Archive for the ‘2018 mayor’ Category

Election summary

November 30, 2018

I wrote a short recap of the election for Taiwan Insight.

I have a lot of work on my desk right now, and I probably won’t write too much more about the overall result. If I do write anything, it will probably be about the referenda. I’m not so interested in the outcomes of these ten votes as in the process. Theoretically, referenda do not necessarily create better policies or deeper democracy. Empirically, referenda tend to favor rich people over poor people. They do not sidestep politicians; they simply empower a different set of political elites. As such, I’m not crazy about referenda in the first place. Ideally, the chaos created by this year’s ten referenda would be an inspiration to abolish the Referendum Law, to forbid holding referenda on the same day as a general election, or, at the very least, to raise the thresholds for proposal and passage. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that this will happen. More likely, politicians will try to “solve” the problem by using “better” technology: someone will decide that digital voting is the way forward. I don’t have the time to go into it now, but this is a TERRIBLE idea. The current low-tech system is fantastic. It is transparent, accurate, fast (when not swamped by numerous referenda), trustworthy, highly resistant to vote rigging, and completely unhackable. When the CEC says that Ko Wen-je won the Taipei mayoral race by 3000 votes out of over 1.4 million cast, no one doubts this. No one doubts that the people who voted all had the right to vote, that they only voted once, that they each made a choice without coercion, and that their preferences were accurately counted and recorded. That is a fucking miracle. Putting a touchscreen voting machine in the middle of it might seem “modern,” but it is not more trustworthy, it might be less accurate (since some people will not know how to use the new machines), and it is almost certainly more prone to breakdowns. It is also much, much more fertile territory for conspiracy theorists as well as actual hackers.

not an election postmortem

November 25, 2018

Well, that was a bad election for the DPP. I mean, it was really, really bad. Just disastrous. #analysis Sure, you can try to dismiss these results as simply the result of local problems and local elections (and I did try), but after staring really hard at the numbers for a day, it was simply too broad and too deep to explain away. The swing had to be grounded in dissatisfaction with President Tsai and the DPP government, and I’m not sure if she can recover from this repudiation.

It was bad for me too. I’ve spent much of the past few years arguing that the swing that occurred in the 2014-2016 cycle wasn’t likely to be ephemeral because it was grounded in long-term shifts in national identity. Uh, seems like that might have been ephemeral.

One thing I’m fairly sure of is that the 1992 Consensus will have a large place in the public debate over the next 14 or 16 months. Did you think it was dead? It might or might not be, but either way, the KMT is going to try to win the 2020 elections with it as the centerpiece. Yesterday’s results make its successful reanimation much more plausible.

Anyway, while I’m processing all these results, I’ll let everyone explain why it happened and what it means. There will be no shortage of opinions during the DPP’s imminent civil war over the next few months.

Here’s something different, a low-profile result that I don’t know if anyone has picked up on yet. The number of women elected to local councils continues to grow, albeit at a modest pace. In 2014, 278 (30.7%) of the 907 city and county council seats were won by women. By my count, this year that figure climbed to 33.8% (307 of 912). The growth was driven by more rural areas. In the six municipalities, women only won three more seats than last time (increasing from 35.5% to 36.3%), while in the sixteen other cities and counties, female representation increased from 27.3% to 32.1%.

This increase is important because, more and more, these local councils are the entry-level job into politics. That is, the candidate pool for higher-level positions, such as seats in the legislature (which elected 38% women in 2016), is drawn heavily from local councilors. In fact, I recently published a paper showing the importance of this pipeline for higher-level offices.

Americans are crowing about their Year of the Woman, but there is a huge gap between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly 40% of the Democrats in the House of Representatives are women, while fewer than 10% of Republicans are. Or, as I like to put it, Democrats are like Taiwan, and Republicans are like Japan.

the Taitung race and ecological inference

November 21, 2018

A few weeks ago, I promised to eventually get around to writing about Taitung. I don’t have a blow-by-blow account of what is happening there, but I perhaps can use a closer look at some of the historical election results to shed some light on the race.

Taitung, on the southeastern part of the island, is traditionally a deep blue area. It is ethnically diverse, and places with fewer Min-nan residents have historically been more challenging for the DPP. Even today, the DPP has almost no presence at the county assembly or town mayor level. In the 2016 election, Taitung and Hualien on the east coast were the only places on the main island that produced more votes for Eric Chu than for Tsai Ing-wen. However, the two-term legislator from Taitung is Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, from the DPP. Liu has previously run for and lost county magistrate four times, and this year he is trying again. There isn’t a whole lot of info coming out of this relatively obscure race, but my impression is that observers think Liu has a good chance of winning. There have been several complaints from within the KMT camp that their candidate, Rao Ching-ling 饒慶玲, is extremely weak, and of course she responds that these are unfair attacks and that she is winning. Who can tell?

 

Instead of looking at the past two months, I’m going to look at the two main candidates’ past electoral performance. Here’s a summary of the county-wide races over the past two election cycles. The DPP candidates in the non-presidential races are all Liu Chao-hao. The KMT candidate in the 2012 legislative race was current KMT nominee Rao Ching-ling.

 

  KMT DPP others
2009 magistrate 56354 50802  
2012 prez 72823 33417 3313
2012 LY 22553 31658 21932
2014 magistrate 64272 53860  
2016 prez 43581 37517 16565
2016 LY 23616 42317  
.      
  KMT% DPP% Others%
2009 magistrate 52.6 47.4  
2012 prez 66.5 30.5 3.0
2012 LY 29.6 41.6 28.7
2014 magistrate 54.4 45.6  
2016 prez 44.6 38.4 17.0
2016 LY 35.8 65.2  

The DPP has done markedly better when Liu is on the ballot than in presidential races. While Tsai did not break 40% either time, Liu has broken 40% all four times. However, he only got a majority once. In the 2012 race against Rao Ching-ling, former county magistrate Wu Chun-li 吳俊立 split the blue vote, and Liu was able to win with only 41.6%. To put it another way, Rao was so weak that she couldn’t even soak up 42% of the votes, even though there were plenty of blue votes available.

You will note that there are a lot more votes in the presidential and county magistrate elections than in the LY elections. That is because 30,000-40,000 indigenous voters vote in the special indigenous districts in LY elections rather than in the normal district elections. Anecdotally, we know that indigenous voters overwhelmingly vote blue. Are they the difference between the DPP’s victories in the legislative races and losses in the presidential and magistrate races? Who knows. Surveys don’t give any precise answers because there are never enough cases to break out indigenous voters. If a survey has 1000 respondents and 2% of the population is indigenous, you expect 20 indigenous respondents. That’s simply nowhere near enough to produce even a bad estimate. And if you want to know about indigenous voters in Taitung (as opposed to those in some urban area in the north), you’re even more in the dark.

 

Warning: Extremely Boring Methodology Section

I do have a potential solution, but it’s going to require a bit of explanation. What I’m doing goes by the name of ecological inference. In a nutshell, I am trying to infer individual level behavior from aggregate level data. More specifically, when there were two elections on the same day, I’m trying to figure out how people voted in both of them. Did they cast straight tickets or split tickets? The basic problem looks like this:

    President    
    KMT DPP Total
legislator KMT ? ? 55000
  DPP ? ? 75000
  total 70000 60000 130000

If there is a district with 130,000 voters, all of whom vote in both the presidential and legislative elections, we will know how many total votes each candidate got. What we want to know is the four missing cells. The table shows the aggregate totals, but we actually have a little more information since we know the totals for each precinct.

About 20 years ago, Gary King at Harvard proposed a solution to this problem. King’s solution looks at the bounds defined for each cell by each precinct. If the KMT gets a very high or very low percentage of presidential votes in a given precinct, it can be quite informative in defining the logical bounds for how the legislative vote breaks down. Likewise, if the numbers of votes for the KMT are quite different in a given precinct, that implies there must have been at least a certain level of split ticket voting. At any rate, these bounds and a few other parameters help to define a distribution, and then you start taking random draws from that distribution. The algorithm assumes that the underlying distribution is the same for all precincts, though the observed level of split-ticket voting in a given precinct is a random draw from that underlying distribution. With each simulation, the algorithm slightly tweaks the parameters of the distribution. After a large number of simulations, the results stabilize. Essentially, the algorithm will eventually settle on the solution with roughly the highest levels of straight ticket voting that the data will support. Of course, these are simulations and you are drawing lots of random numbers, so the solution is slightly different each time.

King’s method is controversial. Some studies using it have been published in top journals. However, the solution that the algorithm produces is not guaranteed to be correct, and it may be biased toward straight-ticket voting. Nonetheless, we don’t have any better solution. If you have something better, cough it up. Otherwise, let’s go forward with the understanding that this isn’t foolproof but it’s the best we have at the moment.

The matrix above has two rows and two columns. Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. Taiwanese elections certainly do not fit into a 2×2 matrix. For one thing, the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections have had three candidates. More importantly, the presidential and legislative elections have different numbers of valid votes, and we need the same number of voters in each precinct. Instead of valid votes, I need to look at everyone who voted in the bigger election. That means adding another column and three more rows to my matrix. In the presidential vote, some people cast invalid votes. In the legislative election, we have invalid votes and indigenous voters. That still leaves a small group of people who are eligible to vote in the bigger election but not the smaller election. These are usually people who have recently moved into the district and so are not eligible to vote for the legislative candidate but are still eligible to vote for the presidential candidate. (About 1% of precincts actually have one or two more legislative votes than presidential votes. I made the numbers add up by creating the necessary number of invalid presidential votes.) That means I will have at least a 5×3 matrix, and I might have even more rows if there are more than two legislative candidates. However, I’m not very interested in invalid votes or people who just moved, so I combined these two categories, yielding at least a 4×3 matrix.

