Archive for the ‘independence/unification’ Category

Is marriage equality a cleavage?

May 12, 2017

Last week, my colleague Wu Yu-shan gave a stimulating talk about changes in political cleavage structures around the world. Most of the talk was about the rise of pre-material cleavages (ie: nationalism) in western industrial democracies, but he also had something to say about Taiwan. He believes that we are seeing the rise of materialist (ie: a left-right cleavage) and post-materialist (ie: marriage equality and environmentalism) cleavages in addition to the old nationalism cleavage. In Taiwan’s political science world, Wu is the major voice staking out this position. The opposite view, that national identity is still basically the only cleavage that matters, has most recently and forcefully been voiced by Chris Achen and T.Y. Wang in their forthcoming edited volume, The Taiwan Voter. It is hard to overstate the importance of this debate. Depending on whether you believe Taiwan has one or multiple important political cleavages, you might come to different conclusions on many of the most central questions facing Taiwan today. Does the KMT need to change its position on China, or is returning to the 1992 Consensus a viable option? Will the NPP be able to encroach on the DPP’s pool of voters? Will it be able to appeal to voters that the DPP cannot? Did the 2016 election mark a fundamental break with the past, or is it merely a deviance from a well-established pattern? Should President Tsai push for marriage equality? Why isn’t President Tsai aggressively pushing for admission to the United Nations under the name “Taiwan”? This question of one or many cleavages gets right to the heart of our understanding of how Taiwanese politics work.

During his talk, Wu presented a fascinating graph, taken from a story on Commonwealth Magazine’s website. In this post, I want to explore what we should and maybe should not learn from this graph.

CW UI ME plot.jpg

This graph plots legislators’ positions in the political space along two dimensions. The X axis is the Independence-Unification dimension (with independence on the left), while the Y axis is support or opposition to marriage equality (with support at the top).

I don’t understand exactly what the authors did to produce this graph, but I’ll do my best to explain the methodology. The authors looked at Facebook data from each legislator. They used the two party chairs as anchors, examining people who followed both the party chair and the legislator. (Note: I don’t understand exactly how they used these overlapping followers. However, they presented this part in detail, as if they believed it was the most important thing for us to know.) They examined the “likes” on various posts and put that data into a factor analysis model. The purpose of factor analysis is to condense many variables into a smaller number. If you start with n variables, the model calculates a matrix to multiply each variable by to produce n new variables that are completely uncorrelated to each other. However, these n variables are not equally useful. Some have a lot of explanatory power, while others have almost none. Typically, we throw all the variables that account for less than 1/n of the total variance in the data. They have kept two dimensions, though they did not report how much explanatory power each one had or how many variables cleared the 1/n threshold. The final challenge in factor analysis is naming the new variables. Remember, the algorithm has simply produced new variables that are orthogonal to each other; it doesn’t care what went into them. The researcher typically looks at the coefficients that were multiplied with the original variables and decides on a name. Factor analysis has the veneer of cold, objective data analysis, but interpreting it is actually highly subjective. At any rate, I’m going to assume that the authors made reasonable assumptions and inferences in handling the data. For example, I’m going to assume that the dimensions are appropriately labeled. I’m also going to mostly ignore the possibility that Facebook likes and followers don’t necessarily mirror a legislator’s own positions or even the preferences of that legislator’s constituents.

What are we supposed to see in this graph?

I suspect the first thing people will notice is the position of the two party chairs. Tsai Ing-wen is fairly distant from her party median on both dimensions. On the IU axis, she is in the center of the political spectrum. This looks reasonable; most of us think of her as a moderate on identity and nationalism. The Y axis suggests she is also a bit out of touch with the rest of her party on marriage equality. She is noticeably higher on the plot, suggesting she is a stronger supporter of marriage equality than the average DPP legislator. I think this also fits in with the conventional wisdom. There are a few DPP legislators who are more stridently in favor of marriage equality than Tsai, but there are also a lot of hesitant legislators terrified of angering their socially conservative constituents. So Tsai is moderate on China and somewhat progressive on marriage equality. Hung Hsiu-chu’s position is rather more surprising. Hung is widely known as an extremist on national identity questions. Yet here she is smack dab in the center of the KMT caucus. Further, she has made several statements that indicate she is more pro- marriage equality than the average KMT legislator, yet here she is, again, right in the middle of the KMT caucus. These data suggest that Hung Hsiu-chu is not an extremist. She is actually a nearly perfect representation of the average KMT legislator!

CW1.png

The second thing people might notice is how lonely Jason Hsu looks up at the top of the graph. He is the only KMT legislator firmly in the pro- marriage equality camp. Reporters love to interview him on this topic, and this gives the impression that there is a significant wing favoring marriage equality in the KMT. Nope. Not according to this plot.

