Archive for January, 2020

Reflections on the legislative election: regions, urbanization, and split-ticket voting

January 14, 2020

Everyone is focusing on the presidential results. Well, of course they are. The presidential results are important.

But just looking at the presidential results is deceptive in a few ways. First, Tsai won by 18%, which is a huge margin. As we’ll see, the DPP’s actual political foundation is not nearly that much bigger than the KMT’s. Second, the presidential vote gives the impression of stability. Tsai’s vote in 2020 was geographically very similar to that in 2016. She was a point better in some areas, a point worse in others, but overall it was pretty similar. The legislative results were a lot more turbulent. Third, Tsai’s vote looks like a solid block of 57.1% green voters. The legislative results make that coalition look much more fragmented and tenuous. There was a LOT of split-ticket voting this time. Fourth, the legislative results reveal just what a terrible candidate Han Kuo-yu was.


Let’s start by giving the official party results. This is the kind of data you might have seen in the newspapers. (Hint: This is not the right way to look at election results.) Note also: the nominal tier includes both the 73 single seat districts and the two indigenous districts.

Nominal Nominal List List Prez Prez
votes % votes % votes %
DPP 6383783 45.1% 4811241 34.0% 8170231 57.1%
KMT 5761995 40.7% 4723504 33.4% 5522119 38.6%
TPP 264478 1.9% 1588806 11.2%
NPP 141952 1.0% 1098100 7.8%
Statebuilding 141503 1.0% 447286 3.2%
Congress 81508 0.6% 40,331 0.3%
PFP 60614 0.4% 518921 3.7% 608590 4.3%
Green 39387 0.3% 341465 2.4%
other parties 190349 1.3% 590484 4.2%
independents 1086463 7.7% 4811241 34.0%
total 14152032 14160138 14300940


According to this, the DPP only beat the KMT by 4.4% in the nominal tier. It was close, but not that close. Remember, there were a few DPP candidates who ran as independents (like Su Chen-ching in Pingtung 2). The KMT had a couple as well. Also, if we are going to look at the broad balance of power, shouldn’t we think about all the minor parties as well? Here’s a second table looking at the big camps.

Nominal Nominal List List Prez Prez
votes % votes % votes %
All blue 6103580 43.1% 5422764 38.3% 6130709 42.9%
All green 7135019 50.4% 6921468 48.9% 8170231 57.1%
All white 325663 2.3% 1588806 11.2%
No camp 587770 4.2% 227100 1.6%

The blue camp includes the KMT, PFP, New, CUPP, and a couple independents (Li Weng Yueh-e [New Taipei 3], Lin Kuo-ching [Chiayi 2], Fu Kun-chi [Hualien], Kao Chin Su-mei [mountain indigenous]). The green camp includes the DPP, NPP, Statebuilding, Green, Taiwan Action, Formosa Alliance, and various independents (Freddy Lim [Taipei 5], Hung Tzu-yung [Taichung 3], Su Chen-ching [Pintung 2], Chao Cheng-yu [Taoyuan 6]). The white camp is the TPP plus two independents, Hsu Li-hsin [Taipei 5] and Lee Chin-ying [New Taipei 10]. I didn’t know what to do with Congress Party, since they come from the blue side but their leader endorsed Tsai, so I put them in the no camp bloc.

This grouping is not meant to imply that that these blocs are one team or that they will work together. Rather, the idea is that they draw from the same broad set of voters. For example, I’m not sure we will still consider the NPP as part of the green camp four years from now, but for right now, I think they best fit in that big pool of voters.

Looking at it this way, the green camp beats the blue camp by 7.3% in the nominal vote and 10.6% in the list vote. This is a much better indication of where the country is than the presidential results or the official party totals. The presidential results make the blue side look far too weak because (a) Han Kuo-yu was a disaster and drove every wavering voter away and (b) the white camp is absent.