Running the model takes a lot of computer time. It also required me to learn rudimentary R. (R is the new statistical software that all the young technical wizards are using these days. I’m a SPSS and Stata dinosaur.) One of Gary King’s students, Olivia Lau, wrote a package (eiPack) to run the Ecological Inference algorithm on RxC matrices (the original solution was only for 2×2 matrices). As you might imagine, this solution involves a lot more parameters, random draws, simulations, and it takes a lot more computing power. You simply can’t run all the data at once. You have to run it overnight or over a weekend, see what it has produced, and then set it off on the next round. Typically, I double the number of simulations each round, so each time I’m dissatisfied, the next round takes twice as much time. When I first started doing this, I used as few as 50,000 simulations. Then I realized I needed to add lines for invalid voters, and the number of simulations needed skyrocketed. In a few districts, I had to run nearly 40 million simulations before the algorithm produced a solution that looked reasonable to me. Each of those *&%#$#^& districts took my computer (with a 3.9 gHz CPU) nearly 10 hours. (There doesn’t seem to be any clear pattern for why some districts take longer than others. 2012 Taipei 8 seemed like a fairly straightforward blue vs green district, but the 19.2 million simulation model still showed nearly 50,000 votes split between then KMT and DPP. That clearly was not what actually happened. We would have heard something about Lai Shi-pao’s irresistible appeal to Tsai Ing-wen voters. In the next round, with 38.4 million simulations, everything popped into place, with only about 1600 split tickets. Modelling is an art as well as a science.)

I’ve been working on and off with this thing for the better part of a year, and I still haven’t done all the districts I want to do. In a few days, we will get a huge new trove of election results, and I’ll be even further away from finishing. Hooray!

This concludes the extremely boring methodology section.

 

 

So how did Liu win his two legislative elections? In the 2016 presidential race, Chu and Soong got about 60,000 votes while Tsai only got 37,000, and it was a straight DPP vs KMT legislative race. However, Liu crushed his KMT opponent, 42,000 to 23,000. What happened to all those blue votes?

Here is my estimate of how the votes broke down. Remember, this is only an estimate. It is not an actual reported result.

2016     President    
legislator Chu (K) Tsai (D) Soong (P) invalid total
Chen (K) 15575 672 7179 190 23616
Liu (D) 8843 31645 1629 201 42318
Invalid/move 522 294 680 425 1921
Indigenous 18569 4932 7062 466 31029
Total 43509 37543 16550 1282 98884

The first thing to do is to subtract indigenous votes. According to this estimate, about 25,000 indigenous voters voted for Chu or Soong, while only about 5,000 voted for Tsai. That reduces the blue partisan advantage among Han voters to 35,000 to 32,000. In other words, the 2016 district race was actually fought on almost neutral partisan turf. We generally think of Taitung as solidly blue territory, but in this race it was not.

However, while the underlying partisan structure was roughly neutral, Liu still won in a landslide. To do this, he had to win a significant number of blue presidential voters. The estimates show that he took over 10,000 blue presidential votes, while the KMT candidate was held to less than 1,000 of Tsai’s votes. Interestingly, most of Liu’s blue support came from Chu, not Soong. Liu clearly has crossover appeal. On a neutral playing field, this strong crossover appeal (and ability to absorb all the green vote) made him an easy winner.

Liu’s election in 2012 is also instructive. Remember, in 2012 the KMT candidate was Rao Ching-ling, who is also the KMT nominee in this year’s county magistrate election.

2012     President    
legislator Ma (K) Tsai (D) Soong (P) invalid total
Rao (K) 21283 780 336 154 22553
Liu (D) 6129 25048 353 155 31685
Wu (I) 15969 2622 284 140 19015
(Green) 168 165 158 61 552
others 1054 541 700 69 2364
Invalid/move 527 476 476 163 1642
Indigenous 27605 3728 1071 362 32766
Total 72735 33360 3378 1104 110577

Taitung was bluer in 2012 than in 2016 (as was the entire country). The blue presidential candidates won Taitung 76,000 to 33,000. As in 2016, most of this margin came from indigenous voters. After subtracting them, the blue advantage was reduced to 48,000 to 30,000, which is still a sizeable margin. So how did Liu win the 2012 election in this solidly blue territory?

As in 2016, Liu won a significant number of blue camp votes. He took about 6500 from Ma and Soong voters. In addition, the blue vote was split between Rao Ching-ling and former county magistrate Wu Chun-li. Rao was not even able to soak up half of the Ma voters who were eligible to vote in the district election.

So Liu won his two legislative races because he had significant crossover appeal, his opponents were weak, and indigenous voters did not vote in those elections. However, in this year’s county magistrate race, indigenous voters will vote. In the 2016 race, indigenous voters in Taitung favored blue presidential candidates 84%-16%, and in 2012 the gap was even wider, 88%-12%. Further, because turnout in indigenous villages is extremely high in local elections, nearly 10,000 more indigenous voters voted in 2014 than in 2012 or 2016. That seems like an insurmountable firewall for the KMT.

However, let’s look more closely at the 2014 race. I broke down the 2014 election by county assembly districts and then added the results together to get an overall picture for Taitung County. There really isn’t any meaningful party competition at the county assembly level, so the first few rows of this table don’t convey much useful information. We also can’t see much evidence of Liu’s crossover appeal since that is baked into the magistrate totals and the assembly figures are meaningless. We are mostly interested in the last row, for indigenous voters.

2014     Magistrate    
Assembly Huang (K) Liu (D)   invalid total
KMT 24970 19449   523 44942
DPP 3918 3290   249 7457
Others 7552 16691   368 24611
Invalid/move 1365 1027   1129 3521
Indigenous 26400 13387   1108 40895
Total 64205 53844   3377 121426

According to my estimates Liu only lost the indigenous vote 2 to 1, not 7 to 1. Tsai was only able to get 4000-5000 indigenous votes, but Liu won 13,000. Liu may have some personal appeal to indigenous voters, or perhaps party labels simply don’t matter as much in a local election. Still, Huang Chien-ting’s 黃健庭 13,000 advantage among indigenous voters was the difference between winning and losing. Liu actually won by about 2,000 votes among Han voters, but indigenous voters put Huang over the top.

Taken together, you can see why Liu might have a chance to win this year, even with the presence of the indigenous votes. First, Liu has demonstrated a strong crossover appeal to people who normally vote blue. Second, Rao appears to be a weak KMT nominee. She was unable to defend even half of the pool of available blue votes in 2012, and anecdotal evidence suggests she is a clear step down in popularity from Huang Chien-ting (who Liu beat among Han voters in 2014). Third, indigenous voters tilt the partisan balance in Taitung blue, but (based on one data point) indigenous voters are not nearly as overwhelmingly blue in county magistrate elections as in presidential elections.  Maybe the fifth time is a charm.

Where was Tsai?

November 20, 2018

One of the most important and overlooked developments of the Golden Weekend involves President Tsai. Where the hell was she?

She was out on the campaign trail, but she was working the secondary races like some unimportant party functionary who used to be important. Why was she in Penghu and doing evening rallies in Changhua and Nantou? She was in Taichung, but only in the morning for a car parade in rural Ta-an district.

This weekend was almost perfect for her. She needed to stand up in front of a huge crowd and let them cheer for her. It would have sent a clear message to the country that her party still strongly supports her and that she is confident and in charge. Further, she had an important message to send. After the controversy at the Golden Horse awards show, she said publicly, “There is no China Taiwan. There is only Taiwan.” That is a message that she should have delivered on a huge stage in front of a roaring crowd of Taiwan nationalists.

The marquee rally of the weekend was Sunday night in Kaohsiung. However, that was not the right place for Tsai. That rally had to be dominated by Chen Ju, who did a masterful job of turning a personal insult into a more general insult to all Taiwanese people. The appropriate rally was in Taipei, where the DPP is trying to hold its base rather than appeal to the median voter. Yao Wen-chih had a sizeable crowd dominated by independence fundamentalists. That is not Tsai’s natural base, but it would have been perfect for her to stand up in front of them, in the nation’s capital, and assert her authority as the nation’s and party’s leader by declaring forcefully that she never has and never will accept being called China Taiwan.

The fact that Tsai did not demand to be front and center on this crucial weekend does not bode well for her moving forward. Yes, her position as party leader will be strengthened more by winning Kaohsiung and Taichung than by insisting on a high profile speech. Still, her absence is a stunning admission of weakness.

The KMT has picked up on this, though not as much as one might expect. Eric Chu sarcastically invited her to come campaign for Su Tseng-chang in New Taipei, since every one of her visits costs Su 10,000 votes. I’m sure there are other commentators pointing out Tsai’s low profile, though I would have thought that it would be one of the KMT’s main talking points.

Actually, none of the main presidential contenders is having a banner election year. Wu Den-yi is having a worse campaign than Tsai. The KMT is basically in open revolt; every day another KMT person openly attacks or tries to distance himself from Wu. Chu and Lai are campaigning, but they are not being treated as superstars. This year, everyone in the KMT wants Han Kuo-yu, and the DPP’s most sought-after speakers are Chen Ju and Cheng Wen-tsan. (By the way, has anyone heard anything from Wayne Chiang recently? Didn’t he used to be the one that all the KMT people wanted to be seen with?)

campaign trail: DPP rally in Taipei

November 20, 2018

I’ve been wrong about Ko Wen-je more or less continuously for the past five years. In 2014, I was pretty sure KMT supporters would return home and vote for Sean Lien. It was a position I held to for months, until about six weeks before the election when it became clear that public opinion wasn’t shifting and the Lien campaign started saying some really crazy stuff almost as if they wanted to ensure that the shift would never happen. Even after Ko won (with 57%!), I refused to believe that he was really that popular, that he represented a fundamentally new force in Taiwanese politics, or that he was a reasonable bet as a future president. I believe Ko’s presence in Taiwanese politics is due far more to a historically inept opponent than most people admit.

