The recall aftermath, part 2

In my previous post, I noted that since there haven’t been many recalls, we don’t really know how to interpret the results. I suggested that, for the time being, I was using the working assumption that recall votes were very similar to normal party votes in a by-election, at least for the “yes” side.

Let me explain that a bit more. I am considering two basic mobilization stories. In one, the KMT and ambitious KMT politicians are the main actors. They appeal to their normal networks, so the pattern of yes votes should look basically like a KMT party vote. In the other story, the mobilization is done by social activists. The marriage traditionalists might have some allies in the KMT or in traditional KMT networks, but they also have their own connections. Equally importantly, even when they ally with the KMT, they can’t tap into all of the KMT strength. As a result, if this is the dominant group, the pattern of yes votes will look quite a bit different from an ordinary KMT vote.

When I wrote the previous post, I still only had the numbers for the seven administrative districts in New Taipei 12. To be honest, these numbers weren’t much more illuminating than the overall result. Seven subgroups isn’t a whole lot, and nearly two-thirds of the population is concentrated in one of those districts, Xizhi. However, just about the time I finished that post, the Central Election Commission released the precinct-level data. So now we can dig more carefully into the results and see if the yes votes do, in fact, look like they are simply a reflection of KMT mobilization.

Let’s start with those district-level results.

  yes eligible Yes% turnout
overall 48693 251191 0.191 0.278
Jinshan 2614 18072 0.143 0.235
Wanli 2707 18434 0.146 0.212
Xizhi 33907 157860 0.209 0.306
Pingxi 674 4362 0.159 0.221
Ruifang 5865 33333 0.177 0.239
Shuangxi 1535 8000 0.197 0.261
Gongliao 1391 11130 0.126 0.191

Turnout was much higher in Xizhi than everywhere else. This is reasonable. Xizhi is overwhelmingly urban; it is a lower-cost suburb of Taipei City. Most of the people with residences there actually live in Xizhi (and many commute to work in Taipei every day). Very few people have to make an effort to go home to vote since they are already home. In contrast, the rest of the district is mostly rural and relatively hard to get to. Many of the people with household registration in these places actually live somewhere else. For them, going back home to vote (in a relatively low-salience recall election) is more of a burden. Still, because of the difference in turnout, Xizhi has 63.6% of eligible voters but produced 69.6% of the yes votes.

In the above table, the column yes% is the number of yes votes divided by eligible voters (not valid votes). However, if we want to argue that recall votes are simply a matter of mobilizing previous party votes, we need to control for party support. I went back to the 2016 legislative election and looked at the votes for two candidates: KMT nominee Lee Ching-hua and Faith and Hope League nominee Chen Yung-shun. If you recall, the Faith and Hope League’s main issue was opposition to marriage equality and many of their leading figures had originally belonged to the KMT, so I think it is reasonable to group their 4892 votes together with the KMT’s 68318 to get our potential base of support. The following table shows the percentage of eligible voters won by these two candidates in 2016, the percentage of eligible voters who voted yes in 2017, and the ratio of these two numbers:

  李陳% Yes% ratio
Overall 0.291 0.191 0.654
Jinshan 0.261 0.143 0.547
Wanli 0.279 0.146 0.522
Xizhi 0.295 0.209 0.707
Pingxi 0.300 0.159 0.531
Ruifang 0.316 0.177 0.560
Shuangxi 0.288 0.197 0.682
Gongliao 0.234 0.126 0.540

Overall, the yes side mobilized 65.4% of the previous votes. It was higher in Xizhi (70.7%) and much lower (between 52-56%) nearly everywhere else. Shuangxi is the glaring exception. In Shuangxi, the yes side mobilized 68.2%, nearly matching Xizhi. What happened there? I don’t have any idea. However, I will note that this is not exactly consistent with a KMT mobilization led by ambitious city councilors. The two people most likely to benefit from a recall are the two KMT councilors from Xizhi. However, their district includes only Xizhi, Jinshan, and Wanli. If they were behind this, I would have expected Jinshan or Wanli to be the outlier, not Shuangxi. Whatever the story in Shuangxi is, it isn’t that one. This looks more like the social movement story, in which the marriage traditionalists have a particularly strong organization in Shuangxi.