Before moving on, let’s linger a bit on the TPP. This table says the white camp got 2.3% of the district vote, which looks pretty inconsequential. However, they didn’t run in many districts. Moreover, wherever they ran, they were not one of the two main candidates. It’s really hard to be the third candidate in a plurality race. Nevertheless, they did amazingly well. Look at this list of how white camp candidates performed.

district name votes %
Taipei 3 何景榮 5,730 2.6
Taitung 陳允萍 3,527 4.5
Tainan 1 顏耀星 8,793 4.9
Kaohsiung 3 莊貽量 12,099 5.2
Taichung 4 張渝江 13,434 5.7
Kaohsiung 8 敖博勝 14,043 6.0
Taipei 8 張幸松 12,111 6.3
Kaohsiung 1 羅鼎城 10,661 6.5
Taichung 5 謝文卿 18,768 7.3
Taichung 3 張睿倉 14,700 7.5
Kaohsiung 5 李佳玲 20,336 8.6
Taipei 7 蔡宜芳 17,435 9.5
Taoyuan 1 陳泓維 21,951 9.7
Hsinchu County 2 林碩彥 17,902 11.1
Miaoli 1 朱哲成 16,566 11.1
New Taipei 7 吳達偉 20,579 11.7
New Taipei 3 李旻蔚 35,843 18.2
Taipei 5 徐立信 22,208 12.2
New Taipei 10 李縉穎 38,977 18.8

Every one of them got votes. There was not a single white camp candidate who got completely marginalized. Third parties are not supposed to do this well. And remember, it isn’t the case that all of these are great politicians. Remember that guy I mocked in a previous post for his stance on stray dogs? That guy competed with two extremely famous people (Hung Tzu-yung and Yang Chiung-ying), got nearly 15000 votes, and almost certainly affected the outcome of the Taichung 3 race. There is a clear message here: Mayor Ko can transfer (a good deal of) his support to other people. The white camp is a serious force in Taiwan politics.


The New Power Party also had a very strong showing at the district level, though they didn’t nominate nearly as many candidates. Here is their list

district name votes %
New Taipei 10 賴嘉倫 13,563 7.3
New Taipei 1 張衞航 19,641 7.6
Kaohsiung 7 陳惠敏 17,466 7.8
Taoyuan 3 林佳瑋 17,512 8.3
Hsinchu City 高鈺婷 73,770 28.6

Again, their first four candidates did extremely well to get significant numbers of votes as the third candidate in a two-way race. It looks as though the NPP has solid support in society. However, since the NPP didn’t need to nominate ten people to qualify for the party list, it could concentrate on its best candidates. This list might look artificially impressive; it’s possible that the next five NPP candidates would have all been turkeys.

Now look at the fifth candidate. Kao Yu-ting was not a spoiler candidate. She was a major candidate in a true three-way race. This was absolutely shocking to me. I was mildly surprised by candidates like Lee Chin-ying in New Taipei 10 who got nearly 20%. However, Kao Yu-ting was on an entirely different level. The three main candidates in Hsinchu City got 95298, 82011, and 73770 votes. Those numbers are all within spitting distance of each other. When the NPP is that close, the DPP can no longer argue that a vote for the NPP is a wasted vote (or a de-facto vote for the KMT). It’s true that the green camp vote was split and the KMT won a seat that it didn’t deserve. However, it is not obvious that the NPP should have supported the DPP and not the other way around.


Compared to past years, there were a lot more significant third candidates in district elections. 15 districts had third candidates getting at least 10%, and 28 more candidates got between 5% and 10%. That is to say, most districts this year had a significant third- party presence. This is new.

The two big parties got 95.7% of the presidential vote, which makes it look as if they absolutely dominate Taiwanese politics. That is misleading. They only got 67.4% of the party list vote, which makes it look as if the party system is quite fragmented. That is also a bit misleading. The truth lies somewhere in between. The two big parties still sit atop the political structure, but their coalitions are a lot less solid than they might appear. This is especially true for the DPP, which succeeded in pulling together a massive presidential coalition from several forces who don’t really all want the same things.


Ok, let’s go back to the two big parties in the district elections. The best way to look at how they fared is not to look at either the party labels or the big camp blocs. Rather, the best way to look at them is by looking at who they asked people to vote for in each district. Each big party sponsored (officially or unofficially) one candidate in each seat. How did that go?

