Archive for the ‘public opinion’ Category

Recent changes in national identity

June 20, 2020

A month ago, I posted a story about public opinion in Taiwan as of May 2020. I looked at polling from MyFormosa, which publishes polls every month. The big takeaway was that – almost certainly because of its effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic – President Tsai, the central government, and (to a lesser extent) the DPP had all surged in popularity. Meanwhile, the KMT’s popularity had plummeted. I did not discuss the upcoming Kaohsiung recall vote in that post, but if you projected those results to Kaohsiung you should not have been surprised that the recall was successful in such a hostile partisan environment to the KMT. (Note: I was still surprised at just HOW successful the recall was.)

In that post, I issued one caveat. What I really wanted to know was whether opinions about national identity had changed, but unfortunately MyFormosa does not ask that question. I always tell people that attitudes toward national identity are the single most important indicator in Taiwan politics. If you can only know one thing, you should ask how many people think they are Chinese (to some extent) or how many people think they are only Taiwanese. Well, now I have some data on this.

 

Before I show you the results, let me explain why I care so much about this single indicator. In the 1940s and 1950s, American political scientists came to the understanding that voters don’t start each election with a clean slate. Instead, most people have a standing vote choice: all else equal they will usually vote for the same party they have voted for in previous elections. Different people theorized about this standing vote choice in different ways, but the field of voting behavior came to be dominated by the Michigan school, laid out in the 1960 classic The American Voter. The Michigan scholars’ theory was based in social psychology, and they pointed to what they labeled “party identification” as the single most important variable for understanding voting choices. They believed the simple question, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” could explain more than anything else.

Theoretically, they thought of party ID as a group identity. People think of themselves as belonging to groups, such as Catholics, union members, Red Sox fans, ethnic Italians, Texans, hunters, and so on. Some of these group identities are more fundamental to their sense of person than others. The Michigan scholars thought that party ID was one of the basic identities that most people have. I am a Democrat; people who think like I do and share my values are Democrats; this is who we are. In early works, they argued that you learned your party ID as a child on your parents’ knees and kept it until death. The only things that could change a party ID were personal or social cataclysmic events, such as getting married, converting to a different religion, the Civil War, or the Great Depression. Other than that, people tended to continue supporting the same party they had always supported. In fact, this stance tended to get stronger over time due to a mechanism called the perceptual screen. Partisans viewed the world through tinted glasses, and they could almost always interpret the news as evidence that their party and its values were correct and the other party and its lousy values were dead wrong.

In sum, they thought party ID was the most stable and basic political attitude that individuals held. Democrats might vote for Eisenhower because the respected his personal war record or Republicans might vote for Kennedy because they were Catholic, but those were short-term deviations. Party ID was stable, and most people most of the time would vote with their party.

It turned out that party ID was not quite as stable as those early scholars had believed. A famous panel survey in the early 1970s, in which the same respondents were interviewed three times at two-year intervals, showed that quite a few people changed their answers to the party ID question. The early 1970s were a turbulent time in American politics, but no one thought the USA was going through anything as cataclysmic as the Civil War. The theory had to be adjusted in face of the new evidence, and the 1970s and 1980s featured a lot of work about how people constantly update their party ID. Some even suggested that it wasn’t a group identity at all.

In the current era of highly polarized and even tribal American politics, the group identity theory of party ID looks better than it did in the 1970s. Even so, there are still a lot of Americans who don’t think much about politics and certainly don’t think that being a Democrat or a Republican is a core part of who they are.

With that background, let’s return to Taiwan. The two big parties have been building their support coalitions for decades, and the electoral returns show that they have fairly stable bases of support. There are surprises here and there, but it is certainly possible to think of these as short-term deviations from the normal patterns grounded in party ID.

However, as in the USA, there is ample evidence in Taiwan that party ID is not as stable or as fundamental to how people think about themselves as some might think. Of course, there are lots of people who always vote for the DPP and would sooner drink bleach than vote for the KMT. But there are also a lot of people who don’t have strong feelings about either one of the two big, established parties or any of the newer, smaller parties. If you look at polling data in party ID over the past three decades, there are lots of changes. Parties go up, and then they go down. Sometimes the surges and dives are quite sudden and dramatic. This isn’t to say that party ID is completely malleable and fluid; it is still one of the more stable attitudes in our surveys.