CW2.png

Third, there is a relationship between the two dimensions. In the DPP, there seems to be a tradeoff. Extreme nationalists tend to be social conservatives, while social progressives tend to be moderate on identity. Why does someone choose to be in the DPP? It is one or the other. I don’t know why it isn’t both, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. The same relationship also exists to a lesser extent in the KMT. Social progressives are slightly more moderate on identity.

CW3.png

Fourth, the NPP is all located in roughly the same position (though Hsu Yung-ming is slightly less progressive and more nationalist than the other four). It is socially progressive but moderate on nationalism. I think this will surprise many people. The common perception is that the NPP is extreme on both dimensions. Here it simply looks like an extension of the progressive wing of the DPP.

CW4.png

I think those are the obvious things we are supposed to see. What are some of the less obvious things?

First, this is a two dimensional plot, giving the impression that there are two equally important cleavages in Taiwan. However, the second dimension isn’t necessary. A vertical line perfectly separates the blue and green camps.

CW5.png

The authors did not report the eigenvalues of the two factors, which indicate how much of the variance each factor accounts for. We don’t know that the second value was at least 1/n or that the first dimension wasn’t several times as powerful as the first. Maybe instead of a square box, this graph should have been flattened into a short and wide rectangle like this to give a better sense of the actual political space:

CW7.png

If you think about the plot this way, one of the takeaways is the extent to which the DPP has captured the middle ground and the KMT has been pushed back into the far right. I’ll bet the KMT held much more of the middle ground in 2008.

Second, look at that cluster of DPP legislators in the top half of the graph. Notice anything about them? How about if I list all the DPP legislators higher than the top KMT legislator (roughly from top down):

尤美女 You Mei-nu, party list

鄭麗君 Cheng Li-chun, party list

林靜儀 Lin Ching-yi, party list

蔡培慧 Tsai Pei-hui, party list

林淑芬 Lin Shu-fen, New Taipei 2

鍾孔炤 Chung Kung-chao, party list

段宜康 Tuan Yi-kang, party list

邱泰源 Chiu Tai-yuan, party list

吳焜裕 Wu Kun-yu, party list

陳曼麗 Chen Man-li, party list

Kolas Yotaka, party list

蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen, president and party chair

余宛如 Yu Wan-ju, party list

何欣純 Ho Hsin-chun, Taichung 7

蘇嘉全 Su Chia-chuan, party list

施義芳 Shih Yi-fang, party list

徐國勇 Hsu Kuo-yung, party list

吳思瑤 Wu Si-yao, Taipei 1

That’s 14 party list legislators (of 22 total) and 3 district legislators (of 51). Lin Shu-fen is the only district legislator occupying a clearly pro- marriage equality position. This radically changes the way I look at this chart.

CW6.png

For one thing, as the party chair, Tsai Ing-wen had the final say on the composition of the party list. She seems to have packed it with social progressives. So while she might be somewhat out of favor with gay rights activists for her current tepid stance, most of the strong voices in favor of gay rights in the legislature are there because she put them there.

From another point of view, if you only consider district legislators – the ones who actually go out and win votes – the DPP and the KMT don’t look all that different. The two big parties both cover roughly the same portion of the Y axis. The DPP may be slightly more progressive, but the difference isn’t all that great.

Ignoring the DPP list legislators also makes the NPP stand out. They now occupy a distinctive space on the political spectrum (assuming the second dimension is important). They are basically the only politicians who take a clear pro- marriage equality position before the voters.

One way to think about this is that elected politicians are socially conservative, and this social conservatism probably reflects a cold strategic judgement that full marriage equality is too radical for the electorate to swallow. A different way to think about it is that Lin Shu-fen, Huang Kuo-chang, Hung Tzu-yung, and Freddy Lim all won district elections while occupying this part of the political space, so maybe there wasn’t a marriage equality penalty in 2016. It certainly didn’t seem to hurt the other major politician in the top half of the chart, Tsai Ing-wen. It could be the case that (a) there are plenty of socially progressive voters, or (b) the second dimension simply doesn’t matter. Of course, it could also be the case that the cleavage simply hadn’t fully emerged in 2016.

Still, that vertical line perfectly dividing the space is a major problem for the idea that the second dimension matters. I’ll be more open to the idea when that line needs to be drawn at a 60 degree slope. To me, it looks as though there is still one dominant cleavage line in Taiwanese politics, and it isn’t marriage equality. However, this debate is far from settled.

Ma on independence

May 9, 2015

President Ma has come out swinging over the past few days. Two statements are particularly interesting.

