Archive for the ‘independence/unification’ Category

Unification, independence, SQ, and polling

January 10, 2022

The Election Study Center at National Chengchi University has released an updated version of our big three political indicators today. Let me save you some time: there isn’t much dramatic change. The 2020 numbers for the green side were inflated a bit by the successful response to the pandemic, and now they have regressed a bit toward the mean and were dragged down by the lower numbers in the summer during the outbreak. Anyway, I’m not going to talk about the 2021 data points at all in this post.

The ESC has been tracking three indicators since the early 1990s: Party ID, Taiwanese/Chinese (T/C) identity, and preferences on unification or independence (UI). Every delegation of election observers, diplomats, media workers, or academics who has been to a briefing at the ESC has seen these, and these days they are widely cited in the popular media every time we update them.

There has been some discussion about the usefulness of polling data on preferences for Taiwan’s future status, with some people arguing it is fatally misleading. I believe the UI question continues to be useful.

Let me be clear about my biases. I hold a joint appointment at the ESC and have been associated with it in one role or another since 1995. I’m not a neutral observer; this is my family.

Here are the updated versions.

Of these three, I think UI is the least important. If you want to know what is happening today or tomorrow, look at party ID. If you want to understand the longer-term trends, look at the T/C identity. The party system and all national politics are ultimately grounded in identity. T/C identity is a simple question that asks respondents who they think they are. Respondents don’t need to worry about what anyone else is saying or doing, they just need to think about what they feel. Of course, what it means to be Chinese or Taiwanese is a shifting target in a world in which the PRC looms ever larger and demands the right to define terms for everyone. Nevertheless, this is a relatively easy and readily understandable question for most respondents.

In contrast, UI is a more complex question. It requires people to think about a lot of different questions, many of which are about unknowable things in the future. What does unification/independence mean? What would that world look like? What kind of life would I have in it? Is it realistic? Is it inevitable? What is the military capacity of the USA, PRC, ROC, and all the other countries that might be relevant? How willing are those countries to use their capacity?

In general, I’m not a big fan of questions that require people to imagine the future. Imagine, for example, that back in 2018 a prescient pollster had asked people, “If there were a global pandemic and scientists developed a vaccine, would you be willing to take it?” Would those results provide an accurate picture of what unfolded in 2021? Could our 2018 respondents even fathom what the pandemic would look like, much less the way various pundits would react to it? There are a bunch of people right now trying to ask whether Taiwanese citizens would fight back if the PRC invaded. Well, it depends. On what? Well, everything. The UI question isn’t quite this extreme, but the complex considerations make it less informative than party ID or T/C identity.

Nonetheless, the UI question remains useful for understanding how Taiwanese people understand the world today and their aspirations for the future. It doesn’t provide definitive answers, but it does provide some insights.

——————————————

First, let me establish that the status quo respondents are different in important ways from respondents who tell you they want independence or unification. Pundits on both sides are eager to claim that the SQ respondents really agree with their position. As pollsters, we are responsible for asking – not telling – respondents what they think. And it turns out that you can’t just put the SQ respondents on one side or the other. They are different from both. Here are some simple crosstabs from the 2020 TEDS post-election survey.

 T/C identity  
 TaiwanesebothChinese
    
Immediate unification25.062.56.3
Eventual unification28.056.813.6
SQ now, decide later55.140.14.6
SQ forever55.937.54.0
Eventual independence88.211.00.8
Immediate independence89.09.61.5
    
all65.729.33.7

.

 Party ID   
 KMTDPPNPPTPP
     
Immediate unification62.56.30.00.0
Eventual unification49.27.60.84.5
SQ now, decide later23.421.93.58.8
SQ forever25.622.11.43.7
Eventual independence6.852.08.57.4
Immediate independence4.457.44.42.2
     
all19.232.64.56.1

.