Anyway, let’s turn to Xizhi. I’m going to focus on Xizhi and ignore the rest of the electoral districts for three reasons. First, Xizhi is much bigger than the other places. Because of its size, the fate of the recall was determined here, not in the outlying areas. Second, I’m going to use maps, and the teeny areas with dense populations in Xizhi would be nearly impossible to see on a map of the entire district. (Also, I’m lazy, and it is easier to use a single shapefile than to combine seven.) Third, I know Xizhi in much more detail than I know the other areas in New Taipei 12. Because I have so much more local knowledge about Xizhi, I can tell a much more informative story. I’m sure the rest of map is equally interesting, but I don’t have the skills to read it.

Xizhi map

Most towns have one main population center, but Xizhi has three distinct centers. The traditional downtown area is in the eastern part of the city along the three train stations. About half the population lives in this area, which is as similar in population density to Taipei City. The other two centers are on the western edge, and they are really lower-cost extensions of Taipei City. South of the river, about 10% of the population lives in an area that is an extension of Nangang. This area is geographically cut off from the rest of Xizhi. The main road in and out of this area is Academia Road in Taipei City. On the west side of the road, you have Academia Sinica and a few Nangang neighborhoods. There is a tiny river that runs about a block east of the road that forms the border between Nangang and Xizhi, so the eastern half of these neighborhoods around Academia Sinica is in Xizhi. North of the river, there is a bigger urban center that comprises about 25% of Xizhi’s population. This neighborhood is an extension of Taipei’s Neihu District. More specifically, it borders Eastern Neihu (Donghu 東湖). One small two-lane road is the main conduit between Donghu and downtown Xizhi. I’ve never driven this road during morning rush hour, but it’s already pretty miserable during the off-hours. Freeway #1 runs right through this area, but there is (infuriatingly) no easy access to it. Nonetheless, this area is significantly cheaper than Donghu, and the population has more than doubled over the past two decades. The three li on the eastern edge of this area 湖蓮里、湖光里、湖興里 are a bit different from the rest of the gritty neighborhoods north of the river. These three li are filled with gated communities and townhouses, so they are quite a bit wealthier than their adjacent areas.

Now that you have a firm grasp of Xizhi geography, let’s look at the election results. This map is NOT the raw data. It is the ratio from the last column of the above table. That is, it is looking at how many yes votes there were, controlling for how many votes the KMT and FH League won in 2016. If the yes side was actually a disguised party effort, then it should have simply mobilized about 70% of the KMT/FH vote in every li. If it was not, then we might see some variations. In fact, you can see at a glance that there is a distinct geographical pattern. The yes side turned out far more of the KMT/FH vote in the eastern (downtown) area than in the western (overflow suburbs) area. The gap is pretty large, about 10-15%. In the east, most li are in the high 70s; in the west, they are in the mid 60s. For whatever reason, the yes side turned out far more votes in the downtown Xizhi area than anywhere else.

recall 2017 xizhi yes_kf.png

[Quick aside. There are two conspicuously green li 義民里、禮門里 right downtown in the sea of red. These two lightly populated li are dominated by the traditional market street that runs behind the main road, though so is the very red li 仁德里 to their east. Turnout in these two li was not markedly lower than in adjacent li. However, a much higher percentage of voters cast a “no” ballot. In 禮門里, the no side actually beat the yes side 146-142. This was one of only six li in the entire New Taipei 12 district in which no beat yes. I don’t have any explanation for the high proportion of no votes in these two li, though I will note that Huang Kuo-chang has an office in one of them. Maybe his staff made the mistake of working too hard in the surrounding neighborhood and ignoring more distant areas.]

 

Does this lopsided map suggest that the yes vote was actually driven by a social organization and not the KMT? It certainly is consistent with that story. A new group with no previous experience has to try to mobilize voters wherever it can reach them. One obvious strategy is to go where the voters are. Downtown Xizhi has the most voters, and many of them commute to work on the train. Camping out at the train stations and haranguing commuters is an obvious strategy. It certainly is more appealing than trying to talk to people commuting to work in individual cars or buses on the western edge of town. It might also be that the yes side had more previous connections in downtown Xizhi. Perhaps many of their church members live there. If you are a brand-new organization, you play to your strengths. Parties are a bit different. Parties have a long-term orientation, and they have spent decades filling in the weak areas. Parties should have connections everywhere, not just in the city centers. My first impression on looking at this map was that it looks like the work of a hastily organized social movement, not the effort of an established party organization.

