Archive for the ‘2018 mayor’ Category

Populism and Han Kuo-yu

December 27, 2019

How are we to understand Han Kuo-yu? How did he rise from nowhere last year to become one of the central figures of Taiwan’s politics? And how has his popularity fallen so dramatically over the course of this year?

I have been asked versions of this question repeatedly over the past 16 months, and I have never been able to give a comprehensive answer. I could explain pieces of the puzzle, but there were always important parts that didn’t make sense to me. I think I finally have a fuller explanation to offer.

Han Kuo-yu is a populist. His rise to prominence was based on the success of this populist appeal, and his decline from that peak is a result of events and opponents eroding the power of that populist message. Populism is the frame through which to understand almost everything about the Han Kuo-yu phenomenon of the past year and a half.

 

What is populism?

 

Saying Han is a populist isn’t very helpful if we don’t know what populism is. Unfortunately, the word populism is used both in public discussion and in the academic literature to refer to a frightening variety of phenomena. At a recent workshop I attended on populism, the papers cited literature that used the term to mean:

  • Anti-establishment (referring to party leaders)
  • Anti-establishment (referring to social and economic elites)
  • Charismatic mobilization
  • Direct communication with followers
  • Anti-pluralism
  • Pushes unrealistic but popular economic redistribution
  • Anti-immigrant
  • Anti-minority
  • Claims to represent the general will
  • A style of relationship between a leader and followers characterized by sincerity
  • A focus on unification or independence (in Taiwan)
  • an “all-people’s” cabinet (referring to President Chen’s first cabinet)

A term that means so many things is nearly useless. What we need is a better theoretical definition. Good definitions cut away all the extraneous ideas. Effectively, they tell you, “Don’t pay any attention to all that other stuff. Focus on this. This is the crucial feature, and everything else either flows from this part or it wasn’t important in the first place.” Fortunately, dear reader, someone has given us a better definition. At that recent workshop, Jans-Werner Mueller, a political theorist at Princeton, gave the keynote speech, and his talk was enormously clarifying for me. The definition of populism that I provide in this post is taken almost directly from Mueller’s talk and his 2016 book. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a link to online versions of either of these, but here is an article he published in 2015 presenting the same conception of populism.

Populism is a way of framing political competition as a moral question. Populists champion the real people, who they see as morally pure and homogenous. Not all the legal citizens are part of the real people, and the populist insists that he alone defines who constitutes the real people. Since the real people are homogenous, there is a clear will of the people. The populist insists that he alone can identify and represent the will of the people. The morally pure will of the people is impeded by a corrupt elite, who are not part of the real people, and the corrupt elite is sometimes allied with a parasitic underclass, who are also not part of the real people. Anyone who challenges the legitimacy of the populist’s definition of the real people or of the popular will is making a moral challenge. This moral challenge is almost always answered in moral terms, by labeling the challenger as corrupt.

Within all those critical ideas, the single most important concept is that of the real people. Not everyone who is a legal citizen is part of the real people. Only some people are part of the real people, and they are the only ones who matter. Who are not part of the real people? As I understand it, populists always point to a corrupt elite that betrays the real people. The leftist version of populism most commonly found in Latin America thus sees the corrupt elite as conspiring with the USA to steal the people’s wealth. The rightist version of populism currently running through the USA and Europe sees the corrupt elite as allied with a parasitic underclass. Trump, Farage, Haider, and Grillo do not see (most) minorities and immigrants as part of the real people. Ultimately, the real people are defined exclusively by the populist himself. Since the populist can say who is part of the real people, he can also define what the real people want. This rests on the assumption that the real people are homogenous. They may not currently be unified, because the corrupt elite is constantly trying to divide them. The populist’s task is thus to unify the real people. As a homogenous bloc, the real people all want the same thing, if only someone will come along and identify that vision for them.

Conceived this way, populism is anti-pluralistic. In a pluralist view, society is composed of many different individuals and groups with different values, different interests, and different goals. There is no such thing as a concrete, identifiable will of the people, since the people do not exist as a singular entity. Policies are not inherently morally legitimate, so citizens are free to oppose them without fear of being accused of betraying the society. Competing policies have to be judged by their empirical results, so pluralism encourages policy debates in which different sides present evidence to demonstrate that a given policy has had or will have a particular desired effect. Populists view these decisions in moral terms. It is not necessary to argue about specific policies, since it is obvious that the government should just do the things that will help the (real) people. All other policy proposals must be motivated by corrupt intentions.