 Presidentialvote  
 SoongHanTsaiDidn’t vote
     
Immediate unification0.056.312.531.3
Eventual unification8.355.319.79.8
SQ now, decide later6.327.140.715.9
SQ forever3.430.541.710.3
Eventual independence1.96.977.47.7
Immediate independence0.75.977.012.6
     
All[1]3.922.053.011.9

Ok, so respondents in the different groups think and behave differently. That isn’t the same as their UI preferences. TEDS probes a bit more deeply into the conditionality of UI attitudes, asking them to agree or disagree in four different scenarios, which I will label easy and hard independence and unification.[2]

  • Easy independence: If Taiwan could still maintain peaceful relations with the PRC after declaring independence, then Taiwan should establish a new, independent country.
  • Hard independence: Even if the PRC decides to attack Taiwan after Taiwan declares independence, Taiwan should still become a new country.
  • Easy unification: If the economic, social, and political conditions were about the same in both mainland China and Taiwan, then the two sides should unify.
  • Hard unification: Even if the gap between the economic, social, and political conditions in mainland China and Taiwan is quite large, the two sides should still unify.

(I have combined immediate and eventual unification (independence) into one category.)

 EasyindependenceHardindependence
 AgreedisagreeagreeDisagree
     
Unification42.650.720.474.1
SQ now, decide later59.534.734.157.3
SQ forever47.437.128.453.7
Independence82.515.267.927.5
     
All64.628.845.246.1
 EasyunificationHardunification
 agreedisagreeAgreeDisagree
     
Unification71.620.340.550.0
SQ now, decide later34.758.510.482.0
SQ forever19.362.98.373.1
Independence13.084.33.793.1
     
All26.066.310.081.7

I have no idea what to make of the 20.3% who say they want unification in our standard question, but they disagree with unification in the easy unification scenario. I don’t really understand the 20.4% who agree with hard independence either, though at least you can imagine some of them thinking a Chinese invasion would be the fastest way to bring about unification. Similarly, I don’t have an explanation for why 15.2% of people who want independence in the base question disagree with easy independence. These results are good reminders that every respondent has their own ideas, and they don’t always match up with the categories or logic that we think are reasonable. Every respondent is a unique soap opera.

The rest of the respondents make more sense (to me).  Many readers will wonder about the SQ respondents, and these responses make it clear that they are not actually neutral between unification and independence. Clear pluralities are willing to have easy independence, but strong majorities are not willing to accept unification even in the easiest scenario.

The SQ forever respondents are particularly interesting. Just under half of them are willing to accept easy independence. The DPP insists that SQ forever is effectively independence, so we should just lump them together with the other independence supporters. This says otherwise. A good number of them seem to mean it when they say they want to maintain the SQ forever rather than seeking formal independence. You might argue that this is splitting hairs since the only difference is a formal declaration of independence, but that’s not nothing. Many of those people in the independence category actually want – some of them demand – a formal declaration. They had the opportunity to chose SQ forever and found it not good enough for them. They want independence, dammit! These two groups are not equivalent.

Why don’t we ask these four conditional questions in every survey? Why don’t we report these results to the media as breathlessly as the standard UI question? For one thing, it takes a lot of time to ask four questions, and we don’t ask them in every survey. More importantly, these are hypothetical conditions, and people differ quite a bit on how realistic or satisfactory these scenarios are. It’s hard to say that any of these questions provides a more definitive answer to what people want than the standard question in which we let them imagine the future for themselves.

——————————————-

Let me reiterate that, while the SQ respondents are qualitatively different from the independence respondents, they are NOT halfway between unification and independence. A very large number of them are openly hostile to the idea of unification. A decade ago, my colleagues (and fellow members of the ESC family) Hsiao Yi-ching 蕭怡靖 and Yu Ching-hsin 游清鑫 published a fantastic paper using data from 2009 in which they followed up on all those SQ answers. They first asked respondents what their second choice was, and if the respondents chose the other SQ option or refused to answer, they then asked which option the respondent could least accept. This produced a new six-category classification. What starts out as a two-to-one preference for independence (with only 30% expressing an opinion) ends up as a … two-to-one preference for independence (with 60% expressing an opinion) and a two-to-one preference against unification (with 90% expressing an opinion).

