Archive for September, 2019

The Annette Lu effect: Less than she thinks

September 24, 2019

What impact did Terry Gou dropping out and Annette Lu entering the race have? If one looks only at the Tsai-Han matchup, there is basically no change before and after the September 17 announcements. Here are a few recent before and after polls from the same pollsters. (I didn’t list the Formosa poll, which was conducted on Sept 16 and 17 – so half before and half after Gou’s announcement.)

pollster date Tsai Han gap
UDN 9.9 44.0 33.0 11.0
UDN 9.21 45.0 33.0 12.0
Apple 9.9 45.1 33.3 11.8
Apple 9.22 44.4 32.9 11.5
PinView 9.05 39.8 28.3 11.5
PinView 9.12 37.4 30.5 6.9
PinView 9.18 37.6 27.1 10.5
Green Party 9.04 47.6 33.8 13.8
Green Party 9.13 48.1 35.2 12.9
Green Party 9.17 49.1 32.3 16.8

This isn’t a whole lot of data, and two of the post-decision surveys (PinView and Green Party) were conducted in the immediate aftermath of the announcements, when people were still adjusting to the shock. Those two surveys show a small bump for Tsai, but that could be a statistical blip. The two surveys that gave people a few days to cool down (UDN and Apple) show almost no impact. The overall trend is stability.


Unlike Terry Gou, Annette Lu has no reasonable chance of winning the presidential election. However, including her in the race does have a noticeable impact. When Lu is included, support for both Tsai and Han goes down noticeably. So far as I can tell, the only survey that has asked both the Tsai-Han and then the Tsai-Han-Lu matchup is PinView.

  date Tsai Han Lu
PinView 9.18 37.6 27.1  
PinView 9.18 35.4 25.2 6.4

This survey shows Lu having roughly the same effect on Tsai and Han; both of them decline about 2% when she enters.

Let’s turn to Apple’s past three surveys:

  date Tsai Han Lu
Apple 9.9 45.1 33.3  
Apple 9.17 37.7 27.5 4.7
Apple 9.22 44.4 32.9  

Apple’s graphic in today’s newspaper puts all three of these results in the same time series, but the middle question was different. The survey from 9.17 asked about a three-way race, not a two-way race. Small differences in survey questions can have big effects on the results, and this certainly did. Tsai’s support in the 9.17 survey is about 6% lower than the other two, and Han’s support is about 5% lower. Keep in mind that this poll was conducted immediately after Gou’s announcement, so I think part of these drops in support are just voters trying to figure out what just happened.

The most interesting result from the Apple poll is about Lu’s 4.7%. Who are those people? I didn’t think that Annette Lu had so much popularity. Actually, she doesn’t. Those people are protest votes. The pundits all assume that Lu’s support should come from the deep green part of the spectrum, since Lu is representing the Taiwan nationalist fundamentalist Formosa Alliance party and other deep greens who detest President Tsai. In fact, her 4.7% aren’t a bunch of cranky old ideologues. She gets 4.9% among green party identifiers, 5.4% among non-identifiers, and 4.1% among blue party identifiers. Apple further clarified that she did even better among the light greens and light blues than among the deep greens and deep blues, though they didn’t provide any concrete numbers for this. Most stunning, among respondents aged 20-29, Lu gets 11.0% support. These are people who don’t have any memories of her as VP, much less as Taoyuan County magistrate, legislator, democracy activist, or feminist pioneer. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that people who answer “Lu” aren’t so much expressing support for her as trying to avoid support for Tsai or Han.

Yesterday’s United Daily News poll did not ask about the three-way race. Instead, they also included potential NPP candidate Huang Kuo-chang in their survey.

    Tsai Han Lu Huang
UDN 9.21 45 33    
UDN 9.21 39 31 5 7

UDN didn’t provide any breakdown of these results, but there is an interesting difference with the PinView and Apple results. In those, Lu (perhaps unexpectedly) seemed to take nearly as much support from Han as from Tsai. In this poll, Tsai clearly drops by a lot more (6%) than Han (2%). Of course, it is possible that Lu is pulling equally from both major candidates, but Huang’s support comes overwhelmingly out of Tsai’s ledger.


So what effect would Lu’s presence on the ballot actually have? This preliminary evidence suggests a much smaller effect that one might expect. While 5% is nothing to sneeze at, these data suggest that those voters are protest voters, not really Lu supporters. They could easily decide to switch elsewhere or simply stay at home. Moreover, even assuming she does get that 5%, it seems to be split fairly evenly between people who would otherwise support Tsai and people who would otherwise support Han. Han probably benefits a bit from Lu’s entry, but the effect is tiny.

If you are surprised by this conclusion, let me note that I am too. I thought Lu would clearly hurt Tsai, and there would be a clear incentive for the KMT to do whatever necessary to get Lu on the ballot.  I actually had to revise the article as I was writing it because the data didn’t say what I thought they did. It could be that I am jumping to conclusions too quickly from too little data. For now, however, the polls say that Lu (a) gets quite a bit of support and (b) that it doesn’t matter very much.

Is it still Blue North, Green South?

September 22, 2019

In the beginning, the DPP was an urban party. The Tangwai protests were concentrated in the cities, as were most of the successful opposition politicians. Outside the cities lay vast rural voting populations that the DPP had an extremely difficult time with. Places like Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi, Hualien, and Penghu Counties were places that DPP politicians went to lose. The pro-DPP media lamented that these places were “democracy deserts.” There were two exceptions: the DPP did very well in Yilan and Kaohsiung Counties. These two rural districts were so different from everywhere else that they were labeled as “sacred democratic land.”

The great political scientist Samuel Huntington once noted that revolutions are born in the cities but mature in the countryside. So it was with the DPP. Over the course of the 1990s and 2000s, the DPP slowly built its strength out in those former democracy deserts by cultivating a generation of politicians who could speak the local jargon, eroding the KMT’s traditional patronage system, and nationalizing political competition. By the late 2000s, the DPP had become stronger in rural areas than urban areas.

Sometime during Chen Shui-bian’s presidency, pundits started speaking of a very different north-south divide. Any urban-rural differences paled in comparison to the regional differences between the blue north and the green south, with the Chuoshui River as the dividing line. This north-south divide has featured prominently in our understandings of Taiwanese political geography for the past decade.

However, we may be in the midst of another grand shift. The third regional pattern may see the DPP improve its standing in the north and in the cities but see losses in central and southern Taiwan. Granted, these shifts are just beginning to emerge, and I may be jumping the gun.


Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the DPP was much more successful in urban areas than in rural areas. To illustrate how this changed over time, let’s look at some differences between the 1992 and 2004 Legislative Yuan elections. Before the 2010 administrative reforms, most urban areas featured a city surrounded by a county of the same name. The counties varied in levels of urbanization, but all of them were far less urbanized than their neighboring city. So let’s compare how the DPP did in six cities and counties in 1992:

city DPP % county DPP %
Taipei City 35.6% Taipei County 26.0%
Hsinchu City 32.6% Hsinchu County 38.2%
Taichung City 39.4% Taichung County 24.8%
Chiayi City 50.1% Chiayi County 22.9%
Tainan City 38.2% Tainan County 38.6%
Kaohsiung City 35.4% Kaohsiung County 38.9%
All 6 cities 36.8% All 6 counties 30.0%

And here is the same table for the 2004 legislative election (the last to use the old SNTV electoral system):

city DPP % county DPP %
Taipei City 34.7% Taipei County 35.8%
Hsinchu City 25.7% Hsinchu County 36.9%
Taichung City 32.0% Taichung County 35.7%
Chiayi City 30.2% Chiayi County 45.0%
Tainan City 41.4% Tainan County 44.6%
Kaohsiung City 41.4% Kaohsiung County 42.9%
All 6 cities 35.9% All 6 counties 38.8%

In 1992, the DPP did better in the urban areas by 6.8%. In 2004, it was better in the rural areas by 2.9%. That’s a (massive) swing of 9.7%.

