Attitudes toward Hong Kong protests

A TVBS poll conducted a couple weeks ago (Aug 5-7) contains an interesting question. Respondents were asked, “Hong Kong has experienced protest activity opposing the extradition bill. Overall, do you support the protest activities by Hong Kong residents?” 香港發生「反送中」的抗議活動,整體而言,請問您支不支持香港民眾的抗議活動?  Overall, 57% of respondents said they supported the protests, 19% did not support the protests, and 24% did not have a clear opinion or did not know about the protests.

I think this question is interesting because how to deal with China is one of the fundamental questions facing Taiwan. Should Taiwan take an assertive, even confrontational approach, or should it take a deferential and conciliatory approach? In Taiwan, most people – supporting both the blue and green camps – worry a lot about the threat from China. Only a very few people on the extreme unification fringe want to become part of the PRC.  However, there is a clear divide in how supporters of the two camps think Taiwan should act in the face of Chinese ambitions. (To put it very crudely, green camp sympathizers tend to believe that Taiwan needs to stand up and voice its determination to resist Chinese aggressions. Taiwan needs to tell the world that it does not accept the premise that Taiwan is part of China, and Taiwan is determined to maintain its sovereignty. Blue camp supporters tend to think that the best way to maintain Taiwan’s status is to avoid giving China any excuse or reason for aggression. They believe that Taiwan should do its best to keep out of the limelight and let Chinese leaders worry about all the other problems that China faces. If Taiwan is never China’s top problem, China will never get around to attacking Taiwan. However, if Taiwan loudly asserts its interests, Chinese leaders will feel threatened and feel a greater need to react.

The Hong Kong protests are just the sort of thing that evokes contrasting reactions among these two different mindsets. TVBS helpfully provided a breakdown of responses by party ID and age. The differences among people who identify with different parties are striking:

 

% of
sample
Support
protests
Don’t
support
protests
No
opinion
Don’t
know
about
protests
Full sample 100 57 19 11 13
DPP 22 82 6 4 8
NPP 4 84 6 5 5
KPP* 8 80 14 5 1
KMT 28 33 39 13 15
Other parties 11 40 13 16 31
None 26 58 16 15 12

DPP sympathizers support the protests by an 82-6% margin. The figures for the NPP and KPP* are similar. There is almost unanimity among these groups in favor of a confrontational stance. There is a problem, and you don’t solve that problem by pretending it isn’t there. You have to deal with it, and that may involve some civic actions.

*Yes, I know the party’s formal name is the “TPP.” I prefer to call them the KPP (Ko-P Party) because it is more accurate and I’m petty.

KMT sympathizers look very different. About a third support the protests, a third oppose, and a third don’t know what is right (or, following Han and Ko’s lead, simply refuse to take much of a position). Among Taiwanese respondents, KMT sympathizers are alone in taking such a skeptical view of the protests. However, a hesitance to directly confront the PRC is consistent with the KMT’s longstanding practice in dealing with China. (One additionally suspects that KMT sympathizers might also resent the negative effect the protests are having on the KMT’s electoral prospects, and that might contribute to their generally unsupportive attitudes.)

Let’s look quickly at the age breakdown on this question:

% of
sample
Support
protests
Don’t
support
protests
No
opinion
Don’t
know
about
protests
Full sample 100 57 19 11 13
20-29 16 75 8 9 9
30-39 19 70 12 9 9
40-49 19 61 24 10 5
50-59 19 56 25 9 10
60&up 28 38 23 14 25

There is a clear age difference. Young people are the most likely to support the protests, and the level of support declines with each older age cohort. However, among everyone 59 and under, the percentage of supporters is an absolute majority and at least twice as large as the percentage of non-supporters. Only the oldest cohort is anywhere near split, and even there, support is still clearly the most common response.

These age and party breakdowns point to clear problems for Ko Wen-je. Ko has tried to duck the Hong Kong question as much as possible, but sometimes that has been impossible. When he has to give an answer, it has been the most tepid response possible. As I mentioned a week ago, one of these answers was that he didn’t know about the protests and they had nothing to do with Taiwan. Ko has clearly decided that he needs to not antagonize China for his China policy to make any sense. He wants to give the impression that China will deal with him, so he is strategically not challenging them on the Hong Kong question. However, Ko’s position is diametrically opposed to the preferences of his target demographic. Both people who support his KPP and people under 40 overwhelmingly express support for the protests. They have to be a bit disappointed when he is afraid to voice their thoughts. After all, one of the reasons they like Ko-P is precisely because, unlike professional politicians, he speaks his mind directly and bluntly without worrying about whether it is going to rub anyone the wrong way.

It’s looking more and more like Ko will not run for president. I think this might be emblematic of his root problem. Ko has a lot of supporters who don’t actually like the things he stands for. There are still a lot of people who traditionally support the DPP and think of him as part of the broader green camp. However, in a presidential election, Ko cannot avoid the China question, and his strategy for dealing with China is much closer to a traditional KMT approach. Likewise, Ko gets a lot of support from young people, but his policies aren’t particularly well-aligned with the things that young people want. The Hong Kong protests are one example of this.

People often complain about long and grueling political campaigns, but I’m concerned that this one won’t be long enough. I want Tsai, Han, Ko, and Gou to have to answer questions about the important questions facing Taiwan every day for several months. I want them subjected to intense scrutiny so that these sorts of contradictions are exposed. Campaigns are crucial to helping voters understand what politicians want to do. Without lengthy, intense campaigns, it is harder for voters to make good decisions.

2 Responses to “Attitudes toward Hong Kong protests”

  1. cl458 Says:

    You are not petty enough to call that party KPP. Me and some friends call it TMD by taking the abbreviation from the pronunciation of the party’s Mandarin name.

  2. 台灣人多數支持香港抗議,只有一黨例外 | Says:

    […] 香港反抗中國政府統治的「反送中」運動已經持續數個月,不但抗爭規模大,而且時間持久,一直持續至今,也受到世界性的注意。香港的抗議也在台灣引發許多迴響,台灣人對香港抗爭的態度如何,又可能對台灣即將到來的大選有什麼影響?長期研究台灣政治的外國人學者「凍蒜先生」寫下分析《Attitudes toward Hong Kong protests》(連結),一起來看看有何可觀之處。 […]

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