Taipei 5 and Taichung 2 results

Today’s vote is now complete. In Taipei 5, Freddy Lim 林昶佐 has survived the recall attempt. In the Taichung 2 by-election, the DPP’s Minorta Lin 林靜怡 has defeated the KMT’s Yen Kuan-heng 顏寬恆.

The vote in Taipei 5 was tighter than I expected. From the earliest results, it was pretty clear that the yes votes would outstrip the no votes. Yes ended up with 55.8% of the valid votes. The only question was whether they would pass the threshold of 25% of eligible voters. The KMT needed at least 58,756 yes votes, and they ended up getting 54,813, or 23.3% of eligible voters. 4,000 votes isn’t a comfortable cushion, and for the 45 minutes I thought they might have enough votes.

Interestingly, the main reason the KMT lost is that it didn’t turn out enough votes in Zhongzheng, which was supposed to be their stronger part of the electoral district. Given 55.8% yes votes, 45% turnout would have been enough to pass the threshold. It almost reached that target in Wanhua (43.2%), but it was quite a distance away in Zhongzheng (39.6%). When the election is that close to the threshold, you can point to a million factors and say that each one was decisive. For example, Taiwan has had a few domestic transmissions of Covid in the past few days, so maybe a handful of people didn’t want to risk voting. Or maybe the Sunday election (rather than the normal Saturday) depressed turnout.[1] More probably, the KMT couldn’t quite muster enough anger against Freddy. It was close, though.

The fact that it was so close is another example of how ridiculous the current recall law is. Freddy was elected with 81,853 votes two years ago. There is no evidence that a significant number of those people have changed their minds. In fact, 54,813 is far smaller than the 100,392 who voted for other candidates in that election. That isn’t what I would consider the picture of universal outrage. It is ludicrously easy to overturn an election.

At any rate, Freddy has survived and will be able to finish his term in the legislature.

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Turnout might also have been decisive in Taichung 2, but turnout there was sky high. By-elections usually see turnout in the 30s. 40% is high, though not unheard of. Turnout in Taichung 2 was a whopping 58.3%. That is unheard of. The 2008 legislative election had 58% turnout, and that was a national general election. 58% in a by-election is insane.

A low turnout in this by-election probably would have decisively favored the KMT. Tsai beat Han by 20% in this district in the presidential race, but that election had very high turnout. More specifically, it had extremely high turnout among young voters, who overwhelmingly voted against the KMT. However, young voters are famously inconsistent, and I did not expect many of those voters to show up in this by-election. In a low-turnout election, you expect the voters to be hard-core party supporters on both sides, people in the candidates’ mobilization networks, and only a few other people. The DPP probably has more partisans in this district, but Yen’s powerful local network should have given him a significant advantage. However, that third group was far bigger than could have been expected, and they might have swung the race.

Or maybe turnout wasn’t decisive. As I discussed in the previous post, perhaps the intense national media focus on Yen’s corruption had an impact on the effectiveness of his organizational network.

In 2020, Yen lost by a mere 2.3%. In this election, that margin doubled to 4.6%. That’s not a crushing victory for the DPP, but they were running an unfamiliar candidate with no previous electoral experience. (It seems she turned out to be pretty good at this game, though.) This wasn’t an indication of a KMT collapse, by any means. The KMT is still just about as strong as they were before. As with the recall vote a few months ago, it seems the electoral balance right now is just about the same as it was in January 2020. However, losing is more damaging to patronage-oriented politicians than to those who build their careers on ideas. The latter can shrug off losses and start preparing for the next fight. If you rely on money to motivate your machine, it helps to be in office to secure a steady source on income. Moreover, this campaign pointed out several places for the judicial system to attack the Yen family. The election is over, but the inquiries might continue. Now Yen will have to resist those inquiries as a private citizen, not as a national legislator.[2] Old-school factional politics have been on the decline for a couple decades, and the Yen family’s defeat is one more symbolic step in that process.

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Today’s votes mark the end of the recalls and by-elections, at least for a while. The recall of Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu sparked a series of KMT-initiated “revenge” recalls.

  • Kaohsiung city councilor Huang Chieh: recall failed
  • Taoyuan city councilor Wang Hao-yu: recall succeeded
  • Taichung 2 legislator Chen Po-wei: recall succeeded but DPP won by-election
  • Taipei 5 legislator Freddy Lim: recall failed

At the end of this process, the KMT has one clear victory. They (barely) got Wang Hao-yu. Not coincidentally, his electoral district is the bluest of the four. This isn’t a huge reward for all that effort. The KMT has been pursuing a strategy of fighting like hell at the behest of the deep blue wing of their party. Chao Shao-kang has been calling on them to be “the fighting blue” 戰鬥藍, and the Johnny Chiang, Eric Chu, and the rest of the nominal party leaders have obediently followed him. This combative posturing didn’t win the referendums, and it hasn’t produced a great track record in the recalls. The KMT base likes it, but the base is small. The broad masses that the KMT needs to attract don’t seem energized by the KMT’s campaign of resistance.