Note: I assume that Fu Kun-chi was the actual KMT candidate in Hualien. Someone else was the formal KMT nominee, but the party sent a pretty strong message through its VP candidate that Fu was the real KMT candidate. The only place without a major party candidate was the DPP in Kinmen. Chen Tsang-chiang dropped out of the DPP a few years ago, but I didn’t see any reference to the DPP encouraging people to vote for him this time. [Please comment if you know more about the DPP in Kinmen this time.]


So, how did the main green and main blue candidates do?

votes %
Main blue candidates 5987296 42.3%
Main green candidates 6892140 48.7%

The spread that really matters, the one that decided who would have power in the legislature, was 6.4%. That is not a small advantage, though it is nowhere near the 18% spread from the presidential election (or 14.2%, if you add Han’s and Soong’s votes together).

[Aside: The green side got 6.89 million votes. That number seems familiar…]

Unlike the gap in the presidential election, the gap between the two big blocs in the legislative races is a lot smaller than in 2016. Four years ago, the main green candidates got 12.3% more than the main blue candidates. This year, that gap was cut nearly in half.

2016 2020 2016 2020
Vote% Vote % seats Seats
Main Blue 39.7 42.3 25 27
Main Green 52.0 48.7 54 52

Four years ago, I assumed that things would never again be quite as perfect for the DPP. Even if Tsai was re-elected, it would inevitably be with a reduced margin and a reduced legislative majority, just as happened for President Ma in 2012. It didn’t work out that way in the presidential race because Han Kuo-yu was such a terrible candidate, but it did work out that way in the legislative election.

There is one hitch: the seat shares were nearly unaffected by the dramatically reduced gap in votes. The green side won 54 of the 79 seats with a 12.3% advantage in 2016 and 52 with only a 6.4% advantage in 2020. Why?

Before I answer that, let me editorialize. I kept telling people to stop focusing on the party lists, because the legislative majority would be decided by the districts. That is, in fact, exactly what happened. The DPP did terribly in the party list vote, but that did not cause it to lose its legislative majority. Because it is still the biggest party and the nominal tier is so majoritarian, it managed to win two-thirds of the nominal seats and hold an overall majority.

Geography mattered in this election. Based on polling data, I had speculated that Tsai was a bit better in the north, relative to past performance, and a little worse in most other areas. She was, but it wasn’t a very dramatic shift. The biggest change came in Taoyuan, where she was 3.8% higher than four years ago.

Tsai 2016 Tsai 2020 change
North 53.4% 55.1% 1.8%
North-central 49.0% 52.2% 3.3%
Central 55.1% 56.3% 1.2%
South-central 65.8% 65.3% -0.5%
South 63.4% 62.2% -1.2%
East & islands 47.1% 47.5% 0.4%
national 56.1% 57.1% 1.0%

What’s striking about this is not how much things have changed, but how much things have remained stable. It appears voters decided their presidential vote based on sovereignty, identity, and the other aspects of national-level politics.

However, once they cast their “responsible” vote for the presidency, many of them seem to have expressed somewhat different values with their legislative votes. In the legislative vote, as with the 2018 mayoral votes, people were free to register some unhappiness, try to restrain the DPP’s power, or vote on local or secondary issues.

If the geographic shifts in the presidential vote were mild, those in the legislative nominal tier were not. Again, this looks at the vote for the main green and main blue candidate in each district.

2020 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
north 1855480 2014050 43.8% 47.5%
north-central 968922 909486 45.1% 42.3%
central 1203565 1358526 44.5% 50.2%
south-central 741114 1143779 37.0% 57.1%
south 806146 1167737 36.6% 53.0%
East & islands 233322 246947 40.0% 42.4%
indigenous 178747 51615 67.0% 19.4%
national 5987296 6892140 42.3% 48.7%

Note: These are the traditional regional groupings. North: Taipei, New Taipei, Keelung. North-Central: Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli. Central: Taichung, Changhua, Nantou. South-central: Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan. South: Kaohsiung, Pingtung. East & islands: everything else.

