Archive for June, 2019

DPP presidential primary results

June 13, 2019

[updated, see below]


The DPP announced the results of its polling primary for the 2020 presidential nomination today. President Tsai emerged victorious, defeating former premier Lai by 8.2%.


This is by no means a landslide victory, but neither is it a razor-thin margin. Tsai’s victory is clear, and that will make unifying the party for the general election a much easier task. That is, if she had only won by one percent, Lai’s supporters might have felt that Tsai stole the election by choosing a particular question wording or some other technical choice. With this margin, however, she almost certainly would have won no matter how the choice was presented.

Lai held a press conference after the results were announced, and he made a very gracious statement accepting the result and promising to support Tsai for re-election. As with my previous sentence, most media reports will focus on Lai’s acceptance of defeat. However, I thought the way that Lai delivered that statement was quite significant. He spent his first minutes talking about the general state of things, especially Hong Kong. He ended this by noting that the PRC had prepared soldiers to use there. He transitioned directly from the image of PRC troops to the primary result, saying that it was important to unify the party to re-elect Tsai. I think this was a clear message to independence fundamentalists: the stakes are extremely high, and they shouldn’t mull any reaction that would lead to the DPP losing the election. Lai is not going to lead or support any rebellion. Indirectly, he was probably telling the independence fundamentalists to shelve any ideas of putting forward their own presidential candidate.


This result is a huge victory for Tsai. After last November’s election disaster, I wondered if she would survive. The party seemed to rally around her, and by March it was expected that she would be unopposed for the nomination. However, Lai’s shock entrance into the race put her presidency into extreme and immediate danger. She was clearly behind in the polls, and there was a very real possibility that she would become a disgraced and repudiated lame duck with a full year left in her term. She has now avoided this nightmare scenario. Moreover, the competition with Lai has forced her to explain to the country why she deserves another term, something she had not bothered to do. It also focused the thinking of DPP supporters, forcing them to think about whether they really valued her record in office or not. She emerges from this process with much higher approval ratings and a much stronger sentiment of support within the green camp.

One thing that is under-appreciated is that Tsai managed this come-from-behind victory without going negative. The contest between Tsai and Lai was remarkably restrained. Their supporters sometimes grumbled that the other wasn’t respecting the rules or was engaging in personal attacks. However, it never spun out of control, and the two principals mostly stuck to the high road. Winning while eschewing negative attacks was only possible because Tsai’s allies changed the timetable. If the polls had actually been held three weeks after registration, the only way to change public opinion that much in that short of a time period would have been for Tsai to go negative. Positive messages need time to sink in, and it helps if the outside world reinforces those messages. Tsai’s discourse about building a foundation and starting only now to see some results needed two months plus a series of external events to shift perceptions. Negative attacks are quicker. All you have to do is present some evidence that demonstrates your opponent isn’t actually the type of person that voters thought. Of course, going negative also makes your opponents’ supports dislike you more, but that is something to worry about after you win. Tsai’s team figured out how to stay positive and not have to face that post-victory dilemma.


Let’s turn to the polling primary results.

There were lots of worries that Han supporters or Ko supporters might try to manipulate the DPP’s polling primary to get the weakest opponent possible. Taiwan was the first country to formally use telephone polls to determine nominations, and every time I discuss this system with other political scientists, they inevitably gravitate toward the question of manipulation by the other party. Indeed, the logic of microeconomics and institutions suggests that such behavior should be widespread. We can’t actually do rigorous research on this topic in any straightforward way. The parties would never share their polling primary data with academics, and, even if they did, those results might not contain enough information to provide definitive answers.

However, my gut tells me that manipulation by the other party is rarely widespread enough to be noticeable, much less decisive. The main reason for this is that it usually isn’t obvious who the weakest candidate is. It is useless to support an extremely weak candidate. For example, in the upcoming KMT polling primary, it won’t do much good for DPP identifiers to support Chou Hsi-wei or Chang Ya-chung since neither of them has a realistic shot of winning. You have to help someone who is already strong enough to be viable and who, almost by definition, is popular enough to win the general election. In the DPP’s case, Lai and Tsai have been fairly close in recent polls, though Lai’s consistent lead in earlier polls and his repeated insistence that he was the stronger candidate may have made an impression on some voters. Tsai has the advantages of incumbency, but she also has the baggage of her incumbency. I have seen arguments that Ko supporters might support Lai, thinking that Ko would be more likely to run if Tsai were in the race because he might be deterred by the more popular Lai. I suspect the opposite: Ko is more likely to run against Lai, since the independence fundamentalists were the ones who insisted on running a DPP candidate against him in the 2018 mayoral race. The point here is not that any of these ideas are right or wrong. The point is that there are lots of compelling ideas that different people might have about the state of the race, and they point in different directions. Moreover, what if you support a particularly odious person who appears to be weaker and that person eventually wins the presidency? How would you feel then? If the USA had had telephone polling primaries in 2016, a lot of Democrats might have supported Trump since he was widely seen as unelectable. That would not have turned out well. I think what usually happens is that people who support the other party just stay out of it. Either they don’t answer their phones, or they answer sincerely that they support the other party. “Don’t get me involved in your lousy party’s business. A pox on you all!”

The only case in which I think widespread manipulation by the other party might have been significant was the KMT’s nomination of Hung Hsiu-chu in the 2016 election. Hung was running unopposed, so she had to pass a popularity threshold rather than beat another person. She was widely seen as unelectable, and many people thought she wouldn’t pass. In that case, the KMT was expected to draft a more formidable candidate to contest the election. In this relatively unique case, most of the arrows pointed in the same direction for DPP supporters. I don’t have any concrete evidence that they helped her, but her poll results were shockingly strong.


The DPP asked respondents two main questions: who do you support among Tsai, Han, and Ko, and who do you support among Lai, Han, and Ko? The winner was determined by comparing the number of people who supported Tsai in the first question with the number of people who supported Lai in the second question. Five survey organizations were to each poll 3000 respondents. In fact, 16,051 interviews were completed, with just over half (8056) from landlines. The results from the five different organizations were similar; Tsai’s margin of victory ranged from 7.2% to 8.8%. I’m going to focus on the final average instead of worrying about those minor difference.

DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 35.7 24.5 22.7 17.1
Lai 27.5 23.5 27.4 21.7

The DPP did not report the final column; I created it by subtracting the other columns from 100%.

How did this result come about? It is important to remember that this is not a normal public opinion poll. This was a polling primary poll, and everyone knew it was happening. DPP supporters were much more eager to participate than other citizens. We have lots of anecdotal evidence of how they mobilized themselves, so I expect them to be highly overrepresented. We don’t have a breakdown of cell phones and landlines, but I would expect the DPP identifiers to be much more overrepresented among landlines. You have to stay at home to answer the landline, whereas you can carry your cell phone anywhere and continue life (mostly) as normal. In addition to the sample being skewed by partisanship, there will also be a lot of respondents who did not answer sincerely. If you want to influence the outcome, you cannot say that you would support both candidates in the general election. So we shouldn’t expect these results to look like normal polling results.