This spring, when the DPP decided to cut ties with Ko and nominate its own candidate, I thought that Ko was pretty much doomed. KMT sympathizers would support Ting Shou-chung, who, though not exactly mesmerizingly charismatic, is a solid and inoffensive longtime party soldier. Ting is not Lien, so Ko wouldn’t be able to count on peeling off 10% of the electorate from the pan-blue side again. More importantly, the DPP would be able to rally its supporters to come home. Historically, the DPP has almost never seen its vote base abandon it for a rival candidate. Even though Yao was trailing Ko by a huge margin at the time, I thought that Yao would be able to pull back another 10% from Ko which would put them roughly in a tie. If Ko ever slipped into third place in the polls, the ensuing strategic voting would destroy him. I laid out these ideas in a blog post, and then Donovan Smith, Michael Turton, and I had a further discussion on Facebook, which Michael summarized on his blog. You can read the whole exchange, but to summarize, Donovan thought that I was wrong and that Ko would hold his support and win re-election. I fundamentally see Taiwanese politics through the lens of (the established) party politics, while Donovan thought that the old party lines were ripe for change, at least in Taipei. Donovan was right. Sometime in August or so, after yet another poll showing Ko expanding his lead over Ting and Yao continuing to languish around 10%, I sent Donovan a FB message telling him his crystal ball was better than mine.

So now that I’ve admitted I’m a stupid moron who doesn’t know anything, it seems that the race might be turning again to make me look even more stupid for abandoning my position too early. As the Kaohsiung race heated up, KMT partisans all over the island became more and more excited. When one of Ko’s cabinet members expressed support for the DPP in Kaohsiung, Ko supporters with KMT sympathies were incensed. In the last few polls published before the polling blackout, Ko’s previous double digit lead had disappeared. Instead, they showed that Ko and Ting were nearly tied, with Yao still languishing far behind.

What happened to Yao? For the first three months of 2018, he made a vigorous case against Ko, holding marches and rallies nearly every weekend. By May, his efforts had led the DPP to a fairly unanimous decision to cut ties with Ko. I thought that after Yao was nominated and any possibility of cooperation had been removed, the DPP attacks on Ko would kick into an even higher gear. Instead, Yao nearly disappeared. From May to September, Yao was nearly absent from view. DPP candidates in other cities and counties put together alliances, but they generally shunned Yao. The DPP never even got around to forcing Ko’s allies on the city council to take sides. Kao Chia-yu, for example, is still running for re-election on the DPP label, even though she is widely believed to be siding with Ko. It almost looked as if the DPP had given up on Yao and was tacitly signaling to its supporters that it wouldn’t mind if they voted for Ko. However, in the last week or two, as the campaign has heated up and Ko’s position in the polls has slipped, the DPP leaders have made more and more noise about being firmly behind Yao.

 

That brings us to Sunday. On the Golden Weekend, Yao had one last chance to demonstrate his viability and ask DPP supporters to stay with him. As I said in my previous post, most rallies have two goals, to pump up enthusiasm so that your base will mobilize their friends and families and to give them some talking points to use as ammunition. However, in this case, since Yao is the third candidates in a three way race, the goal was something else. Yao had to demonstrate that his base was still there and still large.

Three way races are unstable. People supporting the trailing candidate often vote for their second favorite candidate to prevent their most disliked candidate from winning. This makes information critical. If you have clear information about who is leading and who is trailing, it becomes obvious which voters should abandon which candidate (the one in third place). However, if the information is unclear, then voters don’t always know what to do. If the third place candidate can make a credible argument that he or she is not actually in third place, the results can shift wildly. Yao hoped to have an enormous turnout for his event on Sunday afternoon, preferably quite a bit larger than Ko’s event on Sunday evening, so that he could sow doubts about who was actually in second place. However, let’s be realistic. At best, this will have only a moderate effect. Yao has been consistently trailing by wide margins. It is highly unlikely that he is actually in second place, regardless of the size of his event.

A different way to think about the problem is one of credible commitment and common knowledge. Yao wanted a big turnout to demonstrate that he still has a base that supports him and is not planning to vote strategically. If they can credibly commit to supporting Yao, that sends a signal to Ko’s supporters that since Yao’s side will not defect to Ko, the only way to stop Ting is for Ko’s supporters to strategically vote for Yao. Moreover, with a huge turnout that gets widespread publicity, both Yao’s supporters and Ko’s supporters get this message. It probably won’t work, but it might convince wavering Yao supporters to stay with Yao rather than defect to Ko.

 

On Sunday, Mrs. Garlic and I went to see for ourselves how Yao’s event would turn out. Yao’s campaign organized a hold-hands-and-form-a-giant-ring event. In 2004, the Chen Shui-bian re-election campaign* organized a hold hands around Taiwan event on 2-28, and then a few weeks later Chen was re-elected. Many DPP people remember this event as a moving and galvanizing demonstration, so Yao wanted to remind his supporters of their history and galvanize to support him. This time, the ring encircled the Sun Yat-sen Memorial and the Taipei Dome project, ending at the steps of City Hall. The controversial Taipei Dome project is a centerpiece of Yao’s campaign, so it was a logical choice.

*Yes, I know it was nominally organized by some other group. Don’t be naïve.

We got to the event a little after 2:30 and walked around the entire ring to see what it would look like. Of course, people were still arriving when we went through the first few sections, so I assume they filled out a bit more after we left. We were supposed to hold hands at 3:33 (because Yao’s candidate registration number is 3), but the section I was on at that time never did. It seemed like the organization wasn’t great. Each side of the ring was designated as the responsibility of one of the six city council districts. All of the DPP city council candidates (except Ko ally Kao Chia-yu) had a presence, and most of them had mobilized a few hundred supporters in their section.

The instructions seemed to indicate that after 3:33, the city council candidates were supposed to go around high-fiving people (who were facing the road). Maybe that happened in other sections that I wasn’t on. Then, everyone was supposed to move to the steps of city hall for a few speeches, including an address by Yao. There were a couple of problems with that plan. For one thing, the stage in front of city hall was tiny, and they faced it in the wrong direction. My first thought was that there must be another, bigger stage somewhere else. Nope. The bigger problem was that it seemed like most of the people in the big ring never made it to the rally. After sitting around for two hours, I think a lot of people got tired and just took the MRT home.

Ok, but what was the turnout like? It’s almost impossible to estimate the crowd. They were spread out over a long set of sidewalks at various densities that changed over time. Since many people didn’t go to the stage area, we never saw the entire crowd all at once. If the idea was to show your supporters and the wider public how massive Yao’s base was, this event was a colossal mistake. We never saw that picture of an enormous, roiling crowd. Even the people at the event only saw their section of the sidewalk; they didn’t see how big the ring was or how the line kept stretching and stretching. If Yao’s campaign had wanted to minimize the impact of their crowd, they couldn’t have done much better. I guessed that the campaign would claim 50,000 (and it did) – implying an actual number around 25,000, but the number of people who attended some part of the event could have been anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000. I really don’t have any idea, and since I walked the entire ring, I had one of the best views.

Who showed up? It was the base. The people who showed up were older, and most of the signs and banners indicated that they were the Independence Fundamentalists. It wasn’t a particularly happy (or unhappy) or passionate crowd. They weren’t particularly angry or sullen, but they were more determined and dedicated than frenzied. I got the feeling that they were there because they felt it was important that Yao had a good turnout more than because they were excited to go out and cheer for Yao. I don’t know whether the message was transmitted to the rest of the general public, but I clearly got the message that the DPP base is going to stay loyal to the party. The fundamentalists are not going to strategically defect to Ko.

 

Strategically, this is bad news for Ko. I didn’t go to his event at the North Gate, but the TV reports I saw made it look pretty small. He claimed 40,000, but it looked smaller than 20,000 to me on TV. At any rate, it was clearly a far cry from his huge march around the city and rally in front of city hall on Golden Weekend 2014.

The last stages of election campaigns almost always pull voters back somewhat to their partisan roots. In this year’s condensed campaign season, I think that is happening even more dramatically than normal. If KMT and DPP voters are really drifting back to Ting and Yao, Ko is in trouble.

One of the more notable facets of the last month is that Ko has disappeared somewhat. For four years, Ko has pretty much been able to get high profile media coverage whenever he wanted. However, over the past month, the public discourse has been dominated by Han Kuo-yu and the resulting struggle between the two major parties. Ko has been pushed off the front pages. What happens to a charismatic outsider who suddenly can’t dominate the news? It’s an entirely new experience for Ko, and it couldn’t come at a worse time. (Aside: Can we try this with Trump?)

Yao has waited too long to make his move. Yao should have started his attack earlier, he should have mobilized a huge rally two weeks ago, and he should have resigned his seat in the legislature two or three weeks ago. It was always unlikely that he would win, but I originally thought he might be able to push Ko into third place. However, that scenario required that Yao could show the electorate a poll with him at least close to Ko. Now that the blackout period has started, we have no polling data to inform us. Most voters will continue to assume that the race is still basically what the final polls said it was: a close race between Ko and Ting. Still, I think Yao may have done enough to convince most of the DPP base to remain loyal to the DPP, and that will probably be enough to throw the election to Ting. If you want a guess, I’ll go with Ting 45, Ko 38, and Yao 17.

Of course, I’ve been wrong about Ko Wen-je before.

campaign trail: KMT rally in Kaohsiung

November 19, 2018

This year there is only one candidate who everyone is talking about, Han Kuo-yu. Like Donald Trump, who Han echoes in many way, part of the buzz around Han involves his huge and passionate campaign rallies. So on Saturday, I drove down to Kaohsiung to see firsthand whether the gushing media reports were onto something or whether it was just a lot of hype. This was the Golden Weekend, the final weekend before the election, so this event promised to be the biggest and more enthusiastic rally that Han would put on in the entire campaign. The top line summary is that this was a fantastic event, though it wasn’t off the charts or unprecedented. It was very big, but not the biggest I’ve ever been to. It was very passionate, but not the most passionate I’ve seen. I’ve been to somewhere between 150 to 200 rallies of all shapes and sizes since 1993. This was in the top 10%. It was a fantastic event, but it was firmly within the universe of existing Taiwanese rally events. Or maybe I should reverse that emphasis: saying that this event was not groundbreaking does not in any way imply that it wasn’t a hell of a spectacular rally.