Compare this with the data for 2016:

2016 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
north 1537669 1808346 41.5% 48.8%
north-central 771873 774850 43.1% 43.3%
central 1046801 1160655 44.9% 49.8%
south-central 512981 1127577 29.7% 65.3%
south 645211 1149444 34.0% 60.6%
East & islands 174188 257415 35.5% 52.5%
indigenous 129300 33710 62.3% 16.2%
national 4818023 6311997 39.7% 52.0%

Let’s compare the change in the edge that the green camp holds over the blue camp in each area.

2016 (G-B) 2020 (G-B) change
north 7.3% 3.7% -3.6%
north-central 0.2% -2.8% -2.9%
central 4.9% 5.7% 0.8%
south-central 35.6% 20.1% -15.5%
south 26.6% 16.4% -10.1%
East & islands 17.0% 2.3% -14.6%
indigenous -46.1% -47.7% -1.6%
national 12.3% 6.4% -5.9%

Nationally, the green camp lost 5.9%, compared to 2016. However, they didn’t lose anything in central Taiwan, only had small losses in northern Taiwan, and they had massive losses in southern Taiwan.

Fortunately for the DPP, they suffered losses in areas that, because they had such a large cushion, they could afford to absorb some losses. Even with double digit losses throughout the south, the DPP still swept all 21 southern seats.

2016 2020 2016 2020
Blue seats Blue seats Green seats Green seats
north 7 7 14 14
north-central 5 8 5 3
central 6 5 8 9
south-central 0 0 10 11
south 0 0 12 10
East & islands 2 3 4 3
indigenous 5 4 1 2
national 25 27 54 52

You might notice that the green camp went from being even in North-central (+0.2%) to slightly worse than the blue camp (-2.8%). They were right at the tipping point, where they could not afford losses, and, not coincidentally, the north-central region was where the green camp lost the most ground in terms of seats. It’s also pretty remarkable that the green camp maintained a 14 to 7 advantage in the north, even though their lead was much smaller this time. Several races could have easily gone the other way.


In addition to the dramatic losses the DPP suffered in southern and eastern Taiwan, there was also an urban/rural pattern. The DPP lost a lot of ground in rural areas.

I divided Taiwan into three big categories, very urban, suburban, and rural. The urban category includes districts in the core areas of major cities, and most of them have population densities of over 10,000 people per km2. Some examples are New Taipei 6, Taichung 4, Chiayi City, and Kaohsiung 6. The suburban areas are usually thought of as part of the city, but they are just a little further out. Examples are New Taipei 10, Taichung 7, Taoyuan 1, Changhua 2, and Tainan 6. Rural areas generally only have smaller towns (such is the definition of rural in dense, dense Taiwan). Examples include Miaoli 1, Changhua 4, Tainan 1, Kaohsiung 2, and Yilan. This is a quick and dirty classification; there are no hard rules for these choices. It is entirely subjective. You’ll have to trust that it is mostly right. Anyway, the patterns that I’m going to show you probably don’t change much if you insist on moving Pingtung 1 from category 2 to category 3, for example.

In 2016, the green camp did very well in the most rural areas.

2016 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
most rural 1277007 1757475 38.8% 53.4%
suburban 1474932 1953120 39.6% 52.5%
most urban 2066084 2601402 40.2% 50.6%

In 2020, not so much.

2020 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
most rural 1636532 1724987 44.6% 47.0%
suburban 1909851 2324929 41.3% 50.3%
most urban 2440913 2842224 41.7% 48.5%

Here are the gaps and the change:

2016 (G-B) 2020 (G-B) change
most rural 14.6% 2.4% -12.2%
suburban 12.8% 9.0% -3.9%
most urban 10.4% 6.8% -3.6%


Of course, there is a lot of overlap between rural and south/south-central/east. I don’t have the energy right now to look into which factor is really the dominant one. I suspect they both matter.

