Archive for the ‘by-elections’ Category

The Recall: Is 48,693 a lot?

December 20, 2017

As readers of this blog likely already know, the recall vote for NPP legislator Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌 was held last Saturday. The measure failed, and I keep reminding myself that the top-line result is important in and of itself. Because it failed, Huang probably won’t run for mayor (or if he does, he’ll drop out as soon as he extracts a few concessions from the DPP) and marriage equality won’t suddenly be recast as a toxic issue. Also, Huang will continue to be a legislator, which some people might see as kinda important.

Nevertheless, the top line result isn’t everything. 48,693 people cast votes to recall Huang, while 21,748 cast votes to oppose recalling him. I keep asking myself, are those numbers big or small? To be honest, I’m not really sure.

Maybe a good place to start is by examining the election night reactions. As the vote-counting wound down and the result became clear, the leader of the recall effort and Huang both gave interviews to the TV cameras. Huang spoke like he had been shocked and disappointed. He was contrite and promised to listen to the message that voters had sent. He did not act like a victor. However, Sun Chi-cheng 孫繼正, the leader of the recall effort, didn’t seem that much happier. His body language and mannerisms also struck me as coming from someone who was deeply disappointed with the result. He repeatedly pointed to the cold and rainy weather as an important factor in depressing turnout.* What was most interesting to me was that he never mentioned marriage in his remarks. From his voting night comments, you would have thought that the whole recall was an intellectual exercise in establishing the right of social movements to exercise oversight over elected officials. He made no attempt to claim a popular mandate against marriage equality, even though that was the driving force behind the recall effort. For that matter, Huang did not mention marriage either. To me, this omission suggests that both sides expected to do better and did not want to tarnish their cause by linking it with a poor election result. For what it’s worth, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je also cast shade on the results, implying that Huang had not done very well.

(* The fragile citizens in the rest of the country might be persuaded by the weather argument. As a next-door neighbor of New Taipei 12, I’m not so impressed. It rains all the time in this area. If people stayed indoors every time it rains here, no one would ever go to the market and we’d all starve.)

So the recall side probably expected more than 48,000 yes votes. I’m not sure if Huang and the NPP were more surprised by how many people cast yes votes or how few people cast no votes. It seems clear to me that they were disappointed with at least one of those numbers. Again, I have to ask, should they have been disappointed? Are 48,000 and 21,000 more or less than we should have expected?

One thing to remember is that the main actors in this recall might not have had realistic expectations about how easy or hard it is to produce votes. The NPP is a brand-new party, and unlike the previous three significant small parties (New Party, People First Party, and Taiwan Solidarity Union), the New Power Party is not a splinter party. It isn’t composed of several established politicians with years of electoral experience. NPP members have fought exactly one campaign. In 2016, they won a lot of party votes, but those didn’t really require a lot of grassroots organization and most voters were already turning out to vote for the president. The three district legislators who won, including Huang Kuo-chang, probably overestimated their own efforts (as most people do) and underestimated how much support they “borrowed” from the DPP. The recall election is arguably much more like the 2018 city council elections will be, in which the NPP has to mobilize voters to support it, not simply rely on an alliance with the DPP. The point is, the NPP has yet to contest one of those elections, and they might not yet realize how hard elections are. (Go back and check the optimistic expectations and dismal record of the NP, PFP, and TSU in local elections. Ick.) And if the NPP perhaps had unrealistic expectations, the recall organizers were probably even worse. The Stability Power Alliance 安定力量 is a social group with conservative Christian churches at its core. Its members have even less electoral experience than the NPP. Moreover, social movements always overestimate their support in society and think that their support can translate directly into votes. In short, both sides were disappointed, but I suspect both sides had somewhat unreasonable expectations. I have not made any headway at all in answering my question: Should I be impressed with 48,000 yes votes?


Let’s turn to the electoral record. Unfortunately, this was the first recall vote under the new rules, so there isn’t any recall election history to look to.

(There was a recall vote against Alex Tsai 蔡正元 in February 2015, but that that was under a different set of rules in a highly charged atmosphere and there was no chance that the recall would pass because it needed 50% turnout. I’ll come back to this recall below, but let’s just ignore that vote for the time being.)

I think the closest thing to this recall vote is a legislative by-election. By-elections typically get modest news coverage, as did this recall election. If you think of the partisan vote in a general election as full turnout, both sides typically have enough potential votes to win in a by-election. The problem is turning all those votes out. Even for professional politicians who have dedicated their careers to building connections in society, mobilization is hard. In these elections, rather than looking at the share of valid votes, it is perhaps more illuminating to look at the share major candidates get of the eligible voters. There have been nineteen by-elections since the 2008 election. I’m going to ignore the 2009 Nantou 1 by-election since that was held on the same day as the county magistrate general election and had a turnout of 66.3%, far out of line with the eighteen other by-elections. There are 37 major party candidates in the other eighteen by-elections. (In 2009 Miaoli 1, the DPP did not run a candidate and instead cooperated with the eventual winner, independent Kang Shi-ju 康世儒.) These 37 major party candidates won an average of 18.0% of eligible voters. I think that is a pretty good baseline for how much we might expect a competent partisan campaign to turn out.

By-election eligible KMT% DPP% turnout
2010 Taoyuan 3 233116 0.183 0.195 0.414
2010 Taoyuan 2 241609 0.153 0.222 0.384
2010 Hsinchu Cnty 358854 0.157 0.200 0.360
2015 Miaoli 2 231684 0.203 0.142 0.351
2009 Miaoli 1 253375 0.158 0.327
2010 Taichung 3 257460 0.201 0.246 0.451
2015 Changhua 4 259816 0.134 0.200 0.376
2015 Nantou 2 205390 0.188 0.170 0.371
2009 Nantou 1 (185818) (0.355) (0.287) (0.663)
2009 Yunlin 2 279854 0.105 0.265 0.456
2010 Chiayi 2 221816 0.122 0.259 0.384
2015 Pingtung 3 202129 0.102 0.213 0.324
2010 Taitung 119762 0.177 0.194 0.394
2010 Hualien 197426 0.199 0.168 0.416
2009 Taipei 6 241498 0.191 0.151 0.391
2015 Taichung 6 255203 0.129 0.177 0.308
2013 Taichung 2 275086 0.242 0.237 0.489
2011 Tainan 4 291588 0.105 0.168 0.276
2011 Kaohsiung 4 228805 0.102 0.235 0.340
Ave: 18 elections 0.158 0.202 0.378
Ave: 37 cands


The recall vote against Huang did a hair better than this baseline. The 48,693 yes votes represent 19.1% of all eligible voters in New Taipei 12. That is mildly impressive.

Of course, we now have to ask whether it is reasonable to compare a partisan election with a recall vote. The argument for doing so is that, while the social group was the public face of the recall, we might suspect that the actual muscle behind it was old-fashioned partisanship. There were two KMT city councilors salivating at the prospect of taking Huang’s place in the legislature, and KMT deputy chair Hau Lung-pin campaigned on behalf of the recall. I am reminded of a chat I had with a second-generation KMT politician back in the 1990s, who told me that his father told him to run his first campaign his own way, with lots of idealistic young people putting out lots of policy papers. Then, in the last week, Dad mobilized his own network, bought a ton of votes, and won the election the old-fashioned way. In a similar way, the Christian activists may have just been window dressing distracting us from the low-profile professionals who actually turned out the voters. If this is what happened, then this recall election is a big yawn. In a swing district like New Taipei 12, we should have expected the KMT pro-recall side to produce about 46,000 votes, and they did.


What about the 21,000 no votes? Is that a lot? Let’s remember that there was a lot less motivation to vote no than yes. Most observers expected the recall to fail because the yes side would not reach the 25% threshold, and that is what happened. The no votes did not really affect the outcome. Voting no was more of an expression of support for Huang than a mechanism to determine his fate. Lots of mild supporters may have decided to just sit this one out. Therefore, we shouldn’t really be surprised that there were fewer no votes than yes votes.

I suggested above that this recall vote may have just been a partisan vote in disguise. If that is correct, Huang was probably missing a lot of his 2016 coalition. Let’s not forget that Huang is a NPP member, not a DPP member. The NPP has been vocally and publicly drawing lines between itself and the DPP in recent weeks over the Labor Standards Law, and quite a few DPP politicians and supporters probably aren’t feeling as supportive of Huang and the NPP today as they were 22 months ago. One of the two DPP city councilors (Shen Fa-hui) asked his followers to vote no, but I have no idea if that plea was matched by active efforts. If Huang loses his seat, the two city councilors are first in line, and they will presumably want support from Huang’s sympathizers.

I don’t have a standard to judge the 21,000 no votes. I wouldn’t expect a regular by-election turnout for the no side, and Huang probably didn’t have a “full” partisan effort supporting him. Maybe in the future after a few more recall votes, we will be able to look back and see that this result was fantastic or dismal. Right now, I just don’t know.


I guess my tentative conclusion is that this election was … about normal??


Assuming that by-elections are at all useful in thinking about recalls, can we see any indicators that will tell us about future recalls?

This recall did not come close to passing. The yes side needed 25% of eligible voters, but it only got 19.1%. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future. Of the 37 major party candidates, two have actually broken the 25% barrier. Both were DPP candidates running in deep green districts (Chiayi County 2 and Yunlin 2), and both got over twice as many votes as their opponents. So if a candidate won a three-way race in the other side’s territory, that might be a prime candidate for a recall vote. There aren’t any really obvious examples right now, but in 2012 Chen Shui-bian’s son ran against the DPP incumbent in Kaohsiung 9 and threw the district to the KMT. Under the current law, that KMT legislator would have to worry about a recall.

There are several other candidates who came very close to 25%, including some in competitive races. In Taichung 2 in 2013, Yen Ching-piao’s son (who probably has a name) and the DPP candidate both broke 23%. In 2010 in Taichung 3 (now Taichung 7), both candidates broke 20%. 25% is hard, but it isn’t impossible, even in a competitive district. The more the district leans to one side or the other, the easier it becomes for the dominant side to recall a “mismatched” legislator.

Oh, and remember that recall against Alex Tsai in 2015? 76,737 people voted yes, accounting for 24.2% of eligible voters. Against that figure, the 19.1% voting to recall Huang doesn’t seem so impressive. I think the difference in the two results probably has more to do with the supercharged political atmosphere in early 2015 than the individual candidates, but Tsai is nonetheless one of the few legislators who I consider to be more controversial and disliked by the other side than Huang. Under the current rules, the recall would have needed 79,359 yes votes to pass. I’m fairly sure if they could have gotten the extra 3,000 votes if recall had been a realistic possibility. (In fact, the people who rewrote the recall law might have been thinking along these same exact lines.) However, that doesn’t mean that Tsai or Huang should have been recalled. Tsai was elected as a KMT legislator (with 111,260 votes) and did a lot of KMT things. The district was so furious with him that they … elected another KMT legislator in 2016. Would it really have been appropriate for 80,000 unhappy voters to overturn the decision of 111,260 voters? I don’t have any evidence, but I’m betting that almost all of the 76,359 people who voted to recall Tsai were among the 78,097 people who voted for the DPP candidate or the 39,593 people who voted for the PFP candidate in 2012. They couldn’t coordinate to support one candidate and defeat Tsai in 2012, and when they did cooperate in 2016 they still couldn’t defeat the KMT candidate. It might be easier to agree on who they didn’t want, but eventually the voters have to choose someone as a representative. The recall is seductive as an easy way to get a negative result (removing someone you don’t like), but it doesn’t solve the problem of producing a positive result (agreeing on someone to put in office).

The recall is clearly a mechanism with the potential to be used and abused. Even beyond the potential to remove a legislator, recall can severely damage an incumbent. They have to divert energy away from their normal activities to deal with the harassment, and the result will almost always look bad to most observers. In Huang’s case, the recall may have damaged him by focusing attention on his (supposed) neglect of constituency service, especially in the more outlying areas. It almost certainly makes his 2020 re-election campaign harder. Remember, the post-sunflower recall efforts targeted four legislators. All of them failed, but none of the four legislators was re-elected in 2016. I suspect Huang might be the fifth to survive a recall only to find that he sustained a severe wound.