Fortunately, we have a pretty good idea of what a normal poll might look like. Apple Daily published a poll on June 11 that was conducted on June 8-9. (The DPP polling primary was held June 10-12.) This poll also used 50% cell phones and 50% landlines.

Apple poll DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 30.0 30.4 27.6 12.0
Lai 27.6 28.9 29.8 13.7

This poll is quite a bit different from the DPP polling primary result. Han and Ko are significantly higher, and the proportion of respondents with no opinion is considerably lower.

How hard would it be to get from this poll to the DPP results? I propose two steps. Step one is to skew the sample by inflating DPP responses and deflating everyone else. If you multiply all the Han, Ko, and none cells by 0.8 (which implies that the two DPP cells are increased by about 50%), you get the following table:

Skew sample DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 44.0 24.3 22.1 9.6
Lai 42.1 23.1 23.8 11.0

Step two is to adjust for strategic voting. Campaigns coach supporters to say that they “only support” a particular candidate. In the second question, if you answer that you only support Tsai, this will be coded as “none.” Not surprisingly, the DPP polling results have a high proportion of non-responses. If we shift 8% of Tsai’s support and 10% of Lai’s support to the “none” column, you can get pretty close to the level of non-responses in the primary result. A smaller number of respondents might have strategically (or sincerely) expressed support for a non-DPP candidate. Ko’s result against Lai is quite a bit higher than our expected value. We need to shift another 4% from Lai to Ko to account for this. These shifts produce the following table:

strategic DPP Han Ko None
Tsai 36.0 24.3 22.1 17.6
Lai 28.1 23.1 27.8 21.0

This result is very similar to the polling primary results. In this scenario, about 18% of Tsai’s potential support strategically decided not to vote for her, while about 33% of Lai’s potential support strategically decided not to vote for him. To put it another way, about half of DPP voters voted sincerely (supporting both) while about half voted strategically (for only one). This seems reasonable, given that various pre-election polls showed that far more DPP identifiers supported Tsai than Lai.

Please remember, these last two tables are not real data. I just made them up.

The point is not that this is exactly what happened. Instead, I want to suggest that we don’t need to make any complicated assumptions about KMT or Ko supporters to get to the actual results. These results are perfectly compatible with a world in which those people all vote sincerely. Of course, in the real world, I’m sure that some of them voted strategically for Lai or Tsai. However, the number of strategic KMT or Ko voters was small, or they cancelled out their effect by voting for different candidates, or both.

In this election, the system worked pretty much as intended. The general public had an opportunity to weigh in, but DPP supporters made up a disproportionate part of the overall sample and their preferences drove the final outcome.



Update (several hours later the same day): A friend pointed me to a breakdown of the results by age and sex, so now we have a bit more data to look at. WordPress doesn’t like wide tables, so let me break their table into several parts.

Category Sample size %
Full sample 16051 100.0
Age group    
  20-29 2600 16.2
  30-39 3023 18.8
  40-49 3066 19.1
  50-59 3007 18.7
  60-69 2430 15.1
  70&up 1763 11.0
  Male 7882 49.1
  Female 8169 50.9

The first thing to note is that they weighted the data, something I wasn’t sure about. The age breakdown is a very close match to the overall population. It would be nearly impossible to get this close without weighting. In a previous post, I presented a table from a TISR poll that showed that their unweighted sample using both cell phones and landlines was closer to the population than either exclusively cell phones or exclusively landlines, but it was still a bit off. For example, their combined sample only had 10.4% in the 20-29% age range. Weighting is standard procedure, so I don’t mean to imply that this is controversial. I am simply interested to see clear evidence that they did it (since they don’t publicize their methodology). I assume the results were weighted by age, sex, and city/county.

  Tsai Han Ko None
Male 38.2 24.4 23.7 13.7
Female 33.3 24.6 21.8 20.4
  Lai Han Ko None
Male 30.6 23.2 28.5 17.7
Female 24.5 23.7 6.3 25.4

Tsai beat Lai by 7.6% among men and 8.8% among men. I’m a little surprised that the gender gap isn’t larger. 1.2% is barely noticeable. The gender breakdown isn’t stunning, but the age breakdown is.

  Tsai Han Ko None
  20-29 38.9 10.9 36.9 13.3
  30-39 34.2 18.0 35.3 12.5
  40-49 31.0 26.2 27.2 15.6
  50-59 34.6 35.0 16.1 14.4
  60-69 41.9 32.6 8.7 16.9
  70&up 36.7 24.8 4.8 33.7
  Lai Han Ko None
  20-29 14.1 10.1 53.3 22.6
  30-39 18.9 16.9 45.5 18.7
  40-49 27.5 25.4 28.1 19.0
  50-59 34.7 33.8 15.3 16.1
  60-69 39.5 31.1 9.4 20.0
  70&up 34.3 24.0 4.3 37.4

Eyeballing those results, among people over 40, Tsai won by about 2%. Among people 39 and under, Tsai won by roughly 20%. Her comfortable margin came entirely from the youngest third of the electorate. It bears repeating that she did win the older voters. However, if today’s overall result had been a narrow 2% victory, the losing side would not have been nearly as gracious and she would face a much tougher task in uniting the party for the general election.

The staggering gap among younger voters makes me wonder if the fracas over marriage equality actually helped Tsai. It seems plausible to me that some younger voters who are disillusioned with both establishment parties took another look at her after that fight and concluded that maybe she wasn’t just another unprincipled, conservative, corrupt establishment politician. Admittedly, this is just speculation. What is clear is that Lai (along with Han) is definitely not popular among younger voters.

DPP presidential debate

June 8, 2019

The DPP held its first and only presidential debate today. Before I discuss that, let me step back and look at some of the broad contours of the race.