Why did the DPP suffer such enormous losses in rural areas and in the south and east? I can think of several possibilities. First, this could be a protest about regional economic inequality. Second, this could be a backlash against same-sex marriage (and other progressive values) by the more conservative rural population. Third, it could have something to do with leadership styles, with Tsai being more of a Taipei personality and Han being a less suave, urbane type of guy.


There are two points that I want to close on. First, I want to reiterate the point I have been making throughout. The DPP coalition does not look nearly as solid this time as it did four years ago. This time, there are far more people who split their tickets, voting for Tsai but not the legislative candidates or parties endorsed by her.

Second, Han Kuo-yu severely underperformed. There were a lot more voters out there who were open to voting for the blue camp, but Han could not soak them up. To put it bluntly, Han was a drag on the ticket. He certainly did not pull any legislators to victory, and he probably dragged some down to defeat. He probably played a role in pushing some potential blue voters over to PFP or TPP legislative candidates. At any rate, he was demonstrably less popular than the rest of the party.

Frozen Garlic in the New York Times

January 13, 2020

I didn’t post nearly as much on this blog as I expected to last week. This is one of the reasons.

Quick reactions

January 11, 2020

Almost all the votes are counted, but I haven’t really started digging into things yet. These are very, very immediate reactions, so they are probably deeply flawed.


When Tsai and the DPP swept into office four years ago, I assumed that their tidal wave was a unique event. Everything had lined up just right, and they would never be able to match those conditions. Just as Ma couldn’t quite match the 2008 wave in 2012, even if Tsai were to win re-election, her vote would inevitably be lower.

Well, she increased her vote share. In perspective, that seems an enormous surprise. Moreover, she increased her vote total by over a million votes. Four years ago, turnout was low (67%), and many KMT figures groused that the KMT had simply failed to turn out all its supporters. That reasoning won’t work this time. Turnout was much higher. Not everything is final, but it is at least 74.1% plus a bit more for invalid votes. Probably the final figure will be about 74.5%. That is the highest turnout we have had in years. (I can’t check because the CEC elections database of historical results is down, but I think this might be the highest since 2004.)

This is a humiliating result for Han Kuo-yu. He ended up being a drag on the KMT, not an asset.

I can’t be sure yet, but it looks as if Han Kuo-yu ran quite a bit behind most KMT legislative candidates, while Tsai Ing-wen ran considerably ahead of most DPP candidates. In other words, Han was dragging his side down, while Tsai was dragging some to victory. I think the KMT district candidates might have gotten more votes than four years ago. Legislative victory margins for the DPP seemed quite a bit smaller this time throughout the south. Tsai’s margins over Han, in contrast, looked about the same in the south (but a bit larger in the north).



There were several surprising legislative results. Since I specifically wrote that Lai Pin-yu (New Taipei 12) had torpedoed her chances of victory by wearing a cosplay costume in a previous post, let me take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge that I don’t know anything about anything. Hsu Shu-hua (Nantou 2) also dressed up in a costume on election eve, and she also won. I guess now cosplay is a good electoral strategy?!?

Everyone is paying attention to races like Taipei 3 (The Wayne and Enoch Show) and Taichung 2 (Chen Po-wei!). Some results you might have paid less attention to include the DPP winning a mountain indigenous seat, a historical breakthrough for them. Bi-khim Hsiao lost her race in Hualien, which I expected. The significance of this is that she is now free to assume an important spot in the central government (Foreign Minister?) and take a prominent place in President Tsai’s “squad.” I told several people to keep their eyes on Changhua 3, since that was the most likely place (conservative, rural central coast) for a backlash against the same-sex marriage. The KMT did indeed win that race, though there were certainly unique local factors that might have also contributed. I did not expect the DPP to lose New Taipei 1, but the biggest shock was in Taichung 5. A few months ago, I watched the DPP candidate’s event for opening his campaign on YouTube. It looked like amateur hour and a sure loser.

Wayne Chiang’s Taipei mayoral campaign starts tomorrow. Newly elected DPP legislator Kao Chia-yu might think about taking a run at it too.


