Archive for November, 2019

Tsai’s lead grows; Han tries to burn down polls

November 29, 2019

There are two big developments in the polling world.


First, it is becoming apparent that Tsai’s lead over Han has dramatically increased in the last week or so. Eight polls have been published in the past four days. Two show a gap in the mid-teens, four have a gap in the low 20s, and two have (massive!) gaps of around 30 points. Even more importantly, six of these pollsters have published polls regularly throughout the campaign. Of these six, the current gap is the largest that pollster has ever found for four of them (PinView, Formosa, Apple, Green Party) and the second largest for the other two (ETtoday and Cross Straits Policy).  In my own Frozen Garlic weighted average of polls, Tsai’s lead broke 20 points for the first time today.

What happened? There have been a few important developments over the past two weeks, but I think the most important were the fracas over the KMT’s controversial party list and the Chinese spy case. One could argue that this change in the polls is mostly due to the spy case, which became public last Saturday. However, I suspect the two had an interactive effect in which the party list case enhanced the effect of the spy case.

In the party list case, the KMT presented a party list that was roundly criticized by most of society for having several members with suspiciously close ties to China. In fact, in the reporting of how the list was made, several news stories – usually citing anonymous “KMT insiders” or sometimes even naming specific KMT figures – suggested that some people had actually been put on the list at China’s behest. Chiu Yi, who was later taken off the list, was specifically mentioned as having been put on the list at the last minute due to a Chinese demand. There were three or four other suspects as well. Che Yi-ching was originally thought to have been one of Wu Den-yi’s faction, since she was rumored to be close pals with Wu’s wife. However, both Wu and his wife denied having anything to do with Che’s selection, as did Ma Ying-jeou. Reporters finally tracked down the person who had officially recommended her, former legislator Liu Sheng-liang. When asked on camera to comment on her qualifications, Liu clearly had no idea who she was, why she would be a good legislator, and he declined to explain why he had recommended her. Meanwhile the KMT itself was furious about the list, but not because of the purported Chinese infiltration. They were busy with factional infighting, with the Han faction trying to cripple the Wu faction. Both factions seemed oblivious to the accusations of Chinese influence.

After a week of social uproar about the party list, the spy case broke. The KMT’s immediate reaction was to parrot China’s official response and denounce the whole thing as a fraud. Here was sobering evidence of Chinese attempts to undermine Taiwan’s democracy, and the KMT refused to even entertain the possibility that it was real. For the past week, people had been questioning whether China had infiltrated the KMT. Now, in the face of a serious national security question, the KMT seemed to be reflexively adhering to China’s line. Instead of anger at China for attacking the integrity of the electoral process or indignation that China’s actions might delegitimize the KMT’s very real complaints about DPP governance or last year’s clear KMT victory, the KMT speculated that the DPP was somehow stage-managing the entire thing. As DPP chair put it earlier this week (in response to KMT accusations that the DPP was painting it red, “you poured the bucket of paint on your own head.”

At least that’s my guess as to why the polls have shifted so dramatically.


The second big development comes from Han Kuo-yu. Today, in the face of bad and worse polling news, he asked his supporters to stop participating in polls. Yesterday, he said that seeing polling results was like getting hemorrhoids. Today, he decided that he doesn’t want to see any more poll results. From now on, he will be able to dismiss any bad results by saying that his supporters aren’t participating. And since many (most?) of his supporters will heed his instructions, the poll results will all be bad for him. The worse they look, the more skeptical we will have to be. In other words, we are all flying in the dark until election day.

Strategically, this is a reasonable decision. Polls were a constant source of bad news dragging his campaign down. Without informative polling results, he has removed one source of disadvantageous topics from the conversation. He has also increased uncertainty, which will help him convince his supporters to turn out to vote. After all, he will be able to say that things have turned around in the last fifty days, and no one will be able to contradict him. Of course, this works both ways. With more uncertainty, the DPP will also have an easier job mobilizing its supporters, since they will have a nagging fear that Tsai’s lead might not still be so secure.

Han’s decision to light polling on fire will not make the media happy. It is an absolute disaster for academics like me who are trying to figure out what is going on. This could also have continuing effects if some Han supporters decide that polling is simply illegitimate and continue to boycott pollsters even after the election. Also, there are probably a lot of KMT legislative candidates who would like to do more polling to figure out their best strategy in the last six weeks. That option is no longer available to them.

We’ll see how this shakes out, but it is possible that today’s polls are the last reliable ones we will see this year.