What happened? In the early democratic era, elections were far more localized. The KMT could run candidates that were good at talking to rural Taiwanese voters in rural areas, and these candidates were largely unaffected by the KMT candidates speaking a very different language to urban (and often mainlander) audiences in other areas. KMT local factions mobilized the resources of the local governments to contest elections on a patronage logic. Since control of the national government wasn’t really ever at stake – everyone knew the KMT would still be in charge – voters were free to support whoever promised a new road, helped out dealing with government bureaucracy, or simply slipped them NT500 on election eve. DPP candidates lacked access to these sorts of resources and had to compete on ideology. However, since power wasn’t actually at stake, ideological appeals had limited impact. During the 1990s and 2000s, the DPP slowly eroded these KMT advantages. They cultivated politicians who learned to talk about local development as well as democracy and independence. They pushed reforms to make it more difficult for local factions to use local government budgets or farmers associations credit unions as campaign slush funds and to crack down on vote buying. Perhaps most importantly, elections slowly became nationalized. With the introduction of direct presidential elections, everyone started to think of politics more in national terms. This became more urgent after the DPP won the 2000 presidential election, smashing the old assumption that national power wasn’t really at stake. The urban-rural divide was never quite as large in more nationalized elections as in more localized elections. If you compare the first national election, the 1994 governor election, with the 2008 presidential election, the last before the 2010 administrative reform, you find less than half as much of a shift. In 1994, the DPP was 2.1% stronger in the six cities, while in 2008 it was 1.8% stronger in the six counties, for a total swing of 3.9%. However, in the early 1990s, legislative elections were more important in defining how people thought about politics; by the late 2000s, people thought almost entirely in terms of presidential politics.

city DPP % county DPP %
1994: All 6 cities 41.4% 1994: All 6 counties 39.3%
2008: All 6 cities 41.5% 2008: All 6 counties 43.3%


By the end of the Chen Shui-bian era, everyone had noticed the growing north-south gap. Let me show the emergence of this gap using both legislative and executive elections.

North of Chuoshui R. DPP % South of Chuoshui R. DPP % gap
1992 LY 29.8 1992 LY 34.4 4.6
2004 LY 33.8 2004 LY 40.9 7.1
2012 LY 40.0 2012 LY 54.5 14.5
1994 governor 38.1 1994 governor 42.2 4.1
2012 president 37.4 2012 president 51.2 16.8

In the early 1990s, the DPP was only 4-5% stronger in the south than in the north. However, by the 2012 elections, this gap had more than tripled in size.

Again, I think this has everything to do with nationalizing politics. Taiwan identity has always been stronger in the south, but that didn’t necessarily translate into votes for the DPP when national power was not at stake. Moreover, when the electoral contest became more nationalized, the parties could not craft different messages for different voters to the same extent. The things you said in Taipei and Hsinchu mattered in Chiayi and Pingtung. Personalities also mattered. In the 1990s, Lee Teng-hui led the KMT. As the first native Taiwanese president, Lee had a very strong pull on voters with nativist sympathies. When he ran in 1996, he did extremely well in the south. Even when he was not on the ballot, voters could tell themselves that the KMT was a diverse party with people like Lee in powerful positions, thus muddying the parties’ positions. That changed when Lee left office and the KMT was taken over by much more Taipei-oriented politicians, such as Lien and Ma. On the other side, Chen Shui-bian was a son of the south.


So if phase 1 is the urban-rural divide and phase 2 is the north-south divide, are we entering into phase 3 of Taiwan’s political geography? It’s far too early to give a definitive answer, but there are some hints in the presidential polling that echo some of my subjective gut feelings.

You should be very careful in drawing conclusions about regional support from polls. My rule of thumb for subgroups is that I don’t trust any number based on fewer than 200 respondents. Most surveys have about 1000 total respondents, but they cut the sample into five, six, or even seven groups. Some of those groups are inevitably going to have fewer than 200 respondents, and often it is far less than 200. While pundits love to scream about how someone’s support has cratered in central Taiwan between this poll and the poll two weeks ago, I usually just ignore those numbers as noise caused by small sample size.

That doesn’t mean all is lost. While I don’t trust any single poll, we are fortunate to have multiple surveys from the same pollster. If we see the same trends again and again, we might have a bit more confidence in the results. That is, by combining the results of multiple surveys, we can increase the number of respondents in each group and obtain an estimate that isn’t garbage. My favorite two pollsters, TVBS and Tai Li-an (Formosa), have each published four polls in the last two months. I’m going to ignore changes over time and take the averages of regional breakdowns in these two series to see what sorts of patterns are emerging. In both of them, I look at the Tsai-Han head-to-head race. Note that TVBS and Formosa define their regions slightly differently, so we have to look at each pollster’s results independently.

In the charts below, Tsai’s and Han’s results are presented in red and orange, respectively. For context, I have also put data for how the DPP and KMT did in each region in the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections. You will notice that the 2008 and 2016 lines are almost exactly parallel, reflecting the fact that each party was above or below its national average in each region by almost exactly the same amount. The main exception is the KMT in 2016 in the Taoyuan area, where Chu underperformed. Tsai did not overperform in this region; rather, Soong (whose running mate was from this region) did quite well. You should feel free to ignore Chu’s poor performance in Taoyuan as an idiosyncratic feature of that election. The underlying regional patterns were basically the same in 2008 and 2016; both were still in the blue north / green south world.

One final caveat: Do not interpret poll results as being identical to vote numbers. That is, 40% in the polls does not mean that a candidate will get 40% in the election. Turnout matters, and undecided voters can break disproportionately one way or the other. If the red line for Tsai’s poll result overlaps with the green line for the DPP’s 2008 election result, that does not mean that Tsai will get the same percentage of votes that Hsieh got in that region. The point here is to look at regions of comparative strength and weakness, not to suggest that Tsai is at 2008 or 2016 support levels.

The chart for Tsai’s support in TVBS polls is the most striking of the four charts. Tsai’s strongest areas are still in the south, but the difference between the north and the south is dramatically smaller. Relative to the DPP’s previous support, Tsai is underperforming a lot in the south, underperforming a little in central Taiwan, doing quite well in Taoyuan, and doing extremely well in Greater Taipei.  Instead of a dramatic north/south divide, we have a much flatter pattern with Tsai doing about equally well in Taipei and the south while getting around 5% less support in the Taoyuan and Taichung areas.

The Formosa polls show roughly the same pattern, though with minor differences. Compared to the TVBS results, the Formosa polls show Tsai doing a bit better in Taichung and a bit worse in Taoyuan. Formosa breaks Greater Taipei apart into Taipei City and New Taipei City, and there is a big difference between the two. Tsai is overperforming in New Taipei by roughly the same amount as in Taoyuan and Taichung. However, in Taipei City, she is massively overperforming expectations. As in the TVBS polls, while Tsai is strongest in the south, this is also where she is underperforming the 2008 and 2016 elections by the greatest margins.