According to my unofficial count, 46 of the 113 legislators are women. For you those of you who don’t have a calculator app on your phone, that’s 40.7%. [edit: The CEC says it is 47 women (41.6%). I can’t count.] The standard source for women in parliaments doesn’t include Taiwan because … you can guess why. But if it did, Taiwan would slot in at number 15 worldwide. Of course, I’m inclined to ignore a few countries on this list, since Rwanda and Cuba aren’t exactly liberal democracies. I’d prefer to point out that Taiwan is basically at Finland’s level, with over 40% female legislators and a female chief executive. Finland is great!! (This comparison is dedicated to Bruce Jacobs.)


Finally, I’d like to point out that, in spite of everyone insisting that the polls must be wrong because they FELT wrong, the polls were basically right. In my final weighted average, Han trailed by 27%. However, Soong was polling at 7% and only got 4%, so strategic voting shifted about 3% from Soong to Han, which isn’t shocking. And those of us who insisted that we shouldn’t throw out all the polls just because Han asked us to estimated that the effect of Han’s attack on polls could be accounted for by subtracting 3% from Tsai and adding it to Han. That gets you to – viola!!! – an 18% gap. That might be too convenient, but the larger point was that the polls were in the right neighborhood. The race certainly hadn’t closed to within 5%, as some people decided in their alternate realities. For everyone who insisted on looking at the underground betting odds, and breathlessly reported that you had heard about a local bookie setting the odds at Han -500,000 votes, I hope you bet on Tsai. She covered all the spreads that supposedly existed. I wonder if all those people who were spouting off about the wisdom of underground bookies will be talking about why the odds were so wrong on tomorrow’s talk shows.


As you can probably tell, I’m a bit loopy from exhaustion, so I had best stop here. If your side won, go and celebrate a bit. If your side lost, feel free to curse a bit. Either way, isn’t it wonderful that this election was held peacefully and smoothly, that the losers displayed a commitment to democracy by graciously conceding, and that there are no election disputes this year. Democracy is more about the process than about the outcome, and today the process was flawless.

Campaign Trail: TPP rally in Taichung

January 8, 2020

On Saturday of the Golden Weekend, I drove down to Taichung to see the Taiwan People’s Party in action. Ke Wen-je’s new party is only putting on three big events this campaign, two on the Golden Weekend and one on Election Eve, so I wasn’t going to have many other chances to hear what they have to say. Since the Ko-P Party is widely expected to pass the 5% threshold and get a few party list seats, I wanted to hear if they had any sort of coherent theme. To cut to the conclusion: they don’t. This party is intellectually vacuous. The legislative candidates do not have particularly impressive qualifications, do not exude an air of competence, and are not very skilled at political communication. Ke Wen-je has a discourse, but the rest of the party doesn’t seem aware of it. They certainly do not echo or reinforce his talking points. The only common thread holding the party together is the idea of working hard, which they hardly have a monopoly on in Taiwanese politics. Beyond Ko, this simply isn’t a very impressive party.

The rally was in Beitun District, next to a big night market. There were a lot more people at the night market than at the rally. I estimate that around 2500-3000 people attended the rally. It was stunningly small, given the proximity of the night market, the fact that this was the TPP’s first major event, and the popularity of the TPP in polls. They clearly expected more people, as they had a long street reserved and only used about a third of the space. Also, at least 100 of the people in attendance were party workers. It might have been the highest ratio of workers to regular attendees that I have ever seen. Size aside, the other interesting thing about the crowd was its age. This crowd was a bit older than what you might see at a NPP event, but it was quite a bit younger than crowds at DPP or KMT events. The typical person was in the 35-50 age group, and there were lots of parents with small children in attendance.

I arrived just as Lai Hsiang-ling, the top person on the party list was finishing her speech. Since she is almost certainly going to get a seat in the legislature, I went back and listened to her on Youtube. She was, outside of Ko, the best speaker of the night, though that is a very low bar. Her main theme was that the TPP would bravely face the important questions. She listed a few of them, reiterated that the party would address them, but she never proposed any specific solutions. This would become a refrain throughout the night. Another speaker complained that both the KMT and DPP had failed to do anything about air quality and concluded that, it didn’t matter if you voted for blue or green, neither would make the air clean. That speaker pointedly did not propose any solution or even a general direction. This happened again and again. The speaker would complain about something, say that the two big parties weren’t doing anything about it, promise to work hard and sincerely, and never propose any ideas for what to do.