(insert vociferous cursing here)

Campaign Trail: Han rally in New Taipei (2)

November 18, 2019

On Saturday evening, I went to another Han rally in New Taipei. This one was in Tucheng, in New Taipei 10. Like New Taipei 5, the KMT won this district in 2008 and 2012 but lost it in 2016. Unlike New Taipei 5, this district does not feature a pair of young, promising, nationally-prominent legislative candidates. The DPP incumbent is one of the most anonymous members of the legislature. I’m struggling to think of anyone from the Taipei area with a lower national profile. Wu Chi-ming is a classic grassroots politician. He votes the party line in the legislature, but his main job is working the district, securing development funds, and ensuring that the DPP continues to hold this seat. His opponent promises to be pretty much the same. Like Wu Chi-ming, Lin Chin-chieh comes out of the city council. He was closely allied with the previous KMT legislator, Lu Chia-chen. Lu was also a fairly anonymous grassroots politician except for one thing. Lu was noted as perhaps Wang Jin-pyng’s closest follower in the legislature. During the primary for the legislative nomination however, Lin Chin-chieh hitched his wagon to Han Kuo-yu, a move which surprised some people. So here’s what I know about the two main candidates: Wu is associated with the Yu Hsi-kun faction, Lin is allied with the Han faction, both are boring and locally-oriented, and that is all. This district is slightly bluer than New Taipei city as a whole. In fact, in 2012 it was the median district in the entire country. That is, this is arguably the swingiest of all swing seats. Win New Taipei 10, and you will probably win a majority in the legislature.

The event was large, but I got a very strong impression that it was not nearly as large as the organizers had expected. There were a few areas of mostly empty seats, and you could find seats even in the more densely populated areas. I think about 75% of the seats were filled. There was an overflow section that was completely empty. Campaigns usually don’t set up seats in overflow areas until its clear that they will need them in order to avoid embarrassing photographs (and also to concentrate the audience into a smaller space since more concentrated audiences are more responsive). There was also a standing-room space at the back of the plot that was mostly empty. A lot of people did gather on the sidewalk just outside the space (on the other side of a fence). I think there might have been 10,000 people, but it looked like they expected at least 15,000. It wasn’t a huge space; if it had been packed to the gills it might have held 20,000 people. (If 10,000 seems too low, remember that my estimates are notoriously stingy.) Early on in the event, the hosts asked the crowd, “Do we have 50,000 people?” I had to suppress a giggle, since it looked to me like they might have had 8,000 at that point. Campaigns always inflate their numbers, but that was way too far from reality. Anyway, 10,000 people is still a lot of people, and it was a good crowd. They were self-mobilized and enthusiastic. This was a successful event.

There were several speakers, and they were feeding lots of red meat to the crowd. Tsai Ing-wen, it seems, has been a complete disaster as president.

Hong Kong came up a few times. This audience clearly disliked the common rhetoric that Taiwan is trying to avoid becoming a second Hong Kong. The speakers told them not to let themselves be blackmailed by this argument. There wasn’t much sympathy for the Hong Kong protesters. One speaker said that it was fine to demonstrate for democracy, but their tactics had gone far beyond acceptable levels and they no longer could express any reasonable goals or demands. The protesters were now the ones to blame.

The KMT’s party list came up once or twice. One person, from the KMT youth department, told the crowd enthusiastically that their first vote should be for Han Kuo-yu. Hooray! And of course, everyone knows who should get your legislative district vote! The crowd roared back, “Lin Chin-chieh!” And about the party list vote… Suddenly her tone changed from confident and enthusiastic to hesitant and defensive. She told the crowd that they should feel welcome to complain or swear a bit first, but they eventually needed to vote for the KMT party list as well. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

They talked a lot about Han’s real estate dealings. They discussed at length how rich President Tsai is and how much property she Tsai owns. It was totally unfair that the media was only talking about Han and not about Tsai. They also defended Han’s actual dealings, explaining that NT70 million is not all that much and that Han had to take out loans like a normal person. Again, the tone was always defensive. It seems pretty clear to me that they don’t want to talk about this topic, but they feel they need to. The attacks seem to be hitting home.

At first glance, it seems a bit strange that the real estate “scandal” is having an effect. There really isn’t much of a scandal. The DPP and media aren’t directly accusing Han of doing anything illegal. At most, there are hints and innuendos that he might have improperly used his political influence to persuade financial institutions to loan him money. As corruption scandals go, it’s pretty tame stuff. However, this isn’t really about corruption. It’s really about trust. This attack is persuading voters that Han isn’t who you thought he was, and he isn’t who he says he is. He claimed to be one of you, just an ordinary person. In fact, he was always one of the predatory elite class using his power and influence to get rich off property schemes while ordinary people are stuck trying to get by on a fixed salary. If you give Han your trust, he will abuse that trust to enrich himself.  Trust is the most basic ingredient of political power in democratic politics, so this attack on Han’s trustworthiness is actually potentially quite lethal.