However, there is a better indicator. National identity fits that early conception of a group identity even better than party ID. Whether you see yourself as being at least somewhat Chinese or as only Taiwanese shapes much more of your everyday life than simply your political choices. This might affect which language you speak, how you practice your religion, what kinds of foods you eat, which school you choose, which person you fall in love with, how often you argue with your parents, and many other basic aspects of both political and non-political life.

Moreover, national identity is the foundation of the current political system. The Taiwan Voter (2017) argues that while the Michigan school identified the big three factors (party, candidate, issues, in declining importance), Taiwan has a fourth factor, national identity, that precedes and shapes those three factors.

Again, not everyone chooses to clearly define themselves as either somewhat Chinese or exclusively Taiwanese, but many do. The Election Study Center (ESC) asks the national identity question in every poll it conducts, and almost everyone can answer it. People understand this question, and they have an opinion about it. As a result, national identity tends to be the most stable attitude we measure. Of course, the lines go up and down a bit, but not nearly as much as for other variables.

 

The Taiwan Election and Democratization Study (TEDS) project does most of the political science survey projects in Taiwan these days. TEDS is governed by scholars from every major university and who individually hold every major political viewpoint. However, because we are scholars who care most of all about getting good data to answer our questions, there is less of an incentive to try to produce “good results” for one party or another. Moreover, since we intentionally do not release the data for three months, the media rarely reports any results. As such, this is the most reliable data that Taiwan produces. One of the projects that TEDS does are quarterly telephone surveys on satisfaction with government performance. These are conducted at the ESC, which I have been associated with for 25 years and where I currently hold a joint appointment. I can personally vouch for the integrity of these surveys. Everything we do is with the intention of getting the best possible data. We do not design questions, sampling protocols, or anything else with the intent of producing the “right outcome” for a particular political purpose.

The ESC has been asking the same question about national identity for three decades. “In our society, some people say that they are Taiwanese. There are also people who say that they are Chinese. There are also people who say that they are both. Do you consider yourself as Taiwanese, Chinese, or both?”  我們社會上,有人說自己是「臺灣人」,也有人說自己是「中國人」,也有人說都是。請問您認為自己是「臺灣人」、「中國人」,或者都是?

Every year, the ESC combines the results from every survey it has conducted over the previous year and puts out a chart showing the results of this question over time.

You can see that percentage of people calling themselves Taiwanese peaked in 2014 and then slowly drifted downward through most of Tsai’s first term. However, if you look at the longer trend and ignore the peaks and valleys, you can see that the green line has had a long and steady upward climb over the past quarter century. Research shows that generational replacement is the main driver of this long-term trend. As older people die, they are replaced in the population by younger people who are more likely to identify as only Taiwanese.

One thing that is noticeably missing in this chart are big peaks and valleys that seem to follow current political events. Can you see where the Red Shirt protests of the Chen presidency took place? Maybe, but only barely. Sure, there is a peak in Taiwanese identity in 2014 – the year of the Sunflower Movement – but it only goes from the mid-50s to just over 60, and then it drifts back down again to the mid-50s. 5% is important, but it isn’t an earthquake. Similarly, the line goes back up about 5% again in 2019, a year in which we heard constantly about events in Hong Kong. If you imagine a straight trend line drawn on top of the actual line, the actual line never gets more than 2-3% away from that straight trend line. This is about as stable as anything ever gets.

 

So now let me show you the most recent data from the quarterly TEDS telephone survey. Again, remember that this is from March so it is already three months old. Things might have changed by now (though there isn’t much reason to expect any major changes between May and June from the fairly stable results in the MyFormosa polls).

Since very few people say that they are only Chinese, I always combine the “Chinese” and “both” categories to get a category in which respondents consider themselves at least partially Chinese. This is the chart showing polls since Tsai’s inauguration in May 2016. Only the last data point comes after her re-election and might reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That last data point is a clear outlier. From 2016 to 2019, with the exception of the two late 2018 surveys as President Tsai’s nadir, the exclusive Taiwanese line is consistently between 55-60%. In December 2019 – right before President Tsai won re-election in a landslide – 60.9% of respondents identified as exclusively Taiwanese. Three months later in March 2020, that number skyrocketed to 70.3%. We have seen some large shifts before, but those were all changes within the historical range of outcomes. 70% is completely unprecedented. This is a big deal.

We don’t know if this number will stay so high, go even higher, or drift down to more familiar territory. If it does turn out to be a lasting change, it will affect Taiwan’s political environment in profound ways. We will have to wait to see about that. For now, just be aware that the recent changes in Taiwan’s public opinion are potentially much, much more significant than President Tsai’s fantastically high but probably ephemeral approval ratings.