[Note: Not all leftists who want more redistribution or rightists who want less immigration are populists. The critical point is the existence of a homogenous real people in the politician’s rhetoric. For example, Bernie Sanders talks about the 99%, but this is statistically defined rather than notionally defined. He is quite aware that many people in that 99% do not and never will share his values and goals. He is trying to build a coalition from a diverse society that will agree on a (yet to be negotiated) common set of policies rather than to activate an already existing homogenous block of real people who already want those things. Bernie Sanders may want redistribution, he may be charismatic, he may have devoted followers, and he may be anti-establishment, but none of those (superficial) things make him a populist.]

 

Han Kuo-yu’s populist rhetoric

 

“Our country is sick. Our Taiwan is wounded. What happened? Why did the leading country of the four little Asian dragons, after President CCK passed away and left us the Hsinchu Science Park and the Ten Major Construction Projects – how did our country become this way? Our industriousness, our kindheartedness, our diligence, our simple goodness? The rest of the world looks at Taiwan and sees fraudsters and drugs. How do we explain this? … There are now three living ex-presidents, President Lee, President Chen, and President Ma. You were president for over twenty years. What industry did you leave behind for Taiwan? The only industry Taiwan has is in the Hsinchu Science Park!”

–Han, Apr 28, 2017, KMT party chair election policy forum

 

Han Kuo-yu entered the national political fray in 2017 by running for KMT party chair. He was a relative unknown, a former relatively undistinguished legislator who had been out of national politics for fifteen years. At the first policy forum, Han presented himself in clear populist terms. After talking about how prosperous and hopeful the ROC had been when he was young in the 1980s, he talked about how it had stagnated over the past thirty years. The quote above lays down the gauntlet in distinctly moral terms. The people are morally pure, but the country has been corrupted. Presidents Lee, Chen, and Ma have not worked to help the people. That is, the people have been betrayed by the elite. Han implies that moral leaders standing on the people’s side would have created several additional vibrant economic sectors, since that was obviously what Taiwan’s people need.

Han pointedly did not exclude Ma from his list of corrupt elites. The KMT also had a cabal of corrupt elites who have betrayed the people. The people’s interests are not, in Han’s discourse, equal to the KMT’s interests. In fact, Han later states that, as chair, if any DPP mayor did a good job, he would not nominate a KMT candidate to contest the seat and would instead let the good mayor have another term. Here, Han is establishing that he, not the KMT as a collective, will decide who is part of the real people.

 

When he entered the Kaohsiung mayoral race, Han usually told a similar story. Once upon a time, Kaohsiung had been prosperous and vibrant. Kaohsiung had the highest proportion of Mercedes in all of Taiwan, and a bowl of particularly extravagant eel-larvae soup sold for tens of thousands of NT. Kaohsiung had abundant resources hard-working, honest people. Kaohsiung should rightfully be the most prosperous place in Taiwan. However, now many people had to move north for economic reasons, and the city was choking under heavy public debt. The honest people of Kaohsiung, out of gratitude for their contributions to democratization, had given the DPP power for 20 years in Kaohsiung City and 32 years in Kaohsiung County, and the DPP had done nothing for them in return.

Han did not usually directly accuse the DPP government of corruption. On the stump, he sometimes referred to Kaohsiung as a sleeping giant, implying that the DPP governments had simply neglected the people’s needs rather than actively undercutting them. However, corruption was a constant undercurrent in the wider political discourse. By the end of the campaign, there was a constant stream of people murmuring about all the corruption cases that must have piled up during the twenty years of DPP government in Kaohsiung.