Base UI question Hsiao and Yu Revised UI battery 
    
Immediate unification0.8Immediate unification0.8
Eventual unification10.9Eventual unification18.7
SQ now, decide later32.3SQ, oppose independence9.6
SQ forever24.6SQ, oppose unification19.9
Eventual independence17.5Eventual independence30.1
Immediate independence3.9Immediate independence10.0
    
Non-response3.9Non-response10.9
n1130N1130

If you want to know more about what people think when they talk about unification or independence, there is no easy answer. They think about all sorts of different things. My colleague Cheng Su-feng 鄭夙芬 (who was the first person I met at the ESC and has been there since before we started asking any of these questions) has done a lot of focus groups over the past twenty years listening to people. She can tell you lots of stories about what people think they want. Unfortunately, the nature of this sort of qualitative research means that it is nearly impossible to summarize in one table or chart. It’s complicated; there is a person contradicting every clean narrative.

——————————————-

We are scholars, not pundits, and our primary reason for producing these data is to understand what has just happened rather than to try to predict the future or win a partisan argument. UI continues to be very useful for understanding a lot of things that we care about. As an example, let me present two very basic voting models in which I want to know who voted for the DPP candidate. The first is from the 1994 governor election, the first single-seat national election in Taiwan’s history. The second is from the just concluded 2020 presidential election. I’m just looking at T/C identity, UI preference, party ID, and ethnicity. I’m ignoring all the other standard variables (age, education, occupation, etc) because I’m lazy and this is a blog post, not a research paper. Still, look at the continuity over the past 26 years.

 1994 governor  2020 president  
 bs.e.sigBs.e.sig
       
T/C: Taiwanese.719.273**1.137.194***
T/C: Chinese-.368.414 -.543.474 
       
UI: unification.318.353 -.604.309$
UI: independence.666.335*.982.220***
       
PID: KMT-2.146.429***-2.529.240***
PID: DPP3.256.382***3.138.419***
PID: New-1.5961.070    
PID: NPP   2.189.759**
PID: TPP   -.506.273$
       
Mainlander-1.9951.066$-1.242.318***
Hakka-.212.370 -.187.272 
       
Constant-1.533.202 -.038.175 
       
N800  1328  
Model: logistic regression. Significance: $ p<.10; * p<.05; ** p<.01; *** p<.001

.

(A quick stats lesson: A positive coefficient (b) means respondents in that category were more likely to vote for the DPP candidate, and a negative coefficient means they were less likely. A zero coefficient means the variable doesn’t matter. If a coefficient is large relative to the standard error, it will be statistically significant. So powerful coefficients will be positive and significant (like Taiwanese identity) or negative and significant (like KMT party ID). These independent variables constructed from categorical variables and are compared to the missing reference category. So a person with a Taiwanese identity is significantly more likely to vote for the DPP candidate than a person with both Taiwanese and Chinese identities.)

The first conference I went to in Taiwan was in early 1995 when scholars were still figuring out how all these variables related to each other. I remember one professor (can’t remember who) saying that party ID, T/C identity, and UI preference were all “three sides of the same coin.” That is pithy and brilliant, though it overstates the correlation a bit. The three are all a bit different, so they all add a bit to the models. If, for example, I took out the party ID variables, the others would suddenly become much more powerful. The fact that they still matter even with party ID in the models illustrates their impact. The point here is that they do all matter. In fact, they arguably matter even more today than they did back when the modern party system was much younger. Since this post is about UI, let me point out that a respondent preferring either immediate or eventual independence votes differently than one who prefers one of the two SQ categories (SQ is the reference category in this model). Again, people who tell you they prefer the SQ cannot simply be lumped together with people who prefer independence or people who prefer unification. UI continues to be an important tool for understanding why things are happening the way they are.