First, Ma noted that Tsai Ing-wen claims she will maintain the status quo. Ma demanded to know if she wants the status quo from seven years ago or the status quo from today, seven years later. This is a brilliant trap question, like asking a man whether he has stopped beating his wife. No matter which way she answers, Tsai is backed into a corner. If she were to answer that she wants today’s status quo (her current position), she has to acknowledge that Ma’s seven years of governing have produced something worth keeping, that ECFA has produced benefits, and that the 92 Consensus has been useful. If she answers that the status quo from seven years ago was better (not her position), she will look like someone trying to live in the past and she will threaten everyone with interests in China. Tsai will ignore the question and insist simply that she wants to maintain the status quo. However, I expect to hear this question a few more times over the next eight months.

Second, Ma responded to criticism that One China was currying favor with China by arguing that One China is grounded in the constitution. Ma proclaimed, “This is delineated in the Republic of China’s constitution. How can our constitution permit two Chinas? How can it permit one China, one Taiwan? How can it permit Taiwan independence?”

Perhaps we should allow 2006 Ma Ying-jeou to rebut 2015 Ma Ying-jeou. In 2006, when KMT Chairman Ma was preparing to run for president, the KMT placed an ad in the Liberty Times stating that independence was a legal choice for Taiwan. Ma clarified that the KMT certainly did not support independence, but it did see independence as a possible choice, albeit a lousy one. As a democracy, Taiwan’s citizens certainly had that option. At the time, this was a major step for Ma and the KMT, and it was fairly controversial within the party.

Apparently 2015 Ma Ying-jeou no longer believes that Taiwan independence is a legal option. None of the relevant parts of the constitution have changed since then, but Ma seems now to believe that Taiwan independence is unconstitutional. Taken to the logical extreme, the government should revert back to Premier Hau Pei-tsun’s suggestion for how to deal with advocates of Taiwan independence: Arrest them all.

What Ma (and everyone in Taiwan) has to decide is what the essence of the constitution is. Is the most important point that the country is China, or is the most important point that the country is a democracy? Is it a nationalist constitution, or is it a democratic constitution? If it is a democratic constitution, the citizens of the state have the fundamental right to determine the nature of the state. If they become dissatisfied with the nature of the state, they have the right to change it. If the nature of the state is set in stone and the citizens of the state are not allowed to change it, it isn’t a democracy.

Israel can either be a Jewish state, or it can be a democracy. In the short run, it might be able to remain a Jewish democratic state, but if the population changes preferences, it will have to decide. In the USA, there are many who argue that the USA is a Christian state. Again, it can be a Christian state or a democracy, but it can’t be both. Iran has confronted this head on. It is an Islamic state, specifically one that gives special status to one sect of Shiites; democracy has clear limits. Thailand also seems to have confronted the fundamental choice it faces between democracy and monarchy and opted for monarchy.

In Taiwan, most people believe that the fundamental division is between a Chinese identity and a Taiwanese identity. I wonder if the real battle for Taiwan’s soul is actually nationalism against democracy.

Eric Chu’s vision for One China

April 30, 2015

This story from yesterday’s Liberty Times hasn’t gotten much coverage, but I think it is tremendously revealing.

In July 2000, Eric Chu was a first-term legislator. In an interpolation session with Premier Tang Fei, Chu asked about cross-strait relations. Tang replied that the mainland insisted that anything could be discussed except for the One China principle, so everything was tangled up around the One China question.

I will translate the portion of the article detailing Chu’s response:

“The most ridiculous thing at present is that everyone is stuck on the non-existent One Chine question,” Chu said. He continued with a simple English statement, “There will be one China.” He elaborated in Chinese, “This is the goal we are pursuing. This China could be a new China or a future China.”

Chu stressed that, if both sides had this sort of understanding, if our side asked the other side to give up its position that One China is the PRC and then we also gave up are position that One China is the ROC, if cross-straits relations developed along these lines, understanding that the present is ROC vs. PRC, we could creatively resolve the problem of a future One China.

Concerning a future One China, Chu explained maybe they could start with a virtual One China, and maybe one day they could move toward an actual One China.

Interpolations are as much about the legislator having a chance to express his own opinion as asking what a government minister thinks. Chu did not have to address this topic. He could have asked about taxes or roads or stayed home sick. He chose to bring up cross-strait relations, and he used the opportunity to give a clear statement of his preferences. This certainly does not sound like anyone who is hiding sympathies for Taiwan independence. It sounds much more like someone from the orthodox Chinese KMT wing of the party. Never mind Taiwan independence, Chu wasn’t even particularly interested in the sovereignty of the ROC. As he saw it, the ROC was merely a shell that could be discarded as necessary in the interests of the greater – and inevitable – goal of Chinese unity.