According to Han, the good people of Kaohsiung just wanted better daily lives 過好日子. He often stated that Taipei could have all the politics; Kaohsiung just wanted to focus on economics. The prescription was fairly simple: the government should help the people sell their goods to the rest of the world, and Kaohsiung would naturally become a magnet for people everywhere else. Goods go out, people come in 貨出去,人進來. Han even turned his unfamiliarity with Kaohsiung into an advantage. As an outsider, Han did not have intricate local knowledge. No matter. Han packaged himself as a CEO mayor, who would put good people in place and allow them to do what needed to be done. The specific policies were not important; what was important was having leadership dedicated to helping the people (instead of themselves).

How did the DPP react to Han’s message of working for the people? With dirty tricks and mudslinging! In Han’s rhetoric, the DPP campaign was not based on ideas at all. Rather, in order to continue to enjoy their power, they used underhanded and crooked methods to try to delegitimize him. He wanted a clean campaign, but his opponents only knew how to use dirty tricks.

 

 

In this year’s presidential election, Han’s populist rhetoric has been even clearer. He tells the same basic story. Everything was once good, but now it is bad. However, this year his attack on the DPP government is much sharper. Instead of merely insinuating corruption or neglect, he explicitly accuses the Tsai government of corruptly betraying the people.

Here is Han at a rally in Hsinchu County on Dec 7. “The DPP government doesn’t care about the people at all. It’s true. A small cabal of people – among 23 million people, there is a small cabal of people leading the DPP – is full of corruption and rot. They feast and feast. The factions divide the spoils among themselves. When the factions finish dividing the spoils, their underlings divide up their share, and then their underlings take a cut. As long as you are a DPP elite, it doesn’t matter what birth status or background you have, as long as you are one of their people. It doesn’t matter if you have murdered someone, committed arson, or embezzled money, it doesn’t matter. They’ll give you a powerful position all the same. They set these people free on us to engage in corruption, to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Taiwanese people. Now, after three and a half years, all of Taiwan is sick.

The Han campaign’s focus on the Yang Hui-ju楊蕙如  case fills an important hole in this narrative. The corrupt DPP elite systematically divert government resources toward perpetuating their power. In this case, the KMT charges that the DPP used government resources to fund internet soldiers to attack their political enemies online. Here is a concrete case of how the corrupt DPP elite are stealing the people’s money and using it for their own purposes. No wonder Taiwan is stagnating!

This year, Han has also expanded on his notion of the real people. He has given them a label, shumin (庶民, commoners). In his mayoral campaign, Han often expressed his belonging to this group by talking about how he only needed a bottle of water and a bowl of braised pork on rice (一瓶礦泉水,一碗滷肉飯). Perhaps more importantly, he defined them with another memorable phrase, “Never forget that the world is full of people living bitter lives” (莫忘世上苦人多). The shumin are the people who live, or worry about living, bitter lives. In 2018 and 2019, lots of people can identify with the notion of bitterness, including people angry at the new labor laws, civil servants who have seen their pensions cut, people relying on Chinese tourists, people who think their electricity bill is too high, people who want to drink bubble tea with a disposable straw, people who don’t want to replace their old (polluting) scooter, people who have to breathe dirty air, and people who just think that things should be better. It is worth emphasizing that a lot of people who worry about bitterness, such as retired civil servants, are not poor or marginalized. Even more pointedly, some people worry about the bitterness of being cut off from government patronage flows. The DPP reforms (and rumored future reforms) of the irrigation associations and farmers associations, along with the huge Forward-Looking Infrastructure Package threatened to reroute government patronage projects from one set of people to an entirely different set of people. Being thrown off the gravy train would indeed be bitter. This definition of shumin as people who suffer or fear bitterness feeds back into his notion that that what the shumin want is simply to have better daily lives.

Han has talked about his love for the ROC quite a lot in this year’s presidential campaign than during last year’s mayoral campaign. However, even last year, Han’s most passionate supporters were decked out from head to toe in ROC flag imagery; ROC nationalism has always been a core element of his appeal. How did he communicate this without explicitly talking about it? I think the most powerful message comes from his nostalgia of the CCK era, which he interprets as an era of peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity (as opposed to the contentious era of authoritarian suppression and a frothy bubble economy that others might see). In that era, the virtuous leader implemented good policies for the people that he loved, and the people enjoyed good daily lives. There was only one permissible will of the people – the one prescribed by the regime in which everyone loved the ROC – so nostalgic people like Han could remember that era as having a homogenous, singular general will. This golden era is especially seductive to mainlanders, who enjoyed a privileged status, which was even better since they did not have to acknowledge their privilege. During the CCK era, people were able to concentrate on getting rich, and they did not have to worry about politics. Everything started to go downhill once the Lee Teng-hui presidency started. The population began questioning the ROC, respect for the former privileged classes diminished, the economy slowed down, the newspapers started reporting stories about corruption, and the formerly unified society became divided into perpetually fighting political parties. No wonder people who love the old ROC, the one that existed prior to democratization, flock to Han.