——————————–

Questions like this that we ask again and again, year after year are extremely valuable for trying to figure out the impact of various events, telling convincing stories about what is happening, and simply identifying important trends. In recent years, the UI responses have been fairly stable and at the same time quite volatile. If we look at the results from the TEDS quarterly polls on presidential satisfaction since Tsai’s election, you can see a few peaks and valleys. For the first two years, it was pretty stable. 25% supported independence, 10% supported unification, and 60% supported the status quo. There was a sudden increase for unification in 2017, and in the three surveys from March to September 2018, unification was around 16% while independence was near 20%. Suddenly, the two were almost equal. Then 2019 reversed that trend and went even further in the opposite direction. By the early months of the pandemic, unification was down at 5% while independence soared to the high 30s. Since then, the numbers have regressed toward that original baseline, though they haven’t gone all the way back. Who changed?

I don’t have the time or energy to do a full breakdown of these shifts, so I’m just going to look briefly how at different age groups changed in four different surveys. I use June 2016 as a baseline; September 2018 was the peak of the unification wave; March 2020 saw the peak of the independence wave; and September 2021 is the most recent survey that we have data for.

It is fairly well-known that younger people have stronger support for independence. In fact, there is a fairly sharp dividing line at around 40 years old. People under 40 look pretty similar and people over 40 look fairly similar, but those two groups are notably different from each other. This is even clearer in T/C identity, but you can see it in UI as well.

One clear age divide involves support for the status quo. Younger people are not nearly as interested in SQ as old people, and this is especially true for SQ forever. Perhaps “forever” means something different to people who are 25 and 75. However, young people are also not that interested in deciding later, even though they have plenty of time left to make that decision.

What happened with that that spike for unification in Sept 2018? It occurs in all age groups, though it is a bit smaller in the 20-29 group. It wasn’t just gullible old people or naïve youngsters; all ages were susceptible to whatever suddenly made China look more appealing. Where did all those new unification supporters come from? The over 50 groups saw huge drops in support for SQ forever. The under 40s actually saw slight increases for the two SQ categories, but they saw huge drops in support for independence. Now, young people are generally less entrenched in their beliefs and more open to new ideas, but I don’t think all those youths went straight from independence all the way across the political spectrum to unification. I think it is more likely that many young independence supporters shifted to SQ, while many SQ supporters shifted to unification. At any rate, there were different patterns among young and old respondents.

What about the surge for independence in March 2020? It was much larger among younger voters. However, those big gains for the younger voters have mostly faded. Support for independence for people in their 20s and 30s is not that much different in September 2021 from its level in the June 2016 baseline survey. March 2020 was a temporary surge for them. It looks as if they tried out some new ideas but eventually ended up back where they started. Older voters had a much smaller surge in March 2020, but those changes have persisted. I assume that it is harder to change an older voter’s mind, so it is quite dramatic to see support for independence among people in their 40s, for example, go from 16.7% in June 2016 to 28.6% in September 2021. Most media coverage about the effect of Hong Kong has focused on young people and their sense of “dried mangos” (existential national crisis), but the more powerful impact might be on older voters who were thoroughly disillusioned by China’s actions.

——————————————

One of the interesting rabbit holes I dug into while thinking about this topic was the early days of UI questions. We didn’t get it right the first time. This was back when we were still figuring out lots of things about how to do polls, and we didn’t yet have a lot of standardized questions that we asked in exactly the same form year after year. The first time I can find a UI question is 1991. (We might have asked it in 1989, but I don’t have the 1989 data on my hard drive.)

We didn’t do a national face-to-face survey after the 1991 National Assembly elections, but we did do a national post-election telephone survey. The question asked was:

有人主張要台灣獨立,有人主張要中國統一,也有人認為最好維持現狀,請問您的意見是什麼?

Some people support Taiwan independence, some people support Chinese unification, there are also people who believe it is best to maintain the status quo. What is your opinion?