Strategically, I’m a bit surprised by how this story is being used. My guess is that some DPP legislative aid dug it up, and his or her boss decided to slip it to a reporter now. I would have thought they would sit on something like this to use to greater effect at a more sensitive time. I guess this means they are convinced that Chu really is not running for president.

independence alliances

November 26, 2014

There are three big political forces representing the independence wing of the political spectrum that have nominated candidates for city and county councilors this year. They are the TSU, Chen Shui-bian’s One Country, One Side Alliance (OSOCA), and the Taiwan Independence Alliance (TIA). If I understand correctly the TIA was formed earlier this year by a number of groups that supported independence as well as some of the Sunflower student groups.

The OSOCA published a roster of candidates it has endorsed in an ad in today’s Liberty Times. I obtained the roster of candidates endorsed by TIA from their Facebook page. (The TSU’s candidates are easily found in all the official government sources.) I’m reproducing them here so I’ll be able to find them in five or ten years.

In the meantime, let’s look at the nominations of the three forces competing to be the preeminent force for independence. From the rosters, it is clear that they have focused much more on the six direct municipalities than on the other sixteen cities and counties. This makes sense. City council elections in the six direct municipalities run much more on national issues. Local issues still matter, but not nearly as much as in the smaller cities and counties. As such, it is probably easier to convince a voter in Taipei or Taichung to cast a city council vote for independence than it is to convince a similar voter in Penghu or Yunlin to do the same. When was the last time you heard a Yunlin county councilor say anything important about independence (or anything relating to national politics, for that matter)?

There are a few weird patterns in the city and county councilor endorsements. Am I the only one shocked that every DPP candidate in Keelung City is on the TIA roster, but neither of the alliances was able to field many candidates in Yunlin? I suspect there are interesting stories, but you probably have to know all the little details of each local soap opera to really understand what is going on.

For now, let’s concentrate on the six direct municipalities. Here is a summary table of each group’s endorsements:

  OSOCA TIA TSU
Total candidates endorsed 58 40 29
# districts with zero/one/two candidate(s) 18/44/7 33/32/4 41/27/1
Party affiliations (D / T / I) 52/0/6 29/10/1 0/29/0
Newcomers / Incumbents 12/46 22/18 24/5

The normal way to judge an alliance like this is to ask how many of their candidates were elected. I don’t think that is the best way to think about things. These are, after all, local elections, and the vast majority of voters will be voting for other considerations. If, for example, Wang Shih-chien wins in Taipei 4, should we interpret it as a victory for OSOCA? There are a number of compelling alternative reasons that Wang might win, including his years of constituency service, his personal charisma, the DPP’s popularity and conservative nomination strategy in his district, and his statement earlier this year that Sean Lien could win the mayoral race “over my dead body.” Wang’s membership in OSOCA is probably only a minor part of his political strength.

Rather than thinking about things from a voter’s point of view, it is more enlightening to think about things from the candidate’s and the alliance organizers’ points of view. The alliance organizers are not like political parties in that they do not nominate candidates. Rather, they look at the field of candidates already running and offer to endorse some of them. For each candidate, the organizer has to make a decision on whether to endorse them. The organizer has to balance two goals. On the one hand, the organizer wants candidates who share the alliance’s values. On the other hand, the organizer wants candidates who will win. If you have to choose between a candidate who shares your values 100% but only has a 1% chance of winning and another candidate who only agrees 80% with your values but has an 80% chance of winning, you’ll probably advance your organization’s goals more effectively with the latter candidate.

The candidate makes a similar calculation. Endorsement by an alliance may not, by itself, secure victory. However, if the candidate judges that association with the alliance will attract more votes than it will scare off, then he or she should welcome the endorsement. If the endorsement brings 500 extra votes, great! 500 votes could be the difference between victory and defeat. Each candidate will make a different judgment of the value of an endorsement based on all kinds of factors.

In SNTV elections with multi-member districts, factions, small parties, and electoral alliances prefer to only nominate one candidate per district. This allows them to concentrate their support on that candidate instead of worrying how to ration votes among multiple candidates. For an election alliance, this also allows them to maximize their value to each potential endorsee. A candidate might also want to be the sole endorsee in the district. Association with an extreme position could scare away the same number of moderate voters regardless of how many people are endorse, so you don’t want the share the benefit with anyone else.

The alliance organizer wants to put together the strongest possible roster of candidates, while the strongest candidates will only want to be affiliated with the alliance if they can monopolize its endorsement and they judge that endorsement to be a net vote winner. Thus, by looking at what kinds of candidates are on the rosters of each alliance, we can make judgments about the political strength of each of the groups vying to lead the Taiwan Independence movement.

Looking at the summary table above, it is evident that the OSOCA has put together a very strong roster. They have endorsed a candidate in 51 of the 69 districts (not counting Aboriginal districts) in the six direct municipalities. The TIA could only find candidates for 36 districts, and the TSU only nominated in 28 districts. (18 candidates were endorsed by both OSOCA and TIA.) The best indicator of candidate quality is whether the candidate is an incumbent or not. Again, OSOCA has by far the best roster. 79% of OSOCA candidates are incumbents, while only 55% of TIA and a mere 17% of TSU candidates won four years ago.