Han has, of course, embraced KMT positions on how to manage relations with China. He is a strong supporter of the 1992 Consensus. However, he comes at it from a slightly different angle than President Ma. Han’s imperative is to do what is best for the shumin so that they can have better daily lives. If what the country needs is to open more markets so that people can sell their goods to the world, he will do whatever it takes to make that happen. China is an important market, so naturally he will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Taiwanese businesses have access to that market. In every election, Taiwan always has a few candidates promising to put ideology aside and focus exclusively on economics. What they almost always mean is that they will accept One China, but they don’t want to talk about that with the public. Han is close to this. He will tell you that he wants the 1992 Consensus, but he doesn’t want to talk about the political implications of this decision. In his rhetoric, it is simply a tool to maintain peace and open markets.

 

Unsuccessful and successful attacks on Han’s populism

 

During last year’s mayoral election, Chen Chi-mai, the DPP candidate, chose to largely eschew negative personal attacks on Han. Since Chen was an overwhelming favorite to win the election in deep green Kaohsiung, he might have assumed that he could rely on a positive message to consolidate the green side and not worry at all about what Han was doing.

Chen’s main attack on Han was policy-based. Chen charged that Han didn’t know enough about the details of Kaohsiung politics to be an effective mayor. This attack played right into Han’s populist rhetoric.

In the first mayoral debate, Chen tried to expose Han’s unfamiliarity by asking him how he would renovate two fishing harbors. Han replied that he didn’t need to know those details, just as he didn’t need to know how many fire hydrants there were in the city. As the mayor, he could simply direct a bureaucrat to devise an appropriate plan to renovate the fishing harbors.

Populists don’t feel any need to struggle with the details of plans. Let me use an anecdote from Hungary, where Viktor Orban refused to participate in a policy debate, explaining,

“No policy-specific debates are needed now, the alternatives in front of us are obvious […] I am sure you have seen what happens when a tree falls over a road and many people gather around it. Here you always have two kinds of people. Those who have great ideas how to remove the tree, and share with others their wonderful theories, and give advice. Others simply realize that the best is to start pulling the tree from the road…. [W]e need to understand that for rebuilding the economy it is not theories that are needed but rather thirty robust lads who start working to implement what we all know needs to be done.” (quoted in Mueller 2016, 26).

Han likewise wasn’t interested in policy debates. He would simply order bureaucrats to start doing the obvious things necessary for revitalizing the fishing harbors.

Near the end of the election, KMT chair Wu Den-yi insulted former Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu, likening her to a “fat sow.” The DPP collectively recoiled in indignation and spent several days defending her honor against this insult. Han even admitted that Wu had stepped over a line. However, bringing Chen Chu into the center of the election was probably advantageous for Han. After all, he was effectively running against her. Far from being a popular incumbent and an asset to Chen Chi-mai’s campaign, Han had recast Chen Chu as a corrupt, ambitious politician who had first neglected the people and then abandoned them as soon as possible in order to take a better position in the central government. She was the personification of the corrupt elite holding back the morally pure people. Unless the Chen Chi-mai team could first undo that reimagination of Chen Chu, it probably didn’t help them to have her squarely in the public eye in the days right before voting.

Chen Chi-mai tried to introduce sovereignty questions into the campaign. Since the Kaohsiung electorate is historically more green than blue, it made sense to try to pull the campaign back to traditional battle lines. Chen thus complained that all of Han’s schemes to strengthen the economy were based on tapping into the China market. This line of attack doesn’t seem to have had much effect, probably because Han was running for a position in local government. As mayor, he simply did not pose much of a threat to national sovereignty since the (DPP) national government would still set the limits for what was and was not permissible. While he openly supported the 1992 Consensus, ECFA, and Free Trade Zones, he wouldn’t be able to unilaterally implement any of those. His promise was merely to go as far as possible within those limits, something that other local governments around Taiwan were already doing. Sovereignty might have altered the outcome, but Chen never found an effective way to introduce it into the election.