Han had another good speech last night. He spoke mostly about economics and how Taiwan has fallen behind its peers over the past thirty years. While this was an inherently negative message, his tone was generally positive. He wasn’t projecting anger; rather he was identifying a problem (bad economy) and telling people how to fix it (vote for me). As always, there weren’t any specifics in his speech. The crowd didn’t mind. They were highly enthusiastic for him. It wasn’t a coincidence that the most intense roar of the entire day came when someone (I can’t remember if it was Han or someone else) said that “we need to throw the DPP out of office!” That is what they really want, and they believe that Han is the one to do it.

The event was over before 8:00pm, which seemed unfathomably early to me.

This section of seats was empty because the view was blocked by a tree. On the right side of the picture, there is a building at the back. (The lot was empty because they will build a brand new fancy apartment building here, and that temporary building is where they pre-sell the units.) Most of the seats on the side in front of that building were empty because of the terrible acoustics caused by the sound bounding off the wall at the back. You would think that campaigns would know a thing or two about sound systems by now, but I’ve been to more events with terrible sound systems than with good ones. The crowd goes back to about where the two tents. Between those two tents and the billboard, there was a large, conspicuously empty space.

This picture was taken from the same place as the previous one; I just turned around to face the front. It’s a nice-sized crowd, but it isn’t like people are crammed in.

The sad, sad overflow space. Campaigns hate it when jerks like me publish pictures like this.

It was a spirited rally. The crowd was roiling when Han took the stage.

The rally was in New Taipei 10, but several KMT candidates from nearby districts also showed up. Here, Han introduces Lo Ming-tsai (NT 11), who waves to the crowd. Lin Chin-cheih (NT 10) is in the dark blue vest standing next to Han. Ko Chih-en (NT 7) is on the far left in the pink vest. Huang Chih-hsiung (NT 5) is in the blue and yellow jacket two people away from Han. Lin Kuo-chun (NT 6) is the tall guy standing right behind Han.

Dong suan! Dong suan!

Bonus picture: This is not from the rally. This billboard is for a candidate running as an independent against Lin Chin-chieh. His father is Lee Chia-chin, a KMT legislator from this area back in the early 2000s. Lee wanted to run for this seat, but lost to Lin in the KMT primary (when Lin cozied up to Han). Lee’s son is now running with the endorsement of Terry Gou and Ko Wen-je. These are the kinds of candidacies that can get anywhere from 2,500 to 25,000 votes. This is already a tough race for the KMT, but they have no hope of winning unless they can suppress Lee’s vote.

Campaign Trail: Han rally in New Taipei (1)

November 18, 2019

On Saturday, I went to two Han campaign events in New Taipei city. The first one was an afternoon rally in Shulin. The event was billed as a sports policy event. This makes sense since the KMT’s legislative candidate in the district is Huang Chih-hsiung, who won a bronze medal in Taekwondo at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and then a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Huang served three terms in the legislature (2005-2015), one on the party list and then two from New Taipei 5th district. He lost his re-election bid in 2016 to Su Chiao-hui, who is Premier Su Tseng-chang’s oldest daughter. The 2020 election is a rematch of the 2016 election, with Huang trying to regain his old seat. Both of the candidates are hard-working, well-liked, and well-respected. This district is slightly greener than the rest of New Taipei and the overall national partisan balance, but it is certainly one that can swing either way.

I should note my personal bias at the outset. I don’t think sports administration should be a priority for any government. I don’t think public money should be pumped into creating elite athletes, building sparkling stadiums for professional (or “amateur”) games, or trying to host major international sporting events. The big competitions affiliated with the Olympic associations are extremely corrupt schemes designed to divert public money into expensive and unnecessary construction projects. I’m all for schemes to improve public health, but there isn’t much evidence that big sporting events help this. Speaking as an American, we have a constant stream of sporting spectacles and an ever-fatter population. If you want to improve public health by encouraging exercise, build more parks and bikeways and create more youth sports programs. Don’t bother with the elite sports. I guess what I’m saying is, I wasn’t ever going to be receptive, much less sympathetic to the message at this particular event.

The event was in a sports park. On the way to the event, I walked through an extreme sports park, with facilities for skateboarding, rock climbing, and other things that idiots do on made-for-TV sports shows on ESPN. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, this section of the park was nearly completely empty. The event itself was indoors, in a basketball gym. The acoustics were horrible, with the sounds echoing off all the walls. I had to stand near a speaker to get an intelligible soundstream. Of course, since I was standing near a speaker, I’m deaf now. There were about two or three thousand people in the arena, mostly people in their 50s and 60s. A few groups sat together in the stands, but the majority sitting on the floor looked as if they had not been mobilized. The crowd wasn’t huge, but it was fairly energetic and enthusiastic.