The two alliances have somewhat different partisan strategies. Both alliances are dominated by DPP candidates. This is perhaps natural, since most of the candidates on the green side of the political divide are DPP members. As a general rule, the strongest politicians tend to affiliate with one of the two big parties, so finding DPP politicians who are willing to accept an endorsement is a mark of credibility for OSOCA and TIA. (Interestingly, neither alliance seems to have endorsed any New Tide members, though I could be wrong about that.) The main difference is in the non-DPP candidates. TIA has endorsed several TSU nominees, while OSOCA has entirely separated itself from the TSU. When OSOCA endorses non-DPP candidates, they are independents with proven electoral track records.

The main lesson of this exercise is that Chen Shui-bian evidently still appeals to a large enough segment of the electorate that many established politicians are willing to associate themselves with him, at least in elections with multi-member districts. In contrast, the TSU appears to continue to lag far behind at the grassroots level.

Of course, it is possible that a particularly large proportion of one of these rosters will unexpectedly win or lose. The politicians set up the question as they like, but the voters always have the final move.

 

Here are the rosters for the two alliances.

    OSOCA Party Inc? TIA Party Inc?
台北市 1 林世宗

陳慈慧

D

D

Y

 

王奕凱 I  
  2 江志銘 D Y      
  3 許家蓓 D   李卓翰 T  
  4 王世堅 D Y 黃向群 D  
  5 童仲彥 D Y 童仲彥 D Y
  6            
新北市 1            
  2 陳科名 D Y      
  3  

陳啟能

 

D

 

Y

鄭金隆

陳啟能

D

D

Y

Y

  4 王淑惠 D Y      
  5 林秀惠 D Y      
  6 許昭興 D Y      
  7 吳琪銘 D Y      
  8       陳永福 D Y
  9            
  10 周雅玲 D Y      
桃園市 1 廖輝星 D Y      
  2            
  3 張文瑜 I Y      
  4            
  5            
  6       曾慶章 D  
  7 黃傅淑香 D Y 黃治東 T  
  8            
  9            
  10            
  11            
  12            
台中市 1 吳敏濟 D Y 吳敏濟 D Y
  2 楊典忠 D Y 楊典忠

陳年添

D

T

Y
  3 劉淑蘭 D   劉淑蘭 D  
  4 翁美春 D Y 吳富亭 T  
  5 林竹旺 I   張雅旻 D  
  6 陳淑華 D Y 陳淑華 D Y
  7 何文海 D Y 張耀中

黃聖硯

D

T

Y

 

  8 曾朝榮 D Y 曾朝榮 D Y
  9 范淞育 D   賴佳微 D Y
  10 江肇國 D   江肇國 D  
  11 邱素貞

何敏誠

D

D

Y

Y

邱素貞 D Y
  12 何明杰 D Y 何明杰 D Y
  13 劉錦和

李天生

D

D

Y

Y

劉錦和

林明正

D

T

Y

 

  14 蔡成圭 D Y      
台南市 1       劉米山 D  
  2 賴惠員

趙昆原

D

I

Y 賴惠員 D Y
  3 侯澄財 D Y      
  4 郭秀珠 I Y      
  5 陳朝來 D Y      
  6 梁順發 D Y      
  7 林志聰 D Y 林志聰 D Y
  8 王峻潭 D Y      
  9 施重男 I Y 陳秋萍 D Y
  10 郭信良

唐儀靜

D

D

Y 郭信良 D Y
  11 陳怡珍

唐碧娥

D

D

Y

Y

陳怡珍 D Y
  12 邱莉莉 D Y      
  13 李文正 D Y 李文正 D Y
  14 蔡旺詮 D Y 陳昌輝 T  
  15 周明德 D   周明德 D  
  16 曾王雅雲

劉正昌

D

D

Y 曾王雅雲 D Y
高雄市 1 蕭育穎 D   林富寶 D Y
  2 張文瑞 D Y      
  3 陳政聞 D Y 翁瑞珠 D Y
  4            
  5 林芳如 D Y      
  6       陳冠銘 T  
  7 鄭新助 I Y      
  8       楊定國 T  
  9 陳慧文 D Y      
  10       蕭吉男 T  
  11 李雨庭 D        

 

 

 

    OSOCA Party Inc? TIA Party Inc?
基隆市 1       詹春陽 D Y
  2       陳東財 D Y
  3  

陳建雄

 

D

  游祥耀

陳建雄

D

D

Y

 

  4       施世明

張錦煌

D

D

Y

Y

  5       洪森永

蔡適應

陳志成

D

D

D

Y

Y

Y

  6       林明智 D  
  7       蘇仁和

張美瓊

D

D

Y
宜蘭縣 1 林志鴻 D   林志鴻

張曜顯

吳福田

D

D

D

 