Who is next? This depends on how the major parties react. As of now, all the recalls have been spearheaded by a social group, and the major parties have (quietly) lent background support. It might be necessary to have some idealistic social movement take the lead. If that is the case, they might not pick their targets so strategically. For example, if the social group’s members are mostly in Taipei, they might have to pick a Taipei legislator even if there is a better target in Chiayi. If the two major parties decide to weaponize the recall mechanism and go after each other’s weaker members, they should target based strictly on vulnerability. We’ll see how this unfolds. Right now, there aren’t a lot of obvious mismatches between the legislator and the district, so I’d expect the two big parties to stay in the shadows. Anyway, here are a few people that could be on a watch list.


  1. Taipei 5, Freddy Lim 林昶佐 (NPP). Freddy is far and away the most obvious target. There is already a social group ready to go, and they have already practiced once. Taipei 5 is not a particularly green district, though there is more support for gay marriage in Taipei City than in the rest of the country. Nonetheless, social conservatives will probably relish the idea of trying to recall a death metal rocker.
  2. Taichung 3, Hung Tzu-yung 洪慈傭 (NPP). Yep, the three NPP district legislators are the top three. Hung’s district is greener than the other two, so it is probably less fertile soil for a recall. However, there is almost certainly less support for gay marriage in Hung’s district than in Taipei City. If they go after Hung before Freddy, that will be a good indicator that the activists –not the partisan politicians – are setting the agenda.
  3. Taoyuan 6, Chao Cheng-yu 趙正宇 (IND). Chao is an independent cooperating with the DPP in a district that had always been heavily blue before 2016. Because he is an independent, attacking him wouldn’t send the same partisan message as attacking a DPP or NPP member. However, he looks more vulnerable to me than any DPP members.
  4. New Taipei 10, Chiang Yung-chang 江永昌 (DPP). Chiang won his seat by beating Chang Ching-chung, who (in)famously tried to ram the Services Trade Agreement through committee hearings and touched off the sunflower movement. Chang was severely damaged by the sunflower movement and the subsequent recall effort, so it isn’t yet apparent that Chiang won (as opposed to Chang being tossed out). Zhonghe District is traditionally a very blue area, so Chiang has to be considered as highly vulnerable.
  5. Hsinchu City, Ker Chien-ming 柯建銘 (DPP). The DPP floor leader won his 2016 election fairly convincingly, but Hsinchu City is historically blue territory. Moreover, the NPP and their supporters detest Ker. A recall against him would drive open the divisions between the DPP and NPP and perhaps create some opportunities for the KMT to exploit in the legislature.
  6. Hualien, Hsiao Bi-khim 蕭美琴 (DPP). Hsiao won her seat by beating a lackluster KMT incumbent in a district that voted for the KMT in the presidential race. I have no reason to think that she has done a bad job in office or is unpopular in her district, but there is an obvious partisan mismatch in Hualien.
  7. Changhua 1, Wang Hui-mei 王惠美 (KMT). If the DPP wants to fight back and attack the KMT, there aren’t a whole lot of obvious opportunities. Most of the vulnerable KMT legislators lost in 2016, so the remaining ones are generally in safe seats. Wang is one of the few KMT legislators in a green district. However, she is personally very popular, and it is highly unlikely that a recall effort would get very far. The logic here is harassment. Wang is running for county magistrate in 2018, and a recall effort might undercut that campaign by sapping some of her energy while also giving the impression that she is not a great legislator.
  8. Taichung 8, Chiang Chi-chen 江啟臣 (KMT). Basically the same logic as with Wang, except that Chiang is still contesting the mayoral nomination. Nonetheless, this is one of the greener districts in central Taiwan, so this is prime territory for an attack by the green side.
  9. Taichung 2, Yen Ching-piao’s son 顏清標之子 (KMT). Unlike nearly everyone else on this list, Yen consistently gets terrible ratings from the Citizen’s Congress Watch (as did his father before him). Add in the Yen family association with organized crime, and we finally have someone who might deserve to be recalled. However, Yen has deep local roots, the district is less green than Changhua 1 or Taichung 8, and I personally wouldn’t want to go around his district on a petition drive asking for signatures to recall him.
  10. Kaohsiung 1, Chiu Yi-ying 邱議瑩 (DPP). Chiu is emerging as the most strident DPP voice. When you need a hardline opinion embodying the DPP position or someone to storm the podium, Chiu is your woman. Of course, this recall wouldn’t have a chance in hell. Kaohsiung 1 is deep green territory, and Chiu’s antics probably play fairly well with her constituents. This would be a quixotic move, akin to the recall of Alex Tsai in 2015.


I hope everyone sees a few people on this list who they like. If you think it would be a democratic travesty if that person were recalled, I agree. Recalls should not be part of the normal process. They should be reserved for extraordinary cases in which a legislator has done something to lose support from the people who originally voted for him or her. A NPP/KMT/DPP legislator who does NPP/KMT/DPP things should not be recalled; s/he has not broken the contract with his/her original supporters. The best outcome would be to revise the recall law to increase the threshold. The current system makes recall too easy.

Should Chu resign as mayor?

October 16, 2015

Now that Eric Chu is going to run for president, the chattering class has turned to the question of his present job. Should he resign as New Taipei City mayor?

Let’s start with the calendar. The election law requires that a by-election be held within three months of a resignation. A few days ago in the legislature, the head of the electoral commission stated that they would need at least two months of preparation time after the resignation to hold a by-election. In other words, if Chu were to resign between October 16 and November 19, the by-election would almost certainly be held on January 16, concurrent with the presidential and legislative elections. If Chu wants the by-election to be held after the presidential election, he has to wait until at least November 20. Elections are always on a Saturday, and it is highly unlikely the CEC would schedule such a large-scale by-election on Jan 23 or 30, the two Saturdays immediately after the general election. Feb 6 and 14 fall during the lunar new year holiday, so the earliest reasonable date for a by-election is Feb 20. (February 27 is also out of bounds due to the national holiday for Feb 28.)

What about the politics? New Taipei City is extremely important, and Chu and the KMT cannot afford to treat it cavalierly. Because of their electoral debacle last November and their impending defeat in the presidential election, New Taipei City will be the only large territory the KMT has jurisdiction over for the next three years. A lot of KMT operatives will be trying to land jobs over the next few months, and New Taipei is by far the most desirable landing spot.

If there is a by-election, the KMT could easily lose. In fact, I think it is likely that the KMT would lose. They barely won in 2014 with a popular candidate against a ho-hum challenger. In the by-election, they will either be running a ho-hum second tier candidate or a decidedly tarnished Eric Chu coming off a year of disastrous KMT leadership and probably a thrashing (both nationally and in New Taipei) in the presidential election.

The cold-blooded choice would be for Chu to simply decline to resign. He should tell the public that he can manage the task of juggling the presidential campaign, the party chairmanship, and his duties as mayor. After all, he has a team of trusted subordinates to take care of the technical details while he is away.

The problem is that the previous two sentences sound terrible. Chu cannot say those things without admitting that he won’t be paying attention to the small (but often important) details. Moreover, his public reason (in the spring) for not running for president was precisely that he felt an obligation to the citizens of New Taipei to focus on his mayoral duties. He even tried to absent himself from an important KMT central standing committee because he was scheduled to appear at the city council. In other words, he was already having a hard time juggling duties as the party chair and mayor, and now he is going to add an even more demanding job. The New Taipei DPP politicians are going to have a field day asking why their mayor is not at work and pointing out problems that he is neglecting.

From the other side of the spectrum, there will also be some pressure from within the KMT for Chu to resign. Some campaign people will grumble that he is spending too much time on his mayoral duties rather than on their campaign events. This will be one way for them to avoid blame for the impending defeat: “Don’t blame me. There was nothing wrong with my strategy. It would have worked if the candidate had bothered to show up.” Other people will grumble that by refusing to resign, Chu is running a defeatist campaign. By holding on to the mayor’s position, Chu will effectively be publicly admitting that his presidential campaign is hopeless.

If Chu does not resign, he will have to answer a question about resigning every day for the rest of the campaign. It will wear on him, sucking the energy out of his campaign much as the questions toward Hung about being replaced on the KMT ticket wore on her campaign.

Is Chu really mentally tough enough to resist the enormous pressure he will face to resign? I have no idea. He was tough enough to resist running for president all spring and summer, and then he suddenly caved in a few weeks ago.

The recent speculation about the electoral calendar seems to imply that he will wait until late November or early December to resign so that he can run in the by-election. This is a bad strategy. If he waits until then to announce his decision, he will still have to answer questions for a full month. In other words, he will have a month of telling the public that it isn’t a problem, and then he will backtrack and admit that he needs to resign. He could also announce today that he will resign, but he won’t officially submit his resignation until late November because of the calendar. In that case, he will be open to attacks that he is playing politics with the mayor’s office. In order to maximize KMT interests, he will be leaving New Taipei City effectively rudderless for four full months. Moreover, if he resigns but then runs in the by-election, he will still be open to these same charges. What is the difference between having a lame-duck interim mayor appointed by the central government and delegating most of the power to his deputy mayor while he is away? Either way, the city government is leaderless for several months.

Chu doesn’t really have any good options. I think the least bad is for him to doggedly hang on to his office. That way, he (and the KMT) will still be holding one important office on Jan 17. Moreover, on Jan 17 he can immediately revert to full-time leadership of the city, so he will minimize any damage caused by an absence of leadership. However, if he is going to resign, he should probably do it immediately. Holding out for another month will simply suck energy out of his campaign. The KMT does have a somewhat higher chance of winning the by-election on Feb 20 than on Jan 16. They will almost certainly lose on Jan 16, since it would likely be swept along in the national DPP victory tide. On Feb 20, they could plead with voters to restrain the new majority party’s absolute power by reminding it that it can still lose elections. Historically, this “balancing” appeal has been a fairly effective campaign appeal. However, I doubt this would be enough to propel the KMT to victory in what will be an uphill race. If there is a by-election, they shouldn’t count on winning it.

by elections

February 8, 2015

The votes are now in from the five legislative by-elections. The DPP held its three seats, and the KMT held on to its three seats. While no seats changed hands, this was a slightly better day for the DPP than for the KMT.

We had some reason to expect that it might be a great day for the DPP. In the previous election cycle, the DPP smashed the KMT in the by-elections in early 2010 and 2011, with landslides in all of the green and tossup districts, victories in several solid blue districts, and fairly close defeats in some of the deepest blue races. In this cycle, the DPP did much better in the local general elections and the KMT government suffers from significantly lower levels of satisfaction. However, the KMT managed to stave off the worst-case scenario this time.

One difference may have been mobilization. Four years ago, the turnouts were generally in the low 40s. This year, Changhua 4 and Nantou 2 were the highest at 37%. My highly unscientific impression is that the DPP didn’t campaign quite as effectively or energetically this cycle as last cycle. Last time, I thought that Tsai Ing-wen did a better job of nationalizing the fight and keeping the campaigns in the national media eye. This time, they seemed to get buried in the back pages. It is hard to tell what the effect of turnout is. I’m pretty sure that blanket statements (eg: low turnout favors the DPP; if turnout is over 70% the KMT will win; etc.) are useless. My hunch is that the KMT did a similarly lousy job of turning out its potential voters both times, but the DPP did an ok job last time and maybe a poor job this time. (By the way, the highest turnout of any of the bye-elections happened last year in Taichung 2, when Yen Ching-piao’s son edged out the local DPP politician. 48% of the electorate voted, and Yen probably won because he was much better at mobilization than other KMT politicians.)