 

The physical space could be divided roughly into three areas. There was a relatively small area in front of the stage with stools set out. To the right of this area, there was a section where all the vendors had set up and were selling food. Behind the area in front of the stage, there was a huge grassy area, which was divided from the area in front by a small road. The first area was jam packed. In my younger days, I would have pushed in just to be right at the center of things and experience the maximum amount of excitement. However, over the years, I have found that the people sitting down in the front are not necessarily the most enthusiastic, and I no longer have the stomach for mosh pits. I spent the evening roaming around the other two areas.

The vending area was probably the most comprehensive I have ever seen at a rally. Imagine one of those night markets that sets up once a week in a parking lot.* Take away all the vendors with games, clothes, and assorted gadgets but keep all the food. That’s about what we had here. In addition, there were lots of people selling assorted campaign flags, shirts, air horns, and such. You see these vendors at lots of rallies, but there were more here.

(*Explanation for Taipei residents: In the rest of Taiwan, many night markets are not permanent fixtures and do not have storefronts. You have to go by scooter since the MRT doesn’t go there. Also, TVBS doesn’t profile these vendors very often, so lines for famous food are rare. But they are “markets” that are open at “night,” and, believe it or not, they are more enjoyable than the World Famous Shihlin International Tourist Night Market. Wow! Who knew!)

Most of the crowd was in the grassy area in the back. As you might imagine, the crowd was denser at the front of the space and sparser at the back. The campaign did not set up any stools in the back, so most people stood the entire time while a few sat down on the grass. It wasn’t exactly a thick, American-style lawn. I was tired and thought about sitting down, but the grass was not at all appealing. The organizers didn’t exactly go out of their way to make things easy for the crowd.

Estimating crowd sizes is not exactly an exact science (at least for another few years until Chinese surveillance figures out how to track each individual on the globe all the time). It’s extremely hard to produce an estimate; everything is a more or less a guess. Moreover, event organizers have a strong incentive to inflate the numbers, and the media generally goes along to avoid making enemies and since they don’t have any better estimates. My counts/estimates tend to be much lower than everyone else’s, and I usually expect that the number I come up with will be about half as much as the organizers claim. Yesterday in Taipei, for example, Yao Wen-chih claimed 50,000, Ko Wen-je claimed 40,000, and the marriage equality rally claimed 100,000. My default assumption is that if I had gone to those events, my estimates would have been slightly less than half those estimates. I’m a party pooper.

The people on the stage repeatedly claimed that there were over 100,000 people at Han’s rally. I think the actual number was closer to about 60,000. In other words, I don’t think they inflated the real figure as much as most organizers would. And make no mistake, 60,000 is a hell of a lot of people. That’s a whole town packed into a single city block.

The scale was impressive, but the character of the crowd was stunning. There was almost no mobilization from the campaign. Han claimed that the campaign hadn’t organized a single bus. I did see a couple of busses around the periphery, but the extremely small number of busses supports Han’s assertion. If the campaign gets involved, they are probably going to organize more than five busses. Most people seemed to come via MRT. The crowd was extremely happy and energetic. Again, I have seen more revved up crowds, but not many. Even way in the back, half the people were joining in the cheers. This was a happy crowd, not an angry crowd. KMT supporters in southern Taiwan haven’t had anything to cheer for in six full years. Ever since Ma Ying-jeou’s re-election, they have absorbed beatdown after beatdown. This year, it seems like they aren’t doomed to lose, so they have six years of pent up energy to release. They might win!!!! Hooray!!!

The organizers chose not to hand out little flags. At KMT rallies, they usually hand everyone two flags, an ROC flag and a flag with the candidate’s name. I’m tempted to think they didn’t hand out ROC flags because they are hoping to win votes from independents and light green voters who might be turned off by ostentatious displays of ROC patriotism. The stage decorations were simple black and white with no ROC or KMT party markings. However, if the campaign were really trying to make this into a personal contest, they should have handed out flags with Han’s name. Anyway, the crowd wasn’t about to cooperate with any attempt to de-ROC this event. About 3/4 of the crowd had some sort of ROC paraphernalia, such as a hand-held flag, a tee shirt, a sticker, face paint, and so on. The vendors did a brisk business selling all this stuff, and I’m tempted to think that Han didn’t hand out stuff for free precisely because he wanted to create a bustling vending scene. Anyway, the crowd was a roiling ocean of red and blue. There was no question which party was holding this rally.

I kept looking for groups of young men. On the one hand, some have charged that Han is being supported by organized crime gangs. I wondered if there would be blatant evidence of this. On the other hand, Han’s rhetoric is aimed at lower income, lower education, and lower skilled men who might feel that society has left them behind. I thought that if he were making some connections with them, a la Trump, I might see lots of rougher looking young men in the crowd. I did not see any groups of young men hanging out together. I didn’t see a lot of rougher looking people in the crowd at all. Of course, there were some, as in any crowd, but this wasn’t even like a DPP crowd from the early 1990s, where there were lots of young men looking for excitement. This crowd simply wasn’t defined by young, rough men. Instead, this was a thoroughly middle class, family-oriented crowd. There were lots of couples, families, senior citizens, and children, and they mostly looked like people who drive cars or take the MRT rather than people who ride scooters. In many ways, this was a classic New Party crowd: financially stable, educated, patriotic, with a high sense of personal political efficacy.

My guess is that the crowd also had a high proportion of mainlanders. I had expected that, because the event was in Kaohsiung, most of the speakers would speak in Taiwanese. My Taiwanese level is about three levels below “rudimentary.” Mrs. Garlic was not able to take Saturday off and join me, so I was afraid that I was going to miss out on most of the nuances. In fact, most of the rally was in Mandarin. While Mandarin is the preferred language of many younger and more highly educated people, many Taiwanese, especially in central and southern Taiwan, prefer to discuss politics in Taiwanese. I suspect that the choice of language at this venue had something to do with the fact that Fengshan District, where we were, has a large population of mainlanders that grew up in (now demolished and rebuilt) military villages. The MRT line also provided easy access to people from the other big center of mainlander population in Kaohsiung, (Zuoying District).

 

The lineup included several singers. I know nothing about pop culture, so I have no idea who these people were. The crowd sang along with several of the songs, so they must have been at least a little famous.

The featured speakers included Tainan city councilor Hsieh Lung-chieh, former Minister of Transportation Yeh Kuang-shih, legislator Chen Yi-min, former Premier Chang Shan-cheng, and, of course, Han Kuo-yu. I’m going to gloss over the first four pretty quickly. Hsieh and Chen spoke in Taiwanese, so I missed most of their content. However, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of content in any of the speeches. It was mostly rah-rah pep rally stuff. We’re gonna win!!

The main themes throughout the night were that the KMT didn’t have to lose this time, that Kaohsiung wasn’t the DPP’s private property, and that, after 20 years of DPP government, Han Kuo-yu would revitalize Kaohsiung with much needed change. Han’s plan was not unlike Trump’s: Things are terrible now, and it’s all the DPP’s fault. Elect me, and things will be better immediately. Don’t worry about the details. Trust me, I’ll change things, and it’ll be better.

No one fleshed out the details of Han’s grand economic strategy, but there were a couple of hints. One speaker talked about how Han’s campaign was exciting Chinese people on social media around the world, including in places like Malaysia and Indonesia. He promised that if Han were elected, all these Chinese would definitely want to come to Kaohsiung. In other words, Han will bring in Chinese tourism. If you want to read between the lines, ignore the diversionary words “Malaysia” and “Indonesia.” What the speaker meant is that the PRC will divert lots of package tours to Kaohsiung, so Kaohsiung will get rich. Later on, Han hinted at the other prong. He is calling himself a “vegetable seller” (since he ran the vegetable market distribution system), and the slogan on the big pillars at his rally was “stuff can be sold (outward), people can move in.” He proudly announced that the vendors in the night market area were all sold out, implying that his vision was already working on a small scale. (Note: They were not all sold out.) This is hardly envisioning the economy of the future. Hotel room cleaners and street peddlers are not exactly glamorous jobs. Rather, Han’s economic vision is simply that there will be more of the low paying jobs and that they will provide slightly more income. It’s not unlike Trump’s call to preserve threatened jobs in the dying coal industry, though at least Trump’s vision is based on revising the global trading system before declaring general prosperity. Han’s plan seems to be to rejigger a tiny corner of Kaohsiung’s economy and then declare that regional economic imbalance has been solved.

One other specific point stuck in my head. Former premier Chang Shan-cheng is apparently eying a presidential or vice-presidential run, and he is stumping for a variety of KMT candidates this year. (Aside: Chang seems to think he has popular support since he had much higher satisfaction ratings than any of Ma’s other premiers. Of course, unlike the others, Chang didn’t try to do anything since he was the caretaker premier in the four months between Tsai’s victory and her inauguration.) The KMT is asking for a change after 20 years of DPP government in Kaohsiung, so it has to argue that those 20 years did not produce good results. Chang took on a specific claim, that the DPP gave Kaohsiung an excellent MRT system. The MRT system was not the DPP’s contribution, Chang insisted. As a bureaucrat who had served in the Transportation Ministry, Chang asserted that all the money came from the central government under Ma Ying-jeou. The Kaoshiung city government had provided nothing! Now, rallies are noisy, and I almost never hear reactions from people around me. However, when Chang made this claim, the person behind me exclaimed excitedly, “Yes, and on top of that, we have a huge public debt!” A DPP spokesperson couldn’t have refuted Chang’s claim much more effectively. Beyond the point that most of the construction took place under the Chen administration, not the Ma administration, the reason that the Kaohsiung city government has run up such an enormous pile of debt is precisely because the central government did not fund the entire MRT project. The MRT (and the associated debt) is exactly what the DPP city government has contributed to Kaohsiung. If you are going to criticize the DPP’s performance in office, at least make a plausible argument, such as that the MRT system is flawed, too expensive, or that the city government should have done something else with the money. Let’s just say that my early impressions of the Chang-for-president movement are somewhat less than glowing and gushing.

Han made three major points in his speech. First, he talked about being an outsider in Kaohsiung, and he did it in a very effective and surprisingly deft way: All nine legislators from Kaohsiung are DPP members. Except for Lin Tai-hua, not a single one of them is from Kaohsiung. Further, none of the four people who contested the DPP’s mayoral nomination were born in Kaohsiung. And Chen Chi-mai’s wife was born in Malaysia. What does this prove? It means that anyone can love Kaohsiung, and Kaohsiung will love everyone!