Overall, there is a pretty clear picture of Tsai as a creature of Taipei. The further south she gets, the less popular she is (relative to previous performance).

The charts for Han present a faded mirror image of the ones for Tsai. That is, you can see the same trends in reverse, but those trends seem a bit milder. Han is doing better in the south than in the north, especially compared to the 2008 election results. He is also clearly underperforming in Greater Taipei, specifically in Taipei City. In absolute terms, Han is stronger in the north than in the south, but in relative terms it is the opposite.

I usually think that elections are more about the incumbent than the challenger, but Han is such a powerful character that it is tempting to think that he is as responsible as Tsai for this new, flatter political geography. Just as Tsai is the most Taipei-oriented leader the DPP has had in years, Han is far better at speaking to southern voters and local factions than Lien or Ma ever were.


Who cares if the political geography is shifting? A vote is a vote, no matter where it is cast. For one thing, a shifting political geography reflects a shifting set of governing priorities. More practically, these shifts might have a major impact on the legislative races. While legislative races still have a local component, the vote results in the past three legislative elections have closely followed the presidential results. If the presidential race shifts, it will pull up or drag down legislative candidates in different areas.

The DPP had a large advantage in the south. If Tsai underperforms in the south, it probably won’t matter too much. The DPP has a large enough cushion that it can probably absorb some losses and still maintain majorities in the legislative races. However, as you move northward to central Taiwan, that is no longer the case. In central Taiwan, the DPP had a slim advantage in 2016, but prior to that the KMT generally had the upper hand. The DPP is probably looking at moderate-sized declines in its support in central Taiwan, and that might well tip the balance back to the KMT. (This certainly helps explain why the DPP seems scared about its two seats in Yunlin.) New Taipei has traditionally looked similar to central Taiwan, but Tsai seems to be a bit more popular in New Taipei than in the Taichung area (relative to previous results). This difference is small, but it might be crucial. Depending on where the tipping points eventually fall, it is possible that the DPP could lose seats in central Taiwan while retaining them in New Taipei. Retaining seats in Taoyuan might be more challenging, since the DPP starts from a lower baseline of support in Taoyuan than in New Taipei or Taichung. It still seems strange to me that Taipei City could possibly a tossup area. Taipei has been a blue stronghold for so long, and it was disorienting to see it as nearly a 50-50 city in 2016. I had expected that the DPP’s Taipei seats would be among the easiest for the KMT to win back, but these results suggest that may not be true.

I am still thinking through the impact of the shifting political geography on the legislative races. For now, I simply want to make the point that the regional patterns might not be the same in 2020 as they were in 2016.

Do young people vote?

September 20, 2019

Every now and then, someone asks me whether young voters in Taiwan actually turn out to vote. There is an enormous difference in political preferences between young and old voters, so difference in turnout could matter quite a lot. The polls in the current presidential race show a fairly close contest between Tsai and Han among voters over 40, but Tsai crushes Han among voters in their 20s and 30s. Will those young voters actually show up to the polls?

My stock answer is that we don’t have good data on turnout because Taiwan doesn’t allow exit polling. Conventional polls have their uses, but turnout is one of their glaring weaknesses. Respondents in pre-election surveys overwhelmingly tell you that they will vote, and respondents in post-election polls report much higher turnout behavior than we actually see at the precincts. One problem is that respondents may not accurately report their behavior. A bigger problem is probably that conventional polls do not reach a large number of potential voters. For example, people who work during the evening or do not answer phone calls from strange numbers never enter the sample. Likewise, people who live outside the country but come back to vote just aren’t ever polled. Young people, who tend to live more unsettled lives, are especially prone to being unsampled. Pollsters try to make up for this by weighting the data, but weighting is a second-best solution. The ideal way to study turnout is through an exit poll, in which voters are sampled as they leave the precinct. Exit polling provides an accurate sample of the voting electorate, since it samples from the population of all voters. We can then compare that sample to the full electorate, which we know quite a bit about from aggregate government statistics. Unfortunately, the government decided about 15 years ago that exit polling interferes with election administration and/or gives voters the impression of being harassed at the ballot box. There were two exit polls conducted, one for the 1998 Taipei mayoral election and one for the 2004 presidential election. After the latter exit poll, the Interior Ministry banned any further exit polls. It has not shown any indications of willingness to revisit this decision. Taiwan takes election administration pretty seriously.

However, all is not lost. We actually do have a pretty good look at turnout by sex and age in the 2016 presidential election.  A few years ago, Taiwan passed a law promoting gender equality, so all government agencies have to keep tabs and write reports on the current status of gender breakdowns both in their own work and in the populations they serve, and they have to show that they are trying to address any current gender discrimination. The Central Election Commission used this mandate to commission a study on turnout differences among men and women. The study was conducted by my close friend Chuang Wen-jong 莊文忠, at Shih Hsin University and our mentor Hung Yung-tai 洪永泰, who is emeritus at NTU. They sampled 230 neighborhoods (村里), which collectively had just over 200,000 voters. They were then given special permission – since this study was for the purpose of fulfilling a legal mandate – to look at the demographics of who turned out in these neighborhoods. When you go to vote, your ID is checked against a voter roll which contains your name, address, sex, and date of birth. They did not collect names or addresses (for both privacy and budgetary reasons), but they did get age, sex, and whether or not someone picked up a ballot for about 200,000 randomly sampled voters. (Note: They did not get any information on how the person voted. We didn’t learn anything in this study about whether they voted for Tsai, Chu, Soong, or cast an invalid vote. This study was useful, but we could learn a lot more from a true exit poll.)


Before I tell you about the results, let’s get a little context. What does the USA look like? Michael McDonald (University of Florida and fellow UCSD grad) has put together some nice charts about turnout in American elections, and I’ve copied the relevant chart below. Ignore the midterm elections and try to focus your attention on the presidential elections by connecting the top dots in each zig-zag line. Turnout in the oldest group (age 60 and up) is usually about 30% higher than turnout in the youngest group (age 18-29). This is an enormous difference, and American politicians have traditionally responded by catering to the wishes of senior citizens while ignoring the demands of young voters. In some cases (most famously former Florida Senator Claude Pepper), this was explicit and unapologetic.


How about Taiwan? Is there an age gap? If so, is it as dramatic as the American age gap?

Since this study is officially about gender, I should probably start by noting that in the 2016 presidential election, they found that turnout among women was 67.2% and only 64.8% among men. That is, women’s turnout was higher by 2.4%.

Figure 5.2 (p81) is the essence of their research. (I can’t figure out how to copy it, but it’s a pretty chart. Download the report and look at it!) This figure shows turnout among men and women from each age. First-time voters tend to vote at slightly higher rates with the lowest turnout rates occurring in the mid 20s. From this trough, there is a long increase until the peak in the late 60s and early 70s. From there, turnout rates decline dramatically, falling much quicker among old women than old men.