Public opinion in May 2020

May 28, 2020

I haven’t written much about the state of public opinion in Taiwan since the January election. It is hard to believe that only a year and a half ago, people were writing President Tsai Ing-wen off as a failed president. They weren’t just making things up; her polls were terrible and the DPP suffered a massive defeat in the November 2018 elections. However, over the course of 2019 she pulled off a stunning reversal of fortune. Last year in September, I wrote a post about six astonishing months. However, September 2019 was not her peak. The poll numbers for both her and her party actually got better in November and December, and she led her party to a decisive victory in January.

Let’s flash back to January 2012 for a moment. After four years of low polling numbers and weak – though hardly disastrous – midterm elections, Ma pulled everything back together and won another term. In retrospect, he had a fantastic campaign. His polling numbers peaked almost precisely in January 2012, when the KMT party ID briefly spiked up into the forties and his satisfaction briefly topped his dissatisfaction. However, almost immediately after election day, Ma’s numbers started plunging. I don’t have the exact figures at hand, but if I recall correctly, by his second inauguration in May his satisfaction ratings were already down in the twenties and they never got much higher for the rest of his presidency. It was certainly plausible that Tsai would have a similar experience. However, that is not how things have unfolded thus far.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dominated world news for the past four months, and Taiwan’s response has been far and away the best in the world. Of the wealthy countries that have the state capacity to document the extent of the virus, Taiwan has had the fewest cases. Only Taiwan and a few other countries have managed to avoid an economically devasting social lockdown. Of those, South Korea and Japan have had far more cases and deaths. Even New Zealand, which might have the second-best response in the world, has had to lock down for a while. People might argue that Taiwan has the advantage of being an island with only a few ports of entry. That certainly does make containment easier. However, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and a few other places (arguably Singapore) are also islands or effectively islands, and none of them have managed things quite as well as Taiwan. Taiwan’s economy has stayed open, the schools were only delayed for a couple weeks after the winter break, and life has continued more or less normally here. We all have TVs and can see that this is not how the rest of the world has experienced the pandemic. Taiwan has done better, and it should not be surprising that public evaluations of the DPP government are extremely positive. People like good governance.

 

I am going to look at a few polls from the MyFormosa website. As I have written before, these polls are supervised by Tai Li-an 戴立安, one of the most senior and well-respected public pollsters in the country. The MyFormosa polls historically tend to produce slightly better results for the DPP than some other polls, but it isn’t a very large partisan bias. More importantly, they publish a poll every month with the same questions and the same sampling and interviewing methodology so that we can track changes over time. They did not publish a poll at the end of January; I guess they were worn out from the election and needed a break. Conveniently, this gap helps us visually mark the pre-election and post-election periods.

 

Let’s start with evaluations of President Tsai. MyFormosa asks both whether respondents trust her and whether they are satisfied with her overall performance as president. For the moment, let’s focus on satisfaction. The story of most of Tsai’s first term was her dismal satisfaction ratings. In December 2018, she was nearly 50 points underwater. This led to the KMT election landslide, predictions of her political burial, and a primary challenge for the presidential nomination. However, November and December 2018 were the low point, and her numbers slowly improved. By November and December 2019, the last two polls before the presidential election, she was roughly 10 points above water. As dramatic as that reversal was, there was still more to come. In the last three months, her approval rating has been a nearly unfathomable 70%, 40-45 points higher than her dissatisfaction numbers. The Taiwanese population has historically been pretty stingy with approval ratings for presidents; I don’t think we have ever seen these sorts of numbers for this length of time. Of course, this can’t possibly be sustainable; her satisfaction ratings have to come down. Taiwan has highly developed partisan politics, and eventually those long-term ingrained political preferences will reassert themselves.

What about trust in Tsai? The responses to satisfaction and trust are very similar, and in the past I’ve just used one or the other. However, there is a little difference. Back when Tsai’s numbers were dismal, she always did a bit better in trust than satisfaction. For example in February 2019 she was 38 points underwater in satisfaction but only 28 points underwater in trust. That is, there was a group of people who weren’t satisfied with her performance but still trusted her to do the right thing. This was probably the easiest group of voters to win back during the 2019 campaign. At any rate, now that she is doing well, the gap between satisfaction and trust has almost disappeared. The people who aren’t on board now are really not on board. That last 25% is probably never going to express any sort of positive opinion toward her.