The event started just before 3:00pm with something I have never seen before at a political rally. The host led the audience in calisthenics. It was like a low-impact workout video. The were marching in place, stretching their arms, opening and closing their hands, and so on, all while the host was counting them off: one, two, three, four; two, two, three, four; three, two, three, four; four, two, three, four. At first, I was amused by this little stunt. What better way to emphasize the theme of sports than by getting the audience to participate in a bit of exercise? But it kept going on. And on. And on. I think Han Kuo-yu was a bit late in arriving, so they kept going. They did a full 20 minutes of vigorous calisthenics. I was starting to wonder about the effect of this on the rally. Either the audience would be exhausted by the time the rally started, or they would have all their blood pumping and be extra enthusiastic. (It turned out to be closer to the latter, I think.) After the 20 minutes of exercise, the hosts spoke briefly. However, they were clearly stalling for time, so they tried to do more calisthenics. The audience didn’t respond as enthusiastically the second time, and, after about five minutes, Han finally arrived.

Only three people spoke at the event. Huang Chih-hsiung talked about the details of Han’s new sports administration policy. There were three major components. First, the sports administration government agency would be upgraded to a full ministry. Second, its budget would be tripled. Third, the Han administration would make sure that Taiwan’s elite athletes could go out to participate in major competitions and that major international athletic competitions would be able to come into Taiwan. With a more robust sporting infrastructure and lots of sporting events, the whole sporting section of the population would get rich! If you think this sounds almost exactly like rhetoric from Han’s mayoral campaign last year, so do I. The KMT thinks that the Tsai government, not the PRC, is responsible for Taiwan’s isolation. When the KMT comes back into power, its new cross-strait policy will open up the world of international sports to Taiwan and everything will be glorious again. I should note that I do believe this policy will, in fact, lead to a lot of people getting rich. Unlike most of Han’s policy proposals, which depend almost entirely on the magic of opening up the China market, this one has a funding source. People will get rich because he will triple the government budget. It’s a nice marriage of classic sporting corruption with classic Han ideology!

Han Kuo-yu spoke next. I have totally forgotten what he spoke about. This is not unusual. Han has a talent for giving an engaging speech in which he doesn’t actually say anything substantive. The crowd was very responsive.

Former Taipei County magistrate Chou Hsi-wei was the last speaker. Chou was the ideological attack dog. He mostly ignored sports policy, focusing more on the controversies of the day. On this day, that meant defending Han’s real estate dealings and the KMT’s party list. At one point, he argued that, while the KMT list had been controversial, they had resolved the disputes through a series of democratic votes in democratically elected committees. This was much better than the DPP, in which the list was created by a small group of Tsai cronies without any outside influence. Of course, this is total nonsense. The KMT and DPP processes for creating their party lists were almost identical. In both cases, a small committee reporting directly to the party chair put together the list. Both lists then had to be approved by the party’s standing controlling committee. If the DPP process was closed and dictatorial, then so was the KMT’s. If the KMT’s was open and democratic, then so was the DPP’s.

The whole event was over slightly before 4:00pm. It was one of the fastest events I’ve ever seen.

Let’s exercise!

Look at how many people are joining in. It’s usually a struggle to get crowds at a political rally to wave their little flags in unison. These people are standing up and jumping around.

Now that’s enthusiasm!

Hey, remember Han’s promise to build a romantic Ferris Wheel in Kaohsiung?

Eagle? Dove? Either way, this is a pretty cool design.

Gestapo Wanna Be’s. They think they’re bad-asses. I have a slightly different opinion.

Han tells a funny story. Huang Chih-hsiung is on Han’s right. Standing next to Huang is his wife, Hung Chia-chun. Hung is a member of the New Taipei city council and is also formerly competed for the ROC in international Taekwondo competitions. The tall guy on the far right is former Taipei County commissioner, Chou Hsi-wei.

The seven items in Han’s sports policy. None of these say anything about tripling the sports administration budget, which Huang specifically mentioned in his speech. Others, like distributing funds from the sports lottery to local levels and providing lifetime income guarantees for elite athletes were not mentioned in the speech. A few other items are pretty vague and useless, like providing sports for ordinary people and developing sports enterprises.



KMT VP and party list

November 16, 2019

One of the questions that people often ask me is, given that they are trailing in the polls, how could Han Kuo-yu and the KMT turn the election around. I typically oblige, trying to spin the most realistic scenario that I can imagine. A few months ago, that scenario started with Hong Kong fading from the news headlines or Han Kuo-yu dazzling American experts in the closed-door meetings during his late October trip to the USA. Unfortunately for the KMT, these things aren’t unfolding that way. China is ensuring that Hong Kong remains prominent in the international news. Han cancelled his American trip, probably because he didn’t see much chance of realizing my optimistic outcome. One by one, the items on my list of things that might change the race are being eliminated, and Han still trails by a large margin in the polls.