The reason that I think the DPP won a small victory has to do with the results in Taichung and Changhua. Both of these wins came by a wide margin – roughly 25% in Taichung and 18% in Changhua. While the DPP won both of these seats in 2012, these have hardly been solid DPP territory. The KMT held both prior to 2012, and Ma Ying-jeou won more votes than Tsai Ing-wen in both districts. On election night 2012, it was fairly easy to argue that the DPP had won the seats due to the popularity of the individual candidates rather than to general support for the entire party. Today’s result changes that picture. Now it appears that the DPP might really have a clear edge over the KMT in both districts. Further, it now has two new people sitting in those seats who have a year to consolidate their support before the next general election. The KMT will certainly run competent candidates in 2016, but there aren’t any looming heavyweights preparing to challenge either of the two new legislators. From today’s vantage point, it looks as if these two seats, which were marginal for the DPP in 2012, are quickly turning into safe DPP seats.

This result bodes well for the DPP’s drive to win a majority of seats in 2016. The DPP needs to win another 13 nominal seats. The next 15 seats it could win probably include the 5 KMT seats in the south, New Taipei 4, 5, and 6, Taoyuan 2, the three Changhua seats, and Taichung 3, 4, and 8. The fact that the DPP has now followed up the December landslides with similarly easy victories in central Taiwan should scare the pants off the remaining KMT incumbents in Taichung and Changhua. It is looking increasingly likely that most of them will be in the unfamiliar position of needing to rely on personal popularity to offset the KMT’s deficit in presidential and party list votes.

Nantou 2 might be #16 on the list of DPP targets. Winning this seat today was a tremendous relief for the KMT. It is also exactly the type of race the KMT needs to have if they are to hold their majority next year. Nantou 2 is not as blue as most people think. Most of the KMT’s advantage in Nantou County comes from the other legislative district. With a strong DPP candidate and a ho-hum KMT candidate, this district could easily swing to the green side. In a bye-election, if the two sides had had generic candidates, I would have expected the DPP to win. However, the KMT had a clear advantage in candidate quality this time. The DPP desperately needs to transition to a new generation of politicians in Nantou. They keep running old warhorses from a decade ago. Unfortunately, they don’t have an ample stable in Nantou the way they do in Taichung and Changhua. The DPP is much weaker at the county assembly and township mayor level in Nantou, which is probably the reason they had to turn to a guy who hasn’t won anything in a decade in the first place. This narrow victory certainly doesn’t indicate that Nantou 2 is beyond reach for the DPP, but it does give the KMT an important head start going into 2016.

There isn’t much to learn from the DPP landslide in Pingtung. The most significant result of that race is simply that Chuang Jui-hsiung 莊瑞雄 will be entering the legislature. I expect him to be one of the more high-profile members of the DPP caucus over the next decade. (Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書 is the other person elected today with potential as a future political star.  Hsu Shu-hua 許淑華 has some promise, but she seems to be aiming toward county magistrate rather than any national role.)

The DPP never had any real chance in Miaoli 2. This is a deep, deep blue district, and the KMT united behind a perfectly good local politician. Moreover, the DPP ran an incumbent party list legislator. This gave the KMT a lethal argument: If you elect her, she will lose her list seat to a person from somewhere else. If you elect the KMT candidate, the DPP candidate will keep her party list seat and Miaoli will get a second local legislator! Even so, the DPP managed to win 40% of the vote. Remember, this is a district in which the DPP has historically had trouble breaking 30%. The KMT won this seat, but the DPP can’t be too upset about this result.

One thing that I would not take from this election result is any judgment of Eric Chu’s leadership of the KMT. He hasn’t been in office long enough to affect public appraisals of the KMT, and, frankly, he is no more than the fourth most important factor, behind overall party images, the local candidates, and attitudes toward President Ma. I simply don’t believe that this election result sheds any useful light on how people are reacting to Chairman Chu.

By-elections in Taichung

December 19, 2012

After nearly a year in hibernation, Frozen Garlic has awoken!  Apparently, an election has broken out!

At the end of November, the Taiwan court system finally rendered a verdict in one of the myriad corruption cases.  Most of these cases seem to disappear into the file cabinets, but in this one, the court found legislator Yen Ching-piao 顏清標 and Taichung City Council Speaker Chang Ching-tang 張清堂 guilty of corruption.  Both have been stripped of their seats.

(By the way, the corruption in question involved spending public funds to visit KTVs and other places where singing may not have been the main entertainment attraction.  Supposedly, they spent several million NT.  In the grand scheme of things, this is probably one of the more innocuous incidents of corruption they have been involved in.  It isn’t very much money, and their defense, which I do not doubt, is that everyone got reimbursed for these sorts of “public expenses.”  Both are deeply embedded in the systemic corruption of local factions and have almost certainly been involved in far grander abuses of the public purse.  Moreover, A-piao is no run-of-the-mill faction politician — he came to prominence as one of the top organized crime leaders in central Taiwan.  So I find it slightly amusing that these guys have seen their political careers end for a fairly trivial offense.)

There are two interesting stories.  Most of the attention will be on the contest to fill the empty Taichung 2 seat, so let’s start with that one.  The Taichung 2 district boundaries were drawn specifically for Yen Ching-piao.  His best town, Shalu, was put into Taichung 2 with the rest of his base instead of Taichung 1.  This created a bit of a population imbalance as well as a political imbalance, since the blue camp is quite a bit stronger in Taichung 2 than Taichung 1 and Shalu, where the KMT is particularly strong, exacerbates the difference.[1]  In fact, Taichung 2 is easily the blue camp’s strongest district in the old Taichung County.

Back in 2006 or so when Yen was settling into the new district, the alternative for the KMT was to put another incumbent Black faction legislator, Chi Kuo-tung 紀國棟, into the district.  Eventually, the KMT resolved the roadblock by putting Chi on the party list.  Now that Yen is out, the KMT would prefer for Chi to take the seat.  This would free up a spot on the party list for someone else, keep the seat for the KMT and the Black faction, and put a less controversial person into the seat.  However, that is not going to happen.  The KMT learned (or should have learned) a lesson a couple of years ago when it ran a list legislator for in a by-election in Tainan City.  The DPP candidate had an easy argument.  “If you vote for her, she will still be in the legislature and the empty seat will effectively be filled by some other KMT party list person who doesn’t represent you.  If you elect me, this district will have two local legislators.”  Chi might want to take over the seat in 2016, but he probably doesn’t want to run an expensive and risky campaign right now, especially if he has to tell people that a vote for him is equivalent to a vote for an outsider.

Anyway, someone else wants the seat.  Yen Ching-piao’s son, Yen Kuan-hen 顏寬恒, is planning to run.  I don’t know much about the younger Yen except that he had considered running for Shalu Township mayor in the past, and he looks a lot like his father.  The father was not a formal member of the KMT.  Probably both sides found it convenient to maintain the fiction that Yen was an independent, given his controversial background.  The younger Yen is a KMT member, and he is the only person to register for the KMT’s nomination.  So he’ll probably be the KMT candidate.  Running a family member to appeal directly to the voters for justice for a disgraced or convicted politician is a time-honored tradition in Taiwanese politics.  It makes a lot of sense when you can claim some sort of unfair suppression.  Former President Chen’s son has run twice in the last three years making precisely this sort of appeal.  I’ve never understood why it should work in cases like Yen’s, when he can’t really claim innocence or political persecution.  However, it often seems to be effective, so it might work for Yen as well.

The DPP has drafted a city council member, Chen Shih-kai 陳世凱.  I don’t know a lot about Chen except that he is more of an image politician than a grassroots-type politician.  He is in his first term in the city council, and he isn’t very closely associated with any particular locale the way that Yen is based in Shalu.

How will this unfold?  The KMT hopes to ride Yen Ching-piao’s extensive local organization and connections to victory.  The DPP wants to turn this into a referendum on President Ma.  As I said before, this is a strong KMT district, so it might be strange that the KMT wants to talk about local things and the DPP wants to talk about party politics.  However, both parties are right.  President Ma’s satisfaction ratings are dismal right now, and voters might be eager to send the KMT a message.  Moreover, if the by-elections from 3-4 years ago are any indication, the DPP is quite capable of winning this sort of race.  Turnout is typically around 40% in by-elections, and it might be that without a high-profile mayoral or presidential candidate, KMT supporters just don’t turn out.  The DPP won several by-elections 3-4 years ago in territory even more hostile than Taichung 2, and Ma’s satisfaction ratings are even worse now than they were then.  If Chen turns out to be a competent candidate, he has a good chance of winning this seat for the DPP.

The second, less obvious, story is the more interesting one to me.  This story is about the KMT’s local factions and their fight to adapt to the new Taichung City.  Unlike the first story which will be resolved by the end of January (and probably rendered irrelevant when Chi Kuo-tung takes the seat from the winner in 2016), the story of factional evolution will be unfolding over the next few years.

Before the merger of Taichung City and Taichung County, the two had completely separated local political environments.  City politicians didn’t have much to do with county politics or vice versa.  In Taichung County, KMT politics were dominated by the Red faction and the Black faction.  Taichung County has the most institutionalized factions of any city or county in the country.  The Red and Black factions fought out every electoral contest, from legislator to town council, in the county.  In a way, this made Taichung County much easier to understand since you could just ask who was Red and who was Black.  The factions can trace their roots all the way back to the first county executive election in the early 1950s, when Lin He-nian 林鶴年 handed out red name cards and Chen Shui-tan 陳水潭 handed out black cards.  Those two dominated local politics in the 1950s and then passed their support down to the next generation.  Indeed, the two factions are still sometimes called the Lin and Chen factions.  Over the past half-century, the Red faction has been the more successful of the two, producing a speaker of the Provincial Assembly in the 1970s and a speaker of the legislature in the 1990s.  As in most counties, the KMT tried to ensure that neither faction became too powerful by balancing them against one another.  This meant that when one faction controlled the county executive, the other controlled the county assembly.  Prior to the merger in 2010, the Black faction held the executive, while the speaker, Chang Ching-tang, was from the Red faction.

KMT factions in Taichung City were less stable.  Traditionally, people would talk of the Chang and Lai factions.  However, the Lai faction hadn’t really been powerful since the 1980s.  The Chang faction was named for Chang Chi-chung 張啟仲, who was mayor in the 1970s, and was sustained by his protégé, longtime legislator Hung Chao-nan 洪昭男.  However, Hung retired a few elections ago.  The current leader of the Chang faction is Chang Hung-nien 張宏年, who was speaker of the Taichung City Council before the merger.  Chang Hung-nien’s Chang faction still retains the Chang faction name, but it is not really the same thing as Chang Chi-chung’s Chang faction.  In fact, in today’s Taichung City, you are as likely to hear people talk of the Hu-Lu faction (named for mayor Jason Hu 胡志強 and legislator Lu Hsiu-yen 盧秀燕) as of the Chang or Lai factions.  The Hu-Lu faction, however, is more of a coalition of two people than a full-fledged faction.

So the merger of Taichung City and County in 2010 brought about a merger of these two very different factional systems.  It didn’t go well for any of the factions.  In Taichung County, the two factions lost most of their institutional power.  They had alternated control of the county executive and dominated most lower-level elections.  The Black faction’s power base was arguably in the 21 township mayors, but both had faction members scattered throughout the township councils as well.  With the merger, these offices were abolished.  The Red faction may have survived the merger in better shape, since its power base was in the Farmers Associations, which continued to exist, but both lost a lot of institutional power.  Moreover, the two factions did poorly in the one arena left to them, the new city assembly.  With too many incumbents running for a limited number or seats, the 2010 election was particularly bloody for the two county factions.

The city factions did not lose as much institutional power in the merger, since there were no townships in the city.  However, since the smaller city merged with the more populous county, the city factions found themselves at a numerical disadvantage.  In the end, the county factions struck a deal, and the Red and Black factions took the speaker and vice-speaker seats, leaving the city factions in the cold.

