Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 by-elections

There were by-elections for the legislative seats in Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 districts today. These fill the seats vacated when Yao Wen-chih and Lu Hsiu-yen resigned prior to the mayoral elections two months ago. (Another three seats that were vacated after the election by winners in Tainan, Changhua, and Kinmen will be filled in by-elections on March 24.)

Taipei 2      
Ho DPP

38591

47.8%

Chen PF KMT

31532

39.0%

Chen SY (Ko)

9689

12.0%

Wang  

897

1.1%

Chen YC  

89

.1%

Turnout: 30.4%      

 

Taichung 5      
Shen KMT

49230

57.8%

Wang DPP

32903

38.6%

Chiu (PFP)

2910

3.4%

Lin  

157

.2%

Turnout: 25.3%      

 

The result of today’s election was that the DPP held the seat in Taipei while the KMT held the seat in Taichung. In short, nothing changed hands, so there is nothing to see here. #analysis. That banal conclusion is probably, in fact, the best headline. However, we can always add a bit of color.

I’ll start with a bit of context. Taipei 2 is a green district. If you take Tsai Ing-wen’s vote share in the 2012 and 2016 elections and sort all 73 legislative districts from her best to her worst districts, Taipei 2 was her 25th best district in 2012 and her 20th best district in 2016. In other words, this is a district that the DPP needs to win. To put it another way, she won 61.6% of the vote in 2016, 5.5% more than her 56.1% national vote share. Similarly, she was 4.6% higher in Taipei 2 than nationally in 2012. So let’s drop the decimal places and call Taipei 2 a D+5 district.*

(*For people familiar with the American jargon, my D+5 is not equivalent to a standard American R+5. In the USA, R+5 means that a Republican is expected to beat the Democrat by five points. Here, I mean that the DPP vote should be five points higher locally than nationally.)

Taichung 5 is nearly a mirror image of Taipei 2. Taichung 5 was Tsai’s 51st strongest district in 2012 and 52nd strongest district in 2016. In the two elections, she was 4.6% and 4.7% worse locally than nationally. So let’s call Taichung 5 a D-5 district. This is the kind of district that the KMT needs to win if it is planning on winning a majority in the legislature.

Of course, needing to win and actually winning are different matters. When a party is having a bad year, it won’t win lots of places that it “needs” to win. The DPP lost Taipei 2 in 2008 and barely won it in 2012. The KMT has never come close to winning Taichung 5, but it did lose seven districts in 2016 where Tsai got a lower vote share than in Taichung 5. The expectations are that this is a bad time for the DPP, so the KMT should probably have easily won the race in Taichung 5 and we might expect a tighter race in Taipei 2. Historically, the lower turnouts in by-elections tend to produce extreme results, probably due to the enthusiastic side being able to turn out a higher percentage of its potential support. Back when the DPP had the energy, it won by-elections in deep blue territory such as Taoyuan 3 and Hsinchu County. Given the results from two months ago, it wouldn’t have been a shock at all for the KMT to win a green (but not deep green) district like Taipei 2.

 

The simplistic way to look at this election result is purely through the D+5 and D-5 lens. The DPP candidates got 47.8% in Taipei 2 and 38.6% in Taichung 5. That implies that a national DPP vote should be roughly 43%. This is a bit higher than the 39% they received in the mayoral races two months ago. So, relative to that stepping in dog poop, this result was good news. Maybe it was like having a bird poop on your car windshield. After all, 43% isn’t great, but it’s easier to clean poop off your windshield than off your shoe.

 

Of course, these two races aren’t quite comparable. The third candidate in Taipei was far stronger than the third candidate in Taichung. In fact, I think all the candidates in Taipei were probably stronger than all the candidates in Taichung.