MyFormosa also asks about satisfaction for the premier, but it’s pretty much the same story so I won’t tell it again. Premier Su is pretty popular these days.

A more interesting question is how people feel about the economy. MyFormosa asks whether they have a positive or a negative evaluation toward the overall domestic economy. This month, 68.2% gave a negative evaluation and only 28.5% gave a positive evaluation. That sounds pretty pessimistic. However, you have to remember two things. One, the world economy is objectively terrible right now, and Taiwan is highly integrated into the world economy. Two, as I keep saying, the Taiwanese public is historically pretty stingy in giving out good evaluations. A look back at the previous year show that the current evaluation is the worst since about last August. Think about that. The United States is talking about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression 90 years ago. In Taiwan, it’s not even the worst people have felt in the last calendar year. In fact, if you look at the February and March 2020 results, when the pandemic was still mostly confined to China, people here were relatively optimistic. Taiwan has been active in trying to find economic opportunities, such as filling orders that shuttered Chinese factories could not and encouraging the movement of supply chains out of China. The numbers got quite a bit more pessimistic in April, when the American and European economies came under attack. Still, because the economy is open, we get a fair share of good domestic economic news to go along with the horrible international economic news. In this global environment, I’d have to say that the public’s economic evaluations are actually quite sunny.

 

This is a blog about elections, so I ultimately care about how public opinion refracts back on politics. We are over two years from the next general election, so at this stage I care about the deeper, long-term orientations. What I really want to know right now is whether these four months have affected national identity. After all, Taiwan has spent much of the last few months insisting that it is not China while having the rest of the world clumsily step on that painful nerve. I would not be surprised if the percentage of people saying they are Taiwanese and NOT Chinese has risen. However, MyFormosa does not ask the Taiwanese/Chinese question, and I haven’t seen results on this anywhere else. I guess we’ll have to wait until late June for the March TEDS results or, better yet, until late September for the June survey. I always tell people that if you can only have one number about Taiwanese politics, you should ask for the percentage of people who self-identify as exclusively Taiwanese. Unfortunately, we just don’t have that number right now.

What the MyFormosa data can tell us something about is how the parties are doing in the period since the election. The short answer is that the DPP is doing a little better and the KMT is doing quite a bit worse.

Here is the chart for party ID. In the post-election period, the line for the DPP is up slightly from the pre-election period. (In my mind, I’m comparing the four post-election data points with the last four or five pre-election data points.) The line for “other green” is also slightly higher. [note: MyFormosa always includes categories called “other blue camp” and “other green camp.” I’m not quite sure how they ask this, but those two responses always get quite a few respondents.] The most dramatic difference, however, is for the opposition. The KMT line is markedly lower after the election. More surprisingly, the “other blue” category is also lower. One might have thought that dissatisfied KMT supporters would stay somewhere in the blue camp, but that isn’t what has happened.

I don’t have much to say about the three smaller parties. There doesn’t seem to be any clear change for them.

You can see the patterns for the big parties more clearly by just looking at the aggregation of party support into camps. When the green camp hit the low 40s just before the election, I thought that it had to be an anomaly. They’ve never had that kind of support, and, anyway, it couldn’t possibly last. Six months later, that number is still in the low 40s. Color me surprised. However, the bigger change is in the blue camp, which these data say is in an absolute crisis. Under Han Kuo-yu’s leadership, the KMT hemorrhaged support all through 2019. Who knew that it could get quite a bit worse? In the last poll before the election, the green camp lead over the blue camp was 17.4%. Tsai beat Han by 18.5% and the blue camp (Han plus Soong) by 14.3%. In the May poll, the green camp lead is 26.0%. How much would she win by today? How big would the DPP’s legislative majority be today?

MyFormosa groups respondents into nine categories depending on how they feel about the two big parties. There are three pro-DPP categories, three pro-KMT categories, and three neutral categories. You can see the same partisan trends here, with the green groups at the top dominating about the same proportion of the population since last November, and the three blue categories at the bottom compromising a pathetically small portion of the chart.