There are no numbers on this chart, so you have to eyeball things. To get more concrete numbers, I downloaded their data from the CEC website and calculated some group means. Turnout for the full sample was 63.1%. To compare directly to the American data, I cut the data into five groups:

Age group Turnout % of electorate % of actual voters
20-29 52.9 17.1 14.3
30-39 54.9 20.3 17.6
40-49 61.3 19.1 18.5
50-59 69.7 19.3 21.3
60 and up 73.6 24.2 28.2

The difference in turnout between the youngest group and the oldest group was 20.7%. This is a large gap, but not nearly as large as the roughly 30% age gap found in American elections. Still, while there are only about 40% more eligible voters in the oldest group than the youngest group, the oldest group produced nearly twice as many actual votes as the youngest group. That’s a pretty big effect.

These five age categories are useful for comparing Taiwan to the USA, but lumping all senior citizens together in one enormous group hides quite a bit of variation. As Figure 5.2 shows, turnout for some ages is higher that the age group average of 73.6% and markedly lower for other ages. So instead of five groups, let’s cut the data into fifteen groups.

Age group Turnout % of electorate % of actual voters
20-24 53.2 8.8 7.4
25-29 52.5 8.3 6.9
30-34 53.9 9.9 8.4
35-39 55.7 10.4 9.2
40-44 59.5 9.3 8.7
45-49 63.0 9.8 9.8
50-54 68.0 10.1 10.9
55-59 71.5 9.3 10.5
60-64 75.0 8.0 9.5
65-69 78.7 5.2 6.4
70-74 78.6 3.6 4.5
75-79 74.4 3.2 3.8
80-84 66.9 2.2 2.4
85-89 56.2 1.3 1.2
90 and up 40.2 0.6 0.4

The lowest turnout is found in the 25-29 group, at 52.5%, while the highest turnout is in the 65-69 group, at 78.7%. While there are about 60% more eligible voters in the 25-29 group, they only produce about 8% more votes.


We should probably note that these data are from the 2016 election, which came in wake of the 2014 Sunflower Movement. Compared to other election years, young people were probably extremely motivated and excited in 2016. That is, there is good reason to suspect that the age gap was larger in previous elections (and that it will be larger this year).

Alternatively, 2016 had relatively low turnout compared to past presidential elections. Official turnout was 66.3% in 2016, while the highest turnout was 82.7% in 2000. The only way to get to a number like 82.7% is for turnout to go up in all groups, but since there isn’t as much room to increase in the older groups, the increase almost certainly had to be disproportionally concentrated among the younger cohorts. That is, mathematical necessities suggest that there is good reason to suspect that the age gap was smaller in high turnout years like 2000 and 2004 than in low turnout years like 2016.

In conclusion, who the hell knows what turnout among different age groups looked like in previous elections?!? This is why we need data.


What we can say with a reasonable amount of confidence is that there was a sizeable gap – about 25% – in turnout in 2016 between older and younger voters.


Gou drops out

September 17, 2019

Today is the deadline to register a petition drive with the Central Election Commission to get on the presidential ballot as an independent candidate. Neither Terry Gou nor Ko Wen-je registered. Neither did Wang Jin-pyng, for that matter.

[The only person who registered was former vice president Annette Lu, who is running from the “deep green / feminist who is insanely jealous of any other woman who might outshine her” corner of the political spectrum. Let’s try our best to ignore her.]

Not many people expected either Ko or Wang to register, but most observers, including myself, seem surprised that Gou did not. Heck, just a few days ago, I confidently told a room of important people and media reporters that there was a 95% chance that he would run. Oops. Well, I can only say that I don’t consider predicting the future to be my responsibility. Predictions are fun and all, but no one has a working crystal ball. We might have some theoretical guidance, but every situation is unique. Prediction is a reasonable goal for people, such as rocket scientists, looking at simple problems, such as whether an o-ring on the space shuttle will fail in a given situation. However, in the complex contexts facing social scientists, there are simply too many variables to have much hope of making accurate predictions. Also, o-rings don’t learn or act strategically the way humans do. They definitely don’t learn your theoretical prediction and then deliberately do the opposite, the way stock market investors might. For social scientists, prediction is a fool’s errand. My responsibility to society, as I understand it, is to explain what the hell just* happened. So, why the hell did Terry Gou decide not to run?

[*”Just” is used in the social science sense, roughly meaning something that has happened since the beginning of the French Revolution.]

According to the accounts I’ve heard so far, this was not a decision that Gou made in advance. According to both an in-depth piece in Up Media and one of his inner circle who appeared on a talk show, Gou made the final decision the day before the deadline. He had planned to give a press conference on the day of the deadline, but news leaked and he had to make a statement that evening. The point of this is that this decision was not inevitable. I will give a few reasons that I think might have motivated his choice, but he could have just as easily gone the other way.

In his statement, Gou said that he felt he would be unable to change the political culture. He had hoped to get beyond regular politics, overcome populism, and build unity among the people, but events had convinced him this was unlikely. Let’s read a bit into that statement. It was a bit jarring for me to hear Gou say that he wanted to overcome populism. After all, he is the one who would have been running as an outsider trying to dismantle establishment party politics. On reflection, however, I don’t think he understands populism the way I do. I think that might have been a code word for Han Kuo-yu or for Han’s threateningly fanatic followers. There are rumblings that Han’s fans have bullied opponents online, and Gou might have been taken aback by the intensity of electoral politics.

More generally, however, I think that Gou is probably surprised and disappointed at his inability to shatter the established coalitions. In business, people switch sides as soon as someone offers them a better deal. Politics is not like business. In a strong party system, such as Taiwan’s, politicians rarely switch sides. To leave one’s party is to repudiate one’s entire career; it is the kind of dramatic move that only desperate politicians attempt. Most party switching does not end well. Gou probably underestimated the power of party loyalty. Consider the case of Ma Ying-jeou. It is no secret that Ma doesn’t think highly of Han. In fact, most people believe that Ma encouraged Gou to run precisely to deny Han the KMT nomination. Moreover, Gou donated a large amount of money to Ma’s personal foundation. Gou might have thought that he would have Ma’s tacit support, or at least Ma would stay neutral. That was never going to happen. Ma was never going to turn his back on the KMT. Even though Ma and Han still don’t particularly like each other, Ma enthusiastically went on stage at Han’s big rally last week to show his loyalty to the party. He didn’t say anything nice about Han – his speech was focused on criticizing Tsai – and the crowd showed a shocking lack of respect for him by chanting for Han during his speech, but Ma sent a clear message to everyone that he will remain loyal to the KMT. I’m sure Ma was not alone in this. Gou’s VP search might have been a similar case. The Gou campaign reached out to New Taipei mayor Hou You-yi’s brother, but the scheme wilted as soon as the media caught a whiff of the story. Parties always close ranks in election campaigns, and many of Gou’s erstwhile close friends would have told him that they couldn’t support him against the official KMT nominee. Gou thought that he was offering to save the KMT from itself, but the KMT didn’t seem interested in that offer.

Gou might also have started to realize the depth of the organizational challenge facing him. The DPP and KMT have massive networks of people working for their cause. This includes professional politicians, such as county councilors and neighborhood chiefs, media surrogates on all the TV talk shows, people who know how to influence social media or put together an advertising campaign, people who know how to organize six small events and two major events on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday and Thursday before things really start heating up on the weekend, and the countless numbers of volunteers who help get voters to the voting booths on Election Day. Gou didn’t have any of that. He had a handful of people who work for his foundations and who are not experienced at running electoral campaigns. His alliance with Ko wasn’t much help on this point, since Ko has even less organizational prowess than Gou. Ko offered to donate his trusted aid, Tsai Pi-ju, to Gou’s campaign. However, Tsai is already busy trying to put together Ko’s Taiwan People’s Party; does she have the time, energy, or capacity to build both a political party and a presidential campaign from the ground up in a hundred days?