However, there is a bit more to the story. The two people who stand to benefit the most from Huang’s recall are the two KMT city councilors, Pai Pei-ju 白珮茹 and Liao Cheng-liang 廖正良. Perhaps we should look at them more closely.

First, let’s look at Pai Pei-ju’s vote share in the 2014 city council election. Her support is concentrated on the western edge of Xizhi, especially in the extension Donghu north of the river. Her pattern of support doesn’t look anything like the pattern of yes votes.

cc2014 Pai Pei ju.png

However, Liao is a different story. His support is on the east side, especially in downtown Xizhi. His map looks very similar to the yes vote. (The three more affluent li north of the river are the most notable outliers.)

cc2014 Liao Cheng liang.png

What does this suggest? To me, it looks like only part of the KMT mobilized to support the yes side. Pai Pei-ju may have sat on her hands, while Liao Cheng-liang went all out trying to recall Huang. The relative weakness of the yes side outside of Liao’s core suggests that most of the KMT machinery also held back. The social groups may have drummed up some support to augment Liao’s base (such as in the three affluent li), but this looks mostly like Liao was the driving force turning out higher numbers of voters in downtown Xizhi.

Some media report indicate that this may indeed be what happened. Liao is frequently mentioned in reports of the pre-recall campaign activities, while Pai rarely is. The KMT seems to have had an internal debate about how to approach the recall. While Hung Hsiu-chu was still chair, she apparently wanted to go all-in on the recall. However, Chair Wu Den-yi has been much more cautious about getting too involved. For one thing, marriage is a thorny topic that cuts across party lines, and the KMT grassroots workers seem to have been reluctant to get too involved. [Note: this doesn’t mean that a majority supports marriage equality. You can’t afford to offend a minority of your network, even if that minority is only a third or a fourth of the people. Neighborhood chiefs (lizhang) prefer to emphasize valence issues (things that everyone likes) such as local development, not divisive things like marriage equality.] For another, the KMT was unsure about how an unsuccessful recall campaign would be interpreted. Finally, I found this article which states explicitly that Pai has been sitting on her hands. Pai’s political base is in the farmers association. [Her father served a term in the legislature on the KMT party list as a representative of farmers associations.] While Liao presents himself to the public as an orthodox KMT member (all his ads cloak him in ROC symbols), Pai’s ads present her is much less overly partisan pink and light blue themes. To put it another way, Liao presents himself as a member of the Chinese KMT, while Pai presents herself more in the tradition of the Taiwanese KMT. I don’t know if that reflects their actual positions, but that is the vibe they send out. The article echoes this difference, suggesting that many of Pai’s allies in the farmers’ association are actually quite sympathetic to Huang, and that is why she was hesitant to dive in to the recall effort.

 

To put it more generally, I no longer believe the yes vote was simply two-thirds of the normal KMT vote. Instead, it was the result of differing efforts by various parts of the (diverse) KMT coalition, plus an outside social group. Some parts of the KMT went all out, while other parts held back. The national KMT leadership hesitatingly endorsed the recall, but it deliberately kept enough distance to decouple the result from any interpretations about the KMT’s or President Tsai’s current popularity.

If this interpretation is correct, the recall effort did not max out its potential. If President Tsai or Huang Kuo-chang had been somewhat less popular, the people who held back, like Pai Pei-ju, would have been much more likely to eagerly dive into the fray. Those 48,000 yes votes might have gone a lot higher. (Remember, 24.2% of eligible voters voted yes against Alex Tsai in 2015 in a district with a clear blue advantage, while only 19.1% did against Huang this time in a district with a much more even partisan balance.) In this recall, the yes side was 15,000 votes short of the threshold, and that is a large number. It’s doubtful that Pai Pei-ju has that many votes in her pocket ready to be mobilized. However, if she and all of the other KMT figures throughout NT12 had plunged in enthusiastically, they might have come close.

The lesson that many people will probably take from this recall is that it is hard to successfully recall a legislator. That’s too strong. This result shows that it is hard to recall a legislator who has performed reasonably well in a tossup district when there hasn’t been a clear national partisan swing since the previous election. In different circumstances, it looks to me like a recall might have quite a plausible chance of success.

One Response to “The recall aftermath, part 2”

  1. Shelley Rigger Says:

    What a fine present to wake up to on Christmas morning!

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