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

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)

5 Responses to “Tsai’s lead grows; Han tries to burn down polls”

  1. Mike Says:

    And Han has taken it one step further now, and asking his supporters to respond with the simple phrase 「唯一支持蔡英文」if they ever get a phone call from opinion polling.

    https://udn.com/news/story/6656/4194479

  2. Ben Cheney Says:

    Not just from this but my gut is still giving me post-2016 vibes (and I don’t mean Taiwan’s election that year). Look always at the fanatically enthusiastic and reactionary base who will all turn out to vote. And polls and media (even though there is lots of free advertising from the latter) make great enemies and rallying cries. It can happen anywhere. I should probably log off.

  3. alibuda Says:

    Is it a great (and rare) opportunity to measure the effect of polling blocking attempts?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Maybe, but each case would be unique. Since it depends heavily on the degree to which supporters follow orders, it will be hard to generalize from one case to another.

  4. Jerry Says:

    Han is absolutely shooting himself in the foot by asking his supporters to boycott the polls. Any voters that hadn’t made up their mind yet will probably see the vast gap between him and President Tsai and decide that they might as well back the leading horse. We might see Han lose by 34% or even more on Election Night, which would set an all-time Taiwanese record for worst beating (the biggest gap there has ever been yet was Lee Teng-Hui beating Peng Ming-Min by 33 percent in 1996.)

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