Let’s consider the case of Hau Lung-bin. Two weeks ago, Hau seemed pretty well positioned to take over leadership of the KMT. All the other potential contenders were old (Wang, Hung, Wu, Hu), unpopular with the general electorate (Wu, Hung), unacceptable to a crucial faction within the KMT (Wang), had just been discredited by a terrible election loss in 2014 (Hu, Wu Chih-yang, Lien), or had proven to be a terrible leader as was about to suffer a humiliating election defeat (Chu). Hau was going to be the last man standing. He didn’t lose in 2014, and he was acceptable to the powerful mainlander faction in the KMT while still being perceived as more moderate than Hung. All he had to do was prove his electoral viability by winning his legislative race in Keelung, a city that had always been reliably blue until 2014.
Let’s remember that Hau originally indicated that he was going to go to southern or central Taiwan to win a difficult seat for the KMT. I even wrote a post looking at his options. In hindsight, they all look ridiculous. The DPP won all of the other possibilities by huge margins, and Hau would almost certainly have been slaughtered in any of them. Instead, Hau decided that the cautious approach was the wisest. He probably could see the DPP’s wave coming and cynically decided to save himself by choosing the one winnable race. After he muscled the locals aside, his road to the legislature and leadership of the KMT seemed to be on track.
Instead, Hau lost. Perhaps the important point isn’t merely that he lost, but just how badly he lost. He didn’t lose because there weren’t enough blue votes. He didn’t lose because the DPP nominated a spectacular candidate. He lost because blue voters didn’t vote for him. In a city that still has more blue voters than green voters, Hau could only manage to win 36.1% of the vote. This election was supposed to prove Hau’s popularity with the general public and solidify his position as the only KMT leader who could win elections in a difficult year. Instead, the Keelung electorate collectively decided to veto Hau’s aspirations to take over the KMT.
Hau’s basic problem was that he was unable to consolidate the blue vote. There were two other blue candidates in the race. Liu Wen-hsiung is an old PFP warhorse, and Yang Shi-cheng is a city councilor who lost to Hau in the KMT primary and ran under the MKT banner. The fact that they were in the race is insufficient to explain Hau’s loss; a strong KMT candidate would have easily marginalized these two candidates and consolidated almost all of the blue vote.
Duverger’s Law says that single seat plurality elections tend to produce two main contenders. One reason is that voters simply won’t waste their votes on trailing candidates. Why did nearly a quarter of Keelung’s electorate vote for the two minor candidates? There are several possible reasons. One, voters must be able to identify who are the leading and who are the trailing candidates. This probably wasn’t a problem. All the media focus focused on Hau and the DPP’s Tsai, and the few publicly available opinion polls also showed them to be well ahead. Besides, years of experience (including last year’s Keelung mayoral race) have shown that the KMT and DPP nominees are almost always the top two candidates. In short, many voters chose to support Yang or Liu even though they knew those two were unlikely to win. Second, the race between the top two candidates must be close enough for strategic voting to make a difference. All indications were that Hau and Tsai were in a close race, so this should have driven Liu and Yang supporters to abandon their favorites in an effort to help determine the outcome of the race. Third, potential strategic voters must have a clear preference between the top two choices. This might be a more likely culprit. Several recent surveys have shown that PFP identifiers (unsurprisingly) don’t like the DPP. More surprisingly, their evaluations of the KMT are roughly as low as those for the DPP. In other words, many PFP supporters don’t clearly prefer the KMT to the DPP. Hau’s status as an outsider who parachuted in from Taipei may also have hurt him, especially among people who voted for Yang. Yang represented the localist faction of the KMT, and his supporters might disliked the outsider Hau just as much as they disliked the DPP’s Tsai. Fourth, most models assume that strategic voters are short-term rational. This means that they care only about the outcome of this election. However, some voters might choose to vote for a hopeless candidate precisely because they care more about some long-term goal. For example, PFP or MKT supporters might have voted for Liu or Yang because they cared about the long-term health of the PFP or MKT. More intriguingly, I wonder if some light-blue voters didn’t look to the impending KMT leadership struggle and decide that the best way to support a nativist KMT leader was to vote against Hau in the legislative race.