 

After seeming so bulletproof last year, why has Han seemed so vulnerable this year? I see three big answers.

First, sovereignty has been effectively introduced into the equation. This was probably inevitable, since how Taiwan relates to China is almost always the biggest and most important question facing Taiwan. If anything, we should marvel at how Han was so effective at keeping this question on the sideline last year. Xi Jinping’s bluster and the protests in Hong Kong have thrust China to the center of political discourse, and this has pulled the lines of partisan battle back toward established patterns (which now favor the DPP). If it hadn’t been Hong Kong, it almost certainly would have been something else. Regardless, Han’s populist wave has crashed against the solid rocks of Taiwan’s robust party politics.

Han aided this process with a couple of own-goals. First, in a trip to Hong Kong in March, he unexpectedly visited the Hong Kong Liaison Office, the unit in charge of overseeing One Country, Two Systems for Beijing in Hong Kong. Second, when the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong began, he refused to criticize the government, first saying he hadn’t paid any attention and then saying that he hoped stability could be restored. Both of these actions were highly controversial, and they probably cost him quite a bit of support. From a populist perspective, both actions were defensible. Han had defined the real people as only caring about their daily lives. That is, in his conception, shumin don’t care much about political questions such as sovereignty, human rights, or democracy. He was, as promised, doing whatever was necessary to keep the China market open. However, shumin are not actually a monolithic, homogenous block with a single general will. Different people have different values and want different things. Some of his erstwhile supporters cared quite a bit about sovereignty, human rights, and democracy. When those values came into conflict with supporting Han, many of his erstwhile supporters decided that they no longer wanted to be part of Han’s shumin.

Second, Han has not performed well as mayor; he has not taken good care of the shumin. Han came into office with the populist promise that he would do the things necessary to help the people. It hasn’t gone well. Han has been accused of laziness and ineptitude. He is said to sleep until noon and enjoy drinking a bit too much. He has also had a few high-profile failures, particularly in dealing with the Dengue fever outbreak. The accusation wasn’t merely that Dengue fever had hit Kaohsiung, but, more importantly, that Han had failed to act energetically to control it. The city asked for extra budget from the central government to do things like spraying and draining standing water, and the premier responded that the city had not yet even finished using the normal budget for these things. In contrast to Han’s poor record, President Tsai has had a year full of policy triumphs. She has secured a purchase of F-16 fighter jets, the economy is growing faster, swine flu has been kept out of Taiwan, spending on social welfare programs is up, taxes are down, the budget is balanced, infrastructure is being built, and new energy sources are coming on line. At the recent presidential policy forum, after talking about all her achievements, Tsai could tell Han that she was the one who was actually doing things to help shumin, while Han was merely “consuming” them (ie: paying lip service to them and cynically using them for his own purposes).

Third, the DPP has successfully attacked Han as being a fake shumin. Populists don’t always have to be like normal people. Donald Trump’s supporters do not mind that he is a billionaire and they are not. As long as he speaks and works for them, it does not matter that he is decidedly not like them. However, Han has always presented himself as actually being a shumin. His “bottle of mineral water” embodies his normality. At a recent rally, I heard the slogan 庶民選總統,總統選庶民 (shumin choose a president; for president, choose a shumin). He is not merely like them; he is actually one of them.

The DPP has attacked Han’s shumin credentials in two ways. First, they relentlessly attacked Han for breaking his promise to serve a full term as mayor in Kaohsiung. Remember, Han pointed to Chen Chu’s departure from Kaohsiung as evidence of her corruption. She cared more about power than people, so she cynically abandoned the people to pursue more power. She was obviously part of the corrupt cabal and not part of the shumin. This helps to explain why so many former Han supporters felt so betrayed when he agreed to seek the KMT’s nomination for president. He was doing the very thing that he had identified as proof of corruption.