1991 ESC national telephone survey%
  
Taiwan independence2.6
Chinese unification18.3
Maintain status quo62.4
Don’t care4.3
Don’t know10.2
Other non-response11.2

This is a comically disastrous polling result. More people gave a non-response than expressed a preference for unification and independence combined. These answers tell you almost nothing interesting about what people wanted. You certainly can’t use this in vote decision model.

UI wasn’t a trivial question in 1991. The DPP had treated the 1991 National Assembly election as a test case for its independence plank. The entire campaign was centered on its call for independence. The KMT, sensing the unpopularity of the DPP’s position didn’t shy away from this question. In the end, it was a catastrophic result for the DPP, which only managed to get 23.5% of the votes. The KMT won 254 of 325 seats, more than the 75% threshold needed to allow it to unilaterally amend the constitution.

Still, independence must have had more than 2.6% support in the electorate. Remember that Taiwan was still only a few years removed from martial law. People were still hesitant to answer questions openly and honestly, especially when their opinions ran counter to the KMT’s positions. This continued to be a problem until about 1995. So the challenge for the ESC in the early 1990s was to rephrase this question in a way that coaxed hesitant respondents to reveal useful information about themselves while still remaining neutral.

The 1992 post-election survey tried adding a fourth category. It asked the question:

去年立委選舉,有人主張要台灣獨立,有人主張要中國統一,有人主張一中一台,也有人認為維持現狀,請問您的意見是什麼?

In last year’s legislative election, some people supported Taiwan independence, some people support Chinese unification, some people supported One China One Taiwan, and there were also people who supported maintaining the status quo. What is your opinion?

1992 ESC national post-election survey%
  
Taiwan independence3.6
Chinese unification17.1
Maintain status quo52.9
One China, One Taiwan3.4
Don’t care2.2
It depends4.1
No opinion5.8
Don’t know9.8
Refuse to answer1.1

That’s a little better, but not much. You still have 23.0% of people giving non-responses, and more than twice as many people placing themselves in the neutral SQ category as in one of the more interesting positions. You just can’t do much interesting analysis if most people either put themselves in a neutral category or refuse to answer the question.

The ESC scholars revamped the UI question for the 1993 post-election survey, producing what is more or less the modern form.

關於台灣和大陸的關係,有幾種不同的看法,請問您比較偏向那一種?

Concerning the relationship between Taiwan and the Mainland, there are several different opinions. Which one do you lean toward?

[Respondents were shown a card listing the six different options.]

1993 ESC national post-election survey%
  
Unification as soon as possible
儘快統一
4.3
Maintain status quo, later move toward unification
維持現狀,以後走向統一
23.2
Maintain status quo, judge the situation, then decide independence or unification
維持現狀,看情形再決定獨立或統一
32.4
Maintain the status quo forever
永遠維持現狀
23.1
Maintain status quo, later move toward independence
維持現狀,以後走向獨立
7.6
Independence as soon as possible
儘快獨立
2.8
  
Difficult to say2.1
No opinion3.8
Don’t know10.7
Refuse to answer1.7

This was a major improvement over previous versions. First, the percentage of non-responses was reduced significantly, dropping from 23.0% to 18.3%. Second, the enormous status quo category was cut into two smaller categories. Third and most importantly, more people were coaxed out to express a preference for independence and unification, which is what we really cared about. 17.1% expressed a preference for unification in 1992, while the 1993 wording produced 27.5% support for unification. Similarly, the 1992 survey found 3.6% for independence, while the 1993 survey found 10.4% supporting independence. To the naked eye, it looks as if respondents in the earlier surveys heard “independence” as equivalent to “immediate independence,” and the addition of a less threatening “eventual” independence category coaxed some reticent respondents to reveal a preference.