Perhaps the main reason the “fighting blue” strategy isn’t working is that the general population isn’t as dissatisfied with the DPP’s performance in office as the deep blue believes. President Tsai had a 54.6% satisfaction rating in the December My-Formosa poll, and being 12.6 points above water is pretty darn good. It has been a long time since a sitting president has been this popular in the middle of a term. I was trying to remember the last time a president who wasn’t unpopular going into a round of local elections. It has been a long time.

  • 2018 Tsai: quite unpopular
  • 2014 Ma: extremely unpopular; massive protests
  • 2009-2010 Ma: mildly unpopular
  • 2005-2006 Chen: very unpopular; massive protests
  • 2001-2002 Chen: maybe mildly popular??
  • 1997-1998 Lee popularity was tarnishing; large protests
  • 1993-1994 Lee: popular!

Tsai is probably the most popular president going into local elections in nearly 30 years. We really don’t know what this will mean, since the last time this happened Taiwan was still in the early years of the democratic system. DPP chair Hsu Hsin-liang 許信良 went into the 1993 elections asking voters to give the DPP a mandate by surrounding the central government 以地方包圍中央; since Taiwan had never had a national election and polling was still developing, we didn’t know if that was a reasonable demand. Hsu was sorely disappointed; the KMT did really well in 1993 and 1994. But that was such a different world; it’s probably not a great precedent to understand what just happened or what will unfold over the next year.

Tsai’s popularity has almost certainly been the crucial factor in the recent referendums, recalls, and by-elections. The fightin’ KMT is behaving as an angry electorate wants to send her a message. That is usually a good assumption. In normal years, there probably would have been enough anger to pass the referendums, recall Freddy Lim and Chen Po-wei, and replace them with KMT members. This hasn’t been a normal year, though. Tsai’s resurgence in 2019 was one of the most astounding political reversals I have ever seen. Her ability to maintain that popularity over the past two years has been only slightly less impressive.

The KMT has a lot of advantages going into the local elections. They have lots of popular candidates, and the open seats are pretty favorable. If they can make this a calm election about individual candidates and local issues, they should do pretty well. The worst thing they could do is keep using the fightin’ blue strategy, screaming about how terrible the DPP is and the need to send President Tsai a message. Unless her popularity suddenly tanks, they might find once again that, if it is a choice between Tsai and the KMT, voters still prefer Tsai.


[1] If you want to make those arguments, you have to explain the high turnout in Taichung 2.

[2] His sister is still the deputy speaker of the Taichung city council, so the family isn’t entirely defenseless.

7 Responses to “Taipei 5 and Taichung 2 results”

  1. Mark S. Says:

    Unfortunately for everyone, there’s a good chance that the highly infectious Omicron will rack up bigger numbers than last year’s outbreak here. It won’t be Tsai’s fault, but as the person at the top she’ll likely take a hit for it. What happened to her numbers during the big spike last year?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Her approval took a hit, but it went back up when they got the outbreak under control.
      frozengarlic.wordpress.com/2021/08/31/the-covid-outbreak-and-public-opinion/

  2. Kharis Templeman Says:

    Great write-up Nathan! This is a minor question, but why were the two special elections held on Sunday this time around? I missed the CEC’s rationale for this…

    • John Says:

      The official reason given by the CEC was that it was to avoid a scheduling conflict with national civil service examinations:

      https://www.ftvnews.com.tw/news/detail/2021A28W0265

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Yeah, John is correct. They didn’t have a very big window since the law specifies that a by-election has to be held within a certain period (90 days?) after the recall passes, and they were sandwiched between (calendar) New Year and Lunar New Year. Jan 8 would have been the obvious choice, but the idea of inconveniencing bureaucrats is abhorrent to other bureaucrats. I don’t think they have ever held a vote on a Sunday before, and I hope this doesn’t become a habit.

  3. James Smith Says:

    The Yen family is right down the street from me and am surprised anout the final count. I thought it was going to be razior thin one way or the other. The ratio of on the ground campaining in my area was hevely in Yen’s favior. Not a good look for the curent mayor of Taichung. She has honestly did a great job managing her image but I think we have found the issue that sticks in local elections in Taichung. The turnout was insane.

  4. The DPP’s Taichung By-Election Win: More Mixed than it Appears – Taiwanitron Says:

    […] (顏寬恆) by over 4% (88,752 or 52.3% to Yen’s 80,912 or 47.7%). As usual the election blog Frozen Garlic offers a superb analysis, where he describes the election turnout as “insane” for a by-election, hitting nearly […]

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