After Lai and a musical performance, the TPP’s three candidates in Taichung took turns speaking. One of them talked about working hard (“I visit ALL the traditional markets!”) and having small children, apparently unaware that almost all politicians campaign hard and have children. He was the best one. The worst one was running in Taichung 3, where the KMT has nominated a former legislator and current deputy mayor and the DPP is supporting incumbent Hung Tzu-yung, who dropped out of the NPP and is running for re-election as an independent. He started his speech by complaining how unfair it was that he was running against two very famous candidates, and he didn’t have enough resources to match their advertising budgets. Yes, telling the audience that your race is hopeless and they probably shouldn’t waste their votes on you seems like a wise strategy. He ended by saying that, if he got enough votes to qualify for public funding, he would donate the money to charity. Um, the purpose of the public funding system is to help smaller and poorer parties compete. You are supposed to take that money and pay off your campaign expenses or reinvest it in the party for the future. If you aren’t going to use the public money that has been set aside explicitly for party-building purposes to build your party, then [insert profanity here] don’t complain about how unfair it is that your opponents are more famous than you! In between those two very brilliant statements, he proposed two concrete policies. First, he wants to amend the constitution to ensure that a certain proportion of party list legislators are young (similar to how 50% must be female). I don’t think he has thought this through. Very few people under 30 have put together an impressive resume, so who does he think would get these seats? Perhaps he might do well to think about all the politicians in their 50s and 60s – at the height of their power and influence – who have (unremarkable) children in their 20s and 30s who they think highly of. Is it really a good idea to set up an affirmative action system for political dynasties?? Second, he wants to set up a new government bureaucracy to monitor pet dogs so that they do not become strays. Ok, dude. Thanks for addressing the tough issues. Stray dogs are definitely one of the top five problems facing Taiwan today, right after claw machines, confusing bus timetables, excessively sugary bubble tea drinks, and the lack of a 7-11 in my neighborhood.

After another musical performance, Tsai Pi-ju spoke. She is Ko’s most trusted administrative lieutenant, and she was the one who he charged with the responsibility of setting up this party. Since she is an important person in the Taipei city government, I expected she would be much more polished than the previous speakers. Nope. Tsai is an absolutely horrible public speaker. She can barely string together two sentences. Some people in the crowd started shouting encouragement, as if she were a shy schoolchild terrified of standing in front of a crowd. Except she wasn’t shy or eager to get off the stage; she kept going on and on. That might have been ok if she had anything substantial to say, but – you guessed it – she did not. Listening to her was a painful experience.

It might seem unfair of me to harp on poor public speaking, but communication is at the very core of democratic politics. Democracy is all about building consensus around certain ideas, and you do that mainly by talking. You have to identify and prioritize problems, call on (and shape) values, propose solutions, and reiterate and reinforce those ideas to the people who have already heard them. Tsai (and the rest of the TPP on stage Saturday night) failed this test.


Mayor Ko finally took the stage and injected some competence into the rally. Ko has a relatively coherent discourse, which goes roughly as follows:

It is pointless to talk about “ideology,” by which he means unification or independence. The United States will never allow Taiwan to either declare independence, because that might lead it into war with China, or to unify with China, because that would destroy the natural blockade formed by the first island chain. However, most of the population does not realize this, and the KMT and DPP have been able to win majorities by appealing to ideology. Since they can rely on ideology to deliver votes, the KMT and DPP do not have to take governing seriously. Instead, they are lazy in office, continually make bad choices, and produce bad outcomes, all while enjoying the spoils of power. Ko, in contrast, understands that ideology is irrelevant, and he has to govern effectively in order to appeal to the public. As a result, he is diligent and careful with his power and decisions. He sums this all with a pithy expression of his governing philosophy, “Do the right things; Don’t do the wrong things; and Do them diligently” 對的事情做,不對的事情不要做,認真做。 The two big parties repeatedly “Do the wrong things; Don’t do the right things; and They are lazy.”