The ballyhooed alliance between Gou, Ko, and Wang may have been another problem. The three continually sent signals to the media that they were willing to work together, but there isn’t much evidence that they actually did cooperate very much. One photo op is not an adequate substitute for a common platform or a concrete agreement on how they would work together. Ko, in particular, seemed to be an unreliable partner. Even though Ko was pushing Gou to run, Ko never seemed to understand the need to subordinate himself to the presidential candidate. He constantly sought the limelight for himself, making statements that did not help Gou’s campaign. He also declined to make any sacrifice for the Gou campaign. One report said that Gou’s last straw was that Ko refused to accept the VP slot on the ticket. Gou may simply have concluded that Ko was never going to be a trustworthy ally.

Wang presented a different, but no less vexing, set of challenges. For one thing, Wang is still insisting that he is going to be president; never mind that there is no reasonable path for this to happen. KMT supporters do not like Wang. Wang dropped out of the KMT primary claiming it was unfair, but his fundamental problem is that KMT supporters would have chosen almost anyone else over him. In the current polls, when the question stipulates that Ko supports Gou, Gou’s numbers go up a few percentage points. However, if the next questions states that both Ko and Wang support Gou, Gou’s numbers go back down. That is, the polls say that Wang is a drag on Gou. Who wants Wang to be president? His strongest support is among DPP identifiers, but they won’t actually vote for him. Wang is almost no one’s first choice, and he isn’t very many people’s second choice, either. He dropped out of the KMT primary and he isn’t registering a petition drive for and independent candidacy, but he also isn’t ceasing all campaign activities.  Instead, he continues to operate under the delusion that he will somehow get on the ballot and win the election. Oh, and Wang and Ko don’t seem to get along very well. These are Gou’s top two political allies. You might see how these two didn’t fill Gou with confidence.

I have written elsewhere about the difficulty Gou might have with his China policy. The plan to ignore China, insist that China will work with him, and also not accept a conventional One China policy seems a bit iffy. Let me quote from a May interview with Commonwealth Magazine. “I will not say ‘1992 Consensus.’ I will talk about ‘1992 Consensus, One China, Each side with its own interpretation.’ Under the framework of One Chinese ethnicity, there is one ROC, and one PRC. This is what I insist upon.” 我不會講「九二共識」,我要講的是「九二共識、一中各表」,一個中華民族底下,一個中華民國,一個中華人民共和國,這是我堅持的理念。This is not One China as the PRC understands it. In fact, it is Two China’s; something that is anathema to the PRC. Would China agree to government-to-government meetings if President Gou took this position? I doubt it. (Admittedly, Gou has not repeated this statement since May, but neither has he repudiated it. His statement in the presidential debates, that “each side with its own interpretation” is the essential part of the 1992 Consensus is only marginally more palatable to Beijing.)

Now, I doubt Gou thinks his formula is as logically flawed as I do. Most people think their position makes perfect sense. However, he may have gotten an inkling that Beijing wasn’t happy with him. About a week ago, Chinese regulators issued a technical ruling that prevented investors in Shanghai from purchasing shares of the Foxconn subsidiary listed in Hong Kong. The price of the Hong Kong stock immediately fell 5%. Was this a message to Gou? When I saw the story, I immediately concluded that Beijing was sending a clear warning. Given the timing – right before Gou was set to formally announce his presidential bid – it seemed inconceivable that it wasn’t intentional. However, the Taiwanese media confined the story to the business section. The political editors ignored it. The only account I have seen claiming it was a political message from Beijing to Gou was from a DPP legislator on his Facebook page. The Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement denying any connection; you’d expect them to deny it, but the denial didn’t sound like an insincere denial that we were all supposed to see through. If it was intended as a message, it seems strange that the Taiwanese political world didn’t understand the message. Maybe this was nothing. But it sure looked like something to me. And he did just drop out of the presidential race. Am I just imagining things?


The Gou campaign denied that poor polls led Gou to withdraw, and this claim seems credible. Gou was doing fine in the public polling. He wasn’t winning, but he was close enough that there was a clear possibility of winning. Gou’s campaign insisted that they were in a clear second place in their internal polls, eight points behind Tsai but five points ahead of Han. Not many public polls are showing a 13 point spread between Tsai and Han, but plenty are showing Gou in second or a close third. Lots of politicians have gambled on far less promising polls.


One final thought: The media has immediately begun speculating that Gou, Ko, or Wang might still run as the PFP candidate. By passing the 5% threshold in the previous legislative elections, the PFP (along with the KMT, DPP, and NPP) earned the right to directly nominate a candidate without going through the petition process. Indeed, there was a story a few weeks ago that the PFP had discussed giving their nomination to Ko until he founded his own party. The deadline for registration is November 22, so we might have another two months of these speculative stories.

However, my first reaction is that Gou, Ko, and Wang have probably missed their best chance. If they wanted to run, they should have done it now. Unless the PFP makes an announcement very soon, the media focus will concentrate on Tsai and Han. Over the next two months, every news story will be about those two. No one will be talking about Gou’ position on military weapons purchases, high speed rail extensions, or agricultural development. If he does try to jump back in two months from now, the obvious question will be whether he is taking the presidency seriously enough. The news cycle is very fast, and we are about to move on from Gou. In two months, he will be an afterthought. People – both ordinary voters and potential campaign workers – will take sides, and most of them won’t be willing to reconsider those decisions come December. You can’t postpone things forever; I think September 17 was the real deadline.

Talk at CSIS

September 17, 2019

I gave a talk at CSIS about the upcoming Taiwanese presidential election on Sept 12. Some of it is already out of date. You can see the video of the talk here.

Gou says something

September 6, 2019

A couple days ago, Terry Gou visited the deputy speaker of the Chiayi city council. In the conversation, Gou said some fairly predictable stuff. Let me translate from a front page Liberty Times article:

“Money isn’t colored. Technology isn’t colored. People care about how to develop the economy. The reason I’m coming out now is that Taiwan’s economy is so important. It has been stagnant for twenty years.” Gou then directly said he wants to break through blue and green and revitalize Taiwan’s economy.

Gou also pointed out, because the two parties had rotated power and they governed according to ideology and not according to economic development, the two parties had not concentrated on developing Taiwan which had created twenty years of stagnation. He believed that any party that did not successfully manage the economy should be thrown out of power and whoever could do a good job with the economy should be allowed to do it. “This time I hope to have a chance to serve, I will completely concentrate on the economy. I will only talk about the economy; I won’t talk at all about politics.”

This was a front page article because it sure sounds like Gou is running. This is pretty much everything except a formal announcement. However, that’s not why I think it is significant.