This argument charmed me. He didn’t complain about being attacked. Instead, he turned the attack back on the DPP. Moreover, he did it in a generous way. He didn’t call the DPP hypocrites; he simply celebrated Kaohsiung as a magnetic place that outsiders can’t resist. Sure, his rhetoric glossed over the fact that those DPP politicians have lived in Kaohsiung for decades, not months, but all good rhetoric takes your attention away from disadvantageous points and focuses it elsewhere. This was a happy and uplifting message. I keep comparing Han to Trump, and this is one area where Han is clearly different. He is not screaming to lock up Hillary, and he is not taking cheap shots at Marco. Trump revels in pettiness; (at least in this instance) Han eschews it.

Han’s second point was about the tenor of the campaign. I did not fully appreciate why he was talking about this because I was not aware of outside events. Earlier in the day, former vice president and current KMT party chair Wu Den-yi had called former Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu a “fatty” and said she looks like a “mother pig.” When this got out, the backlash was immediate and strong. Wu Den-yi’s political career was already in trouble, and I suspect this might be the last nail in the coffin. This sort of insult is exactly what the DPP needs to drive indignant wavering voters back into the fold and to the polls. On Sunday night, Chen Chu stood before a huge crowd and declared: “I am not a mother pig. I am a daughter of Taiwan.” See how she took a personal affront and transformed it into a general demand for dignity for all Taiwanese people? Chen Chu is a damn good politician. Anyway, that was on Sunday night. On Saturday night just a few hours after the news broke, Han tried to diffuse the crisis in his own speech, though he never mentioned Wu or Wu’s comments specifically. Han said that the election had been conducted in a fairly high tone. While both candidates had been insulted, the insults had come from people around the candidates, not from the candidates themselves. Han then demanded that everyone respect his wishes for a high-minded and positive campaign and refrain from hurtling insults at the other side. At the time, I thought he was talking about online conduct; at one point he asked his followers not to forward negative stories on social media. The cynic in me grinned: sure, assert your innocence at the end of the campaign after you’ve already gotten all the benefit! In hindsight, Han was talking about Wu, not about fake news, and, he was making his argument with an old KMT discourse about how democratic politics are dirty and messy (and inherently corrupt). Wouldn’t it be better if we could just rise above this all and have a happy and positive campaign? He indirectly disavowed Wu’s remarks by trying to rise above the (democratic) fray. This discourse is right in the New Party wheelhouse (remember how much simpler, less corrupt, and more civilized it was back when wise and benevolent CCK made all the decisions?), and the crowd ate it up.

Han’s third big point flowed easily from the second one: the DPP always uses dirty tricks at the end of a campaign, so be ready. This is a general theme for KMT candidates all over the country, but in Kaohsiung they have a specific history. In the KMT memory, the DPP razor-thin victories in 1998 and 2006 had only been possible because of unfounded last-minute accusations of vote buying and corruption against the KMT. The KMT charges that dirty tricks are in the DPP’s DNA and they will definitely try something this year, so KMT voters should not fall victims to these ruses. Han put it in a way that both a classic response and also uniquely illustrative of his populist appeal: when this happens, trust me, believe me, and have faith in me.*

*For the life of me, I can’t remember the exact Chinese phrase. Two of the three were 信任我,相信我, but I can’t remember the third part. I was struck by the wording, and I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to translate what was essentially three different ways to say “trust me.” When I figured out a short and effective translation, my stupid brain forgot what he originally said.

There is one last anecdote from this section of Han’s speech that I think is informative. He complained that the DPP tries to paint him black (organized crime), gold (money interests), and red (Chinese CCP). On the latter point, he said, “they say that if I am elected, I will give Kaohsiung to the CPP!” The audience’s response to this was … laughter. Dear reader, when you hear about pro-unification forces in Taiwan, remember just how narrow a slice of the population actually wants unification. This was a proudly patriotic Chinese nationalist audience that probably had a high proportion of mainlanders and New Partyish sympathizers. Their reaction to the charge that they want to open the city gates to China or have any kind of immediate political accommodation with China was a tired laughter. They have heard the charges again and again, and they believe those charges are ridiculous. Sure they may want amiable interaction with China and they are happy to promote mutually beneficial ties, but they instinctively reject the idea that they are selling out Taiwan to China. Han declared passionately, “I love Taiwan. I was born in Taiwan. I have lived my whole life in Taiwan. In the future, I will die in Taiwan.” I’m guessing that feeling resonated strongly with the overwhelming majority of that crowd.

 

This was a fantastic, passionate event, a smashing success by almost any metric. Yet, I left it feeling slightly stronger that Chen, not Han, was more likely to win the election. Rallies do not help candidates win the votes of people who are at the event. Thirty or forty years ago, when information was much scarcer, rallies had an education and persuasion component. Nowadays, no one goes to a rally to learn about a candidate. Everyone at the event is already a supporter. Modern rallies have two goals. First, you want to fire up your base so that they will go mobilize their friends and family who may be apathetic, apolitical, or on the fence. Enthusiasm drives up turnout among the unenthusiastic. Second, in case your dedicated supporters are trying to mobilize unconvinced people, you want to give them some effective talking points. Your fiery supporters don’t need to know and might not care about a flood control project, but they might need that information to persuade their friends who don’t care about identity.

Han’s rally didn’t really provide supporter with strong talking points. The main talking point is simply that, after 20 years, it is time for a change. However, they didn’t do a very good job of explaining why unequal economic development is the city government’s fault. They certainly did not convincingly convict the city government of incompetence, corruption, lack of vision, or even poor performance. I don’t think the rally gave them much ammunition to deal with a skeptical person who wants more than simply the initial assertion that the DPP city government has performed poorly.

However, it’s the first point that really concerns me. If the point of whipping up enthusiasm is to mobilize other people in personal networks, you would like to see a diverse audience with connections into all different parts of society. It isn’t a good thing that the crowd looked overwhelmingly like the stereotypical New Party middle class base or that the rally was in Mandarin. It looked to me like the KMT’s base is fully invested in Han’s campaign, but Han needs more than that. In Kaohsiung, he needs some voters who aren’t crazy about waving the ROC flag and who don’t already belong to the church. This crowd and this event defined Han and his campaign as firmly within the orthodox KMT tradition, and the KMT base in Kaohsiung is smaller than the DPP base, even in a year like this. A frenzied base simply isn’t good enough.

Three critical races

November 16, 2018

I guess I should probably stop obsessing over the American midterm election and start writing about Taiwan. This is the first time I can remember that I have been more engrossed in an American election than in a Taiwanese election in the same year. The American election seems monumentally important, while the Taiwanese election seems destined to be relatively unimportant in the historical scheme of things. I don’t think I need to explain why I think the American election is important, but let me briefly explain why I have thought for most of the year that the context here in Taiwan is rather unremarkable.

As we are all probably aware, the DPP won a smashing victory in the 2014 elections, and then followed that up by winning the presidency and legislature 14 months later. As we are all also probably aware, the national DPP government hasn’t gotten rave reviews. President Tsai’s satisfaction ratings are low. They’ve been in the thirties for most of her presidency, but in the last few months they’ve dipped into the twenties. To most of the world, that looks untenable. In the USA, the Republicans just got hammered, President Trump has a 42% approval rating. However, Taiwanese are a pretty tough crowd. 25% approval doesn’t mean the same thing here that it would in the USA (where roughly 25% was the point at which Nixon was forced to resign). Here, Presidents Chen and Ma both spent much of their second terms in the teens, and President Ma was re-elected fairly comfortably after spending most of his first term in the thirties. So the DPP government isn’t doing great, but neither is it a complete disaster. We should expect the DPP to slip somewhat from its 2014 results (which, remember, were unprecedented and probably unsustainable). At the same time, there aren’t massive street demonstrations, popular rebellions, or calls for impeachment. The DPP isn’t likely to collapse.

The other notably feature of this year’s races is that it seemed to lack any exciting or detestably candidates to drive turnout. None of the six big races had a fresh face who might be headed for the presidency some day (like the 2010 matchup between Tsai and Chu) or a wacky underdog outsider against an offensively tone deaf favorite (like Ko verses Lien in 2014). Every where you looked you had vaguely unlikeable incumbers (Ko, Lin), uninspiring challengers (Ting, Yao, Lu), and tired old war horses past their prime (Su). It was a whole field of blah.

I had expected that we were heading toward a dismally low turnout. People weren’t furious or inspired enough to vote. I thought overall turnout might be in the high 50s, or maybe even the low 50s.

As you are probably aware, this all changed rather dramatically about a month ago, when everyone suddenly realized that something unexpected was happening down south in Kaohsiung. Before I get to that, let me say that I think one of the effects of Han Kuo-yu’s surge in the polls has been to jolt both blue and green voters out of a stupor. Turnout probably will be a bit higher, though there are limits to just how much higher we can expect. I’ll guess that turnout will break 60%, though I doubt it will reach the 66.2% turnout of the 2016 presidential election.

 

Kaohsiung City

About a month ago, the DPP collectively freaked out when a series of polls showed that the unthinkable was happening: the KMT was leading in Kaohsiung. For that to happen in such deep green territory requires both a massively underperforming DPP candidate and a massively overperforming KMT candidate. I was surprised by the former. I’ve always thought highly of Chen Chi-mai. He is a very effective legislator who is hard working, sees the big picture, yet has a firm grasp on detailed minutia. He has been preparing for years to run for mayor, and he seemed to me like an ideal candidate. I was completely unaware that he would be such an uninspiring candidate on the stump. His command of the issues has not been matched with any charisma that might help him to make any emotional connection with voters. I don’t get the feeling that people dislike him. He just doesn’t inspire much passion.