One of the interesting things about this table concerns two of the neutral categories. Group 4 includes respondents who like both parties, which Group 6 includes people who dislike both parties. A year ago, angry Group 6 was much larger than amiable Group 4. Now, they are about the same size. If you read my blog last year, you might remember that Ko Wen-je dominated Group 6. Han Kuo-yu did pretty well among Group 6 in the early 2019 polls, but they increasingly rejected him as the year went on. I suspect Group 6 is one of the primary engines fueling the 2018 populist wave, and I’m happy to see it shrinking a bit. I hope this is a result of witnessing good governance.

 

I saved what might be the scariest chart for the KMT until last. So far, the picture has been that people think the DPP government has done a good job, but that really hasn’t paid off in clearly higher partisan support. The DPP’s relative position has improved because the KMT has suffered a loss in support.

MyFormosa asks respondents how they feel about the two big parties, whether they have good feelings 好感 or bad feelings 反感 about them. Since the election, the KMT’s chart has gotten a bit worse. More respondents have bad feelings than good feelings, and the gap grew from about 30 points before the election to 38 points in March (though it has narrowed again in May).

The chart for the DPP is more dramatic. Before the election, good feelings toward the DPP outweighed bad feelings by about 6 points. In February, that gap exploded to 29 points. Even after narrowing in May, it is still 22 points. The good feelings have increased, but the bad feelings have decreased by even more. In other words, four months of good governance seem to have taken some of the vitriol toward the DPP out of the system. Think about the people who don’t support the DPP and will probably never vote for it. Fewer and fewer of those people are expressing outright bad feelings about the party. The DPP’s support rate might not have noticeably increased over the past few months, but this sort of emotional shift – the lack of poison in people’s guts – could slowly yield dividends over the long term.

 

 

reporting polls in the UDN

December 20, 2019

What if you are a partisan media outlet, and you have to report news that looks bad for your preferred party? What if you have a lot of flexibility in how you report the story? If you want to maintain a basic level of media ethics, you have to accurately report the basic facts. However, you have a lot of leeway in how you frame those facts, emphasizing some and downplaying others.

In this post, I’m going to look at how the United Daily News has reported its own recent survey results. The UDN has a strong partisan preference for the KMT. (I don’t think even my good friends working for the UDN would dispute the newspaper’s institutional political bias.) However, their own surveys show Han Kuo-yu trailing far, far behind. This isn’t the kind of news that will boost the morale of KMT sympathizers or inspire consumers to purchase lots of UDN copies at 7-11. So how should the UDN report those results?

 

[Aside: This post feels extremely old-fashioned. It’s about print layouts of newspapers. Printed on actual paper. Is this 1993? Yes, yes. Humor me. I know I’m old and out of date. The thing is, even if very few people still read hard copies of newspapers, those few remaining readers are very influential. Newspapers still drive the rest of the media discourse. Newspapers may not break the news any more, but they still provide an irreplaceable blend of depth, authority, and speed. Newspapers are the foundation that everything else is built on top of (including this blog).]

 

How do newspapers ordinarily report their own survey results? Let’s look at a few recent results. Here is a recent survey from the Liberty Times. The survey is in the middle of the first page, and the headline simply reports the horse race numbers. The Liberty Times is a green-leaning newspaper, so they and their readers are probably happy to see those numbers.

Apple Daily is politically more neutral. Their first priority is to sell papers, not to promote either KMT or DPP interests. This is from Dec 3, and their entire front page is dedicated to their poll.

As with the Liberty Times, the main headline is the horse race result. Apple also has consistently fantastic graphics that illustrate something about the race. Here, they are making the point that Han’s attempt to disrupt polling isn’t making it any easier for him to get to the top. [Apple is making a push to encourage readers to purchase digital subscriptions instead of hard copies. Unfortunately, the digital readers don’t get the fun graphics. Sometimes print is better!]

Here’s Apple’s poll from earlier this week (Dec 17). Again, the headline is all about the horse race (in which Han is losing by 29 points).

So that is what normal newspaper stories about the newspaper’s own polls usually look like. What about recent UDN reporting?

Here is the Dec 10 issue of UDN. The headline is not about the horse race. In fact, that is not even mentioned on the front page. The front page story and graphics are all about electoral culture. The headline screams, 45% think green camp online soldiers are ruining electoral culture.