I think the big story is that Gou has finally started talking. He hasn’t really said anything since the KMT primary ended. He’s been out of the country or just avoided the media. If staying silent was a deliberate strategy, I think it was a good (though cynical) one. Gou is trying to hold together a very unwieldy coalition. Right now, lots of people who are dissatisfied with the two traditional parties can project all their hopes and dreams on him. He is not quite a blank piece of paper, but he is a lot blanker than everyone else. If I were advising him, I would have told him to stay out of the country as long as possible, try to have a lightning fast campaign, and say as little substantive as possible during that campaign. If I were advising the other campaigns, I’d tell them to force him to talk and answer difficult questions. Every time he takes a position, he will risk alienating part of his very diverse coalition.

For example, it’s not surprising that Gou wants to argue that he will run a non-ideological campaign. He is, after all, running as an independent and trying to capture the middle of the political spectrum. However, now that he has said this, people can start to dissect it and challenge him. This particular appeal is an old trope: set aside blue and green ideology and focus on the economy. It sounds great, but what does it mean in practice? What it usually means is that the politician will say anything necessary so that Beijing will cooperate economically. To put it more bluntly, it means accepting One China. However, it also means that the politician doesn’t want to talk to voters about accepting One China, and they also don’t want the media or political opponents to ask them about accepting One China. One China is “ideology,” and ideology is bad. So they want to do ideological things without being held responsible for holding those beliefs or taking those actions.

You can see how Gou might not want to engage in this line of argumentation. It might not bother most of his voters, but it might help Tsai to peel off some supporters who have a strong Taiwan identity but thought that a successful business figure might have a magic recipe to stimulate the economy.

Every time Gou speaks, he gives Tsai and Han an opening to question him and force him to defend his positions and the implications of those positions. This is not a bad thing; it is the essence of democracy. The real tragedy would be if Gou made it to election day without the voters having a clear sense of what he stands for. The important news of the day is that the process has finally started.

Upcoming Event: Talk at CSIS

September 2, 2019

For those of you in or near Washington, DC, I will be speaking at CSIS on September 12 about the upcoming Taiwan presidential election.

The presidential race: six months astonishing months

September 1, 2019

Yesterday, My-Formosa 美麗島電子報 released its August poll. I’ve been waiting to see this one. The pollster, Tai Li-an 戴立安, is the best public pollster that Taiwan has right now. He’s been doing polls for nearly two decades now, first with ERA, then Global Views, Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, and now he does a monthly poll for My-Formosa. It isn’t so much that I think his point estimates are more accurate than anyone else’s, it’s that he uses a standard methodology, asks the same questions again and again, and publishes detailed results. You can learn much, much more from his work than from anyone else’s. With other polls, you get a snapshot of a single moment in time; with Tai’s, you can see trends over time and some of the reasons for those trends.

My-Formosa started publishing polls in February, so we have a fairly good record of the past six months (including a starting and ending point). This is fortuitous, because these six months have been quite remarkable. At the end of February, Tsai Ing-wen was a failed president. She had just led the party into a disastrous election, her popularity was at dismal levels, and DPP supporters were mentally preparing themselves to lose power. In early March, Lai Ching-te launched his primary challenge, effectively repudiating her entire presidency. Six months later, Tsai is moving confidently toward re-election. She is leading in almost all the polls, her party is (mostly) unified around her, satisfaction with her performance in office has increased by leaps and bounds, and her primary competitor is in utter disarray. If you had shown me the August poll back in February, I wouldn’t have believed it.

August was a particularly good month for Tsai and a horrible month for Han Kuo-yu. On just about every indicator, Tsai has surged while Han has plummeted. This echoes all the other polling, but it’s nice to confirm a trend with time-series data from a single pollster.

Let’s get to the data. In this post, I will only use data from My-Formosa polls. There are seven polls: February, March, April, May, June, July, and August. They also did mid-April and mid-July polls, but I’ll ignore those for the sake of parsimony. My impression of Tai Li-an’s polling is that his methodology tends to be slightly favorable to the green camp, compared to other polls. The other major pollster that I take seriously, TVBS, has a similar tilt toward the blue camp. The two typically differ by about 10%. I don’t know which one is more accurate; perhaps it is somewhere in between. However, I care much more about consistency than pinpoint accuracy. That is, these polls should have the same bias in every period, so differences from one period to the next should be a result of shifts in public opinion rather than polling methodology.

Since I know you care most about the state of the race, here are the top-line results for the various matchups as of the end of August:

Tsai 52.1%, Han 33.4%.

Tsai 39.8%, Han 26.9%, Ko 21.9%.

Tsai 39.6%, Han 26.0%, Gou 23.4%.

Tsai 36.9%, Han 26.1%, Gou (supported by Ko) 26.1%.

Tsai 34.9%, Han 23.8%, Gou 14.9%, Ko 12.3%.

Tsai 41.2%, Gou 34.1%.


The result I care most about is the Tsai-Han head-to-head matchup, even though it looks like we will actually get a Tsai-Han-Gou matchup. There are a couple of reasons for my this. First, the presidential race drives voting in the legislative races, and most of the legislative races will be head-to-head matchups between the DPP and KMT. KMT legislators might have a slightly different set of supporters than Han, but there should be a high degree of overlap. The head-to-head presidential matchup is a better starting point for thinking about the legislative race than anything else, including (especially?) questions that ask respondents how they will vote in the district races. Second, I think the head-to-head matchup is probably the best predictor for the presidential race, regardless of whether Gou or Ko run. For various reasons, I am not confident that either one of them can avoid slipping into a clear third place. If that happens, large-scale strategic voting is inevitable. In other words, I assume that many, perhaps most, of the current Ko/Gou supporters will end up voting for either Tsai or Han.

As you can see, Tsai and Han have nearly reversed positions since February. Back then, he was winning in a landslide. Now she is leading by 18.7%. Moreover, this is one of those really nice trends in which every period (except July) shows a step in the same direction.

Tsai’s good results have reverberated in a different partisan balance. This chart looks at party identification, with the answers combined into the blue and green camps. In February, the blue camp had a 6.8% edge in party identification. Today the green camp holds a 10.2% edge. This is extremely important. Party ID is consistently the single most important factor in voting decisions. Getting a person to say that they support your party is the difficult part; once you do that, getting them to vote for your candidates is relatively easy. This shift in party ID also indicates that the changes in the presidential race are not simply a personal matter due to and confined to the unique personal qualities of Han Kuo-yu. He might be influencing some of these shifts, but they are affecting the entire system.

If we look at support for Tsai by age groups, there is an interesting pattern. Look at the red line, representing the 20-29 age group. Back in February, these young voters were thoroughly disenchanted with Tsai. She barely had 20% support among young voters. However, her support among this group surged in May and June, reaching roughly 65%. Tsai’s primary victory (in mid-June) was almost certainly powered by support from these young voters, who only a few months earlier had rejected her. What happened? The obvious answer is marriage equality. Looking at the overall population, marriage equality is clearly unpopular. However, there are dramatic age differences. Young people overwhelmingly support it, and it is possible that they care more about this issue than older people. The DPP pushed through the marriage bill in a very difficult vote in mid-May, and younger voters may have taken notice. Another possibility is Hong Kong. The Hong Kong protests heated up in May and June, and these probably focused attention away from issues like air quality and labor unions and toward national identity, sovereignty, and democracy. We know that young people are much more likely to express a Taiwanese identity than people in older age cohorts, so events in Hong Kong may have framed the choice in a way much more favorable to Tsai for them.

After June, the 20-29 cohort hasn’t changed much. The August surge is due to shifts in all the other age groups. These groups have steadily been increasing support for Tsai over the entire six-month period. Young voters changed their minds all at once; older voters have been changing gradually.