In a previous post, I discussed Han Kuo-yu’s populist rhetoric. Ko’s rhetoric has many similar elements, but I don’t think Ko qualifies as a full-blown populist. Maybe we can label him as slightly “populish.”

Like Han, a central point of Ko’s discourse is that the elites have not worked for the best interests of the people. However, Ko’s attack is far less vitriolic. Han claims that the DPP is drinking the blood and eating the flesh of the common people in order to satisfy their own lust for power. The DPP elites are actively and intentionally harming the people. Ko, in contrast, suggests that the KMT and DPP elites are merely lazy. They are lulled into making bad decisions by the ease of winning elections through ideology. They are more inept than evil.

Also like Han, Ko suggests that governing is easy and that the correct policy choices are fairly obvious. There is no need to discuss exactly how to lower PMI 2.5 levels; the government should simply choose appropriate air quality policies and work hard to implement them. Ko simply sidesteps the entire nuclear vs wind debate (both of which use fossil fuels during the transition period) that the DPP and KMT are engaged in.

Ko presents politics in a moral frame. For him, diligence is the hallmark of morality. Working hard is the only consistent theme that the TPP communicates. They talked over and over about starting meetings at 7:30, as early starts guaranteed good results. Ko likes to repeat, 嗡嗡嗡, an onomatopoeia meaning something like work, work, work.

However, Ko’s discourse is missing the defining elements of populist rhetoric. He does not invoke the “real people” in a populist sense. He does not see the people as homogeneous; rather, he talks quite a bit about diversity and pluralism. He also does not define a general will on behalf of the real people. Ko says that administrative efficiency is the most important thing for effective government, but he doesn’t seem to think that the general public has, above all, a burning desire for administrative efficiency. This is more of an internal, technocratic instruction to his team: if you want to perform well in office, you have to have administrative efficiency.


Ko’s discourse might have a coherent internal logic, but it is, nonetheless, horribly flawed. Ko’s fundamental assumption – that Taiwan can’t and so shouldn’t do anything about its relationship with China – is clearly false. The United States has never issued a blank check to Taiwan; that relationship must be carefully managed and nurtured. More importantly, the relationship with China does not reduce simply to unification or independence. Taiwan has to make important decisions about day to day economic, cultural, and political interactions. Those decisions will have an enormous impact on how the relationship develops in future years and decades, and that relationship will in turn affect the choices around Taiwan’s future status. Ko simply doesn’t want to talk about how he would manage China policy. For now, the handful of TPP legislators might be able to sidestep this question, but if Ko runs for president in the future, this answer will not be sufficient. The TPP might also eventually have to face the problem that lots of politicians work hard; they do not have a monopoly on their central selling point. However, other than ignoring cross-strait relations and working hard, it is unclear what the TPP represents. In the end, maybe all they are left with is Ko Wen-je’s personal charisma.


This street was supposed to be full of TPP supporters. Oops.

Lots of TPP swag available. Ko’s supporters don’t buy quite as much as Han’s.

The TPP has invested heavily in these backpack balloons. They had at least 50 people wearing them. Who needs specific policies!

Now that I think about it, the balloons are my favorite thing about the TPP.

The two pillars on either side of the stage read, “push blue and green to the sides, put the people in the middle.”

Do you love your dog? I do too! Is that good enough?

All the party list nominees came on stage, and Tsai Pi-ju spoke for them. Maybe they should have chosen one of the others as the designated speaker.

I didn’t get any good pictures of Ko on stage, so this will have to do. This banner plays on Ko’s medical background: “treating pain is really simple.” I think this slogan might be more revealing than they intended. Treating pain is not the same as treating the underlying problem. Aspirin doesn’t do anything to stop cancer. By telling voters to ignore cross-straits issues, the TPP is essentially telling them not to bother treating the disease — the most important question facing society. They should just dull the pain by pretending the China question doesn’t exist.

The TPP’s core demographic.