Let’s look at some votes. The following table shows the party list votes aggregated into green camp (DPP, NPP, TSU, Free Taiwan, Taiwan Independence), blue camp (KMT, PFP, MKT, New, MCFAP, China Unification), and others. It also shows the four candidate’s votes:
On the party lists, there were about 4,500 more blue votes than green votes. (This might be a bit misleading since it includes about 3,500 indigenous voters who didn’t vote in the district election. The DPP only got about 500 of those votes, so the overall blue advantage in the legislative district was probably closer to 2,000 votes. I’m going to ignore the indigenous vote for the rest of the post.) However, Tsai was not able to soak up all the green votes. Nearly 9,000 green list voters split their tickets and voted for a blue district candidate. Given this, the race should have been winnable for Hau.
Some people like thinking in numbers of votes, but I think it is often easier to think in vote shares.
Hau ran 11.9% behind the blue list vote. This gap was similar everywhere except Zhongshan District, where he ran 16.9% behind the list. Tsai ran 4.3% behind the green list vote. He also did worse in Zhongshan, where he was 9.2% behind. However, he did better in Anle, where he was only 1.4% behind. If you guessed that Tsai’s city council district is Anle, you guessed correctly.
Let’s look at the other two candidates. This time we’ll compare their votes with their party’s list share.
Keelung is one of the PFP’s stronger areas, as its list garnered 9.2% here compared to 6.5% nationally. Like in the rest of the country, Soong got roughly twice as many presidential votes (16.5%) as the PFP list. Liu Wen-hsiung split the difference, getting 12.4% of the vote. Liu’s vote thus looks like it is mostly a party vote rather than a personal vote. These PFP voters might be part of the blue camp when it comes to national identity, but they seem fed up with the KMT. Many of them didn’t give any of their three votes to the KMT, something the new KMT leadership should probably reflect upon.
Finally, we come to Yang Shi-cheng and the MKT. Unlike the other parties, the MKT doesn’t really have much of a presence. Its party list only got 2.0% in Keelung, and Yang’s vote seems to be rather unrelated to the MKT support. I imagine most people who voted for the MKT list probably also voted for Yang, but the vast majority of his votes came from other sources. You have probably guessed by now that Zhongshan is Yang’s city council district, and he got more than twice as much support in Zhongshan as in the rest of the city. Since each of the other three candidates’ vote shares suffered in Zhongshan, it stands to reason that Yang’s local networks extended into KMT, DPP, and PFP vote bases alike. In the rest of the city, I think that Yang’s vote probably reflects the localist backlash against Hau. We saw a similar backlash in the 2014 mayoral election. The KMT can probably win these votes back, but only if they stop nominating outsiders from Taipei.
Hau lost the race by 5.4%. He probably could have won the race if he had been able to make an alliance with the localist faction represented by Yang. However, this is precisely the part of the former KMT coalition that is furious with the mainlander KMT elite for their treatment of Speaker Wang and their efforts to promote ideological purists such as Hung Hsiu-chu. There were some districts in which these voters stayed with the KMT, especially in central Taiwan. However, the nominees in those districts were almost all from the nativist wing of the KMT. Hau is decidedly not from that wing.
In the wake of the election, several KMT pundits have attempted to downplay the KMT’s defeat by pointing to low turnout, the K-pop singer incident, and the splintering of the blue camp vote by other parties. All the KMT needs to do, they suggest, is simply to consolidate the blue vote. Keelung’s experience suggests there is nothing simple about it. A localist candidate might have won, but that would have required Hau to put his leadership ambitions aside. More generally, the orthodox wing of the KMT seems unwilling to put aside or water down its ideological positions or to yield leadership of the party to the nativist wing. Absent those sorts of compromises, the KMT might be headed for a future with many more races like Keelung.