I also misjudged Han Kuo-yu. When the KMT was nominated, I thought it was a worthwhile longshot for the KMT. The KMT has utterly failed to develop a discourse attractive to southern voters. If they want to win a presidential election any time in the future, they are going to have to figure out how to woo southern voters, and what they were do wasn’t working at all. Han promised to try something else. I didn’t think it would work, but it seemed like a worthwhile gamble. The most likely outcome was that Han would fall flat and that the KMT would lose miserably, but that was the likely outcome with a conventional candidate too.

What happened is that Han caught fire. The blue TV stations’ newscasts are basically wall-to-wall coverage of Han Kuo-yu, breathlessly reporting his every action, fawning over his rhetoric, and interspersed with softer stories about his background. His combination of complaints about the lack of economic development in the south and wild, bombastic promises somehow struck a chord with voters. I don’t quite understand this. As long as I can remember, southern voters have resented the more prosperous north. However, this has always been a reason to resent the KMT. The KMT, after all, decided that the south would have heavy industry while the north would have all the high tech, education, finance, and corporate headquarters. Suddenly this year, voters seem to have forgotten that. Huh? Moreover, while Kaohsiung has been governed by the DPP for the past 20 years, it has generally been considered to have one of the most effective local governments in the country. Both Chen Chu and Frank Hsieh consistently got high marks from Kaohsiung voters. But suddenly that record seems to be a burden.

Han has also parachute from the north with a plethora of wild claims (we can double the population in 10 years!). Every time he says something, he seems to reveal how unfamiliar he is with Kaohsiung, and yet this utter lack of familiarity or preparation for the job seems not to matter very much. Trump never apologies or admits mistakes. Likewise, Han’s brand of populism seems to involve voters who don’t care very much about facts.

(Let’s take a minute to note one important difference with Trump-style populism: the race/immigration angle is completely missing from Han’s discourse. Other than that, Han seems to be borrowing pretty liberally from the Trump playbook.)

There are widespread rumors that Han is benefitting from a Chinese-sponsored blitz of fake news. Like most people, I have seen hints and bits of this campaign. However, because it is based primarily in closed social media groups in Line and Facebook, most of only see the tip of the overall campaign. It is hard to understand the scope of the attack, much less the impact. It seems pretty clear that China is using Kaohsiung (and to a lesser extent, Taichung and Taipei) as a test run for a fake news campaign prior to the 2020 presidential and legislative elections. If it goes well for them, expect to see a lot more of this in 2020, perhaps in the USA as well as in Taiwan. I am deeply concerned but perhaps a bit less terrified of this campaign than most people.

Anyway, when the DPP freaked out about Kaohsiung a few weeks ago, they reacted by mobilizing the whole party to counter-attack. We have seen high profile person after person going to Kaohsiung to campaign for Chen. I think this is largely working. When you are losing this sort of a race, there are a few things you can do. The classic strategy is to transform the contest from a local one to a national one. You can also go negative in order to redefine the candidate as less likeable than voters might have thought at first blush. Finally, you can counter some of the rhetoric by challenging it. The DPP has done all of these. They have reminded voters at every opportunity that Han came up through the Huang Fu-hsing military branch of the KMT, that he has close ties to China, that he has questionable financial dealings, and that he is very unfamiliar with Kaohsiung. At the same time, they have been trumpeting all the things the DPP has done in Kaohsiung over the past 20 years.

I think the DPP’s counter-attack has probably been effective. The DPP politicians are certainly acting much less terrified than they were a few weeks ago. They seem to be pretty confident that they have turned the tide and that Chen is heading for a victory. On the other hand, Han shows no signs of weakening. His crowds are still big and boisterous.* He is still fiery and engaged on the stump. And he is going all over Taiwan working for other candidates. All the KMT candidates want a bit of the Han magic. (The other way to read this is than it is a little strange for someone engaged in a neck and neck race to spend so much time in other cities and counties. It could be interpreted as him knowing he will lose this race but seeking to build up as much political capital as possible while he can.)

*As longtime readers of Frozen Garlic are surely aware, I love outdoor politics. However, I learned long ago that crowd size or passion is almost entirely uncorrelated with election results. To give an example, in the 2010 New Taipei mayoral race between Tsai Ing-wen and Eric Chu, Tsai clearly had bigger and hotter crowds but Chu won the election. On the other hand, in the 2016 rematch between Tsai and Chu, Tsai again better crowds and she won the presidency handily. Crowds are fun, but they are a terrible indicator. 15,000 passionate supporters who would walk through fire for you is insignificant against 500,000 halfhearted voters willing to do nothing more than stamp your name on the ballot. The media has been completely caught up in the crowds, and they seem to have forgotten this lesson.

Overall, Kaohsiung is a highly uncertain race. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything from a 7% win for Han to a 15% win for Chen. I think Chen is probably a slight favorite at this point, but I wouldn’t bet the house on him winning.

 

Taichung City

The polls in Taichung City have been all over the place. If you want to find a poll with Lu leading by a lot, you can. If you want evidence that Lin is significantly ahead, you have a significant number of polls to choose from. If you think the race is razor-tight, there are lots of polls to back you up. This race, as much as any other, has made me throw my hands in the air in disgust and despair at the state of polling in Taiwan this year. Polling is worse now than at any point since the early 1990s. We have media polls that are becoming ever more friendly to candidates from their side of the partisan divide, we have supposedly non-partisan foundations that are trying to influence the public narrative by publishing eye-catching polling results, TISR has stopped doing its monthly polls of partisanship due to lack of funding, and the academic polls (TEDS), which were never released immediately to the public anyway, have had their funding slashed. It’s hard to figure out what is happening right now, and there won’t be much academic survey data available until next spring or summer to help us understand what in the world just happened. Good luck.

What I can say is that both sides seem fairly confident about Taichung. Mayor Lin seemed a bit more worried a few months ago, but he seems to think that he has a stable and increasing lead. The KMT has lots of polls to show that they are in the race (because there are lots of polls to show anything and everything), and they think that the overall national tide is in their favor. They also seem to expect to win in Taichung, though they perhaps don’t seem as sure as the DPP. Or at least that’s how I’m reading them. What do I know.

Taichung should be close. Central Taiwan is the traditional battleground. If the DPP is losing some support because of tepid feelings about its performance in power, Taichung should revert back closer to the mean. Mayor Lin is also a much less appealing candidate that he was four years ago. Remember the narrative from back then? Lin was the golden child who had been humbled. He was a Yale PhD who had gone into the cabinet and was a rising superstar until he was soundly defeated in the Taichung mayoral election in 2001. Rather than going back into national politics, the chastened Lin stayed in Taichung and patiently worked to rebuild his career by going back to the grassroots and doing the hard and unglamorous work of connecting with ordinary people. After four years in office, that humble and more likeable Lin is gone. The haughty Lin we see today firmly believes that he is a future president. People might respect him for his generally good record in office, but I don’t get the feeling that he is inspiring much love and devotion.

As for the KMT candidate, let’s use a baseball analogy. Nowadays it is common nowadays to evaluate baseball players using a metric called Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The idea is that zero WAR players are everywhere. A team should be able to find a zero WAR player for a nominal price any time it needs one. Better players, who might increase the number of games a team wins over the course of a full season, are harder to find. Lu strikes me as being uncomfortably close to a replacement level candidate. She isn’t a disaster, which is valuable. And she is a better quality candidate than the KMT has managed to scrounge up in Keelung or Chiayi County. However, a longtime legislator (with a media background) should be more interesting and inspiring than she is. She seems to more of an empty vessel to absorb KMT support and backlash against Lin rather than a candidate inspiring voters to specifically support her. This election is all about Lin and national trends. Lu is just … on the ballot.

 

New Taipei City

This race has been flying under the radar all election season. On paper, this should be a hotly contested race. New Taipei is always close to the national partisan balance, and it is an open seat. However, it hasn’t unfolded that way. Deputy mayor Hou You-yi has led the polls by a considerable margin from the very start. The various DPP legislators who wanted to challenge him were never able to get close enough to mount a credible challenge, so the DPP eventually turned to an old warhorse, former Taipei County magistrate and premier, Su Tseng-chang. These candidates who return years later to run for a position they already held never do quite as well as expected. Their best day in the polls is often the day they announce their candidacy, and then they gradually slide further and further away from victory. Early on, the old dudes have an advantage in name recognition, and people can remember their accomplishments in office fondly. However, as the campaign progresses, the name recognition advantage fades, and the focus turns to the future rather than the past. Is the best way to move forward by going back two decades? The answer is usually no.

Hou is probably winning this race, though I suspect it will be closer than the blowout the polls seem to indicate. In recent weeks, Su has been pressing Hou hard on ethical matters, such as taking advantage of his office to rent rooms at high rates to students and dodging taxes. Hou has complained quite a bit about this mudslinging, which might be an indication that it is working.

 

Narrative

These are the three races that will, more or less, decide the narrative of the election for the DPP, regardless of what happens everywhere else. If it wins all three, it will claim a great victory. If it wins two out of three, it will claim a small win. If it only wins one, it will consider it a defeat, and no wins would be a catastrophic loss. Why is this important? In the latter two scenarios, there will be calls for Tsai Ing-wen to step down as party chair. If the losses are bad enough, those calls will be very hard to resist. The DPP has a long tradition of party leaders stepping down to take responsibility for poor election outcomes. However, if Tsai steps down as party leader, that will complicate her path to re-election substantially. She will have to essentially make two contradictory statements more or less simultaneously. On the one hand, she will have to say that the party suffered a rebuke from the voters due to her poor leadership. On the other hand, she will ask the party and voters to give her four more years to continue her successful governing program. This doesn’t make much sense to me; I pretty much assumed she could either resign or run for re-election. However, other people I have talked with don’t see these two things as necessarily contradictory. Still, imagine if the DPP had to hold a party chair election early next year at the same time all the aspirants to legislative nominations were jockeying for position. It might turn into a bloody knife-fight between the various factions. Moreover, if someone challenged Tsai for the presidential nomination and there were a contested primary, it would almost certainly turn bitter. Whoever emerged would lead a demoralized and divided party into the general election. This could throw the presidential race wide open and lead to who knows what. These are “only” local elections, but the stakes are not as low as they might seem.

How have I never noticed this before?