This week, we saw another item checked off the list. Han announced his vice presidential choice, choosing former (caretaker) premier, Simon Chang Shan-cheng. Chang was leading Han’s policy team, and he is supposed to be the serious technocrat who will give Han some governing credibility. It isn’t a bad choice. It might convince some wavering blue voters, especially the so-called “intellectual blue” voters, that Han is qualified to be president, or at least that he might allow qualified and reliable people to make the important decisions. However, this is not a game-changer. No one outside the blue camp will be swayed. It certainly is not the type of choice that might jolt the polls. I don’t know who could have done that (Terry Gou?? Ko Wen-je?? Morris Chang??), but it definitely isn’t Simon Chang.

The only major set pieces remaining on my checklist are the presidential debates and election day mobilization. For the debates, Han might have a charisma advantage, but Tsai has a massive advantage in knowing all the details of government policy. I suppose it is possible that on election day the KMT will mobilize all of its potential supporters and the DPP will fail miserably at mobilization. However, it seems unlikely that the KMT could make up a double digit gap through mobilization. That leaves the unknown factors. I think the most likely unknowns are some sort of scandal or some sort of Chinese action, both of which are much more dangerous for Han than for Tsai. This is Tsai’s third presidential campaign; there aren’t likely to be many shocking skeletons in her closet. And overt Chinese interference is more likely to cause a pro-DPP backlash among voters than to convince undecideds to vote en-masse for the KMT.

I’m not going to say the presidential race is over, but I’m not optimistic for the KMT. I don’t see many realistic remaining paths to victory.


This week, many of the parties announced their party lists. This was not on my checklist of potentially game-changing moments. Very few voters can tell you anything about who are actually on the various party lists. At most, they get a vague positive or negative impression that a particular party’s list is pretty good or pretty bad. This year’s DPP list is a perfect example of ho-hum. There was some mild controversy and the list had a few last-minute changes. However, two weeks from now, most ordinary voters won’t be able to name a single person on the list, much less tell you specifically why it is fantastic or lousy. Even super-attentive voters will be able to tell you more about President Tsai’s cats than the #2 person on the party list.

The KMT list, however, might be controversial enough to break that normal pattern of anonymity. When the KMT announced its list, criticism was intense and nearly universal. (A guest on one of the political talk shows joked that he had never seen such agreement before on both the blue and green talk shows.) Everyone hated the list, though everyone had slightly different reasons for hating it.

The green side was appalled by the KMT’s decision to include several extremists with histories of repeating Chinese rhetoric. Three people were singled out. Ye Yu-lan was ranked #1 on the New Party’s list in 2016, and she has publicly advocated One Country, Two Systems. Former legislator Chiu Yi has long been one of the green side’s most hated figures. He has spent the past three years in China, where he frequently appears on talk shows supporting immediate unification and parroting Chinese talking points. Four years ago, he was #2 on the New Party list. Former general Wu Si-huai went to China, where he stood and sang the PRC national anthem at an event sponsored by the communist party. This action caused so much anger back in Taiwan that the legislature passed a law stripping pension benefits for retired military officers who engaged in such actions. He is basically the boogeyman inspiring the proposed law trying to deal with Chinese agents in Taiwan. He also led a group opposing pension reforms. The green side screamed that if a party list is supposed to be a statement of a party’s values, why was the KMT nominating overt collaborationists? Why was it nominating people who openly supported the PRC’s formula (one country, two systems) for cross-strait relations rather than the KMT’s official formula (1992 consensus)? What horrifying effect on national security could these people have if they obtained sensitive intelligence through their positions in the legislature? The green side is simply mortified by the KMT’s list. The green media has intimated that the PRC used various back-channels to coerce/persuade/order the KMT to put several of its choices on the list. The first day, these were mere hints and innuendos. However, more recent stories have made increasingly direct accusations of PRC involvement. The KMT has not indignantly denied anything. I don’t know whether there is any substance to the rumors, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t let my opponents make such explosive charges without a forceful response.

Maybe it isn’t shocking that the green side hates the KMT list. Far more surprising is that the blue side is also angry at the list. I’m not sure I have figured out everyone’s beef, but everyone has a complaint. KMT chair Wu Den-yi was originally scheduled to be listed as #8. However, when the final list was produced, Chiu Yi was unexpectedly added to the list in the #8 position, and Wu was pushed down to #10. After announcing the list, Wu cried (literally) about how shabbily he had been treated. #10 is still a safe position; the KMT should win at least eleven or twelve seats. However, Wu clearly felt insulted. [The rearranged lists also angered some of the other factions. For example, one of Ma Ying-jeou’s people was pushed from a safe position to a (barely) marginal position.] The blue talk shows, especially those from the Want Want media group exploded with anger at Wu’s placement. How dare he put himself on the list! How dare he put together such an awful list of old people!