I have been trying to figure out why Lai is challenging Tsai. His stated rationale, that he can win in 2020 and she cannot, is not very compelling. Mrs. Garlic and I have had several long discussions about this topic, and, as usual, she has lots of sharp insight. Lai’s challenge is fundamentally factional and ideological, pitting the independence fundamentalists against Tsai’s more pragmatic wing of the DPP. We have come up with a list of grievances that the old men might have:

  • Respect / flattery. Tsai has not regularly invited the elders of the independence movement to provide her with their guidance and wisdom the way that President Chen did. The probably feel ignored, used, and marginalized.
  • Chen Shui-bian. Tsai has not pardoned him. Instead, she has left his case to the legal system.
  • Tsai did not fill the cabinet with DPP party loyalists, much less people from the independence wing. Instead, she put a large number of bureaucrats and technocrats (like her first premier, Lin Chuan 林全, who was a – gasp – mainlander and was once a New Party voter) into power. Even when Lai became premier, he was not given free reign to fill offices with his people.
  • This is related to posts. I think the fundamentalists thought that, after winning such a big victory in 2016, they should have the opportunity to fundamentally reshape a few policy areas. Two obvious ministries that they would have wanted are education and culture. One can imagine that they had envisioned a textbook overhaul, similar to but in the opposite direction of what Ma Ying-jeou attempted. They might have also been disgusted with Tsai’s relatively moderate pension reform, thinking that the government should have used its power to slash pensions to civil servants (who they are more likely to see as their longtime antagonists) to a bare minimum. We aren’t sure about the causal role of marriage equality in this. Presbyterian minister Kao Chun-ming 高俊明 was a key figure in both the rebellion against Tsai and the Presbyterian Church’s rebellion against the DPP’s push for marriage equality. We can’t decide which one was the root cause and which was the collateral damage.
  • Tsai doesn’t speak Taiwanese in casual conversation. This makes it hard for them to consider her one of them and for them to give her the benefit of the doubt when things are rough.
  • Tsai is a woman, and nearly all of the independence fundamentalists are men who are older than her. Koo Kuan-min 辜寬敏, a rich old man who has opposed her at least since they ran against each other for party chair in 2008, recently suggested in a newspaper ad that she should yield her position so that she could become revered as the “mother of the country” 國母. Moreover, she should yield in order to give a “young boy” 年輕的男孩子 a chance. Koo seems to think that the proper place for women is to be up on a pedestal in a place of uncontroversial reverence rather than down on earth exercising power and making enemies. It’s also completely nonsensical and cynical. You don’t become father or mother of anything by quitting in the face of difficulties, and Koo is currently leading the movement to stab her in the back, not the movement to put up statues of her.  I think most of Lai’s supporters are less chauvinistic than Koo, and for most of them her gender is, like language, more of a mild irritant than fundamental grievance.
  • The referendum. Tsai tried to discourage the referendum to use the name “Taiwan” in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As I have previously said, I think this might have been the final straw.

It should be obvious why Lai hasn’t based his campaign on airing the grievances in this list. None of them have broad popular support, and many are quite selfish. So instead, Lai has had to base his attempted regicide on the argument that he alone can save the party from impending electoral disaster.

Lai claims that he did not decide to run until he went out on the campaign trail in the March by-election and realized how unpopular President Tsai was. This is simply not credible. In a TVBS profile that aired just a couple days ago, Lai claimed that he was always deliberate and planned his actions carefully. For goodness sakes, he launched a book in March. That takes a little planning.

Lai seems to be taken aback that Tsai has resisted his challenge. It looks to me like he thought he would launch a quick strike, and the coup would be successful before anyone had time to react. The first step to this strategy was installing Cho Jung-tai 卓榮泰 as party chair. Since Tsai had just vacated the office and didn’t expect any primary challenge, she carelessly took a hands-off approach to the choice. Cho then pushed through a very quick timetable to decide the nomination. Historically, the DPP has held a major party conference to nominate its candidate. Cho convinced the other people on the Central Executive Committee that there was no need for such a long, expensive, and troublesome process since there wasn’t going to be any challenge to Tsai. Instead, they settle on a very quick process, with the formality of a polling primary scheduled a mere three weeks after registration. Then, when Lai unveiled his surprise attack, Cho insisted that the DPP would simply follow these (new and different) procedures. Cho has been critical to Lai’s claim that he has the procedural moral high ground. If they had actually held the polling primary in mid-April as scheduled, Lai would certainly have won, and his putsch would have been a fait accompli. With such a quick decision, Tsai would have simply rolled over and died, and deep divisions within the party wouldn’t have had time to develop. Unifying the party for the general election would have been relatively simple.

Of course, that extremely naïve scenario hasn’t happened. After dithering about for two weeks, Tsai’s allies finally managed to delay the primary. With a little time, Tsai was finally convinced that she had to stop ignoring politics and get out there to defend her presidency. Over the past two months, she has slowly put together a coherent argument for her presidency. In the first three years, her administration has done the politically difficult and unpopular work of laying a foundation, and now we are finally starting to see the first signs of the new house emerging from that foundation. She can talk about tax reform, wind power, pension reform, the new southbound policy, bringing Taiwanese businesses back to Taiwan, and, above all, a series of breakthroughs in national defense and relations with the USA and Japan. Her poll numbers have slowly improved. Her satisfaction ratings still aren’t great, but they are no longer disastrous. A TVBS poll showed her satisfaction in mid-May at 36%, up from 23% in January and 15% in late November. The same poll showed that as many people thought the country was on the right track as on the wrong track (41%-41%), an improvement from the 30%-36% results in January and the 32%-43% in May 2018. When the asked about individual policy areas, those had all improved as well, with the biggest improvements coming in cross-straits policy, national defense, long-term care, and policy communication. While her satisfaction ratings for economic policies are still bad (around 30% satisfied), she now has a net positive rating for national defense. Her poll numbers in the presidential horse race haven’t changed quite as much, but they have also inched upward. In the last two weeks, most of the polls have showed her 1-3% ahead of Lai in the three-way matchup with Ko and Han.

Tsai’s rise in the polls undermines Lai’s stated motivation for running. He is no longer obviously more popular, and it is no longer clear that he could save the party while she would inevitably lead it to defeat. A few days ago, a reporter asked Lai about his reaction to trailing in a poll. Lai replied that he would respond by working harder before catching himself and clarifying that all the polls he has seen show him clearly ahead. Lai cannot afford to be losing.

This logic made Tsai’s task in the debate quite a bit easier than Lai’s. She merely had to reiterate her recent string of good news, assure voters that her administration has turned a corner, and casually mention that the polls show that voters have felt the change and that she is now leading and is the best hope to win re-election. She could also point out that nominating Lai was tantamount to rejecting the DPP’s record over the last three years, and it would be impossible for him to win the general election while simultaneously claiming that the DPP had been lousy in office. In contrast, Lai could only reassert that he could win and she could not. He couldn’t really even complain too much about being outmaneuvered on nomination procedures. He is claiming to be overwhelmingly more popular; a slight tweak in the rules shouldn’t be enough to defeat him.