As for those two SQ categories, it wasn’t simply a matter of cutting a big category into two smaller pieces. Unlike the 2020 data I presented above, those two SQ categories were a bit different in 1993. The SQ forever respondents were a bit more likely to have a Taiwanese identity and a bit less likely to have a dual identity. On exclusively Chinese identity, the two SQ categories were clearly in the middle. Still, these two SQ categories had some subtle differences from each other. This was something scholars could chew on. (Eventually, we collectively decided it wasn’t worth the effort to focus too much on this difference, since other differences were much more powerful. Also, the distinction has faded over time. We didn’t know that in 1994, though.)

1993 ESC post-electionT/C identity  
 TaiwanesebothChinese
    
Immediate unification30.035.031.7
Eventual unification15.247.834.8
SQ now, decide later31.246.219.9
SQ forever39.735.921.8
Eventual independence36.847.213.2
Immediate independence72.525.02.5

It was somewhere around this time that the ESC made a commitment to track the three big indicators. Since the mid-1990s, we have asked these three questions in every survey we do. It doesn’t matter what the topic is. We might be commissioned to do a survey on health care or gender equality, but we will insist of having these three questions. We are more likely to agree to drop a demographic question than one of these three. To give you an idea of what an enormous investment this is, remember that you can only ask about 30-35 substantive questions in a telephone survey. These three questions are a 10% tax on the available time and space. Those three charts I showed at the beginning of this post don’t represent one survey each year. Each year combines all the surveys we did in that calendar year; each data point represents tens of thousands of respondents. We firmly believe that these are critical to understanding political events in Taiwan.

I have one more point to make. This is more about politics than polling. The DPP went through a monumental shift in the 1990s. In 1990, they adopted the Taiwan independence plank in their party platform, making the pursuit of Taiwan independence a central goal of the party. They were not referring to maintaining the status quo or just maintaining a de facto separation from China. They wanted a formal declaration of independence, a new constitution, and a change of the country’s name from Republic of China to Republic of Taiwan. They did not consider Taiwan to already be independent; independence was something that had to be pursued. As I noted, this was the core appeal in their disastrous 1991 National Assembly campaign. The 1991 election was the first national election with all seats elected, and no one quite knew what to expect. The independence activists were confident that the voters had been waiting for an opportunity to support independence. It turns out they badly misjudged the electorate. The DPP toned down their demands for formal independence in the 1992 legislative elections and did much better. The rest of the 1990s were a gradual process of distancing themselves from the Taiwan Independence Plank. In 1995, Shih Ming-teh 施明德, who was widely understood as a Taiwan independence radical, was elected DPP party chair. Upon taking office, Shih made the momentous declaration that the DPP could not and would not 不能也不會 declare independence if it came to power. As the 2000 presidential election approached and it seemed plausible that the DPP might be competitive or even win, Chen Shui-bian pushed the party to pass the Resolution on Taiwan’s Future 台灣前途決議文, which downgraded the Taiwan Independence Plank to a mere historical document. At some point, the DPP started claiming that the status quo was already independence, and the large group of people who supported maintaining the status quo forever should actually be understood as Taiwan independence supporters. The KMT spent most of the 1990s and 2000s ignoring this shift and gleefully trying to tie the DPP to formal Taiwan independence. For the first two decades of democracy, the conventional wisdom was that formal independence was ballot box poison 票方毒藥。In the Tsai era, we hear almost nothing about formal independence. The status quo is widely understood as de facto independence, and unification would require a dramatic change to the status quo. Unification is now the radical idea that is ballot box poison. It’s amazing what a dramatic shift this has been.

I don’t have any evidence for this, but I wonder if the ESC surveys played some role in this transformation. Elections showed that formal independence was not as popular as activists had thought, and the new surveys backed this up. Meanwhile, the new surveys showed that there was an enormous group in the middle of the electorate that could easily be redefined being for de facto independence. It’s never easy to abandon a cherished position, and formal independence was a cherished position. However, the new surveys might have been a slap in the face telling the DPP elites and activists why they were losing and how to stop losing. It’s possible that the “SQ forever” category has been a catalyst for the modern independence movement.