Now, two years later, Red faction speaker Chang Ching-tang has been stripped of his seat, and this might give us some insight on how the various local factions are reorganizing in the new Taichung City.  One might expect the losers of the last elections to try to form a new coalition.  The most obvious loser was former city council speaker, Chang Hung-nien, who wanted to remain speaker (or at least vice-speaker) but was completely shut out.  The lesson of the last election should have been that, as long as the battle was county vs city, he could never win.  I would expect that he has spent the past two years trying to build ties with county politicians to construct a new faction that crossed the old administrative district borders.

In fact, events unfolded without much hubbub (which is quite interesting to me).  As might be expected, the KMT tabbed (Black faction member) vice-speaker Lin Shih-chang 林士昌 to take over as speaker.  However, instead of nominating a Red faction member for vice-speaker, the KMT chose Chang Hung-nien.  Lin and Chang won the election with minimal fanfare.

Now, I don’t know whether Chang has tried to merge his faction with the Red faction or whether the old factional systems have completely collapsed and are undergoing a fundamental reorganization or whether this is an isolated case and nothing significant has happened.  I haven’t seen much in the media about factional politics.  However, something has to be happening.  The merger upset the basic environment, and the various factions have to be doing something to adapt to their new challenges.  We will have a much clearer idea of what is happening after the 2014 elections, but I think we are starting to see the first clues that the old systems are evolving.

Whether they are able to survive could be critical for Taiwan’s future.  Taichung is the tipping point between the green south and the blue north, and the KMT has managed to hold it on the blue side thus far.  If the local factions disintegrate or one of them defects to the DPP (as happened in Chiayi), the national balance of power could swing to the DPP.  We’ll all pay more attention to the upcoming legislative by-election, but the evolution of the KMT’s local factions will eventually be far more consequential.

[1] The DPP won Taichung 1 in 2012.  Maybe they should thank Yen for insisting that Shalu be in Taichung 2.

a few thoughts on the by-election

March 7, 2011

As expected, the DPP won both seats rather easily.  This wasn’t a surprise.  The KMT couldn’t win either one of them in 2008 in the midst of a huge KMT wave and with incumbents in both races.  Popular opinion has since shifted dramatically away from the KMT, they had clearly inferior candidates running this time, and by-elections (at least in these couple of years) seem to play overwhelmingly to the DPP’s strengths.  But I still have a few thoughts rolling around my head.


The KMT didn’t even seem to try.  Their best candidates didn’t run.  We all know about how their top two choices declined to run in Tainan.  In Kaohsiung, they couldn’t even find a serious KMT member to run.  Instead they went for a former DPP member’s son who brought very little to the table.  The top party leaders also didn’t seem interested in sticking their necks out.  One of the big papers had photos of the last night’s events on its front page.  All five of the DPP’s top leaders were out on the hustings.  The KMT was represented by Vice President Siew 蕭萬長 and Vice Speaker Tseng 曾永權.  Ma 馬英九 and Wu 吳敦義 made a few perfunctory appearances, but for the most part it appeared as if they did not want to be associated with the impending debacle.  After the election, the KMT seemed shocked that the turnout had been so low.  More and more, I am convinced that turnout is a function of excitement, not grassroots organization.  The KMT seems to think the opposite is true.  The KMT is replacing its local party chairs for failing to mobilize voters.  I think the fault lies with the top leadership who effectively told their supporters not to bother since there was no chance of winning.


Given the KMT’s miserable performance, I wonder if the biggest loser isn’t actually Hsu Tain-tsair 許添財.  Hsu won the Tainan seat with 61% of the vote.  I wonder if that isn’t, in fact, underwhelming.  (Yes, the other half of me thinks it is a bit ridiculous to call a 60% victory a sign of weakness.)  A DPP city council member associated with Mayor Lai 賴清德 has already announce that he will challenge Hsu in the primary.  Actually, he announced this before the voting was held.  Hsu really could have used a crushing victory to convince his rivals that any fight was hopeless.  He didn’t get it.  In fact, compared to Lin Tai-hua’s 林岱華 70% landslide, Hsu’s victory makes him look surprisingly vulnerable.


My nominee for the biggest winner of this whole thing might also be something of a surprise: KMT legislator Chiang Ling-chun 江玲君.  Chiang represents the Fengshan City district.  In 2008, she barely beat Lin Tai-hua.  She hasn’t been the most visible member of the legislature over the past three years, and I wouldn’t be too optimistic about her chances in a rematch with Lin.  However, Lin is now out of the picture, safely ensconced in another district.  Chiang will face a stiff challenge from someone, but her opponent will probably be significantly less intimidating than Lin would have been.


catching up

February 28, 2011

It’s been a while since I have written anything on this blog because (a) I’ve got other stuff to do and (b) not much is happening in the world of elections right now.  In the past two and a half month, the major election related news has been about the very early presidential race.  Apparently President Ma is going to run for re-election.  Shocker.  It looks like Speaker Wang will remain Speaker Wang.  The KMT’s “rule” that people on the party list can only serve two terms may not be written in stone.  And Premier Wu is still rumored to be the most likely Vice Presidential candidate.  None of this is much of a surprise.  (Frozen Garlic’s mad genius suggestion: Ma should choose CEC Chair and former Chiayi City Mayor Chang Po-ya as his running mate.  It will never happen, but it would be genius.)

On the DPP side, there also hasn’t been anything that significant.  Annette Lu has announced her candidacy to a resounding yawn.  The race is between Su and Tsai, something we have been aware of for over a year.  Tsai is probably ahead now, but I think she damaged herself by overplaying her hand in the battle for the nominations process.  The DPP will have its presidential nomination in late April. (Why the rush?  The election isn’t for another 11 months.  Of course, as the leader, Tsai wants this decision made as soon as possible before anything happens to change the race.)  Tsai also got her way in the legislative nominations.  She wanted the district nominations to be decided by telephone survey, with no party member voting component, and she wanted the party chair (herself!) to completely decide the party list.  The latter, especially, is where I think she went a bit too far.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, the DPP announced that it would forgo any nomination process in “difficult” districts, and the party would simply draft candidates for these districts.  The problem is that their definition of “difficult” is so broad that it encompasses 40 of the 73 districts.  In some of these, the DPP should probably be favored to win.  This is ridiculous and simply a clear power grab.  So much for the institutionalization of the rules of competition.

Unlike last year, we haven’t heard a whole lot about the by-elections.  There is a good reason for this.  Unlike last year, when the DPP was winning amazing victories on the KMT’s turf, this year’s contests are being fought on DPP turf and should be fairly easy victories for the DPP.

One of the races is in Tainan City.  This is the KMT’s strongest district in all of Tainan.  In the 2008 KMT wave, the DPP was barely able to win this race even with a strong candidate.  In this election cycle, with things swinging toward the DPP and in a by-election (which seems to play to the DPP’s strengths), it shouldn’t be as close.  Moreover, the DPP has a clear edge in candidates.  The DPP candidate is the former mayor, Hsu Tain-tsair 許添財, while the KMT is running an incumbent party list legislator, Chen Shu-huey 陳淑慧.  The KMT made a big deal about the fact that it’s preferred two candidates both declined to run in this race.  Both were forced out of their minor cabinet positions, as party leaders (esp King Pu-tsung 金溥聰) grumbled that the soldiers the party had spent the last few years cultivating refused to fight when the party needed them.  In their defense, it isn’t really Wang Yu-ting’s 王昱婷 district, and Kao Su-po’s 高思博 family (he is Eric Chu’s 朱立倫 brother-in-law) just finished a grueling campaign.  I wouldn’t have run either if I were them.  So instead, the KMT turned to Chen Shu-huey, who is currently on the party list and the wife of former legislator and mayoral candidate Lin Nan-sheng 林南生.  She should be a competent candidate, though I doubt Lin still has as much support as he enjoyed at his apex about 15 years ago.  On the other hand, this is the first time an incumbent party list legislator has run in a district by-election, and one can imagine that this makes for an awkward argument.  Vote for me, though win or lose, I’ll stay in the legislature.  Really, you need to vote for me so that the next person on the party list can win office.  So the choice is between having one more representative from Tainan and one more representative from … Yunlin (where the next person on the party list is from, I think).

In Kaohsiung, the race is between the DPP’s Lin Tai-hua 林岱華, a former two-term legislator and Hsu Ching-huang 徐慶煌, the son of former DPP legislator Hsu Chih-ming 徐志明.  The father was an old-time member of the Kaohsiung County Black Faction.  The Black Faction was led by the Yu family, and it occupied a strange position between opposition politics and good old-fashioned money politics.  I don’t know how closely the son hews to the father’s political style, but it wasn’t all that uncommon for Black Faction politicians to change sides.  Anyway, Hsu has been nominated by the KMT.  Apparently they think their best shot is with a politician who seems to have a foot in the other camp.  In this district, it may well be.  For what it’s worth, Hsu did win about 13000 votes as an independent in 2008.  That’s not nothing, but I don’t think this election is about him.  This district clearly leans to the green camp, and if they close ranks and vote along party lines, they should win easily.  With a compelling candidate in Lin, I really don’t think this race should be close.


what happened in Hsinchu?

March 6, 2010

One of the major motivations for writing this blog is that sometimes I have to write through things to figure out just what I think.  This post is going to be one of those searching essays.  I’m not sure what the conclusion will be, or even if there will eventually be a conclusion.  If you don’t want to be frustrated by sharing my thought process, I suggest skipping to something else.

The puzzle I’m struggling with is what happened in the Hsinchu County legislative by-election last week.  Here are the recent election results (leaving out minor candidates and parties):

Feb 2010

LY by-election















127967 56342 71625 44.0 56.0
Dec 2009

County executive





















252424 97151 76254 76254 38.5 30.6 30.2
Jan 2008

LY district















192253 127892 60209 66.5 31.3
Jan 2008

LY party list



Pan-blue Pan-green Pan-blue Pan-green
195144 136854 45009 70.1 23.1

How did Peng Shaojin win Hsinchu County when there hasn’t been a hint of DPP strength in this district for over a decade?

Recall the background.  Two KMT heavyweights, Qiu Jingchun and Zheng Yongjin have been slugging it out for a decade and don’t particularly like each other.  In 2009, Zheng stepped down as county executive after two terms, and the KMT nominated Qiu to succeed him.  Instead of supporting Qiu, Zheng threw his support to the speaker of  the county assembly, Zhang Biqin, who ran as an independent.  Qiu won the ensuing bitterly contested three-way race.  For the by-election, the KMT attempted to make all sides happy by nominating Zheng’s younger brother, Zheng Yongtang.

Idea #1: mobilization

In another post, I have already argued against a pure mobilization hypothesis.  The pure mobilization hypothesis says that the DPP turned out the same 70000 voters as in Dec 2009, but the KMT suffered a massive failure of mobilization, and only about half of its voters showed up.  I won’t recount this argument.  The conclusion was simply that there must have been some conversion.  Some people who have voted for blue candidates in the past must have voted for the DPP candidate in this by-election.

Idea #2: the KMT reconciliation was fake

On the surface, the KMT got all sides to sit down and pretend that they had forgiven each other for the past nastiness.  For example, both sides withdrew their libel lawsuits, and Qiu accompanied Zheng on campaigning trips to local markets.  However, there is a suspicion that this was all fake, that Qiu actually worked hard against Zheng.

The main problem I have with this idea is that it doesn’t feel right.  The tone of the newspaper stories wasn’t what I am accustomed to seeing in these situations.  Again and again, instead of reporting on either side’s protestations that everyone was now working together, the papers reported lamentations that the voters didn’t believe there was actual peace.  Instead of insisting, they were whining.