The Taichung race was a contest between Shen Chih-hui and Wang Yi-chuan. Shen is an old KMT warhorse. She was elected to the legislature for the first time way back in 1989. She was one of several young, attractive, female, mainlander politicians sponsored by the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing branch (which was comprised mostly of military veterans). Hung Hsiu-chu is the most notable of this cohort. The others (people like Hsiao Chin-lan, Wang Su-yun, Chu Feng-chih, and Pan Wei-kang) are (mostly) gone from the political scene, and I thought Shen Chih-hui was pretty much gone as well. When the legislature was cut in half in 2008, she was the KMT Taichung legislator left with no seat. She wanted to run in (what is now) Taichung 5, which was always her best area in Taichung. Beitun District has the largest concentration of military veterans and mainlanders in Taichung. However, this group was also Lu Hsiu-yen’s political base, and Lu won the nomination. Shen tried to get back into the legislature in 2016, but she ran in Taichung 6 and got wiped out. Legislators who have been out for over a decade rarely get back in. In my imaginary candidate quality coding scheme, I don’t generally consider candidates like her as particularly strong. On the other hand, in that same rubric, the DPP candidate might be even worse. Wang Yi-chuan has no electoral experience at all. He comes out of the Taichung city government, where he was part of Lin’s mini-cabinet. Historically, candidates with this type of background are dismal at winning votes. The third candidate is even worse. Chiu Yu-shan just ran for the city council. Two months ago, running as a PFP candidate, she managed to get a measly 3293 votes. We are guessing about the other two, but I had hard evidence that Chiu was not an electoral juggernaut. Somebody had to win, but it didn’t have to be pretty. Most by-elections get 35-40% turnout. This one got 25%. Yuck.

 

On paper, the candidates in Taipei 2 all looked pretty good. The KMT and DPP candidates have both spent two terms in the city council, so both are at the perfect spot in their careers to move up. The third candidate was sponsored by Mayor Ko, who just won an impressive victory in an intense three-way race two months ago. Ko supported a few city council candidates, but this was really the first time he was going to test his strength in a single-seat race against the two major parties. He had a pretty good representative. Chen Si-yu is a young and bright member in Ko’s inner circle. Beyond that, she has a local network to draw on. Her father is a prominent politician, having spent the past twenty years in the city council and legislature as an independent (and previously as a TSU member). (In fact, all three of the main candidates come from political families.) I was curious to see how much support Chen would command, and whether it looked like that support was primarily drawn from the KMT or DPP side.

In fact, Chen did terribly. She only got 12%. This is a terrible result for Ko. Think about all the politicians considering whether they should jump from the KMT or DPP into Ko’s camp. He was unable to throw any support to a credible candidate with an established local network in his home city. How much will the Ko label be worth for a random politician in Changhua or Taoyuan? Maybe it is best to try to win a nomination inside the KMT or DPP, since we know those party labels reliably bring votes. This election will make it harder for Ko to build a network for a 2020 run. Does he really want to depend on an organization like the neo-MKT? Ick.

I do wonder if Chen’s candidacy helped the DPP in this race. In many ways, the outcomes of these two by-elections resembled a theme we saw in November. In one-on-one races, it looked like swing voters mostly supported the KMT. When they had another viable option, those voters seemed to turn to third candidates. In both scenarios, the DPP is left with not much more than their base vote. I’m not sure how much I believe this story, but it seems plausible. If it is correct, if Chen had not been in the race, her 12% would have mostly turned to the KMT or stayed home.

[This is a note that I’m not sure how to fit in. Ho’s victory speech tonight was interesting. He thanked his supporters and his volunteers, and then he thanked the KMT candidate for running an honorable and respectable race. And then he absolutely lit into Chen Si-yu, accusing her of running a dirty, underhanded, nasty, ugly, shameful, not-nice campaign. He went on to extend his attacks to Ko Wen-je, telling his crowd (and TV audience) that we were seeing Ko’s true nature. He clearly had some pent-up anger that he wanted to get off his chest. Victory speeches are usually magnanimous, but Ho was in the mood to kick Chen and Ko a few times while they were down on the ground. There are not many good feelings between Taipei city DPP politicians and Ko Wen-je’s people right now.]

I might be tempted to call tonight’s results moderately good news for the DPP. By winning Taipei 2, they held serve and stopped the bleeding. However, when turnout is 25% and 30%, there are no winners. Every winner should feel embarrassed at their low winning tally, and every loser should be appalled that they couldn’t meet such a low threshold. No one was able to inspire voters to go out to the polls. Ho and Shen probably feel happy tonight, but they really shouldn’t. Everyone else involved might want to question their career choices. Blecch.

One Response to “Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 by-elections”

  1. justrecently Says:

    Thanks for the updates – glad to read blogs about Taiwan’s current affairs.

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