Ok, so how did the debate go? The opening statements were Lai’s best portion and Tsai’s worst portion. Lai started by assuring the audience that his candidacy was not meant to be a refutation of the DPP’s three years in office. He spent the rest of his opening statement talking about his four big goals. First, he would maintain Taiwan’s sovereignty. Second, he would unify the people. He mentioned a few things he would do, including judicial reform. This seemed to imply that he is dissatisfied with Tsai’s judicial reform (as most people are). Third, he would stimulate the economy. Again, he listed a number of concrete steps, including implementing universal 12 year education, addressing high housing prices, and promoting the new economy (based on tech and green industries). Fourth, he would strengthen Taiwan. He put several disparate ideas under this vague umbrella. He would stress national defense, internationalizing the situation by stressing Taiwan’s place in the first island chain. He would also promote democracy within China and promote Taiwan’s liberal values worldwide. He would improve Taiwan’s international trade position by promoting investment and signing trade agreements, such as CPTPP and a FTA with the USA. He would also promote English as a second national language, and take steps to raise the birth rate.

Let me pause here to editorialize. This didn’t sound bad coming out of Lai’s mouth, but there isn’t much new in this list. Other than judicial reform, he didn’t suggest he would do anything different from what the Tsai administration is already doing. Apparently, he would simply do these things better because he is more awesome. Still, it was an acceptably charismatic statement, and he looked and sounded presidential in giving it.

Tsai’s opening statement followed the script I had expected, talking about her accomplishments in office. However, it felt like fifteen different people had written and revised the script. It was hard to follow her logical thought process, so we jumped from one idea to the next with no connections between ideas. About two minutes in, I wrote “word salad” in my notes. Here was the essence of President Tsai laid bare. Even as she was going down a list of achievements, she was doing a terrible job of conveying those achievements. Rather than stating them simply and punching each point, she talked around each one and never really hit anything home.

Some of the topics she mentioned in her opening statement included pension reform, energy policy (wind power and creating a nuclear-free country), transitional justice, tax reform, national defense (both to protect sovereignty and to create a strong domestic industry), efforts to diversify the economy so as not to put all eggs in one basket (read: China), promote foreign investment, promote social welfare, prepare a legal framework for a stronger national security, work toward entering CPTPP and a FTA with the USA, and ensuring that the rest of the world saw Taiwan as a reliably and trustworthy partner rather than as a troublemaker. I think she would have been better off trimming that list and taking the extra time to add a concrete example or a specific statistic to illustrate and sell those points better.

The rest of the debate went better for Tsai and worse for Lai, but the opening statements are always the most important part of a debate. Lots of viewers don’t watch until the end, and your first impressions are usually the ones that stay with them. This debate didn’t feature any American-style back and forth, so there were no zingers or personal attacks to grab fading attention. If a viewer decided to tune out, there wasn’t much to stop him or her from doing that.

The middle third of the debate featured questions from three people. I thought the most illuminating responses came from the second question. Lai Chung-chiang 賴中強 suggested that low wages were related to the relatively high number of foreign laborers and asked if either would reduce the number of foreign laborers. Neither took that bait, but they answered the question in very different ways. Tsai spent her four minutes talking about the policies that she had put in place to try to raise wages and helping young people financially. These included things like raising the minimum wage, raising public servants’ wages, creating higher paying jobs, lowering taxes, and increasing social welfare programs that young parents might use. Lai spent his time talking about why it was so difficult to raise wages, how lots of different market forces were involved. He concluded that the best way to raise wages was to stimulate the entire economy. In essence, Lai was giving a free-market answer while Tsai was giving a social democrat answer.

Tsai’s closing statement was much more coherent than her opening statement. She started by noting that that there would be important and unpredictable changes in the global environment over the next four years, and it would be critical to have a steady leader to respond to those developments. Her experience in negotiations and managing national defense would be important. She then pointed out that the rest of the world now sees Taiwan as a reliable and responsible partner and hammered home the importance of this by going through a list of recent breakthroughs, including renaming offices in Japan and the USA, increased cooperation with the USA military, cooperation with Europe and developments in southeast Asia, cooperation with the USA in protecting Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic relationships, and being clear and steadfast in Taiwan’s position toward sovereignty and defense so that China would not misunderstand Taiwan’s resolve. She ended by talking about party unity. She would not simply give up because of one setback. Instead, she has reflected and adjusted to the 2018 result while still holding true to the DPP’s core values. Now she is more and more confident toward 2020. However, if they reject their own record 自我否定, they will not win. The party should unify around her, and one plus one is greater than two. (Note: Who suggested that a math equation is stirring political rhetoric??)

Lai seemed to have run out of points, and his closing statement was largely a reiteration of his basic theme that he could win. He started by sadly reminding viewers that the DPP couldn’t just ignore 2018. If they lose in 2020, they will lose all the achievements that the Tsai government has worked so hard for. Lai then turned to a baseball analogy: if a team’s starting pitcher gets into trouble and they bring in a relief pitcher, no one accuses the relief pitcher of disloyalty. The middle part of Lai’s statement involved multiple ways of saying, “I will be a good president.” He grew up poor, so he will listen to people. He is a doctor, so he will be a leader and solve problems. He is not corrupt, so he will be a good president. Note: I am not simplifying those statements; he did not go beyond saying he would be a good leader, for example, to explain just how he would lead. He did not elaborate on what problems he would solve, how he would solve them, or why he would be able to solve problems that others could not. He just asserted that he would solve problems. It wasn’t very well presented or very convincing. In my notes, I wrote “stumbling.” Lai went on to say that the international environment is changing, and Taiwan needs a strong leader to respond. Taiwan’s great challenge for the next generation will be promoting democracy in China. Finally, Lai ended with a revealing plea that was simultaneously a refutation of any idealism: “victory is our highest value” 勝利是我們最高的價值.

I hope this recap has conveyed the shallowness of Lai’s candidacy thus far. He has yet to articulate any compelling vision for the country that is different from anything Tsai has done. He seems to think that he will just be better at doing those things because he is the God Lai 賴神, and he always holds the moral high ground. Of his very few concrete proposals, at least two are far-fetched. He has talked about constitutional reform (and mentioned it briefly today), suggesting that he would abolish the Control Yuan and Examination Yuan. Of course, he won’t have the power to do this by himself. No constitutional reforms will pass without a consensus of the major parties, and he has not said anything about how he would persuade the KMT to agree to this. It is an empty talking point that will be dead on arrival. He has also repeatedly talked about promoting democracy in China. China will change when China changes; outside forces are not going to force China to democratize. At any rate, Lai hasn’t explained just how he would go about interfering in Chinese politics. Does he have a massive network of Taiwan independence activists ready to be mobilized in Jiangsu? Again, this is an empty talking point. As president, Lai would probably be more aggressively nationalist than Tsai, perhaps doing symbolic things like pardoning Chen and substantive things like revising history textbooks. He would probably be more market-oriented and less worried about social welfare than Tsai. And other than that, who knows? He certainly hasn’t told us. He just expects us to trust that he will be awesome.