Wu insisted that the list had already passed the KMT Central Standing Committee, so it could not be altered. However, within hours he had reversed himself. He called for an emergency meeting the next day, where he presented a revised list. The new list put him at #14, a very marginal position. It also removed Chiu Yi and made minor arrangements to a few of the other rankings. This list passed the Central Standing Committee, and then it was presented to an emergency meeting of the Central Committee. (Note: I am confused by why they needed this step.) Today, the Central Committee voted on each person. The vote was to veto, not to pass. With 189 people present, 95 “no” votes were needed to veto someone. In fact, there were “no” votes cast against every single person on the list. Everyone is angry about something. Even the least controversial person, Tseng Ming-tsung, got 13 no votes. Only one person was vetoed. Sorry, let me rephrase that. One person, Chang Hsien-yao, was even vetoed!! (Huh??) This is unprecedented. Chang, who was listed in a very shaky spot at #17, was a surprise addition to the revised list. He also has a longstanding spat with Ma Ying-jeou. Two other people were not vetoed, but they got more no votes than yes votes. (Holy Cow!!) Wu Si-huai, the controversial general, got 84 yes votes and 82 no votes. He remains on the list. (What the hell is going on??)

Again, voters usually don’t know much at all about the makeup of party lists. However, the KMT is taking extraordinary steps to try to ensure that people will have a general impression that this is a terrible list. They put extremely controversial people on it, and the DPP will be able to question the KMT’s commitment to Taiwan. Moreover, they engaged in vicious infighting and put it on the record that even KMT elites think that every single person on the list is questionable. For a couple people still on the list, MOST KMT elites think they are a bad idea. Han’s VP candidate, Simon Chang even said publicly that blue-leaning voters should consider voting for the PFP or TPP lists. Will this affect the KMT’s support? If I were the PFP, TPP, or any other blue-leaning list, I’d be eager to find out. More dangerously, the KMT doesn’t want any blue supporters on the losing side of this fight to feel so disgusted that they consider staying home or casting a protest vote for Soong. The more Soong takes from Han, the less enthusiasm blue voters will have. And if they stay away (again) on election day, the DPP will cruise to victory in most of the legislative district races. This is not something the KMT should be risking.


Let’s step back here and look at the bigger picture. I think the backdrop to this fight over the party list involves a bigger fight over who will lead the KMT after the election. It looks to me like, even though they hope to win, everyone in the KMT is preparing for a loss. Traditionally after a party loses, the party chair resigns to accept responsibility for the defeat. I think Wu was preparing to defy that pattern. He was going to try to put the blame for the defeat on Han’s ethical problems, Han’s poor performance as mayor, Han’s campaign aimed almost exclusively at the base, and Han’s position on how to deal with China. It was all Han’s fault! In the post-election world, Han would be exiled back to Kaohsiung, where he might even be removed from office in a recall vote. With Han neutered, the KMT’s power center would shift to the legislative caucus. During his first few years as party chair, Wu was somewhat marginalized because he didn’t have much control over the legislative caucus. By putting himself on the party list, Wu could become the leader of the caucus, effectively combining the party apparatus with the legislative caucus to produce one unified voice – his own – for the KMT. Brilliant! The only problem is that it isn’t working. Wu is quite unpopular with the general public and not terribly popular within the KMT. Even if he manages to make it into the legislature, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the rest of the legislative caucus would defer to his leadership. He was publicly humiliated and strategically defeated in this struggle over the party list. The other factions – probably mostly the Han faction but perhaps some other factions as well – want to force Wu out of the party chair. At the Central Committee meeting today, Han ally and #15 on the revised list Hsieh Lung-chieh promised that as soon as the election was over, he would run for the party chair. That must have been humiliating for Wu to hear. (In the old days, if such a low-ranking KMT member – Hsieh is just a Tainan city councilor – had dared challenge CKS or CCK to his face, he might have been arrested and shot on the spot!) Han’s position might be severely weakened the day after the election, but the Han faction is trying to make sure that Wu’s position is fatally damaged long before that. Right now, they’re succeeding.

Party infighting is a normal part of democratic politics, but it is unusual for it to break out so intensely BEFORE the election. There are only eight weeks to go; right now the parties need to present a unified front to the public. This is the kind of thing that parties usually try desperately to paper over until the day after the election. The KMT needs to be making up ground right now. Instead, it seems determined to try to shoot itself in the foot.

Do referendums reflect public opinion?

November 7, 2019

I have previously written that I do not think referendums are a good way to make public policy choices because voters never have sufficient information about the choices to make good decisions. In this post, I’m going to go one step further. Referendums are also a lousy way to make decisions because voters usually don’t care very much about those choices. You might obtain a “clear” result indicating that 53% of the electorate opposes or supports some policy, but the actual public opinion underlying that electoral result is usually far less defined. In some extreme cases, you might as well be drawing random numbers.