In early November, Han came under an even more direct attack. Reporters uncovered his history of real estate transactions and found that he had bought and sold luxury housing in Taipei. There was an insinuation that he had used political influence to secure financing for the deal. His opponents questioned whether a property speculator who depended on political connections was really a shumin or whether he was actually merely an ordinary corrupt politician.

 

Conclusion

 

Han Kuo-yu’s meteoric career over the past year and a half makes much more sense if we view it through the framework of populism. Han frames politics as a moral choice between himself, the representative of the shumin, and a corrupt elite who control the DPP and sap the country of its vitality. This framework focuses our attention on crucial points, such as his rhetoric around corruption and his seemingly cavalier attitude toward public policy, while instructing us to ignore other aspects that may seem central but are actually secondary, such as his attacks on Filipina workers. It also helps explain why some attack against him have been effective while others have failed miserably.

There are still lots of questions to be answered. Perhaps most pertinently, since populist rhetoric is always present, why did it suddenly start to work in 2018? Why didn’t it work in 1994 or 2009? If you know the answer, the entire world wants to know. By clearly defining what populism is, at least we have a more tractable question.

If Han loses the presidential election, we probably should not take that as proof that populism is unsustainable in Taiwan. Taiwan’s robust party system, constructed on top of a single, dominant, enduring political cleavage, has worked against populism in this case. However, we should not be overconfident that a populist couldn’t take over the DPP and ride its structural advantages to electoral victory. It isn’t hard to imagine a DPP populist constructing “the real people” as everyone who believes in Taiwan nationalism and moving to systematically marginalize everyone else. The best defense against populism is not to merely defeat one populist one time. Rather, fighting populism requires a renewed commitment to pluralism, insisting that it is perfectly normal and legitimate that different people have different values and different goals, that people who disagree with you are not necessarily corrupt or immoral.

types of voters

June 6, 2019

Like many people, I was shocked by the 2018 election. I did not expect such a ferocious anti-DPP wave, and I had no idea what to make of the Han Kuo-yu phenomenon. I was planning to conduct an internet survey for one of my research projects (on an unrelated matter), and I thought I might use it to learn something about the state of the electorate.

THIS IS NOT A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE OF TAIWAN’S ELECTORATE. In fact, my sample is very different from Taiwan’s electorate. It is useless to look for anything more specific than very big and crude trends. I will say things such as, “there is a very large group that …” and “there is a small but noticeable group that…” Don’t worry about exactly how big each group is; it isn’t that size in the overall electorate. The goal here is to look for groups of people who don’t follow the traditional party lines. If we can identify big, broad groups of voters who don’t follow the standard voting patterns, maybe we will get some insight into what happened last year – and what may happen next January.

At the end of an already lengthy questionnaire, I added eleven more questions. The first four were about the major political parties, and the other seven were about specific politicians. Each one was of the same format, “How much do you like XXX? On a scale of zero to ten, where zero means you dislike it very much and ten means you like it very much, how many points would you give XXX?” In a telephone or face-to-face survey, we typically allow respondents to refuse to answer or to say they don’t know. However, in internet surveys we are paying respondents, and we don’t let them more on to the next page until they give an answer. As a result, all 1000 of my respondents gave a valid answer to each of the eleven questions.

Before I show you any results, let me tell you a bit about how my sample is biased. Over three-fourths of my sample has at a university or higher education, and almost no one has a junior high or less. You should probably think of this as a non-representative sample of highly educated people rather than a non-representative sample of all Taiwanese. There are too many people aged 30-49, and not enough aged under 29 or over 60. There are too many public employees, white collar executives, and office clerks, and not enough blue collar laborers, farmers, student, or homemakers. Politically, the deviations from society’s mean are smaller. There are slightly too many mainlanders and people who identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese. However, on the question of Taiwan’s future status, there are not enough people who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely but too many who want to move toward eventual independence. About one-third of my sample identifies with a green camp party, one-third with a blue camp party, and one-third expresses no party identification or identifies with an unaligned party. Demographically, this sample is extremely different from the overall population; politically it is reasonably close. The survey was conducted in mid-April.