September 21, 2018

I haven’t written anything for this blog in several months, so it is a little intimidating to try to start anew. After so much time away, I should probably be sitting on something really profound, something that will clarify or transform how you understand the upcoming election.

Nope.

So instead, I’m going to write about something very trivial. This is something a stumbled upon a few days ago. Now that I’ve discovered it, I can’t believe I didn’t already know it. But again, in the big picture, it isn’t all that important.

 

In the 2016 presidential election, Taitung County had a turnout rate of 55.1%. This was somewhat lower than the national turnout rate (66.2%), which isn’t all that surprising. For people whose household registration is in Taitung but live elsewhere, getting back home is a considerable chore. You can’t just take the high speed rail, after all. For most people, a one-way trip is going to burn the greater part of a day. Travel is even more burdensome for people who don’t live near a major transportation hub. So it isn’t surprising that the turnout in Orchid Island, perhaps the hardest place to reach, was only 34.7%.

So far, there’s nothing unexpected. But humor me. For fun, let’s go observe the same pattern in 2014. Turnout in the county magistrate election (67.8%) was considerably higher than in the subsequent presidential election, which perhaps surprisingly, is almost exactly the same as the national turnout that day (67.6%). However, in Orchid Island the turnout was of course much lower, a mere 63.8%. Uh, hold on, that’s not very much lower. Something interesting is happening there.

I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t notice this pattern by looking at Orchid Island. I noticed it looking at county assembly elections in Pingtung. Pingtung has a whopping 16 county assembly districts, but 38 of the 55 seats are elected in the first four districts. I tend to focus my attention where the action is, so I usually don’t pay much attention to the other 12 districts, most of which are for indigenous voters. However, a few days ago I was looking at the last eight district, for mountain indigenous voters, and the turnout rates jumped out at me. Look at turnout in the following townships: 三地門 88.0%, 瑪家 86.7%, 泰武 88.9%, 來義 82.5%, 春日 87.2%, 獅子 85.7%, 牡丹 78.7%, 霧台 92.5%. You can go around the rest of the country and find the same pattern. Turnout in every mountain indigenous township is sky high, but only for local elections. In national elections, turnout is usually somewhat below average.

What’s going on? It’s not enough to say this is effective mobilization. Candidates all over Taiwan do their best to mobilize voters in every election, but turnout rates of 80% are extremely rare everywhere else. What these communities have that the rest of Taiwan lacks is, well, community (or what we call “social capital” in the academic literature). In these communities, everyone knows everyone, and they can use their social ties to make demands on one another. If your matriarch orders you to vote, you darn well better vote. If you don’t, word will definitely get back to her, and you are in for some stern looks. Likewise, if your neighbor (and everyone is a neighbor) is running, he will certainly ask you for your vote and will know if you didn’t vote. And if you don’t live in the village, your friends and family do, and they will reach out to you. It isn’t just negative penalties; working with your friends for a common goal is fun, even if you don’t really care about politics. These sorts of social sanctions simply aren’t available in the rest of Taiwan. Moreover, indigenous villages are bounded communities, and electing the town mayor is akin to electing a tribal leader. It’s a really big deal. (As to that 92.5% turnout in 霧台. I have a friend from Wutai. Wutai is populated by Rukai, a small tribe extremely active in trying to maintain its culture and identity, even in the face of having to abandon one its physical villages. Wutai’s social capital is through the roof.)

Interestingly, this local election mobilization effect doesn’t seem to work quite as well for plains indigenous voters. This might be because this group, which is overwhelmingly Amis, is larger and therefore not quite as socially cohesive as the mountain indigenous tribes. Or maybe it is that Amis tend to live in towns that are majority Han, so that the mayoral candidates are not usually one of their own. They get a bump, but it isn’t as large. Likewise, turnout is much lower for mountain indigenous voters who are registered in Han-majority townships. These voters might not be a bit more distant from the social networks, and they might not even be from the same tribe as the majority of the electorate. However, you can see the same effect in one specific Han society. Liuchiu Township in Pingtung is a small island with a clear identity somewhat differentiated from the more general Taiwanese identity. Turnout in the 2016 presidential election was 44.9%, but in the 2014 local election it was 78.7%. Social capital is powerful!

If you need more convincing for this social capital thesis, here’s one more little bit of evidence. I compared the turnout in 2009 for indigenous county assembly seats in Taitung with the turnout in the 2012 presidential election. After controlling for the overall different turnout levels, the turnouts in the local election were higher: 海端 +9.4%, 延平 +14.7%, 達人 +17.9%, 蘭嶼 +13.0%. However, there was one exception: 金峰 -7.5%. What?? It’s actually not hard to figure out. In Jinfeng that year, both the county assembly and town mayor elections were uncontested. With only one candidate who is sure to win, there is no need to activate those social capital networks. Sure, the county magistrate candidates tried to mobilize voters, but they can’t tap into the power of the social networks nearly as effectively. Grandma might mutter under her breath for weeks if you don’t vote for Second Cousin’s Wife, but she probably won’t take it personally if you are too busy to vote for #3 on the billboard (what’s his name again?).

 

I started this post by saying that this topic is trivial, and it is if you care primarily about who will win the city mayor and county magistrate elections. The number of indigenous voters is miniscule compared to the number of Han voters, so even a 20% bump in turnout for indigenous voters barely makes a ripple in the overall results. For example, there isn’t much chance that spectacular turnout among the 1800 or so indigenous voters in Wulai will be decisive in the New Taipei race. That result will be decided by the 3.2 million Han voters. In a different partisan balance, it might matter in Pingtung, where the astronomical turnout among the 40,000 mountain indigenous voters produces nearly 5000 extra votes (beyond presidential levels of turnout). However, Pingtung hasn’t had a close magistrate election since 1993, when Su Tseng-chang was beaten by 12000 votes. (I wonder whatever became of that guy…)

The only place where this local election mobilization bonus might impact the outcome this year is in Taitung. Some back of the envelope math suggests that the added turnout from local elections might be worth an extra 2000 votes from the 14000 mountain indigenous voters. I didn’t try to figure out how much the smaller bump from the 44000 plains indigenous voters might be, but let’s imagine that it is roughly also about 2000 votes.

We all know from years and years of experience that indigenous voters have tended to support the KMT over the DPP, so those extra 4000 votes are good news for the KMT. However, what none of us know is just how overwhelmingly indigenous voters support the KMT. If the KMT wins by a 95%-5% margin, then 4000 extra votes implies a net gain of 3600 votes for the KMT. Fantastic! If the KMT gets 80%, then they reap a net gain of 2400 votes. Still pretty good, though less likely to be decisive. If the KMT only wins 60%-40%, the net gain of 800 votes probably isn’t enough to matter at all. The thing is, you don’t know which of those scenarios is closest to reality. Your guess is as good as mine. (Out of curiosity, does anyone want to hazard a guess?) No one has ever put calculated a rigorous estimate of how indigenous voters vote in presidential elections, much less mayoral elections, so we just don’t know the answer.

Of course, that last sentence isn’t entirely true. It just so happens that I am working producing an estimate for indigenous votes. I’m just starting to put together results, so I don’t have a definitive answer just yet. However, I do have some interesting results from Taitung that I might write about if I ever get around to writing another Frozen Garlic post…

Han is, um, unique

May 23, 2018

The KMT has nominated Han Kuo-yu to run for Kaohsiung mayor, and I want to say a few words about him. This is a near hopeless race for the KMT, so Han is highly unlikely to win. Chen Chi-mai is almost certain to win, and he is a talented and promising politician who will join Lai, Lin, and Cheng vying for the 2024 presidential nomination. So this is not an post about the horse race; it is about how Han is not a normal KMT candidate.

The KMT has been doing terribly in the south for several years, but it can’t afford to write off the entire region. If it wants to be competitive in future presidential races, it has to figure out some sort of appeal for southern voters. What it has now just isn’t working. The KMT could have nominated a standard KMT candidate and tried the same script again; instead it nominated Han who promises to try a new strategy.

Han came up in Zhonghe politics, up in New Taipei City. He served three terms in the legislature (1992-2001), though he was pretty anonymous. He drew strength from the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing military system, and he was a pretty standard military-sponsored politician. Like a couple other Huang Fu-hsing representatives (eg: Shih Tai-sheng), Han also is reported as having extensive ties to organized crime gangs. (Gee, that was a strangely constructed sentence!)

Han mostly disappeared from the public eye for about 15 years. Then, a couple years ago, he emerged as head of the Taipei City farmers association, where he was allied with former Yunlin county magistrate Chang Jung-wei (who other people have also suggested might just perhaps be deeply enmeshed in criminal networks).

And then last year, Han ran for KMT chair. He didn’t win; he only got 5.8% of the votes. However, his discourse was interesting and very different from all the other candidates. I watched all the debates on youtube, and this is what I wrote about Han:

 

Five of the candidates sounded rather similar. Han sounded completely different. During both debates, Han didn’t talk about things like the 1992 Consensus, KMT party assets, or other partisan topics. Instead, he talked about the difficulties of everyday life for lower income and less educated people. Good jobs are scarce, drug use is common, things are too expensive, and life is generally hard. Notably, he did not blame all of these woes solely on President Tsai and the DPP. He was complaining about the effects of President Ma’s policies just as much. His discourse was limited to expressing the pain felt by the lower class. He did not bother to offer any solutions, not even Trump-esque claims that everything could be easily fixed if only someone really wanted to. This was a campaign aimed at the people who know the system is rigged against them and will continue to be rigged against them. It was also aimed at young men, especially the types who might drive a truck or join a gang. This may not have been the best strategy for a KMT party chair race, since I would wager that KMT members are less likely than the general population to be young, unemployed, financially struggling, or to feel that the system is rigged against them. Nevertheless, Han didn’t do terribly. I wonder how many candidates will pick up this campaign strategy for the city and county councilor elections next year.

 

There are two names that I really don’t want to drop into this post, but I can’t think of any better way to make the point. The first is Donald Trump. Han is pushing an angry, populist message aimed at young and middle-aged men with low education levels and who want blue collar jobs. There are, of course, lots of aspects of Trump’s discourse that are missing (eg: immigration, attacks on the media, anti-trade), but the target audience is similar.