We’d like to know something about how support for Tsai and Han has shifted among people with different partisan outlooks, and Tai Li-an has thoughtfully provided us with a useful tool. He has divided the sample into nine different groups according to how they feel about the two main parties. Three groups express preference for the KMT and three groups prefer the DPP. He does not explain exactly how he defines these six groups, but they reflect intensity of support for the two major parties. I have labeled them as strong KMT, moderate KMT, and lean KMT, and likewise for the three pro-DPP groups. The three groups in the middle do not have a preference for either party. Group 4 gives both parties the same evaluation, and this evaluation is positive. This group likes both parties equally. Group 6 gives both parties the same evaluation, but this evaluation is negative. This group dislikes both parties equally. Group 5 isn’t very informed; this group doesn’t provide any evaluation for either party.

Group 6, the group that dislikes both parties, is critical. This group of disaffected voters was probably the most critical demographic in the 2018 election. They don’t like either party, but I think they voted en masse against the incumbent DPP. Han Kuo-yu, as an anti-party symbol, seemed to be quite attractive to them. They are also Ko Wen-je’s core supporters. However, as anti-establishment voters, they are inherently unstable. They are not tied down by strong ideological attachments, so anything that makes a populist politician look like he or she is actually just another establishment sellout (such as a corruption scandal) is potentially devastating.

Keep in mind that the three neutral groups look bigger than they will actually be in the election. These are the least likely to actually turn out to vote. Still, most of them will vote and their votes are more volatile, so politicians can’t afford to ignore them.

You can see from this chart that the size of the nine groups has changed a bit over the past year. The three pro-DPP groups have gotten bigger (as one might expect from the increase in green camp party ID), and the three pro-KMT groups have gotten a little smaller. The pink group of angry, disaffected voters has been consistently about twice as large as the orange group of happy voters who like both parties. The purple group of uninformed, unopinionated voters has shrunk over time, which is what we might expect in an election year.

Let’s look at how Tsai’s support has evolved among these nine groups. At the bottom of the chart, she has consistently gotten a sliver of support from the three pro-KMT groups. It isn’t much, but anything she gets from these voters is gravy. One of the things that campaigns tend to do is drive voters back to the fundamental preferences, so one might expect Tsai’s support among the three blue groups to trend toward zero. This hasn’t happened yet, perhaps because the KMT is still distracted by its internal squabbling. Where has Tsai increased her vote? She has, to a large degree, consolidated her support among pro-DPP voters. In February, large numbers of pro-DPP voters weren’t on board. Now, she has nearly 100% support among the strong and moderate DPP groups. She still only has about 80% among the lean DPP group, but there aren’t many “easy” votes left for her to consolidate. Among the three neutral groups, Tsai has made enormous gains among the amiable voters who like both parties and the clueless voters who can’t evaluate either party. Somehow, her message has broken through to these voters. She has been less successful with the surly voters who dislike both parties. Her support has climbed, but by a far smaller amount. Most of these voters remain skeptical of her.

Han’s chart is not quite a mirror image of Tsai’s. Tsai hasn’t quite consolidated all of the pro-DPP vote, but Han isn’t getting any of it. He is near zero for all three of those groups. Turning to the pro-KMT groups, you can see Han’s struggles quite clearly. He is failing to get large numbers of voters from within all three groups, and it isn’t getting better. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. Han has a lot of work to do consolidating the blue vote before he can turn his attention to the neutral voters. He had better hurry up, because those neutral voters need some attention. He is holding most of his support among the uniformed voters, but he started from a very low baseline. This is not good. The other two neutral groups are worse. The happy voters who like both parties and the angry voters who curse both parties have both decided they don’t like Han. The orange and purple groups have tilted decisively toward Tsai. The pink group doesn’t like either one. Faced with a choice of Tsai or Han, 37.8% of them refuse to choose either one!


Ok, enough of the two-way race. It’s time to bring in Ko. Yes, I know that Ko probably isn’t running and Gou probably is. However, we don’t have six months of data on Gou as an independent candidate allied with Ko. Anyway, Gou’s overlaps heavily with Ko’s support.

In the three-way race, Tsai still increases dramatically, and Han still drops dangerously. Ko’s support falls, but only by a modest amount, going from the high 20s to the low 20s. Nevertheless, this mild drop puts him in the deadly third place in a three-way race. It was only a modest drop, but he could not afford any dip in support.

Where does Ko’s support come from? As we all know, young people love Ko, and old people do not. The age chart shows this neatly. The youngest group, in red, is the strongest. The 30-39 group, in pink, is next, and so on. Ko gets very little support from anyone who has turned 50. What this chart also shows is that Ko’s support has been very stable for everyone over 40. However, his support has eroded a bit among voters 39 and under. In fact, Tsai now beats him in every age group.

Turning to the nine groups, I have produced charts for all three candidates. Tsai’s and Han’s charts look similar to their head-to-head charts. However, both of them lose a lot of votes within their own party. In the head to head matchup, Tsai had pretty much consolidated the entire pro-DPP vote; here she still has a lot of work to do. Han had not yet consolidated the pro-KMT vote; adding Ko to the mix just exacerbates his difficulties.

Ko’s chart is a jumble of colors. He is locked out of the strong KMT and strong DPP votes, but he gets significant support in every other group. In particular, his strongest group is the pink group of surly, disillusioned voters who hate both major parties. They have consistently given him around 50%, and this has remained stable. However, it is a different story for the sunny, happy voters who like both major parties. A large chunk of this group has deserted him and turned to Tsai. Tsai has also eroded Ko’s support among pro-DPP votes, though she still has a lot of work to do in that regard. Among the uninformed purple group, Ko’s support has actually increased. What this chart shows is just how diverse Ko’s coalition is. He attracts some young people of every stripe, but he doesn’t dominate any one group. Frankly, I’m impressed at his ability to hold together such an unwieldy coalition.


Finally, let’s bring in Terry Gou. What does his support look like? If he runs with Ko’s support, his age profile is similar to Ko’s. Starting with the youngest cohort, his support levels for the six age groups are 41.4%, 33.0%, 32.2%, 22.1%, 11.8%, and 8.2%. (If he runs without Ko’s support, his support in the youngest cohort falls to 32.6%, and the other cohorts are roughly the same.)

If we look at the nine partisan groups, the two again have very similar profiles. Gou does a bit better among both strong KMT and strong DPP supporters, but he does a bit worse among voters who lean DPP. When the two cooperate, they do a bit better with the three neutral groups. Presumably, those groups hate partisan bickering and are happy when everyone tries to get along. (Well, unless they are getting along by dividing the spoils of office. Then, maybe not so much, especially for the pink group.) For the most part, however, the two are drawing on the same profile of voters, even if they aren’t exactly the same voters.

How would Gou’s entrance into the race affect the Tsai v Han matchup (assuming Gou is supported by Ko)? Conveniently, our favorite pollster has provided the crosstabs.