In his closing statement, Lai argued that, if he lost, he would still be doing a service to the DPP by forcing Tsai to reinvent herself as Tsai 2.0. He has a point. As of late March, Tsai seemed completely uninterested in public opinion or the upcoming election. It was an image she has projected for most of her presidency. It took her a few weeks to shake off her torpor and start to mobilize to respond to Lai’s challenge. (Their first reaction should have been to vote to rewrite the primary timeline; instead, it took them until late May to figure this out.) It hasn’t been the most inspiring response, but at least she has finally started to project an image of caring about public opinion. She has seemed to finally realize that it isn’t enough to hold meetings about defense policy all day; the president also has to explain to the public what she is doing and what kinds of results they will be getting. If she manages to survive the next week, she probably should thank Lai for kicking her in the butt and getting her moving. On the other hand, there is no avoiding the fact that his challenge has, in fact, been a refutation of her term in office so far. Voters are now keenly aware that a significant part of the DPP’s base thinks that Tsai has been a failure in office. Regardless of who wins the nomination, that is a problem that will not go away. How can you ask for four more years of DPP government if the party has judged itself a failure?

types of voters

June 6, 2019

Like many people, I was shocked by the 2018 election. I did not expect such a ferocious anti-DPP wave, and I had no idea what to make of the Han Kuo-yu phenomenon. I was planning to conduct an internet survey for one of my research projects (on an unrelated matter), and I thought I might use it to learn something about the state of the electorate.

THIS IS NOT A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE OF TAIWAN’S ELECTORATE. In fact, my sample is very different from Taiwan’s electorate. It is useless to look for anything more specific than very big and crude trends. I will say things such as, “there is a very large group that …” and “there is a small but noticeable group that…” Don’t worry about exactly how big each group is; it isn’t that size in the overall electorate. The goal here is to look for groups of people who don’t follow the traditional party lines. If we can identify big, broad groups of voters who don’t follow the standard voting patterns, maybe we will get some insight into what happened last year – and what may happen next January.

At the end of an already lengthy questionnaire, I added eleven more questions. The first four were about the major political parties, and the other seven were about specific politicians. Each one was of the same format, “How much do you like XXX? On a scale of zero to ten, where zero means you dislike it very much and ten means you like it very much, how many points would you give XXX?” In a telephone or face-to-face survey, we typically allow respondents to refuse to answer or to say they don’t know. However, in internet surveys we are paying respondents, and we don’t let them more on to the next page until they give an answer. As a result, all 1000 of my respondents gave a valid answer to each of the eleven questions.

Before I show you any results, let me tell you a bit about how my sample is biased. Over three-fourths of my sample has at a university or higher education, and almost no one has a junior high or less. You should probably think of this as a non-representative sample of highly educated people rather than a non-representative sample of all Taiwanese. There are too many people aged 30-49, and not enough aged under 29 or over 60. There are too many public employees, white collar executives, and office clerks, and not enough blue collar laborers, farmers, student, or homemakers. Politically, the deviations from society’s mean are smaller. There are slightly too many mainlanders and people who identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese. However, on the question of Taiwan’s future status, there are not enough people who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely but too many who want to move toward eventual independence. About one-third of my sample identifies with a green camp party, one-third with a blue camp party, and one-third expresses no party identification or identifies with an unaligned party. Demographically, this sample is extremely different from the overall population; politically it is reasonably close. The survey was conducted in mid-April.

I asked how much respondents liked eleven parties and individuals. We finalized the questionnaire before Terry Gou announced his candidacy, so he is not included. Here are overall average scores for each party or person.

name name mean Stand. Dev.
KMT 國民黨 3.68 2.70
DPP 民進黨 3.56 2.59
NPP 時代力量 3.87 2.78
PFP 親民黨 2.84 2.11
Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 3.97 3.12
Lai Ching-teh 賴清德 3.99 2.80
Wu Den-yi 吳敦義 2.25 2.24
Chu Li-lun 朱立倫 3.61 2.57
Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 5.13 2.88
Han Kuo-yu 韓國瑜 4.46 3.53
Wang Jin-pyng 王金平 3.31 2.33

Educated Taiwanese are a pretty skeptical bunch. The only one of the eleven to break 5.00 is Ko Wen-je, and he barely manages it. Han Kuo-yu comes in second at 4.46, and the two DPP presidential aspirants are both a hair under 4.00. The leading candidates are all more liked than their parties. Anyway, these overall scores are not that useful with a non-representative sample.

I took these eleven variables and put them into a hierarchical cluster model. Cluster models calculate the distance between each case and group more similar cases together. When running the model, you specify how many groups you want. I looked at as few as four groups and as many as 25. From 11 to 25 clusters, there were five big groups and the rest of the clusters had only one to eight cases. It was pretty obvious that I was interested in those five big groups. I used the results from 11 clusters. The five big clusters held all but 17 of the cases, and I manually recoded those other six clusters into what looked to me like the best fit. This left five big groups.
















Cases 221 86 284 71 338
KMT 6.05 3.03 5.39 1.77 1.26
Wu 3.81 .94 3.71 .38 .74
Chu 5.37 2.17 5.33 1.76 1.77
Han 8.43 3.23 6.04 4.18 .92
Wang 2.97 .94 4.77 2.76 3.02
PFP 2.85 1.60 4.13 1.80 2.28
Ko 4.00 2.00 5.99 7.73 5.40
NPP .81 1.58 4.06 5.18 6.01
DPP .83 1.71 4.25 1.32 5.70
Tsai .48 1.31 4.16 2.54 7.06
Lai 1.04 1.53 4.77 2.51 6.21

My old statistics teacher used to say that the hardest part of running a cluster analysis is not doing any of the statistical work. The crucial step is naming the clusters so that you capture the essence of each group.

Cluster 1 and cluster 5 are pretty straightforward. Cluster 1 is Solid Blue. This group of respondents likes the KMT, Chu, and Han, and it dislikes the DPP, the NPP, and all of the DPP candidates. It doesn’t hate Ko, but it clearly prefers Han and Chu to him. Pay special attention to Han; this group absolutely adores (8.43) Han. This group does not like Wang, so I think of this group as having fairly orthodox KMT preferences.

Cluster 5 is Solid Green. This is the biggest single group. It clearly prefers all the green options to all the blue options. Predictably, among the blue options, it dislikes Wang the least. However, Wang isn’t likely to get any votes from this group. Among the two DPP candidates, there is a slight preference for Tsai. Notably, Ko is relatively well-liked in this group, and he will probably siphon a few votes away.