[1] Tsai didn’t actually get more than twice as many votes as Han. Post-election surveys often find too much support for the winner and not enough for the loser. And turnout wasn’t 88% either. Post-election polls aren’t perfect, and the government won’t let us do exit polls. This is the best we have.

[2] A fair number of respondents will react to these hypothetical conditions by protesting that they are impossible and refusing to answer. Not everyone imagines the same possibilities for the future.

What is Taiwan independence?

June 1, 2019

Han Kuo-yu held a big rally in Taipei today. I had planned on going, but it was raining. Anyway, the entire thing was broadcast on Han Kuo-yu Official Propaganda Media Sponsored by Wang Wang Sponsored by China CiTV news, including sideline reporters giving live updates from inside buses driving up from southern Taiwan and interviews with peddlers trying to sell herbal candy. I just couldn’t stomach too much of that stuff today.

Instead, I thought I’d try to write out a thought that has been rattling around in my head for a couple of months, since even before William Lai announced his challenge to Tsai Ing-wen. The basic idea is this: there is a growing split among people who want Taiwan to someday become independent. This is generational, but it is more fundamentally about what Taiwan independence means and what is necessary to make Taiwan independent. The group of people who are generally labeled as the Taiwan independence movement have a very different idea about these things than the mainstream of the DPP elite, and this is what is driving the fundamentalists’ dissatisfaction with Tsai and Lai’s challenge to her.

Let’s start in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when the current elders of the Taiwan independence movement were crystalizing their views. For these people, the primary obstacle to Taiwan independence was the KMT and its authoritarian regime in Taiwan. The task at hand was to dislodge the KMT from power so that they could declare independence. Some of them tried violence, but most of them eventually merged with the Tangwai pro-democracy movement to try to remove the KMT through democratic means. They have always placed a premium on trying to get the government and the populace to make statements about Taiwan’s sovereignty. One of the avenues for this was putting the Taiwan Independence Plank in the DPP’s party platform in 1991. Another was to push for referendums, so that the people could directly vote on whether Taiwan should become independent.

To these people, the threat from the PRC was a red herring. The KMT used the possibility of a military invasion to scare people from supporting Taiwan independence, so in order to make their case, they had to argue that the threat was a lie. In the authoritarian era, this was fairly easy. The PRC didn’t really have the capacity to launch an invasion of Taiwan, and the USA military guaranteed Taiwan’s security. The ROC military was fundamentally seen as part of the KMT regime. When martial law was still in effect, the military’s primary task was to suppress Taiwan’s population. Even after martial law, the ROC military was regarded more as an enemy to be overcome and neutered than as a potentially useful tool. There is deep distrust of the military among fundamentalists, who see a disproportionately mainlander officer corps and a Chinese nationalist political ideology. Even today, independence fundamentalists are often stunningly dismissive of the threat from China and aggressively confident in the USA.

The independence fundamentalists are angry with the Tsai administration for not doing enough to promote Taiwan independence. She has conspicuously refrained from the types of actions that President Chen vigorously pursued, such as renaming all the state-run companies with “China” in their name, promoting nationalist referendums, proposing a new constitution, and stirring up nationalist debates at every opportunity. Note that all these are inward-oriented. The way to pursue Taiwan independence was for Taiwan to come to some sort of internal consensus so that it could outwardly declare its independence to the world. I think the final straw that pushed the independence fundamentalists over the edge was the 2018 referendum on using the name “Taiwan” in the 2022 Tokyo Olympics. Tsai did not openly support this referendum. In fact, she tried to stop DPP elected officials from participating in rallies supporting the measure. The measure failed, and I think the fundamentalists blamed her, seeing her reticence as outright betrayal.