Tsai Han Gou (Ko) No vote DK n
Tsai 70.1 0.0 24.9 0.4 4.5 567
Han 1.0 76.6 16.9 1.5 4.1 364
No vote 2.2 62.9 32.1 2.9 121
DK 6.7 13.3 3.4 76.6 37

These are row percentages. Of the 567 people who would vote for Tsai in a two-way race, 70.1% will still vote for her. However, 24.9% switch to Gou. 16.9% of Han’s original 364 supporters also switch to Gou. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that Gou is harming Tsai more than Han. Think about that. Gou ran in the KMT primary, proudly wears ROC symbols, and basically supports the 92 Consensus. Yet he draws disproportionately from voters who prefer Tsai to Han. The KMT might want to do some introspection and wonder how those voters got into the Tsai ledger in the first place.

A different way to look at Gou’s effect is to use the four-way race as a base. That is, what if we start with all four, but then Ko drops out and supports Gou? I like this approach because it allows us to differentiate between voters who really like Ko and voters who primarily support Gou rather then crudely lumping them together.

Tsai Han Gou (Ko) No vote DK n
Han 1.1 96.0 2.3 0.2 0.4 259
Tsai 90.5 7.0 0.4 2.0 381
Ko 21.6 10.6 57.5 6.3 4.0 134
Gou 5.6 4.1 90.0 0.3 162
No vote 2.8 4.9 20.1 69.2 3.0 49
DK 14.0 11.2 17.8 3.3 53.7 104

The three candidates remaining in the race all retain at least 90% of their original vote. You might be surprised that it is not 100%. However, it makes sense that a few might change. Consider the 7% of Tsai supporters who shift to Gou. These people probably like Gou better. However, if the vote is split four ways, Gou’s support is diluted, and he doesn’t have much chance of winning. As such, they strategically vote for Tsai to block Han. In a three-way race, however, they might think that Gou could win, so they vote sincerely for Gou.

Ko does not transfer all of his support to Gou. Only 57% of Ko’s votes end up with Gou, even though the question explicitly says that Ko gives his full support to Gou. (Perhaps surprisingly, when Gou runs by himself, the result is not much different. 51.8% of Ko’s supporters turn to Gou.) Ko, it seems, does not have the ability to tell his supporters what to do. They will make up their own minds.

Overall, it’s clear that there is a large degree of overlap between Ko and Gou. One might assume that Ko, with his past ties to the green camp, would siphon away more green votes while Gou, with his past ties to the blue camp, would siphon away more blue votes. In fact, they both siphon away more green votes. Gou’s entrance into the race is not necessarily a bad thing for the KMT.


There has been a lot of speculation that the KMT will dump Han and replace him with Gou or that Han might drop out and support Gou. The August survey includes a Tsai v Gou head-to-head matchup to deal with these sorts of scenarios. Tsai wins by 7.1%, but I don’t think that is very predictive. Gou is a brand-new politician, and he hasn’t been subjected to any serious scrutiny yet. If he does run, the person that voters face on Jan 11 will be a very different person than they understand today. That disclaimer notwithstanding, there is something quite interesting about that matchup. Let’s look at preferences of voters from the different camps:

Tsai Gou No vote DK n
Blue 8.4 55.5 35.1 1.0 307
Green 77.0 14.7 2.8 5.5 411
KPP* 29.2 66.8 1.9 2.2 40
Neutral 28.8 34.6 25.2 11.5 299
No response 26.1 32.3 27.4 14.2 32

Among blue camp supporters, 35.1% say they would either stay home or cast an invalid vote. Even more telling, looking at the nine partisan groups, 51.9% of the strong-KMT group say they wouldn’t cast a valid vote. In other words, when you tell KMT supporters that they have to choose between Tsai and Gou, lots of them get angry and refuse to accept the question. They do not like this choice one bit. There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, you might think that if they actually are faced with that choice, they will swallow their pride and vote for Gou. After all, anyone is better than Tsai. On the other hand, you might think that this is a pretty good indicator that dumping Han would cause a massive revolt among the KMT’s staunchest supporters. Han might be struggling to consolidate KMT votes, but his difficulties would pale in comparison to the challenge Gou would face in uniting a furious base. KMT loyalists chose Han, and they are sticking by him.


Let me wrap up this (long, long) post with a few general thoughts. Tsai is leading now, but that doesn’t mean she will win. Lots of things will happen between now and the election. For one thing, Hong Kong will probably not dominate the news in December and focus voters’ attention on identity and sovereignty. It is also possible that another corruption scandal could emerge. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure that things will be different.

I also doubt that Tsai is quite so far ahead of Han. A few years ago, I had a discussion with Doug Rivers, a methodologist at Stanford, about convention bounces. In American elections, presidential candidates generally see a noticeable increase in their support in the week after a nominating convention. Doug believes that this bounce is an illusion, and we should probably pretend it doesn’t exist. During convention week, the news is dominated by people from one side making persuasive arguments and showing unity. There isn’t much to cheer up supporters of the other side, so they tune out of politics for a while. And when pollsters call up right after the convention, those people decide that they have better things to do than answer a poll. After a few weeks with a more neutral news context, those people seep back into the sample. In other words, the convention bounce is entirely due to a temporary selection bias, and it is not a result of people being (temporarily) persuaded. I suspect something similar might be happening right now in Taiwanese politics. The news in August has been pretty dismal for KMT supporters. Han has had personal problems, and Hong Kong makes it difficult to crow about seeking win-win cooperation with China. Some KMT supporters may choose to tune out of politics for a while and tell pollsters that they are too busy right now to answer a bunch of intrusive and discomforting questions. However, when the news shifts, those people will seep back into polling samples, and Han’s support will rebound.

I don’t mean to imply that Tsai isn’t leading. She has had an astoundingly good six months. There is no way to explain away her shocking renaissance as a methodological blip. However, I’m skeptical that August was quite as fantastic for her as the raw data imply. It was probably great, but I’m not sure it was stupendous.

Finally, the talk shows keep saying things about what will happen “if current trends continue,” meaning “if Han continues to slide.” Those are not the same. If current trends continue, the polls will stay exactly the same. Vote shares are not like basketball scores. Imagine one basketball team scores three points for every two points the other team scores. You can look up at the scoreboard at halftime and think, “We’re winning 60 to 40. If current trends continue, we will win 120 to 80. Right now, the lead is 20; if current trends continue, it will be 40.” Vote shares are percentages, and they do not work that way. In July, Tsai led Han by 9.2%, and now she leads by 18.7%. What happened? We can tell a story about how Han’s personal problems (drinking, sleeping late, farmhouse), the Hong Kong protests, or some other factors influenced some people to shift their support from Han to Tsai. However, the remaining Han supporters were unconvinced by these factors and continue to support Han. If all those factors continue as before – the news stays about this bad for Han – those remaining supporters will presumably continue to support Han. In order for his slide in the polls to continue, something new and different has to happen to convince people who have heretofore stayed staunchly in his column to change their minds. Presumably, the stream of bad news would have to get even more intense. However, I don’t think that pundits are assuming even worse news for Han when they talk about “if current trends continue.” They seem to think that support levels have some sort of magical momentum, so that they keep moving in the same direction. That is not what usually happens. There is actually very little reason to think that Han’s support will inevitably slide all the way down to 20%, as the pundits keep insisting. If current trends continue, he will stay right where he is now.


One last thought: A big thank you to My Formosa 美麗島電子報, Tai Li-an 戴立安, and Beacon Marketing & Research Co 畢肯市場研究股份有限公司 for funding, producing, and publishing all this wonderful data. You are documenting Taiwan’s democracy and writing the first draft of its history.