The second name—well maybe I’ll just let you guess. Unlike the standard-issue KMT-allied (alleged) organized crime boss (think Chang Jung-wei, Lo Fu-chu, Yen Ching-piao, Lin Ming-yi, …), Han is not merely allied with Chinese nationalism for convenience or patronage benefits. Coming from the Huang Fu-hsing system, Chinese nationalism is a core principal for Han. This makes him a different type of gangster. I am suggesting that the KMT might be interested in seeing how Han’s discourse plays out, but I suspect the PRC is also watching this very closely. If Han does well, they might be even more aggressive in sponsoring crime gangs in Taiwan politics.

 

I don’t know if Han’s message will work. I suspect it will not. If it doesn’t, he doesn’t have the deep organizational networks to overcome the lack of a compelling message. It’s entirely possible that more conventional KMT city council candidates will panic and encourage a more standard politician to run an independent mayoral campaign, worrying that their voters will not want to turn out to vote for a mayoral candidate like Han. However, if Han somehow manages to break into the low 40s, KMT presidential and legislative candidates (in green districts) in 2020 might decide to copy his populist approach. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

(Would it have been wrong to title this post “Han Solo” just for the extra clicks?)

DPP divorces Ko

May 17, 2018

I’ve been too busy to blog much. I’m way overscheduled for most of the rest of the year, so this probably won’t be a great year for Frozen Garlic. Sorry. I’ve been thinking about this post for about two weeks, and, unlike most of the things I think about these days, I finally found some time to sit down and bang it out.

 

The DPP has finally made a decision about the Taipei mayoral race. It will not cooperate with Ko Wen-je this time and will instead nominate its own candidate. This decision to split with Ko has been building for a long time.

Four years ago, the DPP was desperate to win what seemed an impossible race in Taipei. They didn’t have a strong candidate of their own, and they (and their new young allies from the Sunflower Movement) absolutely detested the KMT nominee, Sean Lien. Ko Wen-je emerged seemingly from nowhere as a viable candidate who was generally sympathetic to DPP ideals, and yet he was different enough to pull a few votes from the KMT base. The DPP yielded to him, and he eventually won with a seemingly unfathomable 57% of the votes. Ko was lauded in the media as an electoral juggernaut, but let’s not forget that he was running against a terrible KMT candidate. Ko was probably never as popular as he was made out to be. As mayor, Ko governed as an independent. He appointed people from both sides to his mini-cabinet, and he pointedly mostly stayed home during the 2016 election. He did not go out of his way to reinforce ties with the DPP.

That would have been fine. Mayors are not really expected by the national parties to do specific things. As long as they are competent and don’t get into any major scandals, the parties are pretty much ok with anything else. The decisions to pay down Taipei debt, stop the Taipei Dome project, tear down lots of overpasses, and not build very much are not at issue.

What really damaged Ko was his trip to China when he famously uttered that people on both sides all belong to the same family 兩岸一家親. With that statement, he crossed a line for many DPP supporters. Ko later “explained” that he worried about the possibility that China would cause problems for the upcoming University Games, so he was willing to say whatever was necessary to “get through it” 過關. China is famous for asking Taiwanese to go one step further, and Ko is not the first person to fall into this trap. Eric Chu did the same thing right after taking office as KMT chair in early 2015. Ko, like Chu, was guilty of thinking that he was simply playing word games, and that he could be cleverer than everyone else. The problem is that you can’t win that game. You can’t say one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. On this topic, everyone is always watching, and everyone sees and hears everything you do and say. Moreover, everyone understands the little nuances of the words, and when there is ambiguity, unfortunately China’s superior international presence and influence allows it to clarify the ambiguity as it sees fit for the rest of the world. Ko might have thought he was cleverly walking a thin line without falling over by plausibly meaning that the two sides are distant relatives from the same family, thus implying no need for unification. However, it could also mean that the two sides are close family. Ko might have satisfied China (which certainly chose to hear the latter interpretation), but DPP supporters back home also heard Ko’s ambiguity and wondered why they had put him in office.

There is only one way to play the word games with China, and that is not to play them. You have to carefully settle on a formula that says exactly what you want to say and then stick doggedly to that formula. You simply cannot “go a little further” in order to make a few PRC officials at a banquet happier; any deviations from the formula have to be carefully planned and vetted. Cleverness is not an advantage; you have to stick to the script. Ko may think he is the smartest person in the room, but that lack of humility is exactly why he messed up.

Let’s also be cynical about Ko’s motives. He probably wasn’t just worried about the University Games. After freezing out the Tsai government and with the impotence of the KMT, the PRC was actively looking for a new partner in Taiwan. Ko was exploring whether he might fit into that role. His ambiguous statement about the nature of Taiwan was a message to China that he might be someone they could work with if they wanted to bypass Tsai. Likewise, China’s appeal for him to go a little further was a probe to see if he might be their conduit. In this sense, Ko was not merely building amiable ties between the Taipei and Shanghai city governments; he was actively undermining the Tsai government’s ability to demand that the PRC deal with Taiwan’s national government.

 

At the beginning of this year, the DPP still had not decided whether to cooperate with Ko again. From the outside, it certainly looks to me as if President Tsai was the strongest voice in favor of cooperation. In January, she lobbed a softball to Ko, publicly asking him to “reassure” everyone that he shared “Taiwan values”. All Ko had to do was state in some vague way that he believed the 23 million people of Taiwan had the right to determine their own future, that Taiwanese are close family and China is distant family, that he subscribed to Tsai’s formula of respecting the ROC constitution, or something of that nature. Instead, he publicly wondered what Tsai meant by “Taiwan values.” This was not the answer Tsai and the DPP were looking for.

DPP legislator Yao Wen-chih 姚文智 wants to run for mayor, so he has been leading the calls for the DPP to nominate its own candidate. He has held several demonstrations, each one seemingly larger than the previous one. Notably, almost all of the DPP city council candidates have joined him. They have developed two powerful (and plausible) rationales for nominating their own candidate. First, city councilors fear that, because DPP loyalists are so disgusted with Ko’s China discourse, they will not come out to vote. They argue they need a strong mayoral candidate to drive up turnout so that they can also win their races. One might doubt this argument, but the DPP city council candidates have almost all voted with their feet. They have almost unanimously gone on record against Ko. Second, they have argued that Ko is going to run for the presidency in 2020, whether or not they cooperate with him in the mayoral race. According to this reasoning, it is better to split with him now rather than build him up even stronger. Amazingly, as this consensus within the DPP built and built over the past four months, Ko did almost nothing. It was as if he was oblivious to what was happening. A couple weeks ago, the DPP national party made one last effort, suggesting that internal polls showed that DPP supporters were split on whether to support Ko. However, while casual DPP supporters may still be amenable to Ko, the loyalists are not. Over the last few weeks, faction after faction has come out in favor of nominating their own candidate.

Ko did finally seem to awaken last week, he belatedly made an “apology” for his statement in China. However, he did not disavow the statement that both sides belong to one family. Rather, he said that he was sorry if anyone had been upset by his statement. You know, “Sorry, not sorry.” Then he made his excuse about just trying to successfully hold the University Games and claimed he had said things in the moment without really thinking about them. To me, it was a fairly pathetic show. Ko’s apology probably made people angrier. Moreover, he was suggesting he a) thought holding some stupid games were more important than cross-straits relations, and b) was basically incompetent at diplomacy. Also, he finally announced that he would support Tsai in her 2020 re-election bid for the presidency. This might have had some impact if he had said it in January, but now it is far too late. After several months of distancing himself from the DPP, his denial of presidential ambitions at the moment the DPP was making a final decision on whether to nominate its own mayoral candidate rang a bit hollow. It is certainly plausible to look at events and conclude that Ko was keeping his options open and might eventually turn on the DPP.

 

Aside: This whole process is a case study in President Tsai’s leadership style. Tsai believes strongly in consensus. She has her own preferences, but she does not generally try to impose them on the rest of the party. Instead, she prefers to slowly let a consensus build, and then she will lead the party in that consensus position. We have seen this on pensions and marriage equality, and now the same thing is playing out with the mayoral nomination. If Ko was counting on her to insist that the party yield, he hasn’t been paying much attention.

 

I’d like to think briefly about an article written by DPP city councilor Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑. Liang argues that Ko won in 2014 because voters despised Lien’s actions as a comprador, but that Ko in office has followed exactly that path. As with all good political attacks, this takes events and stretches them a bit. I don’t think Ko’s feelers toward China constitute Lien-level comprador activities, but he was plausibly taking the first steps in that direction. The significance of this article isn’t so much that it is incisive analysis; rather, this is more important as a blueprint for how the DPP will attack Ko over then next few months (or years, if he runs for president). They will pain him as a political speculator ready to sell out Taiwan’s interests for the sake of his own political career. It looks like a pretty good line of attack to me.

 

I’ve consistently underestimated Ko Wen-je over the past five years. I may be doing so again, but this looks like the beginning of the end for him to me. I expect the DPP to start attacking him, and these attacks will take their toll on his popularity. Right now the DPP is in third place in the race, but if they can knock Ko down to third place, strategic voting will eviscerate him. Right now, my guess is that he will end up between 10% and 15%, far behind the KMT and DPP candidates.

I can still see a second act for Ko if he, in fact, does hold presidential ambitions. I’ve been saying almost since he was elected that there is a political vacuum waiting for him to step into. James Soong is old and ripe to be replaced. With the DPP now repudiating Ko, it is certainly plausible that he will slide over into that space in the political spectrum, perhaps taking over the PFP or perhaps leading a new force centered on current PFP supporters. If the KMT does not figure out how to revitalize itself, Ko could eventually displace the KMT as the main political force opposing the DPP. We are a long way from that happening, but it is a bit more plausible today than it was at the beginning of the year. If it does happen, we might look back on the One Family discourse as a foundational strategic move launching Ko into national politics rather than as a monumental blunder that cost him the mayorship.