wasn’t such a big upset after all. The KMT candidate won in Zhongli by 6000 votes, so it looks as if this race went almost exactly along party lines. However, if that is correct, the DPP might have been able to win this district with its own candidate. Remember, once in the legislature, there is no guarantee that an independent legislator will always cooperate with the DPP. Given the choice, they should always prefer legislator from their own party. Since they did win what most people thought was an unwinnable race, it’s hard to criticize the decision to cooperate with an independent too much. They might have had polling data that said D6 was a tossup partisan district, but I can personally attest that years of staring at KMT victories make a person hesitant to believe those data. I guess I’ll say that even if the cooperation strategy wasn’t exactly a mistake, it also wasn’t the smashing success that many people think it was.
Let’s look at a few numbers from Taichung. D2 and D7 have a small overlap, and D1 and D6 were DPP landslides, so let’s look at the other four districts.
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D3 was one of the three districts that the DPP yielded to the NPP. Like the other two, this one ended up almost perfectly along partisan lines. Remind me again why the DPP couldn’t run its own candidate in this district.
According to the party list vote, D4 and D5 are almost exactly the same; both should have a clear green advantage. However, the DPP won D4 by a landslide while the KMT won D5 by a landslide. Perhaps Lu Hsiu-yen in D5 should speak a little more loudly in the upcoming fights over the KMT’s future, since she is one of the very few party members with an electoral record to be proud of. It may have helped that the DPP did not run a candidate against her but instead entrusted the duty to a TSU politician. Perhaps some of the more moderate voters couldn’t stomach voting for a candidate from an extremist party. Again, the collaborationist strategy doesn’t seem to have much payoff.
Chiang Chi-chen in D8 also turned a big partisan disadvantage into a victory, but he did it against a DPP candidate. The NPP wanted to run Hsu Yung-ming in this district, but the DPP wouldn’t yield. That decision didn’t work out so well. This is a good reminder that we shouldn’t assume that the decision not to collaborate will always work out well. Who knows; Hsu might have been able to absorb all the green votes and defeat Chiang.
The last case is Hsinchu County, where the blue party lists had a 54.0-39.5% (143,018 to 104,517) advantage over the green party lists. Hsinchu was a complicated three-way race in which all the candidates had a history in one of the other parties. It probably isn’t the best place to try to apply a party vote-based analytic strategy. The DPP backed independent lost to the KMT candidate by a margin of 93,495 to 85,170. I have no idea whether that was a success or not. If the DPP had a true-green candidate able to connect with grassroots voters, they probably would have done better with her. However, I’m not sure that person exists right now.
Overall, I am quite skeptical that the collaboration strategy helped the DPP. I think they could have won as many or more seats if they had nominated candidates in all 73 districts. They also wouldn’t have invited their voters to vote for other parties or asked them to cast a (painful) ballot for an erstwhile blue camp politician. Of course, there weren’t obvious DPP candidates to run in all the districts, and there were probably compelling national-level strategic reasons for Tsai Ing-wen to want cooperation with a number of smaller parties. And since the DPP won a comfortable single-party majority, it is hard to evaluate their electoral strategy too harshly. However, strictly from a district-level outcome-based perspective, I have to conclude that I think the costs of cooperating outweighed the benefits for the DPP.