There are three large groups and two small groups. The third large group is cluster 3, which I have labeled the “battleground.” This group doesn’t really adore or despise anyone, and it generally likes the blue options a little more than the green options. This group likes Han, but it is much less passionate about him than the Solid Blue group. In fact, unlike cluster 1, this group likes Wang quite a lot; it is easily his best group.  Ko is basically tied with Han. I think of this as the amorphous middle in Taiwan politics that isn’t rooted to any particular party or ideology. In the current atmosphere they lean a bit more blue than green, but I suspect they leaned slightly to the green side in 2016. Everyone will pull some votes from this group. If this group does end up voting mostly blue, that will tilt the overall balance toward the blue camp.  Alternatively, this might end up being the biggest source of votes for Ko.

Clusters 2 and 4 are significantly smaller than the first three. Cluster 2 is disillusioned with politics. It doesn’t like anyone or anything. The only two options it doesn’t absolutely hate are the KMT and Han, and even they barely break 3.00. I suspect a lot of this group won’t bother to vote, and some who do will cast protest votes.  Of those who do cast useful votes, most will probably vote for the KMT candidate, assuming it isn’t Wang or Wu.

Cluster 4 is the anti-establishment party group. These voters dislike the two big parties. However, they are not totally alienated. They like the NPP, and they love Ko (7.73). However, you should not think of this group as green camp voters. If Ko doesn’t run, their next option is Han. Apparently, this group likes political outsiders.

With these five groups, you can start to see the outlines of what happened in 2018. We might imagine that in 2016 most of group 3 voted for Tsai (and DPP district legislative candidates). Group 4 was probably much smaller or much more similar to group 5 back in 2016. In 2018, however, group 4 probably did not turn out for the DPP. They may have stayed home, or they may have voted for third party candidates. In Kaohsiung, they probably voted for the outsider, Han. Even more devastating, the DPP lost group 3, the enormous battleground group. This group doesn’t strongly prefer the KMT to the DPP, but a vote is a vote. The good news for the DPP is that this group won’t automatically vote for the KMT in 2020. It might be able to do better in 2020, and Ko will siphon away large numbers of voters who would otherwise vote for the KMT.

The Han phenomenon is interesting. Han has figured out how to simultaneously appeal to three very different groups. The orthodox KMT people in group 1 absolutely love him, so he must speak KMT gospel fluently. The people in the battleground group 3 like him, so he must be able to speak to the broad non-ideological masses in that group. And group 4 is willing to consider him since he has figured out how to make anti-establishment appeals. The strange thing is that he can do these three things simultaneously. If he is the KMT nominee, the DPP strategy should be to paint him into the first box. That is, they should hammer home that he is just another orthodox KMT figure; he really isn’t the representative of the common people, much less the protest candidate. Unfortunately for them, Ko might be the primary beneficiary of such a strategy.

Ko is surprisingly strong across all categories, with the exception of the (small) group 2. In this sample, it looks not only like Ko is well-positioned to win first preferences, it also looks like he is ready to scoop up strategic voters if either the KMT or DPP attacks against each other succeed. However, keep in mind that this sample probably overestimates Ko’s support, since it doesn’t include low-educated voters. Without organizational muscle, Ko will have a hard time with that demographic. Still, you can see from this breakdown of educated voters why Ko thinks he has a good chance to win.

There isn’t much difference between Tsai and Lai in this analysis. They look pretty much the same in all five groups. I tried looking for the Lai primary voters who supposedly are fueling his challenge to Tsai. I looked for people who preferred Lai by at least three points over Tsai and also gave Lai at least a six. I found 48 such respondents. However, by the same standards, I found 84 people who preferred Tsai to Lai. I simply couldn’t find a large group of deep greens who supposedly are fed up with Tsai but love Lai. I’m sure they exist at the elite level, but they might be louder than they are numerous.

At any rate, both Tsai and Lai have a clear claim on group 5. Group 5 is big, but it probably isn’t big enough to win, even in a three-way race. The problem is that they don’t have any other good groups. They will win a few votes in group 3, but both the KMT and Ko are more popular there. Ko will eviscerate them in group 4. Other than mobilizing group 5, their best bet is try to squeeze a few more votes out of group 3. Lai might be better positioned to do this than Tsai, but either will find this a difficult task.

There seems to be a consensus in the punditry that the DPP is better off if Ko does not run. I am not so sure about this. Most of the votes that Ko wins in groups 3 and 4 would otherwise go to the KMT. It might be better for the DPP if Ko runs and siphons away those votes. Of course, the pundits seem to be assuming that if Ko doesn’t run, he will endorse the DPP candidate. I don’t know why they would make this assumption after the bitter 2018 campaign. Nevertheless, if he does endorse Tsai and campaign hard for her (it seems nearly impossible to me that he would enthusiastically endorse Lai), it is possible that she could win over a large chunk of group 3. Ko’s influence would be most critical for group 4, where he might be the key to swinging that significant voting block to her. However, I suspect that Ko would rather be the king than the kingmaker.





landlines and cell phones

June 3, 2019

The DPP finally settled on its presidential nomination procedures last week. Among the most controversial of the decisions was the question of whether to incorporate cell phones into the polling primary sample. At first glance, this might seem like an extremely arcane and technical matter, hardly the stuff of political controversy, much less the type of thing that could swing a presidential election. However, just as in tax laws and Google user agreements, the fine print matters more than you might expect. In this post, I want to look at why this has become such an important question.

A good starting place is with a recent TISR survey. The topic of this survey was satisfaction with President Tsai after three years in office, but we are not really concerned with that. This survey had roughly half the sample from landlines and half from cell phones. At the bottom of the report, TISR presents a breakdown of the two samples by age and education.

population landlines Cell phones
20-29 16.3 4.7 21.5
30-39 18.9 12.5 16.7
40-49 19.3 15.5 22.1
50-59 18.9 21.1 18.2
60-69 15.4 27.2 15.7
70&up 11.3 18.9 5.8
Primary school 13.1 17.2 4.4
Middle school 12.2 13.5 6.3
High school 27.7 30.4 31.5
Technical college 12.0 11.1 11.5
University 27.3 21.5 36.6
Graduate school 7.7 6.3 9.7

As you can see, the two types of samples are quite different from each other and from the population. Landlines drastically underrepresent younger voters and voters with higher education levels. Cell phones are much closer to the population on age, underrepresenting only the oldest category and overrepresenting only the youngest category. On education, however, cell phones significantly underrepresent people with lower education levels and significantly overrepresent people with higher education levels.

Almost no one simply presents the raw data as an estimate of the population. Instead, the respondents are weighted according to their share of the population. Typically, they will be weighted by variables that we have authoritative data on, such as age, sex, and region. Some analysts will also weight on education level, but this is much riskier since we don’t have great statistics for the population. (Government stats are based on household registration data, and not everyone’s education level is accurate in that database.) I don’t know exactly how the DPP weights its results, but I assume they use age, sex, and perhaps city/county. I don’t think they ask about education levels in their polling primary questionnaire.