But let’s assume that Qiu did in fact tell his network to throw their support to Peng.  It’s a little hard, but not impossible, to figure out how we should expect things to change from 2009.  Zheng and Zhang were allies, and presumably most of Zhang’s votes came from Zheng’s support.  Thus, we would expect Zheng to retain most of this support in 2010.  Of course, Zhang would have had a little bit of her own support, which would have been concentrated in her former county assembly district.  That district included only Zhubei Township.  However, since Zhang and Zheng were close allies, we would expect her to throw all of her support to Zheng as well, though she might not have mobilized quite as extensively on behalf of someone else as she did for herself.  So we would expect Zheng to get all of Zhang’s votes, with perhaps a small discount in Zhubei.  Qiu’s votes have to be divided into two parts.  Some people supported him because he was the KMT nominee.  These people should be expected to support Zheng as well, since Zheng was also the KMT nominee.  Other people supported Qiu for personal reasons.  These are the people that Qiu’s network should have been able to mobilize his network to throw over to Peng’s side.

That’s not what the pattern of conversion looked like.  From TVBS surveys, we have the following (which you may remember from my election results post):

LY race
County Executive total Peng


Zheng  (KMT)
total N=827 44 34
Qiu (KMT) 38 32 51
Peng (DPP) 15 89 4
Zhang (IND) 17 37 44

Defections to Peng come fairly evenly from both Qiu and Zhang supporters; they are not concentrated among Qiu supporters as we would expect from the factionalism story.  The factionalism story has no way to explain the 37% of Zhang supporters who shifted over to Peng in 2010.

We would also expect to see some clear patterns in the aggregate election results.  In short, we would expect to see higher growth in Peng’s support in places where Qiu was strong.  So let’s look at how Peng’s vote evolved, town by town.  (Ignore the last two townships.  Jianshi and Wufeng have large numbers of aborigines. Aborigines vote with everyone else in the county executive election, but they have their own district in the LY election.)

township township 2009 2010 growth Qiu Zhang
新竹縣竹北市 Zhubei 19772 18,653 0.94 30.6 36.5
新竹縣竹東鎮 Zhudong 13233 11,871 0.90 49.6 21.1
新竹縣新埔鎮 Xinpu 7105 7,165 1.01 27.9 35.2
新竹縣關西鎮 Guanxi 6103 5,496 0.90 32.5 32.5
新竹縣湖口鄉 Hukou 10831 9,887 0.91 40.2 30.8
新竹縣新豐鄉 Xinfeng 7013 7,164 1.02 39.6 30.0
新竹縣芎林鄉 Qionglin 3781 3,598 0.95 36.0 32.0
新竹縣橫山鄉 Hengshan 2455 2,479 1.01 46.6 24.7
新竹縣北埔鄉 Beipu 2191 1,956 0.89 38.6 24.2
新竹縣寶山鄉 Baoshan 2494 1,984 0.80 42.7 23.6
新竹縣峨眉鄉 Emei 1286 1,214 0.94 38.7 26.5
新竹縣尖石鄉 Jianshi 538 98 0.18 53.0 33.8
新竹縣五峰鄉 Wufeng 324 60 0.19 60.3 28.1
total 77126 71625 0.93 38.5 30.2

The structure of Peng’s support didn’t change a whole lot.  With the exception of (tiny) Baoshan Township, his vote in 2010 was between 89% and 102% of his 2009 vote in every township.  Moreover, what we don’t see is a clear connection between growth and Qiu’s vote.  For example, Qiu’s two strongest townships were Zhudong and Hengshan.  In one, Peng’s vote growth was above average; in the other, below average.  Likewise with Qiu’s two worst townships, Zhubei and Xinpu – in one Peng’s growth was just about average and in the other it was well above average.  There just aren’t the clear patterns that we would expect to see if Peng were getting a lot of support from Qiu.

Idea #3: KMT reconciliation was real, but voters didn’t believe it

This idea seems partly right, but mostly still inadequate to me.  On the one hand, I rather tend to believe that the elites did actually more or less reconcile.  On the other hand, something didn’t work since the votes never materialized.  The tone of the newspapers indicated to me that this is the explanation that reporters believed, for what that’s worth.  So we hear stories about rumors that if Zheng won, Zhang would be blocked and would never have a chance to develop her career.  Supposedly Zhang’s supporters didn’t want this.  And I guess it’s possible that Qiu’s supporters took out their frustration on Zheng, even though Qiu himself told them not to.

On the other hand, we still have to deal with the numbers from above.  If there was some systematic trend from Qiu or Zhang supporters to Peng, shouldn’t we be able to see it in the data?  More than that, though, this doesn’t seem to accord with my mental model about how Taiwanese politics work.  Elites care about betrayal and loyalty, but voters don’t.  Voters are more likely to see things in simpler partisan terms.  After all, they aren’t personally affected by which KMT figure gets to sit in the office nearly as much as an elite is.  They don’t get to enjoy the power, and no one has ever looked them in the eye, made a promise, and then reneged on it.  For voters who don’t have much partisan attachment and vote for individual candidates, I guess I don’t believe that they care very much about the election last time.  Each election is considered anew.  That is, they might have liked Qiu last time, but he’s not running this time.  The choice is between Peng and Zheng, so Qiu’s anger at Zheng’s brother’s backstabbing isn’t likely to be a real important consideration.  In short, I simply can’t believe that the voters would hold a grudge when the elites had made peace with each other.

Idea #4: Peng Shaojin was a great candidate

The media reports that tried to explain the election from Peng’s angle focused on how hard he worked.  There were lots of stories gushing about how this guy (with roots in the judicial system, several years of experience in the legislature, and deep roots in the party) had humbled himself and worked very hard at developing grassroots support.  Peng’s career had formerly been in Taoyuan County, but he transformed himself from a parachute candidate with a national profile into a genuine local person by shaking lots of hands, talking with lots of people, and developing a true common touch.

Well, isn’t that heartwarming.  I don’t buy it.  He may have shaken lots of hands, but that does not change peoples’ minds.  He may have impressed people with his sincerity, but I am skeptical.  Besides, doesn’t it imply a very shallow model of voting to suggest that people will vote for anyone whose hand they have shaken?

For me, this argument really founders on the fact that there was an election a mere three months ago, and this new Peng Shaojin apparently did not yet exist then.  I simply don’t believe you can develop such thick grassroots support in only three months time.  Personal networks take years to develop, and they take extended contact and levels of trust that don’t come from simply shaking a lot of hands.

Perhaps Peng Shaojin had already started developing his grassroots support before, but we didn’t see it because Qiu and Zhang had even deeper grassroots support?  With Qiu I could accept this.  He has been working the county for a couple of decades.  With Zhang, not so much.  The problem is that Qiu, even with a party nomination, barely got more votes than Zhang.  For his part, Peng doesn’t seem to have gone much beyond the traditional DPP vote.  If he already had such strong grassroots support, it should have shone through.  Besides, Peng’s competition in the by-election was Zheng Yongjin’s younger brother.  Zheng Yongjin has been working the county as long as Qiu and should have a roughly equivalent level of grassroots support.  So how would Peng’s grassroots support be muffled in the first election but not the second election.

I think this story is an Imelda Marcos story.  Why did the protesters storm the Presidential Palace in the 1986 People Power revolution?  Many observers, including serious academics, have claimed that they were enraged by her 3000 pairs of shoes.  The problem is that no one knew about all the shoes until after they stormed the palace.  This is a post-hoc imagined memory created to fit a story that you are comfortable with.  Just as we find it satisfying that the indignant people righteously overthrew the decadent dictator, it is also satisfying to believe that Peng’s victory was created by his humility and hard work.  Beware of things that you want to believe.

Idea #5: Zheng Yongtang was a terrible candidate

Now I’m getting into more speculative ideas.  The previous explanations have come from media reports.  These come from my little brain.  They’re probably wrong.

So this idea is simply that Zheng Yongtang lost the election, Peng did not win it.  There are several variants of this.

Variant 5a is that Zheng Yongtang is not equal to Zheng Yongjin.  While people liked and supported the older brother, they were not very impressed with the younger brother.  Perhaps he is dimwitted, uncharismatic, not likeable, lazy, corrupt, pinheaded, or has some other personality problem.  Perhaps they just didn’t like the implication that they were getting a second-best brother.  (I don’t have any evidence for or against this.)  For whatever reason, Zheng Yongjin’s popularity was not transferable to his brother.  This seems plausible to me.

Variant 5b is that Zheng Yongjin’s former popularity has evaporated.  Zheng has been around for a long time.  He was a member of the county assembly, then the speaker, then a legislator, and just finished eight years as county executive.  Maybe people are just tired of him.  Maybe he has cashed in all his political capital and exhausted his support.  Maybe he literally cashed in, let the county government drift, or made a lot of bad decisions during his second term, and this has sapped away at his popularity.  (I don’t have any evidence for or against any of this.)

One problem with variant 5b is that Zheng felt strong enough a few months ago to sponsor his own candidate against the very popular Qiu Jingchun.  She didn’t win, but Zhang Biqin got 76,000 votes.  If we assume that much of her strength came from Zheng’s patronage, then Zheng can’t have been popular enough to sway tens of thousand of votes in December but unable to produce anything in February.  There are only a couple of ways that I can think of to get around this.  One is that Zhang Biqin, not Zheng Yongjin, was responsible for almost all of those 76000 votes.  I’m not sure I believe that, but it’s plausible.  County Assembly speakers are usually strong enough to lose respectably in county executive elections.  (Indeed, Zheng himself lost the 1997 race when he ran as the incumbent speaker.)  The other explanation belongs in variant 5c.

Variant 5c says that maybe Zheng didn’t buy votes, either because he was following orders from the new KMT reform initiative or because he and his brother were literally bankrupt.  Zheng Yongjin has a long history of winning votes, and Hsinchu County has seen its share of vote buying over the years.  I would be very surprised if there were no intersection between these two facts.  Perhaps this time, Zheng simply couldn’t seal the deal because he did not hand the bit of cash to his voters.  (Again, this is pure speculation.  I have no knowledge of whether there was or was not vote-buying in the by-election.)

I don’t have a very high opinion of the KMT’s “reform” process.  They talk of nominating image candidates and practicing cleaner politics, but they nominated two local faction candidates in the recent by election (Zheng in Xinzhu, Wang in Hualian).  Call me when their county assembly speaker and vice-speaker candidates don’t buy votes and aren’t associated with organized crime.  For now, this is more of the same cynical cheap talk that I’ve been hearing for the past 20 years.  So I’m not real optimistic about this possibility.

The possibility of Zheng being out of money is also shaky, though slightly more plausible.  It is possible that Zheng leveraged himself so heavily on the county executive election that he didn’t have anything left for the by-election.  On the other hand, wouldn’t the KMT have known about that and declined to nominate his brother?

I’m rather out of explanations, and I’m not satisfied with anything.  I think maybe I believe in a combination of them.  Mobilization mattered, Peng’s hard work helped, and factional rifts couldn’t have helped Zheng.  If you force me to identify which explanation I believe the most, it’s probably that Zheng Yongtang was not perceived as being as good as his brother.  Zheng Yongtang was simply a lousy candidate.  Of course I don’t have any evidence for this.  Also, it’s a classic spin tactic to blame things you don’t understand on a fantastic or lousy candidate.  So I’m still not convinced I have any idea how Peng won the election.

(Here we run up against my methodological limits.  I soaker and poker would go to Hsinchu, talk to a lot of people, and find some answers.  I, not being much of a field worker, am stuck.)

slander and libel

March 6, 2010

Nothing in this post, so far as I know, has a basis in fact.  It is all idle speculation by yours truly.  I have no reason to believe that any of these people actually engaged in any of the behaviors I will discuss.  The following are simply ideas that I might pursue if I were in their shoes.  Mostly, I think this is solid proof that I lack moral character, have no ethics, and do not know right from wrong.  But…

I’ve been thinking about Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 and how the local KMT figures reacted to him.  For person after person, I don’t see why they should have supported him.