Last year, Taiwan put 10 referendum questions on the ballot. We got 10 results, but I don’t think those results reflected any particularly solid attitudes in the overall population.

Fortunately, we have some data. I’m using the Taiwan Elections and Democratization Studies (TEDS) post-election surveys. Three face-to-face surveys were conducted (mostly in February 2019) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung cities. I am merging the three files together. This is NOT a nationally representative sample. Still, if people in the three most urbanized and highly educated areas of Taiwan don’t care about referendums, you aren’t likely to find stronger results elsewhere.

To refresh your memory, the ten referendum questions were as follows (translations from Wikipedia):

#7 Do you agree “To reduce by 1% year by year” the electricity production of thermal power plants?
#8 Do you agree to the establishment of an energy policy to “Stop construction and expansion of any coal-fired thermal power plants or generator units (including the Shen Ao Power Plant currently under construction)”?
#9 Do you agree that the government should maintain the prohibition of agricultural imports and food from areas affected by the Fukushima March 11 Disaster? Specifically, those from Fukushima proper and the 4 surrounding districts and cities of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba?
#10 Do you agree that marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman?
#11 Do you agree that the Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools?
#12 Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in co-habitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code?
#13 Do you agree to the use of “Taiwan” when participating in all international sport competitions, including the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
#14 Do you agree to the protection of same-sex marital rights with marriage as defined in the Civil Code?
#15 Do you agree in accordance with the Gender Equality Education Act that national education of all levels should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, and same-sex education?
#16 Do you agree to repeal Article 95 Paragraph 1 of the Electricity Act: “Should Nuclear-energy-based power generating facilities shall stop running by 2025”?


The first thing to remember is that the turnout in the mayoral elections was much higher than the turnout for the referendums. Many people who voted in the mayoral election, often after waiting for several hours, then looked at the (relatively short) lines for the referendum ballots and decided it wasn’t worth it. About one in six mayoral voters skipped the referendums altogether. Meh.

Seven of the ten passed (all but #13, 14, and 15). Let’s look at how the survey respondents reported their votes. I’m only showing people who said they voted in the referendums. I show four different response categories: yes, no, can’t remember or don’t know, and all others (including invalid votes, refusal to answer, and didn’t pick up this particular ballot).

Ref # yes no forgot other
#7 61.6 14.3 17.5 6.6
#8 54.7 21.5 16.8 7.1
#9 45.6 16.5 8.6 4.9
#10 61.9 26.0 7.7 4.3
#11 47.4 36.6 11.1 4.9
#12 42.0 41.1 11.5 5.4
#13 44.9 39.5 11.1 4.5
#14 31.9 52.4 9.9 5.9
#15 36.9 44.8 12.2 6.2
#16 38.2 38.2 16.4 7.2
average     12.3  

On average 12.3% of voters couldn’t remember how they voted. This doesn’t sound like a population that had thought long and hard about energy policy or marriage equality and had come to solid conclusions (that could serve as the basis for government decisions) about what to do. Nope. It sounds like a lot of them cared so little about the issue that they couldn’t remember what they did. Remember, the one-sixth of the electorate that REALLY didn’t care about the referendums had already left; these are the people who supposedly cared the most.

Perhaps you think that this is normal.  Maybe it is unreasonable to expect that people might remember how they voted two or three months later. Well, let’s look at the mayoral results from the three cities. It turns out, respondents could remember that vote pretty clearly. In a choice that the electorate took seriously, only 1.1% couldn’t remember how they voted. The referendum simply didn’t make as deep an impression in their minds.

KMT candidate 48.5
DPP candidate 30.2
Ko Wen-je 14.3
Other minor candidate 1.0
Forgot 1.1
Other 4.9


But wait, it gets worse. One-sixth of the mayoral voters didn’t care enough to vote in the election, and one-eighth of the remaining voters couldn’t remember how they voted in the referendums. However, it isn’t the case that the rest of the voters all had strong and clear opinions. In fact, their behavior is, if anything, even more discouraging to the pro-referendum set.

Five of the referendum questions dealt with marriage equality. The referendum questions were criticized as being a bit confusing, however, the TEDS survey included a fairly straightforward question on attitudes toward marriage equality. (This question was near the end of a long questionnaire. Most respondents would have had ten to forty minutes between answering questions about their voting choice on the referendums and this question.) The question was as follows: “On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, some people believe that it should be legalized while others do not. Do you agree with legalizing same-sex marriage?” About 95% of respondents provided an answer, and opponents outweighed supporters by roughly a 3:2 ratio.