 

Y

  3       吳宏謀 D Y
  6       黃素琴 D Y
  8       薛呈懿 Tree  
  9       陳文昌 D  
新竹市 1       楊志翔 Green  
  2       鍾淑姬 I  
  4  

李姸慧

 

I

 

Y

吳秋穀

李姸慧

D

I

Y

Y

苗栗縣 4 林一方 Green   林一方 Green  
  6 陳春暖 D      
彰化縣 1 葉孟家 D   黃秀芳

林維浩

賴岸璋

陳冠鴻

D

D

D

I

Y

 

Y

 

  2 陳秀寳 D Y 陳秀寳 D Y
  3 王國忠 D   王國忠 D  
  4 彭國成 D   彭國成 D  
  5 歐陽蓁珠 D   歐陽蓁珠 D  
  6 許書維 D   許書維 D  
  7 李俊諭 D Y 李俊諭

江熊一楓

D

D

Y

Y

  8       洪遊江 T  
南投縣 1 賴燕雪 D Y 賴燕雪

蕭文進

D

T

Y
  2 林永鴻 D Y 廖梓佑 D Y
  3 陳昭煜 D Y 陳昭煜 D Y
  4 張志銘 D      
  5 許阿甘 D Y 許阿甘 D Y
雲林縣 1 江文登 D Y 林政亨 T  
  2       林樹山 D  
  3       李錫銘 T  
嘉義市 1     蔡永泉

林瑞霞

T

I

Y

 

  2  

蔡文旭

王美惠

 

 

D

D

 

 

Y

Y

 

陳幸枝

蔡文旭

王美惠

李孟哲

D

D

D

T

Y

Y

Y

 

嘉義縣 1 林緗亭 D   林緗亭 D  
  2 黃嘉寬 D Y 黃嘉寬

林山景

D

T

Y

 

  3 詹金繪 D Y    
  4 蔡鼎三

黃嫈珺

D

D

Y

Y

蔡鼎三

黃嫈珺

D

D

Y

Y

  6       何子凡 I  
屏東縣 1       李世斌 D Y
  3       潘淑眞 D Y
  4       許展維 D  
  6       鍾乙豪 D  
台東縣 1 林參天 I Y    
花蓮縣 1       莊枝財 D Y
  3       謝明圳 I  
澎湖縣            
金門縣            
連江縣            

 

support for independence, unification, and the status quo

December 31, 2013

The front page headline of the Taipei Times has an incendiary headline today.  In bold type, it screams, “Independence beats ‘status quo’ in poll.”  This headline is a lie.  Independence did not beat status quo in any meaningful sense.  I assume the headline reflects incompetence by the reporter and headline writer and not willful manipulation.  However, this sort of irresponsible journalism serves only to discredit the Taipei Times’ reputation.

Putting aside the misleading reporting, there actually is an interesting story to tell.  In fact, a more honest accounting of public opinion leads us to nearly the same conclusion that the Taipei Times’ fabrication wants us to reach.

The Taipei Times story is based on an unpublished DPP survey that another media outlet obtained and published.  Without asking anything about the methodology, the Taipei Times gleefully informed us that the poll showed 60.2% in favor of independence, 23.4% in favor of unification, and only 8.7% in favor of the status quo.  (They then furthered the impression of incompetence by asking a professor of medicine to give an expert opinion on the results.  One wonders which part of his medical school training covered public opinion survey methodology.)  Years and years of data from a variety of different survey organizations have consistently shown that status quo beats both independence and unification by large margins.  Suddenly, we are supposed to believe that society has violently shifted and half the population has suddenly changed its mind on the single most important political question facing Taiwan?  Perhaps I might believe that if the People’s Liberation Army had launched an attack and was trying to land soldiers on the Chiayi coastline, but nothing quite so monumental has happened in recent months.  So where do the survey results come from?

In every survey, the status quo always wins, and many people want to further probe what these people think.  One suspicion is that they are simply avoiding conflict by giving a neutral answer and that they must really support some concrete option.  Another suspicion is that they aren’t really neutral; they must lean at least a little to one side or the other.  A third group of (more manipulative) people simply wants to look for evidence that allows them to redefine these respondents as favoring their side in the debate.  At any rate, there have been several attempts over the years to get status quo supporters to clarify whether they “really” support unification or independence.

The most straightforward method is to simply take away the neutral category.  Instead of asking whether respondents favor independence, unification, or the status quo, they are asked whether they favor independence or unification.  Even when only given these two choices, a small number of people will insist that they favor maintaining the status quo.  This is how the DPP survey’s results were obtained.  There is nothing wrong with asking the question this way, but it is not fair to claim that independence beat the status quo based on these results.  You could claim almost anything that way.  (Q: Do you prefer totalitarianism or prison?  A: Totalitarianism 40%, prison 35%, democracy 3%.  Headline: “People prefer totalitarianism to democracy!!!)  The fact that independence beat unification 60-23 in a two-category question is interesting, but it does not imply any fundamental shift in the three-category question that we are used to seeing.