I asked how much respondents liked eleven parties and individuals. We finalized the questionnaire before Terry Gou announced his candidacy, so he is not included. Here are overall average scores for each party or person.

name name mean Stand. Dev.
KMT 國民黨 3.68 2.70
DPP 民進黨 3.56 2.59
NPP 時代力量 3.87 2.78
PFP 親民黨 2.84 2.11
Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 3.97 3.12
Lai Ching-teh 賴清德 3.99 2.80
Wu Den-yi 吳敦義 2.25 2.24
Chu Li-lun 朱立倫 3.61 2.57
Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 5.13 2.88
Han Kuo-yu 韓國瑜 4.46 3.53
Wang Jin-pyng 王金平 3.31 2.33

Educated Taiwanese are a pretty skeptical bunch. The only one of the eleven to break 5.00 is Ko Wen-je, and he barely manages it. Han Kuo-yu comes in second at 4.46, and the two DPP presidential aspirants are both a hair under 4.00. The leading candidates are all more liked than their parties. Anyway, these overall scores are not that useful with a non-representative sample.

I took these eleven variables and put them into a hierarchical cluster model. Cluster models calculate the distance between each case and group more similar cases together. When running the model, you specify how many groups you want. I looked at as few as four groups and as many as 25. From 11 to 25 clusters, there were five big groups and the rest of the clusters had only one to eight cases. It was pretty obvious that I was interested in those five big groups. I used the results from 11 clusters. The five big clusters held all but 17 of the cases, and I manually recoded those other six clusters into what looked to me like the best fit. This left five big groups.

1

Solid

blue

2

Alienated

 

3

Battleground

 

4

Anti-Est.

Parties

5

Solid

green

Cases 221 86 284 71 338
KMT 6.05 3.03 5.39 1.77 1.26
Wu 3.81 .94 3.71 .38 .74
Chu 5.37 2.17 5.33 1.76 1.77
Han 8.43 3.23 6.04 4.18 .92
Wang 2.97 .94 4.77 2.76 3.02
PFP 2.85 1.60 4.13 1.80 2.28
Ko 4.00 2.00 5.99 7.73 5.40
NPP .81 1.58 4.06 5.18 6.01
DPP .83 1.71 4.25 1.32 5.70
Tsai .48 1.31 4.16 2.54 7.06
Lai 1.04 1.53 4.77 2.51 6.21

My old statistics teacher used to say that the hardest part of running a cluster analysis is not doing any of the statistical work. The crucial step is naming the clusters so that you capture the essence of each group.

Cluster 1 and cluster 5 are pretty straightforward. Cluster 1 is Solid Blue. This group of respondents likes the KMT, Chu, and Han, and it dislikes the DPP, the NPP, and all of the DPP candidates. It doesn’t hate Ko, but it clearly prefers Han and Chu to him. Pay special attention to Han; this group absolutely adores (8.43) Han. This group does not like Wang, so I think of this group as having fairly orthodox KMT preferences.

Cluster 5 is Solid Green. This is the biggest single group. It clearly prefers all the green options to all the blue options. Predictably, among the blue options, it dislikes Wang the least. However, Wang isn’t likely to get any votes from this group. Among the two DPP candidates, there is a slight preference for Tsai. Notably, Ko is relatively well-liked in this group, and he will probably siphon a few votes away.

There are three large groups and two small groups. The third large group is cluster 3, which I have labeled the “battleground.” This group doesn’t really adore or despise anyone, and it generally likes the blue options a little more than the green options. This group likes Han, but it is much less passionate about him than the Solid Blue group. In fact, unlike cluster 1, this group likes Wang quite a lot; it is easily his best group.  Ko is basically tied with Han. I think of this as the amorphous middle in Taiwan politics that isn’t rooted to any particular party or ideology. In the current atmosphere they lean a bit more blue than green, but I suspect they leaned slightly to the green side in 2016. Everyone will pull some votes from this group. If this group does end up voting mostly blue, that will tilt the overall balance toward the blue camp.  Alternatively, this might end up being the biggest source of votes for Ko.