 

Let’s turn to the other side, who have a very different vision of Taiwan independence. They don’t have a commonly accepted label, so I’m going to call them “pragmatists.” For this group, Taiwan is already de facto independent. Democratization fundamentally transformed Taiwan. The authoritarian KMT had to transform itself into a normal political party, one of several contesting power. That is, the KMT was redefined as being under the constitution, not above it.  With democracy, the population of Taiwan was already exercising sovereignty. Thus, in 1995, DPP chair Shih Ming-teh declared that the DPP would not and could not formally declare independence if it took power. Since Taiwan was already independent, there was no need to do so, and altering Taiwan’s sovereignty was beyond the ordinary powers of a governing majority. When it became apparent that the DPP had a real shot to win the 2000 presidential election, it passed a resolution on Taiwan’s future declaring the independence plank a mere historical document. The status quo is something to be protected, not overturned.

For the pragmatists, the main threat to Taiwan independence is not internal, it is external. The threat from China is real, and the primary task is to build up the capacity to resist Chinese attempts to swallow Taiwan. From day one of her presidency, Tsai has spent a tremendous amount of energy on the military. She has funded projects, she regularly visits bases and has photo-ops, and, in public speeches, she proudly and pointedly asserts her status as commander-in-chief much more than Lee, Chen, or Ma ever did. If the independence fundamentalists see the military as an obstacle, the pragmatists view the military as a vital bulwark protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty. If China invades, Taiwan only has one military available to fight. Regardless of which party the officers prefer, independence advocates have no choice but to work with them. Rather than try to starve or disempower the military, pragmatists want to create a powerful and professional military loyal to the state. If the military is loyal to the ROC, then independence advocates must reconcile themselves to accepting the ROC. Unlike the fundamentalists, the pragmatists take the Chinese invasion threat very seriously. Deterring it is the most important thing a Taiwan independence supporter can do.

On economics, the pragmatists are again different. While the fundamentalists don’t actively want Taiwan’s economy to be integrated into China’s, this is not necessarily one of their top priorities. President Chen was actually quite aggressive in lowering barriers to investment in China, and peak period of the hollowing out of Taiwan’s industrial base was under his administration. This fits with the idea that China is not really the threat. The pragmatists see economic integration with China as far more dangerous. China now has economic leverage that it can use to put pressure on Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty. Thus, Tsai has tried to slowly decouple the two economies, both by pushing for more economic cooperation with other countries and also by encouraging Taiwanese companies in China to come back home. For the pragmatists, this effort is central to promotion of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

For the pragmatists, exercises of self-expression, such as referendums, are a self-indulgent luxury, not the essence of the movement. It might be fun and emotionally satisfying to poke China in the eye, but one must be mindful of the consequences. If China attacks, Taiwan will need military help from the USA (and Japan). If that attack is triggered by a provocative referendum, American and Japanese public opinion might not support sending troops. Since the goal is to maintain sovereignty, these sorts of public statements can be counterproductive and downright dangerous. Referendums, in particular, are a lose-lose proposition. If they pass, they make Taiwan’s international position more precarious (because China is more likely to attack and the USA is less likely to help). Pragmatists are forced to consider voting against such propositions, which is a painful act in and of itself. If the measure fails, it adds weight to the Chinese insistence that Chinese on both sides believe that there is only one China. The best option is to keep these damn referendums off the ballot.

Fundamentalists are much more open to forcing the issue. If the referendum law is ever modified to allow the question of whether Taiwan should declare independence, they absolutely will push for such a referendum as soon as possible. If you believe that the primary obstacles are internal, then there is no reason not to try. If the question fails, you simply try again in a few years. That is what the Quebec and Scottish nationalists have done. For the pragmatists, since the primary obstacles to Taiwan independence are external, the timing of any declaration of formal independence depends on the external environment. That is, they have to wait until China no longer has the capacity or the will to invade Taiwan, or until political will in the USA congeals in a much stronger and clearer direction, or until Taiwan builds up its own military capacity, or until some dramatic event like the end of the Cold War changes the entire world and makes things possible that previously seemed unimaginable. In the meantime, the pragmatists’ task is to maintain Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty so that when the opportunity comes, Taiwan will be ready.

 

 

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.