Legalize same-sex marriage?    
Strong agree 10.1 37.1
Agree 27.0
Disagree 30.0 58.0
Strong disagree 28.0
Other 4.9  

If those attitudes toward same-sex marriage are deep and strong, they should be highly correlated with voting behavior on the five referendums related to same-sex marriage. Let’s see. These tables show attitudes toward same-sex marriage (rows) and reported behavior in the referendums (columns). Each cell is the table percentage (the percentage of all referendum voters in that cell).

Ref #10 (define marriage as one man, one woman)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 12.1 21.9 1.6 1.3 37.1
Don’t 48.2 3.7 5.0 2.1 59.1
Other 1.6 0.3 1.1 0.8 3.8
total 61.9 26.0 7.7 4.3 100.0

Ref #11 (against gender equality education)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 12.2 21.4 2.1 1.3 37.1
Don’t 33.9 14.5 7.9 2.8 59.1
Other 1.3 0.6 1.2 0.8 3.8
total 47.7 33.6 11.1 4.9 100.0

Ref #12 (don’t amend the Civil Code)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 20.7 12.7 2.4 1.3 37.1
Don’t 20.1 27.9 8.0 3.0 59.1
Other 1.1 0.5 1.2 1.0 3.8
total 42.0 41.1 11.5 5.4 100.0

Ref #14 (amend Civil Code)

  Yes no forgot other total
Legalize 25.7 7.3 2.6 1.5 37.1
Don’t 5.8 43.8 6.0 3.4 59.1
Other 0.3 1.2 1.2 1.0 3.8
total 31.9 52.4 9.9 5.9 100.0

Ref #15 (support gender equality education)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 25.7 7.7 2.3 1.4 37.1
Don’t 10.5 36.1 8.6 3.9 59.1
Other 0.7 1.0 1.3 0.9 3.8
total 36.9 44.8 12.2 6.2 100.0


Focus on the four upper-left cells in each table. For example, people who support legalizing same-sex marriage should probably be against Referendum #10 while people who are against legalization should probably support it.  In fact, 70.1% of the respondents fall into one of these two boxes. However, 15.8% voted the “incorrect” way. That is, their vote contradicted their stated attitude. This wasn’t the most egregious example.

  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 70.1 15.8 14.1
#11 55.3 26.7 18.0
#12 32.8 48.6 18.6
#14 69.5 13.1 17.4
#15 61.8 18.2 20.0
average 57.9 24.5 17.6

Referendum #12 was confusingly worded, and respondents mostly got it wrong. A whopping 48.6% reported voting in a way inconsistent with their attitude toward same-sex marriage, while only 32.8% got it “correct.” Referendum #14 asked basically the same thing, but in a much clearer way (and from the opposite direction). On this question, far more respondents reported a “correct” vote. However, even with a clearer question, 13.1% got it wrong.

It really isn’t great if voters are reporting behavior inconsistent with their values. Any way you slice it, the implication for referendums is pretty terrible. If you suggest that they are just misrembering their votes, doesn’t that imply that the vote wasn’t important enough to them to make a deep impression? If they remembered correctly, does that mean that the attitude is very shallow (and thus not something you want to base public policy on) or that the referendum result did not reflect public opinion (and thus something that you should not base policy on)?

Did anyone vote “correctly”? Theoretically, the people with the strongest attitudes should be the ones most likely to match up their votes with their attitudes. So let’s divide the respondents into “extremists” and “moderates,” depending on whether they strongly agreed or disagreed with legalizing same-sex marriage or just moderately agreed or disagreed. Here is the above table for these two groups:



  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 83.0 7.4 9.6
#11 61.9 24.1 14.0
#12 37.0 48.8 14.2
#14 82.6 5.9 11.5
#15 72.7 12.4 14.9
average 67.4 19.7 12.8
average w/o #12 75.1 12.5 12.5



  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 66.1 22.7 11.2
#11 54.5 30.3 15.2
#12 32.0 51.8 16.2
#14 65.3 18.9 15.8
#15 58.4 23.5 18.1
average 55.3 29.4 15.3
average w/o #12 61.1 23.9 15.1

On average, extremists produce more “correct” votes than moderates, as expected. However, this is not as evident on #12, the confusingly worded question. On that one, extremists were nearly as likely as moderates to answer “incorrectly.” However, if we exclude that question, extremists only voted “incorrectly” half as often as moderates.

This is still dismal. Even setting aside the confusing #12, extremists voted incorrectly one-eighth of the time and moderates did so nearly one-fourth of the time. Oh, and don’t forget all the people who can’t remember how they voted and the people who showed up to vote but thought that referendums weren’t worth their time.


Ultimately, the point is that most people don’t know enough or don’t care enough about specific policy questions to make a good decision. It sounds high-minded and democratic to bypass the elected politicians and put a question directly to the people, but, in practice, “direct democracy” is a disaster.