Clusters 2 and 4 are significantly smaller than the first three. Cluster 2 is disillusioned with politics. It doesn’t like anyone or anything. The only two options it doesn’t absolutely hate are the KMT and Han, and even they barely break 3.00. I suspect a lot of this group won’t bother to vote, and some who do will cast protest votes.  Of those who do cast useful votes, most will probably vote for the KMT candidate, assuming it isn’t Wang or Wu.

Cluster 4 is the anti-establishment party group. These voters dislike the two big parties. However, they are not totally alienated. They like the NPP, and they love Ko (7.73). However, you should not think of this group as green camp voters. If Ko doesn’t run, their next option is Han. Apparently, this group likes political outsiders.

With these five groups, you can start to see the outlines of what happened in 2018. We might imagine that in 2016 most of group 3 voted for Tsai (and DPP district legislative candidates). Group 4 was probably much smaller or much more similar to group 5 back in 2016. In 2018, however, group 4 probably did not turn out for the DPP. They may have stayed home, or they may have voted for third party candidates. In Kaohsiung, they probably voted for the outsider, Han. Even more devastating, the DPP lost group 3, the enormous battleground group. This group doesn’t strongly prefer the KMT to the DPP, but a vote is a vote. The good news for the DPP is that this group won’t automatically vote for the KMT in 2020. It might be able to do better in 2020, and Ko will siphon away large numbers of voters who would otherwise vote for the KMT.

The Han phenomenon is interesting. Han has figured out how to simultaneously appeal to three very different groups. The orthodox KMT people in group 1 absolutely love him, so he must speak KMT gospel fluently. The people in the battleground group 3 like him, so he must be able to speak to the broad non-ideological masses in that group. And group 4 is willing to consider him since he has figured out how to make anti-establishment appeals. The strange thing is that he can do these three things simultaneously. If he is the KMT nominee, the DPP strategy should be to paint him into the first box. That is, they should hammer home that he is just another orthodox KMT figure; he really isn’t the representative of the common people, much less the protest candidate. Unfortunately for them, Ko might be the primary beneficiary of such a strategy.

Ko is surprisingly strong across all categories, with the exception of the (small) group 2. In this sample, it looks not only like Ko is well-positioned to win first preferences, it also looks like he is ready to scoop up strategic voters if either the KMT or DPP attacks against each other succeed. However, keep in mind that this sample probably overestimates Ko’s support, since it doesn’t include low-educated voters. Without organizational muscle, Ko will have a hard time with that demographic. Still, you can see from this breakdown of educated voters why Ko thinks he has a good chance to win.

There isn’t much difference between Tsai and Lai in this analysis. They look pretty much the same in all five groups. I tried looking for the Lai primary voters who supposedly are fueling his challenge to Tsai. I looked for people who preferred Lai by at least three points over Tsai and also gave Lai at least a six. I found 48 such respondents. However, by the same standards, I found 84 people who preferred Tsai to Lai. I simply couldn’t find a large group of deep greens who supposedly are fed up with Tsai but love Lai. I’m sure they exist at the elite level, but they might be louder than they are numerous.

At any rate, both Tsai and Lai have a clear claim on group 5. Group 5 is big, but it probably isn’t big enough to win, even in a three-way race. The problem is that they don’t have any other good groups. They will win a few votes in group 3, but both the KMT and Ko are more popular there. Ko will eviscerate them in group 4. Other than mobilizing group 5, their best bet is try to squeeze a few more votes out of group 3. Lai might be better positioned to do this than Tsai, but either will find this a difficult task.

There seems to be a consensus in the punditry that the DPP is better off if Ko does not run. I am not so sure about this. Most of the votes that Ko wins in groups 3 and 4 would otherwise go to the KMT. It might be better for the DPP if Ko runs and siphons away those votes. Of course, the pundits seem to be assuming that if Ko doesn’t run, he will endorse the DPP candidate. I don’t know why they would make this assumption after the bitter 2018 campaign. Nevertheless, if he does endorse Tsai and campaign hard for her (it seems nearly impossible to me that he would enthusiastically endorse Lai), it is possible that she could win over a large chunk of group 3. Ko’s influence would be most critical for group 4, where he might be the key to swinging that significant voting block to her. However, I suspect that Ko would rather be the king than the kingmaker.

 

 

 

 

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…