Assume we only had the landline sample from above with 1000 responses. The 47 respondents aged 20-29 would be weighted up by multiplying each response by some number, on average 16.3/4.7=3.47, though that number would also be adjusted according to their sex and region. The estimate of the population would thus have 163 weighted responses from the 20-29 age group, not 47.

What this means is that, if those 47 people accurately reflected the 20-29 age group as a whole, the weighted estimate would be a pretty good estimation of the population. Think about what this means. If the only things skewing the sample are age, sex, and region, then weighting should solve that problem. Landlines should give a good estimate of the population. Of course, exactly the same logic applies to cell phones. Thus, landlines and cell phones should provide exactly the same estimate. It shouldn’t matter whether cell phones are included in the polling primary, and it shouldn’t matter what percentage of the responses are collected from cell phones.

Of course, you have probably already spotted the flaw in this logic. Age, sex, and region are NOT the only things skewing the samples. We can see quite clearly that education is also different in the two samples. The 20-29 year-olds who answer landline calls are not like the 20-29 year-olds who answer cell phones calls. What kinds of young people answer landline calls? My guess is that the overwhelming majority live with their parents, who still have landlines. One might imagine that people living with their parents have different socialization experiences, can be mobilized by different social networks, and get information from different sources.

TISR also asked whether respondents had only a cell phone, only a landline, or both. I don’t have much to comment about this; I just think it is neat.

population Cell only both Landline only
20-29 16.3 28.7 10.4 1.9
30-39 18.9 23.8 13.7 2.8
40-49 19.3 19.3 20.3 6.5
50-59 18.9 13.5 22.8 8.3
60-69 15.4 9.9 23.2 31.5
70&up 11.3 4.9 9.7 49.1
Primary school 13.1 4.4 8.4 43.5
Middle school 12.2 4.4 9.4 25.0
High school 27.7 30.2 32.4 21.3
Technical college 12.0 9.3 12.7 4.6
University 27.3 39.1 29.3 5.6
Graduate school 7.7 12.4 7.8 0.0


So if the people who answer cell phone and landline surveys are different in important ways (even when they are weighted to make them look demographically similar), what does this mean for the DPP’s polling primary? Conveniently, a recent TVBS poll report illustrates the importance of the DPP’s polling choices quite nicely. This poll is a few weeks old (conducted April 29-May 8), and used half cell phones and half landlines. TVBS weights their results by sex, age, region, and education, so the results presented below are all weighted. Most people probably only paid attention to the horse-race results. When you look at these, remember that TVBS usually has the KMT candidates several points stronger than most other polling organizations. Anyway, we aren’t really concerned about the KMT or Ko in this post; this is a post about Lai and Tsai. But just for fun, here is the big table:

Han Tsai Ko 39 25 26
Han Lai Ko 39 24 27
Kou Tsai Ko 31 24 30
Kou Lai Ko 31 24 30
Chu Tsai Ko 26 24 33
Chu Lai Ko 27 25 33
Wang Tsai Ko 15 23 38
Wang Lai Ko 13 24 37
Han Tsai 50 38
Han Lai 48 40
Kou Tsai 43 36
Kou Lai 42 40
Chu Tsai 40 40
Chu Lai 37 43
Wang Tsai 27 39
Wang Lai 25 44

A couple of points are interesting. The overall results change much more as the KMT candidates are rotated in than with the DPP candidates. In the three-way races, support for the DPP is remarkably stable no matter which one is included. However, Ko takes quite a bit more support from some KMT candidates than others.  In the two-way matchups Lai is usually 3 or 4 points ahead of Tsai, while in the three-way matchups they are essentially tied. You can see that having Ko included in the DPP polling primary question is beneficial to Tsai. Moreover, in the two-way matchups, Tsai is closest to Lai against Han. And the only time that Tsai actually beats Han Lai is in the three-way matchup with Han. This finding is not unique to this survey. Han and Ko soak up a lot of disillusioned voters that might otherwise turn to Lai. It is not a coincidence that the question the DPP will use in the polling primary is the three-way race with Han and Ko. This is Tsai’s best chance to win. She is by no means guaranteed victory, but using this question helps her odds immensely.

OK, back to cell phones and landlines. The reason that this TVBS poll is so useful is that their report broke down the results by cell phones and landlines. Here is the first question:





Cell phones


Han 39 41 38
Tsai 25 27 23
Ko 26 21 30
None 7 7 7
undecided 3 4 2

Both Han and Tsai do slightly better in the landline group, while Ko does quite a bit better in the cell phone group. Yes, you got that right. Tsai is 4% stronger in landlines than in cell phones. Here is the second question:





Cell phones


Han 39 41 38
Lai 24 31 19
Ko 27 17 35
None 7 6 7
undecided 3 5 2

Now you can see the difference. Lai is a LOT stronger in landlines than in cell phones; the gap is 12%. When you only ask landlines, Lai beats Tsai by 4%. However, if you only ask cell phones, Tsai is 4% better than Lai. When you put them together, Tsai comes out slightly ahead.

(By the way, also note that Han is exactly the same in both samples, and Ko is much stronger among cell phone respondents.)

Lai is screaming that the polling primary has been rigged against him. It is true that they choose the best question for Tsai. It is also true that Tsai does better with half the sample taken from cell phones than if all responses are from landlines. However, what the stats listed above show is that an all-landline sample is not representative of the whole population. That is, the method that Lai considers to be the default was skewing the estimate dramatically in his favor. If the DPP had adopted a 100% cell phone sample, he would have had a good argument that it was biasing the estimate unfairly toward Tsai (though the tables above indicate that cell phones are not quite as skewed as landlines). However, the two sources balance each other relatively well. A 50-50 split (plus weighting for age, sex, and region) is actually not a bad balance. It is certainly more representative of the overall population than either a pure landline or a pure cell phone sample. I’m inclined to argue that the DPP’s decision to use a 50-50 sample should be seen more as undoing the previous bias toward Lai than as creating a new, unfair bias toward Tsai.


What is Taiwan independence?

June 1, 2019

Han Kuo-yu held a big rally in Taipei today. I had planned on going, but it was raining. Anyway, the entire thing was broadcast on Han Kuo-yu Official Propaganda Media Sponsored by Wang Wang Sponsored by China CiTV news, including sideline reporters giving live updates from inside buses driving up from southern Taiwan and interviews with peddlers trying to sell herbal candy. I just couldn’t stomach too much of that stuff today.