So has there actually been a decrease in support for the status quo?  We need more information.  Consider the following TVBS poll conducted about a month ago.  If you read Chinese, the original report is here.  All translations are mine.

­­­­­­­­­­­__________________________________________________________________

TVBS poll, Oct 24-28, 2013.  Sample size: n=1075.  Sorry for the strange numbering.

  1. President Ma stated that people on both sides of the straits belong to the Chinese nation.* Do you agree with this statement? [兩岸人民同屬中華民族, could also be translated as “people on both sides of the strait are ethnically Chinese”]
    1. Agree:                44
    2. Disagree:            42
    3. Non response:    14
  1. 2. President Ma stated that the cross-strait relationship is not an international relationship.  Do you agree?
    1. Agree:            20
    2. Disagree:        66
    3. NR                   14
  2. 3. If there is an opportunity, do you favor President Ma meeting with mainland President Xi?
    1. Favor:              54
    2. Oppose:           32
    3. NR                   15
  1. 4. Do you understand the contents of the cross-straits trade services agreement that Taiwan and the mainland signed?
    1. Understand:            16
    2. Don’t understand:   85
  1. 5. Generally speaking, do you support or oppose the cross-straits trade services agreement that Taiwan and the mainland signed?
    1. Support:           32
    2. Oppose:           43
    3. NR:                  26
  1. 6. Generally speaking, are you satisfied with the policies and methods the government is using to handle cross-straits relations?
3.27.2012 10.17.2012 6.5.2013 10.28.2013
Satisfied 29 26 25 24
Dissatisfied 55 54 48 64
NR 16 21 26 12
  1. 7. Looking at the situation now, do you think the relationship between the mainland and us is friendly or antagonistic?
    1. Friendly:          40
    2. Antagonistic:   37
    3. NR                   14
  1. 8. When the two sides negotiate and sign cross-strait agreements, do you have confidence that the government will protect Taiwan’s interests?
1.28.2011 3.27.2012 10.17.2012 8.30.2013 10.28.2013
Confident 39 34 27 25 21
Not confident 53 57 62 64 71
NR 8 9 12 11 7
  1. 9. Some people say that the Ma government’s cross-straits policies lean too strongly toward mainland China.  Do you agree?
8.26.2008 5.21.2009 12.17.2009 3.27.2012 10.28.2013
Agree 42 43 52 59 62
Disagree 44 40 33 31 27
NR 14 18 15 9 11
  1. 10. Concerning the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China, do you favor independence, unification, or maintaining the status quo?
    1. Independence         24
    2. Unification              7
    3. Status quo               64
    4. NR                           5
  1.  11. If you can only choose one, would you prefer for Taiwan to become an independent country or for Taiwan to unify with the mainland?
    1. Independence         71
    2. Unification              18
    3. NR                           11
  1.  12. In our society, some people say they are Chinese, and some people say they are Taiwanese.  Do you think that you are Taiwanese or Chinese?
    1. Taiwanese               78
    2. Chinese                   13
    3. NR                           9
  1.  13. In our society, some people say they are Chinese, some people say they are Taiwanese, and some people think they are both Taiwanese and Chinese.  Do you think that you are Taiwanese, Chinese, or both?
    1. Taiwanese               55
    2. Chinese                   3
    3. Both                         38
    4. NR                           4

­­­­­­­­­­­__________________________________________________________________

Questions 10 and 11 ask the independence/unification question in two ways, allowing and disallowing status quo.  When status quo is provided as one of the three answers, it easily beats the other two categories with 64%.  Independence beats unification 24-7%, but both percentages are fairly low.  This is the result we are all familiar with.  When only two answer categories are allowed, the results look much different, with independence beating unification 71-18%.  This result is roughly similar to that of the DPP poll.  (The TVBS methodology is more radical than the DPP’s.  TVBS won’t allow respondents to insist that they support the status quo.  Interviewers will keep pushing them until they pick one side or the other.  If a respondent absolutely refuses to pick a side, he or she is coded as a non-response.)  Maybe the Taipei Times should have run a story on this survey, claiming that independence beat the status quo by 71-0%!

TVBS did a similar thing for the familiar ethnic identity question (Q12, 13).  When they forced the people who thought of themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese to pick only one, suddenly Taiwanese identity beats Chinese identity by 78-13%.