Consider Zheng Jinling 鄭金玲.  She was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1994, moved to the legislature in 1998, and has been there since.  She was elected in the Taoyuan County district race in 1998, 2001, and 2004, and moved to the party list in 2008.  If I remember correctly, Zheng came up through the Huang Fuxing 黃復興 (military) party branch.  She gets a disproportional amount of her votes from Zhongli City 中壢市, and especially the military-dominated neighborhoods there.  In 2008, there were three districts that she could reasonably settle in.  Taoyuan 3 includes most of her Zhongli base, except for the military neighborhoods.  Toayuan 5 includes Longtan 龍潭鄉  and Pingzhen 平鎮市townships.  It has a lot of military votes, and Zheng has done moderately well there.  It isn’t her best choice, but it would do.  Taoyuan 6 has Daxi 大溪鎮, Fuxing 復興鄉, and Bade 八德市 townships plus the military neighborhoods from Zhongli City.  So it has her core area, but most of the district is territory that she hasn’t done as well in.  When the KMT passed out districts in 2007, they found themselves with four people for these three districts.  Sun Daqian 孫大千 got Taoyuan 6, Zhu Fengzhi 朱鳳芝 got Taoyuan 5, and Wu Zhiyang 吳志揚 got Taoyuan 3.  I’m not sure why Sun got Taoyuan 6, but he has a proven track record of attracting votes.  Zhu is the most senior KMT legislator in Taoyuan, and she probably got her first choice.  (She also has a very similar background to Zheng’s, having come up through the Huang Fuxing system.)  Wu Zhiyang is the son of then-KMT party chairman Wu Boxiong 吳伯雄.  I don’t think Wu Boxiong was going to let someone else have his hometown.  Zheng was left out, but she did get a compensation prize: a seat on the party list.  Wait, isn’t a seat on the party list better?  After all, you don’t have to fight an election campaign.  True, but from a career perspective, one of these three seats is still better than a spot on the party list.  The KMT only has 17-20 spots to hand out every election cycle, and the competition for those spots is intense.  Being on the list this time is no guarantee that you will get a spot next time.  In contrast, Sun Daqian is almost certain to be re-nominated and re-elected to his seat.

When Taoyuan 3 opened up, Zheng could not run for the seat.  She is, after all, already a legislator.  However, if I were in her shoes, I would not be eager to see Chen win that seat and take possession of it for the next decade.  It would be much better for her if some non-descript DPP figure (Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 is perfect!) beat Chen so that Zheng could run against him in the next general election.  In a contest in 2012 between Zheng and Huang in Taoyuan 3, Zheng has to be a heavy favorite.

I’m not saying that Zheng worked against Chen in this election.  It would be very dangerous for her to be exposed as helping one of the minor candidates or, worse, Huang.  The penalty would probably be her seat in the legislature, which the party can take away at any time.  She certainly would not be nominated in 2012.  But I might find that some particularly time-consuming task in the legislature didn’t leave me any time to go home to stump for Chen or organize my network on his behalf.

(One argument against this: Zheng is 64.  She might just retire after this term.)

What about Wu Zhiyang?  Wu has just moved up to county executive, so he shouldn’t care too much about who takes over his old seat, right?  Perhaps, but we know that Chen is an ambitious person.  He was already dreaming about becoming Taipei mayor while he was still a member of the city council, and publicly proclaimed he would be Ma’s successor as early as about 2001, if my memory is correct.  Objectively, however, he was never the KMT’s leading candidate, and when he lost his re-election campaign in 2004, his hopes for winning the 2006 mayoral nomination were finished.  What did he do?  He moved to Kaohsiung and announced his intention to become mayor there.  That didn’t work out either, but you can see where this is leading.  He clearly thinks that he is underplaced in the legislature.  Based on his track record, you have to expect that he would have started planning his campaign for Taoyuan County executive the day after he won the by-election.  If I am Wu Zhiyang, this is a headache I don’t need.  I would like to be re-nominated in 2014 with no competition, please.

Coincidentally (?), there were grumbles coming out of the Chen camp that a certain party elder hadn’t done enough to convince the two independent candidates to withdraw.  There is only one party elder with that much clout in the Zhongli area, and he happens to be Wu Zhiyang’s father.  Perhaps he also thought that Chen Xuesheng and his ambitions didn’t need any encouragement.

The same logic can be extended to the 2018 county executive race.  Chen might decide not to challenge Wu in 2014, but you have to think he would run for the open seat in 2018.  (Zheng Jinling, in contrast, probably would not be a serious challenger.)  All of the other hopefuls probably don’t see this as a desirable state.  For example, Sun Daqian will be almost perfectly positioned to run in 2018.  He also has lots of connections in Zhongli City…

I have no idea what the story is between Zhongli City mayor Ye Buliang 葉步樑 and his deputy mayor Lin Xiangmei 林香美.  Both of them wanted the nomination.  In the KMT’s polls, Ye came in first, Lin second, and Chen Xuesheng was third.  When the KMT nominated Chen, one of the reasons Jin Pucong 金溥聰 gave was that if he had nominated either Ye or Lin, the other would have run as an independent.  In the event, as soon as Chen was nominated, Lin announced she was running, and Ye announced his immediate and enthusiastic support for Chen.  There must be a fascinating soap opera that we don’t know about.  At some point these two were close enough allies that Ye chose Lin as his deputy mayor.  At any rate, Chen Xuesheng paid the price for their enmity.

I was first exposed to Taiwanese politics in Nantou County in the early and mid 1990s.  During this time, the local DPP exploded from relative harmony into a war of Peng Baixian 彭百顯 against everyone else (most notably Zhang Junhong 張俊宏, Lin Zongnan 林宗男, Cai Huanglang 蔡煌瑯).  It took me a few years before I finally accepted that not only were they not on the same team, they hated each other passionately.  From this, I learned never to overlook the divisions among one’s purported allies.

Let me reiterate, I have no insider knowledge of what happened in Taoyuan this time.  These scenarios all came out of my twisted brain.  There is no evidence for any of them.

by-election results

February 28, 2010

The results of the by-elections are in.  On turf that heavily favors the KMT, the DPP won three of the four seats.  Here’s the breakdown:

English name Chinese name Party Votes Percent
Taoyuan County 3
Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 DPP 45363 47.3
Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 KMT 42600 44.4
Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 IND 4424 4.6
Lin Xiangmei 林香美 IND 3617 3.8
Hsinchu County
Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 DPP 71625 56.0
Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 KMT 56342 44.0
Chiayi County 2
Chen Mingwen 陳明文 DPP 57451 67.9
Lin Derui 林德瑞 KMT 27138 32.1
Hualian County
Wang Tingsheng 王廷升 KMT 39379 48.3
Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 DPP 33249 40.8
Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 IND 8863 10.9

For the record, my predictions were:

Chiayi County 2: Chen Mingwen 陳明文 (DPP) 69; Lin Derui 林德瑞 (KMT) 31.

Hsinchu County: Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 (DPP) 54; Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 (KMT) 46.

Taoyuan County Third District: Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 (KMT) 49; Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 (DPP) 40; Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 (IND) 7, Lin Xiangmei 林香美 (IND) 4.

Hualian County:  Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (DPP) 44; Wang Tingsheng 王廷生 (KMT) 42; Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 (IND) 14.

So I got Chiayi County 2 and Hsinchu County almost exactly right, and I messed up Hualian County and Taoyuan County 3.  Oh well.  I wasn’t too far off, and election predictions are hardly a scientific exercise anyway.

In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to myself when I was discussing the underlying partisan structures of Taoyuan 3 and Hualian.  Both seem to have changed from 2008 by similar amounts; Hualian was simply a bit more overwhelmingly blue to start with.

By the way, one of the hardest things to predict is what will happen to third-party candidates.  Third-party candidates often have wide gaps between their performance in the surveys and at the ballot box.  Some candidates’ support simply disappears, most likely due to strategic voting.  Others’ holds steady.  Once in a while, a candidate with low support in surveys will produce an eye-popping vote count.  From afar, it’s very hard to tell which will be the case with any particular candidate.  This time, I came very close in predicting the three independent candidates.  However, this was mostly luck.

So that’s what happened.  More importantly, what does it mean?  From watching the talking heads on TV last night, it is obvious that you can draw nearly any lesson you want to.  Some of the stories various people were pitching include 1) we are seeing a structural change in partisan attitudes, 2) negative campaigning doesn’t work, 3) the KMT reform isn’t working, 4) the KMT reform needs more time, 5) the KMT simply failed to mobilize its votes (but no real partisan realignment), 6) the DPP will sweep all five mayoral seats later this year, 7) Ma should resign as KMT party chair, 8) the KMT nominated poorly.  Do I buy any of these?  The short answer is 1) kinda, 2) no, 3) no opinion, 4) no opinion, 5) no way, 6) that’s a little premature, and 7) that’s silly.  The ones I want to try to dig into are the stories about partisan realignment and mobilization.  I think we are seeing a partisan shift, or perhaps a reversion to the alignment of 2003 or so.  I think the mobilization story is fundamentally flawed.

Let’s do mobilization first.  The clearest version of the mobilization story I have heard is this.  Last December, Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 ran for Hsinchu County executive and got 77,000 votes.  He lost because the KMT candidate mobilized 97,000 votes.  In this by-election, Peng Shaojin ran again and got 71000 votes.  In other words, Peng turned out nearly every person who voted for him last time.  (In fact, the DPP has gotten between 70000 and 80000 votes in Hsinchu County in numerous elections over the past two decades.)  However, the KMT candidate this time only got 56,000, only about half as many as in December.  In short, the DPP mobilized all its votes, while the KMT did not.  This story is then fleshed out with a narrative of a divided KMT with key elites declining to work for the candidate in this election.  The Hsinchu County KMT has two dominant figures, Qiu Jingchun 邱鏡淳 and Zheng Yongjin 鄭永金.  In December, Zheng refused to support Qiu as county executive, backing a third-party candidate instead.  Qiu won, but it wasn’t easy.  The KMT tried to paper over this division by nominating Zheng Yongjin’s younger brother, Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂, for legislator.  Publicly, Qiu expressed his support, but the actual support never materialized.  As a result, Qiu’s supporters did not turn out to vote for Zheng, and the KMT lost.

The critical feature of the mobilization story is that there are no partisan changes.  DPP supporters still support the DPP, and KMT supporters still support the KMT.  The only question is whether the parties can persuade their supporters to show up at the ballot box.  Thus, the reason the KMT has done so poorly in these by-elections is that the turnout has only been around 40%, as compared to around 60% in the 2008 legislative elections and 2009 county executive elections and 75% in the 2008 presidential election.  Since no one thinks that turnout in any of the coming general elections will be 40%, we should only worry about what a 60-75% turnout election looks like: still very blue.  These by-elections are simply an aberration.

One way to attack this theory is by looking at survey results.  TVBS published a survey of Hsinchu County voters on Jan 26, 2010.  In the report, they produced the following table:

LY race
total Peng Shaojin (DPP) Zheng Yongtang (KMT)
total N=827 44 34
County Executive Qiu Jingchun (KMT) 38 32 51
Peng Shaojin (DPP) 15 89 4
Zhang Biqin 張碧琴(IND, supported by Zheng Yongjin) 17 37 44

So the 15% of respondents who reported voting for Peng Shaojin in the county executive race continued to express support for him by an overwhelming 89% to 4% margin.  So far so good for the mobilization story.  However, 32% of the 38% who said they voted for Qiu in December expressed support for Peng, and 37% of the 17% who voted for Zheng Yongjin’s candidate in December said they would vote against Zheng Yongjin’s brother in February.  This certainly sounds like Peng was picking up support from the KMT, not simply mobilizing his previous supporters.  In other words, Peng may have gotten 70,000 votes again, but they weren’t the same 70,000 voters.  A lot of them crossed party lines.

Another way to attack the mobilization thesis is to look at election returns.  In 2008, the KMT was enthused while the DPP was depressed, so the KMT should have had a marked advantage in mobilization over the DPP.  In 2009-10, the roles were reversed.