Instead, I thought I’d try to write out a thought that has been rattling around in my head for a couple of months, since even before William Lai announced his challenge to Tsai Ing-wen. The basic idea is this: there is a growing split among people who want Taiwan to someday become independent. This is generational, but it is more fundamentally about what Taiwan independence means and what is necessary to make Taiwan independent. The group of people who are generally labeled as the Taiwan independence movement have a very different idea about these things than the mainstream of the DPP elite, and this is what is driving the fundamentalists’ dissatisfaction with Tsai and Lai’s challenge to her.

Let’s start in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when the current elders of the Taiwan independence movement were crystalizing their views. For these people, the primary obstacle to Taiwan independence was the KMT and its authoritarian regime in Taiwan. The task at hand was to dislodge the KMT from power so that they could declare independence. Some of them tried violence, but most of them eventually merged with the Tangwai pro-democracy movement to try to remove the KMT through democratic means. They have always placed a premium on trying to get the government and the populace to make statements about Taiwan’s sovereignty. One of the avenues for this was putting the Taiwan Independence Plank in the DPP’s party platform in 1991. Another was to push for referendums, so that the people could directly vote on whether Taiwan should become independent.

To these people, the threat from the PRC was a red herring. The KMT used the possibility of a military invasion to scare people from supporting Taiwan independence, so in order to make their case, they had to argue that the threat was a lie. In the authoritarian era, this was fairly easy. The PRC didn’t really have the capacity to launch an invasion of Taiwan, and the USA military guaranteed Taiwan’s security. The ROC military was fundamentally seen as part of the KMT regime. When martial law was still in effect, the military’s primary task was to suppress Taiwan’s population. Even after martial law, the ROC military was regarded more as an enemy to be overcome and neutered than as a potentially useful tool. There is deep distrust of the military among fundamentalists, who see a disproportionately mainlander officer corps and a Chinese nationalist political ideology. Even today, independence fundamentalists are often stunningly dismissive of the threat from China and aggressively confident in the USA.

The independence fundamentalists are angry with the Tsai administration for not doing enough to promote Taiwan independence. She has conspicuously refrained from the types of actions that President Chen vigorously pursued, such as renaming all the state-run companies with “China” in their name, promoting nationalist referendums, proposing a new constitution, and stirring up nationalist debates at every opportunity. Note that all these are inward-oriented. The way to pursue Taiwan independence was for Taiwan to come to some sort of internal consensus so that it could outwardly declare its independence to the world. I think the final straw that pushed the independence fundamentalists over the edge was the 2018 referendum on using the name “Taiwan” in the 2022 Tokyo Olympics. Tsai did not openly support this referendum. In fact, she tried to stop DPP elected officials from participating in rallies supporting the measure. The measure failed, and I think the fundamentalists blamed her, seeing her reticence as outright betrayal.


Let’s turn to the other side, who have a very different vision of Taiwan independence. They don’t have a commonly accepted label, so I’m going to call them “pragmatists.” For this group, Taiwan is already de facto independent. Democratization fundamentally transformed Taiwan. The authoritarian KMT had to transform itself into a normal political party, one of several contesting power. That is, the KMT was redefined as being under the constitution, not above it.  With democracy, the population of Taiwan was already exercising sovereignty. Thus, in 1995, DPP chair Shih Ming-teh declared that the DPP would not and could not formally declare independence if it took power. Since Taiwan was already independent, there was no need to do so, and altering Taiwan’s sovereignty was beyond the ordinary powers of a governing majority. When it became apparent that the DPP had a real shot to win the 2000 presidential election, it passed a resolution on Taiwan’s future declaring the independence plank a mere historical document. The status quo is something to be protected, not overturned.

For the pragmatists, the main threat to Taiwan independence is not internal, it is external. The threat from China is real, and the primary task is to build up the capacity to resist Chinese attempts to swallow Taiwan. From day one of her presidency, Tsai has spent a tremendous amount of energy on the military. She has funded projects, she regularly visits bases and has photo-ops, and, in public speeches, she proudly and pointedly asserts her status as commander-in-chief much more than Lee, Chen, or Ma ever did. If the independence fundamentalists see the military as an obstacle, the pragmatists view the military as a vital bulwark protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty. If China invades, Taiwan only has one military available to fight. Regardless of which party the officers prefer, independence advocates have no choice but to work with them. Rather than try to starve or disempower the military, pragmatists want to create a powerful and professional military loyal to the state. If the military is loyal to the ROC, then independence advocates must reconcile themselves to accepting the ROC. Unlike the fundamentalists, the pragmatists take the Chinese invasion threat very seriously. Deterring it is the most important thing a Taiwan independence supporter can do.

On economics, the pragmatists are again different. While the fundamentalists don’t actively want Taiwan’s economy to be integrated into China’s, this is not necessarily one of their top priorities. President Chen was actually quite aggressive in lowering barriers to investment in China, and peak period of the hollowing out of Taiwan’s industrial base was under his administration. This fits with the idea that China is not really the threat. The pragmatists see economic integration with China as far more dangerous. China now has economic leverage that it can use to put pressure on Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty. Thus, Tsai has tried to slowly decouple the two economies, both by pushing for more economic cooperation with other countries and also by encouraging Taiwanese companies in China to come back home. For the pragmatists, this effort is central to promotion of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

For the pragmatists, exercises of self-expression, such as referendums, are a self-indulgent luxury, not the essence of the movement. It might be fun and emotionally satisfying to poke China in the eye, but one must be mindful of the consequences. If China attacks, Taiwan will need military help from the USA (and Japan). If that attack is triggered by a provocative referendum, American and Japanese public opinion might not support sending troops. Since the goal is to maintain sovereignty, these sorts of public statements can be counterproductive and downright dangerous. Referendums, in particular, are a lose-lose proposition. If they pass, they make Taiwan’s international position more precarious (because China is more likely to attack and the USA is less likely to help). Pragmatists are forced to consider voting against such propositions, which is a painful act in and of itself. If the measure fails, it adds weight to the Chinese insistence that Chinese on both sides believe that there is only one China. The best option is to keep these damn referendums off the ballot.

Fundamentalists are much more open to forcing the issue. If the referendum law is ever modified to allow the question of whether Taiwan should declare independence, they absolutely will push for such a referendum as soon as possible. If you believe that the primary obstacles are internal, then there is no reason not to try. If the question fails, you simply try again in a few years. That is what the Quebec and Scottish nationalists have done. For the pragmatists, since the primary obstacles to Taiwan independence are external, the timing of any declaration of formal independence depends on the external environment. That is, they have to wait until China no longer has the capacity or the will to invade Taiwan, or until political will in the USA congeals in a much stronger and clearer direction, or until Taiwan builds up its own military capacity, or until some dramatic event like the end of the Cold War changes the entire world and makes things possible that previously seemed unimaginable. In the meantime, the pragmatists’ task is to maintain Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty so that when the opportunity comes, Taiwan will be ready.