Philosophically, are the two-category results better than the three-category results?  This is a subjective question.  I tend to believe that it is intellectually more honest to simply categorize them as neutral.  You can force me to have an opinion on whether people should take multivitamins or not, but I really don’t care.  If you eventually force an answer out of me, you probably shouldn’t use that as evidence that public opinion is against taking multivitamins.  If people are conflicted, confused, or genuinely want to put the decision of unification or independence off until further developments, we observers probably should respect that stance.  If you only report one result, I think it should be the three-category result.

That said, there is value in probing what lies under neutrality.  Consider a person who favors the status quo in Q10 but independence in Q11.  This person is not really an independence supporter, but he or she is closer to the independence side than to the unification side.  A slight to moderate change might be enough to push this person out of the status quo category and into the independence category.  However, it would probably require a major shift to push this person into the unification category.  What Q11 implies is that there are a lot more status quo supporters who might eventually shift to the independence camp than who might shift into the unification camp.

The TVBS/DPP two-category question is one way of seeing this.  I prefer a different set of questions developed by Yu Ching-hsin 游清鑫 and Hsiao Yi-ching 蕭怡靖.  In a paper published in the Taiwanese Political Science Review in 2011, Yu and Hsiao asked the normal six category question (immediate unification, eventual unification, immediate independence, eventual independence, decide later, status quo forever).  As usual, most people chose one of the two neutral categories.  (11.7% for the two unification categories, 27.5% for the two independence categories, and 56.9% for the two neutral categories.)  They then asked, “If that option is not possible, what would you prefer?”  This question teased out a few more answers.  Finally they asked, “Which option is least acceptable to you?”  This gave very interesting results.  59.9% were most strongly against unification, and 21.4% were most strongly against independence.  Using these answers, they put together a 7 category classification:

Conception of U or I

Yu & Hsiao

narrow

moderate

Broad

Immediate unification

0.8

0.8

19.5

29.1

Status quo, eventual unification

18.7

88.3

Status quo, oppose independence

9.6

40.4

Unclassified

10.9

10.9

Status quo, oppose unification

19.9

60.9

Status quo, eventual independence

30.1

41.0

Immediate independence

10.9

10.9

Total

100.0

(This poll was conducted from April 30 to May 3, 2011, by the Election Study Center at NCCU.  Sample size: 1130.)

What this does it to look at different levels of intensity for unification and independence.  If you think of pro-independence or pro-unification as being something you want right now, then 88% of the population is for the status quo and almost no one is for unification.  If you think of them as something that people want to obtain eventually, then only 40% favor the status quo, and independence beats unification by about 2-1.  If you take the broadest definition, by defining the two sides as including people who don’t want the other side, then only 10% are for the status quo, and independence still beats unification by about 2-1.

To me, this is much more interesting and honest than simply screaming that people support independence in the most sensational manner possible.  The real story is that, at every level of intensity that we have measured, more people prefer independence to unification by quite a large margin.  At the current juncture, it is probably somewhere close to 2-1 for independence, for all measures except the narrowest conception of independence and unification.

There is another interesting lesson from the TVBS data.  On all the abstract questions, President Ma is losing badly.  On Taiwanese/Chinese identity and on unification/independence, Ma’s side is clearly outnumbered.  Moreover, these numbers are trending against him.  Similarly, on all the vague questions about cross-straits negotiations, Ma is also losing badly.  66% disagree with Ma that the cross-strait relationship is not an international one.  64% are dissatisfied with the policies and methods the government is using to handle cross-straits relations.  62% agree that the Ma government’s cross-straits policies lean too strongly toward mainland China.  71% is not confident that the government will protect Taiwan’s interests.  Moreover, Ma is doing worse and worse over time on these questions.  In the very general and abstract, the Taiwanese public seems to have completely rejected Ma and his China policy.

However, when we look at the more concrete questions, the picture looks a bit different.  54% favor a meeting between Ma and Xi.  The cross-straits services trade agreement has 32% in favor.  While this is less than the 43% opposed, the gap is much smaller than those for the more abstract questions.  Ma is doing much, much better on these more specific questions.

What this suggests to me is that while Ma’s China policy may be built on an ideological foundation, it is tenable because it appeals to pragmatism.  Ma is clearly and decisively losing the ideological battle about identity.  However, he has found some space to operate in the more practical questions of how exactly Taiwan and China should interact.  All sides in Taiwan agree that Taiwan needs a prosperous economy and that, in an interconnected world, Taiwan and China have to have some sorts of economic interactions.  Even those people who don’t want to be part of China and don’t trust the Ma administration at all will concede that Taiwan’s government has to have some relations with China.  Doing nothing is not a very good choice.  There are a lot of people who are willing to look past their ideological differences with the Ma government and will consider individual policies for their economic impact.  To put it another way, the unification side is losing (badly) the battle for Taiwanese hearts and minds.  The revised strategy for unification rests on Taiwanese wallets.