County 2008 LY list vote 2009 county executive
Blue Green Blue Green
宜蘭縣 Ilan 87613 83313 112469 133394
桃園縣 Taoyuan 471687 265842 396237 346678
新竹縣 Hsinchu 136854 45009 97151 77126
苗栗縣 Miaoli 157868 64985 181256 95469
彰化縣 Changhua 308182 225526 348341 276897
南投縣 Nantou 125074 72421 136951 107023
雲林縣 Yunlin 144559 142869 121832 229958
嘉義縣 Chiayi 104909 121225 128973 177333
屏東縣 Pingdong 183157 187474 185384 270402
臺東縣 Taidong 54553 20072 56354 50802
花蓮縣 Hualian 87332 27244 38603
澎湖縣 Penghu 19403 14754 22664 22069
基隆市 Jilong 95939 45290 86001 65673
新竹市 Hsinchu City 97260 57252 92667 68822
嘉義市 Chiayi City 54914 52659 69962 61268
金門縣 Jinmen 23555 1190 14269
連江縣 Lianjiang 3719 385 5404

There are three basic patterns.  In some counties, the blue camp’s vote fell while the green camp’s vote increased.  In Taoyuan, for example the blue camp produced 70000 fewer votes in 2009 while the green camp increased its total by 80000.  Hsinchu County, Yunlin, Jilong, and Hsinchu City also saw blue decreases and green increases.  Second, many places saw both camps increase their number of votes, indicating that both were better at mobilizing in 2009 than in 2008.  Ilan, Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou, Chiayi County, and Chiayi City followed this pattern.  Then there is the third pattern, in which the KMT vote did not change markedly from 2008 to 2009 but the DPP vote increased dramatically.  This was the case in Pingdong and Taidong.

How can all these patterns occur with a simple story about mobilization?  One could explain this by delving into the differences in the various county executive races.  For example, in Yunlin, a popular DPP incumbent was expected to win re-election easily, so the energized DPP voters turned out while the demoralized KMT voters stayed home.  Thus, the KMT vote fell while the DPP vote skyrocketed.  Unfortunately, the story was almost exactly the same in Pingdong, except the KMT vote stayed the same.  Moreover, Chiayi County also had a race that the DPP was expected to win easily, and the KMT vote was much higher than in 2008.   Thus, we are expected to believe that demoralized KMT voters stayed home in Yunlin, voted at normal rates in Pingdong, and voted at very high rates in Chiayi County.

The stories about counties the KMT expected to win easily are similarly contradictory.  In Miaoli, Changhua, Jilong, and Hsinchu City, the KMT was widely expected to win by comfortable margins.  In all of them, the KMT experienced a slight increase in its vote.  According to the mobilization story, we would conclude that the enthusiasm over good prospects in the county race outweighed the national factors making it harder for the KMT to mobilize.  Ok, but what about Taoyuan?  The KMT’s vote dropped by 75,000.  Maybe Wu Zhiyang 吳志揚 was so sure of victory that he declined to spend the money needed for a full mobilization.  If so, he seems to have been the only one to dare to attempt the non-mobilization strategy.  If non-mobilization were a viable electoral strategy, one would have thought that the winners in Miaoli, Yunlin, and Pingdong might have attempted it as well, but we see no evidence of this.  Moreover, in light of the two-by elections in Taoyuan, it is equally plausible that Wu fully mobilized but that the KMT has simply become less popular.

In sum, I simply don’t think the pure mobilization / no partisan change story is a viable explanation for what has happened over the past two years.

I’m not arguing that mobilization doesn’t matter or that it isn’t part of the story.  We all know that mobilization is critically important.  However, political scientists have done a terrible job at explaining exactly how mobilization matters precisely because it is very complicated.  Simplistic stories like the one I argued against are nearly nuanced enough.  They are very appealing though, precisely because they are simplistic.  They focus on one variable, the network of cadres that moves people to the polls.  If you put in more resources, you get more votes.  Taken to the logical extreme, this is an anti-democratic argument.  No matter what happens, KMT voters will continue to support the KMT.  It simply might be harder to get them to the polls.  However, the democratically produced president/legislator is a function of resources, not of appeals and/or actual public opinion.  As such, the legitimacy of such officials to act on behalf of the public should be discounted.  This story is only partially wrong, but that part is critical.  Mobilization and resources matter, of course, and can affect the outcome of an election.  However, voters do change their minds, so party platforms, issue appeals, and scandals also matter.  As a result, elections do not depend solely on resources.

The difficult part is figuring out how mobilization matters in conjunction with changes in opinion.  I accept the argument that it was harder to mobilize DPP voters in 2008 and harder to mobilize KMT voters in 2009-10.  I do think that a lower turnout rate helped the DPP this time.  However, I do not think that all DPP voters turned out and only part of the KMT voters did.  A higher turnout rate likely would have helped the KMT, but only slightly.  For example, the turnout in Chiayi County 2 was 38%, and Chen Mingwen 陳明文 won 68-32%.  If the turnout had doubled, Chen would almost certainly still have won handily, though not by quite as overwhelming a margin.  Perhaps it would have been something like 64-36%.  In that case, the half of the electorate that didn’t turn out (but would turn out in a presidential election) would have preferred Chen by a 60-40% margin.  Of course, that is just a guess.

We do have some evidence of the effect of different levels of turnout.  For example, the legislative election in Jan 2008 had a turnout of 58%, while the presidential election of March 2008 had a 76% turnout.  There was very little difference in the vote share of the camps.  The presidential election was 58.5-41.5%, while the legislative election was 55.2-40.4%.  Since independent votes tend to come mostly out of the blue camp’s vote share, the two are roughly equivalent.

Since we think that the KMT was enthused in 2008, their voters should have turned out more heavily in the first 60%, and the DPP should have benefited from the higher turnout.  Thus we have to invent some story about how Ma Yingjeou 馬英九 is a great candidate (or voters were sick of President Chen 陳水扁), candidate effects offset the turnout effect.  I don’t believe this.  I think the same partisan effects drove both elections.

After years of staring at voting returns, I have come to the tentative conclusion that turnout above 60% really doesn’t affect partisan results.[1] Another way of saying this is that almost everyone who can be mobilized has already been mobilized by 60%.  Higher turnout comes from voters outside the mobilization networks, and they tend to split their votes among the parties in nearly the same way that the first 60% do.  However, turnouts below 60% start to affect partisan outcomes.[2] In jargon, there is a non-linear relationship.

So, given that I think that there has been some partisan shift since 2008 and that turnout below 60% matters, where does the partisan balance stand right now?  Nearly half the electorate has voted in the past six months, so let’s compare them to a benchmark, the party list vote in the 2008 legislative election.[3]

2008 LY Party List 2009-10 LY by-elections
votes blue% green% valid KMT% DPP%
雲林縣二 Yunlin County 2 156911 47.2 46.6 126297 23.2 58.8
南投縣一 Nantou County 1 99695 62.8 31.9 119284 55.3 44.7
台東縣 Taidong County 78880 69.2 25.4 46887 45.2 49.5
台中縣三 Taichung County 3 138134 54.5 40.8 115111 45.0 55.0
桃園縣二 Taoyuan County 2 128994 55.3 39.2 92382 40.0 58.1
嘉義縣二 Chiayi County 2 112866 43.1 52.0 84589 32.1 67.9
桃園縣三 Taoyuan County 3 135277 63.7 31.8 96004 44.4 47.3
新竹縣 Hsinchu County 195144 70.1 23.1 127967 44.0 56.0
花蓮縣 Hualian County 119669 73.0 22.8 81491 48.3 40.8
total 1165570 59.8 34.8 890012 41.6 53.4
2008 LY Party List 2009 County executive
votes blue% green% valid KMT% DPP%
宜蘭縣 Ilan County 178872 49.0 46.6 245863 45.7 54.3
桃園縣 Taoyuan County 771850 61.1 34.4 758722 52.2 45.7
新竹縣 Hsinchu County 195144 70.1 23.1 252424 38.5 30.6
苗栗縣 Miaoli County 236260 66.8 27.5 284138 63.8 33.6
彰化縣 Changhua County 564959 54.5 39.9 634640 54.9 43.6
南投縣 Nantou County 208186 60.1 34.8 269217 50.9 39.8
雲林縣 Yunlin County 305439 47.3 46.8 351790 34.6 65.4
嘉義縣 Chiayi County 238892 43.9 50.7 317135 40.7 55.9
屏東縣 Pingdong County 386762 47.4 48.5 455786 40.7 59.3
臺東縣 Taidong County 78880 69.2 25.4 107156 52.6 47.4
花蓮縣 Hualian County 119669 73.0 22.8 151730 25.4 0.0
澎湖縣 Penghu County 36867 52.6 40.0 45910 49.4 48.1
基隆市 Jilong City 147613 65.0 30.7 156065 55.1 42.1
新竹市 Hsinchu City 162818 59.7 35.2 166563 55.6 41.3
嘉義市 Chiayi City 111827 49.1 47.1 134031 52.2 45.7
金門縣 Jinmen County 25979 90.7 4.6 38280 37.3 0.0
連江縣 Lianjiang County 4321 86.1 8.9 5482 98.6 0.0
total 3774338 57.1 37.8 4374932 47.9 45.3

That’s 26 races: nine by-elections and 17 county executive races.  In three of the county executive races, the DPP did not have a candidate.  In 22 of the other 23 races, the DPP increased its vote share.  (In Chiayi City, the DPP vote share declined by 1.4%.)  The smallest gains were 4-5%, but most of the gains were 10% or more.  8 races saw the DPP gain more than 15%.  You can tell a soap opera about each election and explain the outcome in purely local terms.  However, when the same thing happens in district after district, you have to start looking for national-level explanations.  In other words, the DPP’s popularity has significantly increased since early 2008.

How much has the KMT slipped and the DPP risen?  These 26 districts are slightly more favorable to the KMT than the national average.  In 2008, the national balance in the 2008 legislative party list was 55.2-40.4%.  Among the nine districts that had by-elections, the 2008 balance was 59.8-34.8%.  In the 17 counties that elected executives last December, the 2008 balance was 57.1-37.8.

It does not bode well for the KMT that it could only manage a 47.9-45.3% advantage in the county executive races.  A 20% edge in early 2008 was cut to less than 3% in late 2009.  If this 16.7% swing extended to the entire electorate, the DPP would hold a 1.9% advantage instead of a 14.8% disadvantage.

As bad as the county executive races look for the KMT, the by-elections look worse.  Originally, the KMT held 8 of the 9 seats.  It now holds 2.  Arguably, Yunlin 2 is a DPP-leaning district, but the other 7 seats looked like they were clearly more favorable to the KMT and the DPP won 5 of them.  Where the KMT had a whopping 25.0% advantage in 2008, it ended up with a 11.8% deficit in 2009-10, an unbelievable 36.8% swing.  These results don’t merely portend a KMT loss of power, they warn of a bigger DPP sweep than the KMT had in 2008.  If even districts like Taidong, Hualian, and Hsinchu are in play, then the KMT only has two safe seats left (Jinmen and Lianjiang).

Perhaps it is not that bad for the KMT.  Remember, the by-elections generally had around 40% turnout.  The exception is Nantou 1, which held its by-election on the same day as the county executive elections and thus had a “normal” 66.3% turnout.  Not coincidentally, the KMT won Nantou 1.  Its vote share slipped significantly, but not calamitously.  I argued above that the 20% of voters missing in a 40% turnout would disproportionately favor the demoralized party, in this case the KMT.  However, I also argued (with very little evidence) that the effect wouldn’t be too dramatic.  It would probably only sway the final vote share by a few percentage points.  With a 60% turnout, instead of 41.6-53.4%, we might get something like 45-50%.  That is still a disaster for the KMT, though perhaps not of the same magnitude.

There is another possibility.  Perhaps the DPP simply does better in by-elections.  The logic of this argument would go something like this.  KMT campaigns tend to be more organization-oriented, while the DPP campaigns tend to be more issue oriented.  With only a few election districts holding elections at any one time, the DPP can concentrate all of its rhetorical fire and oratorical superstars on a small number of voters.  At the same time, with all eyes on a few districts, the KMT finds it much harder to run a “traditional” (read: corrupt) campaign.  I am reluctant to bring up this argument since I don’t really believe it.  You can easily make the opposite argument about the KMT concentrating resources.  However, I am grasping for plausible explanations for implausible results in these by-elections, even given the 2009 county executive results.[4]

So where is the national partisan balance right now?  My best guess is that the two parties are roughly even.  Perhaps the DPP has a slight edge.

How could this have happened?  I have two answers, and I think both are basically correct.  One answer is that President Ma has frittered away his entire electoral advantage in less than two years.  By moving too quickly in opening to China, bungling the relief effort to Typhoon Morakot, and so on, he has alienated all the swing voters who supported him in early 2008.  TVBS has done a series of polls on party image.  The most recent was released on Jan. 20.  They ask a series of questions, including whether you agree or disagree that the KMT (DPP) pays attention to public opinion, is honest and not corrupt, is energetic, values reform, is united, has the ability to reflect on mistakes, and is trustworthy.  Opposition parties tend to do better on these questions, but during Chen Shui-bian’s term in office, it took a full four years before the KMT started to enjoy a clear advantage in party image.  The held this advantage for roughly the last three years of Chen’s tenure and the first few months of Ma’s tenure.  However, in less than two years, the trend lines have completely reversed, and now all these indicators are solidly in favor of the DPP.

A second answer is that the KMT never had such a huge advantage.  Ma’s landslide victory was not due to overwhelming public support for him or his party.  Rather, the electorate was disgusted with the scandals of the Chen administration and was punishing his entire party.  As the DPP steps away from the Chen era, we revert to a more realistic balance of power between the parties, one based on opinions toward the entire KMT and DPP rather than just toward the very polarizing Chen Shui-bian.  I don’t mean to say that it is suddenly 2003 among the electorate again.  Other interesting things have happened in the meantime.  Geographically, the biggest change in the electorate has been a clear shift in the Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan region to the DPP.  I’ll almost certainly delve into this some other time.  However, the biggest story nationally is that this Chen era is over.  The DPP is a viable contender for power once again.

[1] Alas, this will not be an airtight argument.  This is simply my gut-feeling after years of attempting to come up with something better.  One of the advantages of a blog is that I can make these kinds of arguments.  This would never get past a referee.

[2] Why 60%?  60% is merely a convenient number since almost all general elections have gotten 60% or more, and I have not been able to figure out any relationship between turnout and partisan results in general elections.  Only by-elections have fallen significantly below 60%.  Over the past year, most by-elections have had roughly 40% turnout.

[3] The 2008 presidential vote is nearly identical.

[4] The exception is Taidong County.  Taidong produced nearly identical results in the county executive race and the by-election.  However, aborigines voted in the county executive race, and aborigines heavily support the KMT.  Subtracting them from the electorate in the by-election produces a narrow DPP victory instead of a narrow KMT victory.

The Hualian campaign and predictions

February 26, 2010

On the eve of the legislative yuan by-election, I thought I’d update the races and make some highly dubious predictions.

Three of the races are shaping up mostly as I discussed in my previous posts.  Chiayi County 2 is going to be a landslide DPP win.  Stunningly, the KMT seems to have publicly given up on the race in Hsinchu County.  KMT spokesmen are  publicly only hoping to protect two seats, and they always mean Taoyuan 3 and Hualian.

In Taoyuan, the race has degenerated into an ugly series of accusations that the other side is cheating, corrupt, an outsider, and so on.  The KMT has largely ignored the two independent candidates and focused its attacks on the DPP candidate, Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼.  Huang seemed like a much stronger candidate at the beginning of the campaign, but I think the KMT’s efforts to portray him as a small-minded, local, visionless, grassroots figure are taking some effect.

Something very interesting, however, is happening in Hualian.  The campaign has turned into a full-blown issue-oriented, not personality-oriented, campaign.  One issue is dominating discussion: transportation.  To understand this, we’re going to need some background.

Here’s a map of Hualian County from Wikipedia.  Hualian is in red.

Taiwan ROC political division map Hualien County.svg

At the end of 2009, 4.5% of the total population lived in the three counties along the east coast.  2.0% lived in Ilan County, just north of Hualian County; 1.0% lived in Taidong County, just south of Hualian County; and the other 1.5% lived in Hualian County.[1] Why do so few people live on the east coast?  A quick glance at a topographical map answers this question.

As you can see, it’s very hard to get from the Taipei area to Ilan County.  It’s even harder to get from Ilan County to Hualian County.  It’s not hard at all to get from Hualian to Taidong, since the East Coast Rift Valley is about 30km wide and runs from Hualian City at the northern mouth of the valley, to Taidong City, at the southern mouth.

Currently, there are three ways to get from Taipei to Hualian.  You can fly, take the train, or drive.  Driving is a real drag.  Ten years ago, there were two provincial highways going from Taipei to Ilan.  One was a winding mountain road; the other was a winding coastal road.  Both roads are heavily traveled two lane highways and are quite slow and dangerous.  The coastal route, which most heavy trucks used, had the added disadvantage of going to Jilong City, not directly to Taipei City.  Getting to Ilan is the easy part.  There is one road going from Ilan to Hualian.  This road is one of the most breathtaking roads in the world.  The mountains rise straight out of the ocean over 1000 feet high in many places.  (This is also true below the waves; the ocean floor is over 1000 feet below sea level.  From mountain peak to ocean floor is probably less than 100 feet horizontally in many places.)  For long stretches at a time, the road is carved out of the rock halfway up the side of the mountain.  Since you follow the shape of the mountainside, the road can be very twisty and prone to collapse.  In several sections, they have opted to build a short tunnel, but you can still see the old road going around the outside of the mountain.  Over the past three decades, the road has gotten progressively safer but less beautiful as they have built more and more of these bypass tunnels.  However, there is still plenty of scenic road left.  On a sunny summer day, the ocean waters are a deep blue and the mountains are dark brown, except where covered with lush green vegetation.  I’ve taken several memorable trips on this road, and it makes me happy every time.  Well, unless it’s not a sunny summer day.  When it is dark, when it rains, or both, this road is downright terrifying.  Even when it’s bright and sunny, this road is very slow.

About 5 years ago, it became much easier to get to Ilan from Taipei.  The government built a beautiful new four-lane divided freeway.  It cost a lot of money because it has several long tunnels deep underneath the surface.  The longest tunnel is over 12km long.  It also cuts the time to get to Ilan by more than half (unless, as is frequently the case on holidays, it has a traffic jam), and is far safer than either of the old roads.  As you might guess, weekend tourism in Ilan is booming.  It’s still very hard to get to Hualian or Taidong, however.

Let’s return to the campaign.  The DPP has never done very well in Hualian, and it didn’t have a local candidate willing to take up the fight.  They nominated Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴, who has likely spent more time in Ohio[2] than in Hualian.  I think a lot of what has happened is probably due to a short-term horizon.  Hsiao had to have figured that her political career in Hualian would last all of two months, after which she would return to Taipei.  She took the nomination as a service to her party, and determined to fight (and lose) the good fight.  Since she had no reasonable chance of winning and wanted to bolster, not sully, her national image, she had no reason to descend into ugly mudslinging.  Rather, she constructed a policy-oriented campaign centered around economic development and transportation.  She is calling for several things, most notably for the government to subsidize half the price of bus and train tickets to Hualian and for Hualian businesses to be exempt from the operating tax.  The latter is inspired by her shock and disbelief[3] upon coming to Hualian and finding that Hualian’s level of development is roughly the same as Penghu’s.[4] Penghu businesses have a special exemption from the operating tax, and Hsiao insists that the residents “behind the mountains” should get the same treatment.  All of this would be just more cheap talk, but the DPP has introduced an “East Coast Development Act” in the legislature and pushed it through to the second reading.  The DPP bill budgets NT50 billion (USD 1.6 billion) for east coast development.  The KMT has reacted with its own version of the bill, but it provides for far less funding.  I wonder how Hsiao ever managed to get the DPP to accept responsibility for her campaign promises.  It must have been part of her conditions for accepting the nomination in the first place.  “If I go, I’ll have to run on transportation issues, so you’ll have to support my bill in the legislature.”  Of course, since neither she nor the DPP expected her to win, they probably did not expect to really have to pass or take responsibility for the financial consequences of these promises.

One thing that Hsiao noticeably has not endorsed is the freeway plan.  There is a plan to extend the Taipei-Ilan freeway all the way down the east coast.  Public opinion in Hualian (and presumably Taidong) is solidly in favor of the freeway.  There are two major reasons that it hasn’t been built: cost and environmental impact.  I can’t judge the environmental issues, except to say that people around the rest of the island seem to be more worried about environmental impact than people in Hualian.  Financially, this is a classic case of concentrated benefits and diffused costs.  People in Hualian would benefit disproportionally from the road while paying only a small fraction of the costs.  One estimate for the cost of the section between Ilan and Hualian was NT 89 billion (USD 2.8 billion).  About 70% of that was earmarked for one especially long tunnel.[5]

The candidate stumping hard for the highway is independent Shi Shenglang 施勝郎. In fact, the KMT has accused Shi of only having one idea.  Perhaps, but it seems to be a potent one.  The Shi campaign is practically daring the KMT to match its appeal.  County executive Fu Kunqi 傅崑萁 has publicly said that he will switch his support to the KMT candidate as soon as President Ma signs a statement that he will start building the freeway this term.

The KMT has responded by attacking Shi almost as much or perhaps even more than Hsiao.  I think this is a big mistake.  In Taoyuan, the KMT has ignored the two minor candidates, and they seem to be fading into the background.  In Hualian, the KMT has ensured that people think of this race as having three distinct choices.  It is entirely possible that the KMT argument that a vote for Shi is really a vote for Hsiao may backfire by reminding voters that Shi is in the race.  The KMT would have been better off by focusing on Hsiao and turning this into a choice between KMT and DPP.

OK, how about some predictions?  First, a disclaimer.  I don’t have much confidence in my predictions.  Each election is an incredibly complex phenomenon that we only see a very small slice of.  This is true for people working 24 hours a day on the campaigns, and it is much more true for people like me who see the election from afar and in scattered little bits.  Moreover, I rely heavily on past events to predict future events.  One reason that the social sciences are much more difficult than the natural sciences is that people, unlike molecules, learn, adjust their behavior, and even strategically.  My “predictions” are really just glorified guesses, and I expect them to be wrong quite often.

Here are my best guesses:

Chiayi County 2: Chen Mingwen 陳明文 (DPP) 69; Lin Derui 林德瑞 (KMT) 31.

Hsinchu County: Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 (DPP) 54; Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 (KMT) 46.

Taoyuan County Third District: Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 (KMT) 49; Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 (DPP) 40; Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 (IND) 7, Lin Xiangmei 林香美 (IND) 4.

Hualian County:  Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (DPP) 44; Wang Tingsheng 王廷生 (KMT) 42; Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 (IND) 14.

I’m stunned by my own predictions.  That would be DPP 3, KMT 1.  According to the political map, the KMT should win the latter three seats handily.  I can’t believe that I think the DPP will be close in all of them, much less win in two of them.  I must be off my rocker.

[1] For reference, 29.7% of the total population lived in Greater Taipei (Taipei City, Taipei County, and Jilong City on the northern tip of the island.

[2] Hsiao has a BA from Oberlin and an MA from Columbia.

[3] Somehow she has turned being an outsider into an advantage.  She could naively and innocently be shocked by conditions in Hualian, leading to (convenient) moral outrage at the state of affairs.  In other words, her appeal is “I had no idea it was this bad!  We have to do something about this!”

[4] Penghu is the chain of islands to the west of central Taiwan.

[5] The central government is investigating an alternate plan to upgrade the existing provincial highway by putting in a few tunnels in the most treacherous sections.  This plan would cost about half as much as building a new freeway.  It would also still leave east coast residents with a two-lane, unlimited access highway with large stretches of winding road.