If you read the fine print, that headline seems a bit exaggerated. In this section, they asked four questions. [Note that UDN doesn’t provide their exact question wording, so I – along with all their other readers – am relying on their graphics and reporting.] First, how serious is the problem of purchasing online soldiers? 35% said very serious, 18% said somewhat serious, and 15% said not serious at all. Second, how serious is the problem of untrue mudslinging? 33% said very serious, 20% said somewhat serious, and 23% said not serious at all. Note that these question are set up to produce an impression of a bad electoral culture. The normal, more neutral way to ask would be, “Some people say that purchasing social media influencers or other online influence is a serious problem. Do you think that it is very serious, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not serious at all?” Instead of leading the respondent to assume the problem is serious, the idea is presented as someone’s opinion (which may be totally wrong). There are also two positive answers and two negative answers. The third question asks whether purchasing online soldiers or untrue mudslinging is a more serious problem. They don’t report results from this question, but they use those answers to ask the fourth question, which party is most responsible for this problem? For respondents who thought that buying online soldiers was more serious, 45% blamed the DPP, 19% blamed the KMT, and 1% blamed other parties. This question was the inspiration for the headline. Note that these questions fit neatly into KMT campaign themes. The KMT has been screaming for months that DPP attacks on Han about his real estate dealings, entering the PRC Liason Office in Hong Kong, drinking, etc. are just baseless mudslinging, and they have been complaining that everyone online supports the green camp since at least the Sunflower Movement. Blue supporters know exactly how to answer these questions; green camp sympathizers don’t think about these events in quite the same terminology. If you wanted to give green camp sympathizers an equivalent prompt, you should probably include the PRC as a response category.

Enough of the first page. UDN also dedicated most of page 2 to this survey.

Page 2 covers the horse race, though the horse race (Tsai 48, Han 20, Soong 9) is shown in a somewhat complicated chart that you have to stare at for a while to understand. However, the horse race is not the main theme of page 2. The main theme is that you should not believe those results. The headline reads, “Only 29% believe the gap between Tsai and Han is large.”

[Begin rant. The inset story reinforces this headline by quoting people who feel that the gap shouldn’t be that big. Who cares what the numbers actually say? I feel that Han is doing better. Well, if you are just going to substitute your feelings for data, why bother collecting data? Even more, one scholar explains that people feel the race should be closer because they think Tsai is doing such a bad job. However, as we will see below, voters are currently relatively satisfied with Tsai’s performance. Never mind, someone feels she’s doing a bad job and she isn’t leading. End rant.]

Again, the headline is stretching the truth. The question was (apparently), “Concerning surveys showing the Han-Chang ticket trailing by a large margin, what is your opinion?” 29% thought that he was really losing by a large margin, 24% thought that he was trailing but not by as much as media reports said, 22% thought that surveys are inaccurate and he was not trailing, and 25% did not know. What exactly does that 24% mean? If they have just seen a survey that says Tsai is leading by 35% and they think Han’s attempt to undermine polling has had a small but real effect so that maybe Tsai is “only” leading by 28%, they could be in that middle category. That is, they could easily believe that Tsai is leading Han by a lot. The percentage who think that the gap between Tsai and Han is “large” could be anywhere between 29% and 53%. Again, this question was set up to produce a headline palatable to their editors and readers rather than to faithfully report public opinion.

 

UDN produced another poll this week. Here are the first two pages from Dec 16.

By now, UDN has wholeheartedly swallowed the assumption that polls of the presidential race are meaningless. They don’t even bother to write a story or produce a graphic dedicated to the horse race. The result (Tsai 48, Han 22, Soong 9) is buried in the middle of the story halfway down page 2. It’s there, but you have to look really hard to find it. In essence, they have simply adopted the Han camp position that polls are no longer informative.

A good friend and frequent blue-leaning media pundit recently complained on his Facebook page that it was irresponsible to interpret a poll without taking Han’s ploy to undermine surveys. He is correct. However, it is just as irresponsible to go too far in the opposite direction and dismiss polls altogether. Han has muddied the waters, but polls still convey useful information. Other pollsters are trying to figure out how much Han’s ploy matters. Look back at the Dec 17 issue of Apple Daily. On the bottom right corner, they produce an adjustment for latent Han supporters. You might argue that their adjustment is wrong, but at least they are trying.

 

Public intellectuals complain all the time that the media focuses too much on the horse race and not enough on substantive questions. So what substantive concerns are the UDN emphasizing? The headline screams that fewer than 30% of people think that Taiwan is better off under DPP government. Wow, Tsai must be doing a terrible job.

Or maybe not. Let’s look at their evidence. They asked something like, “The DPP has had complete control of government for over three years. During that period, have ordinary people’s lives gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed about the same?” “In the same period, has Taiwan’s overall development gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed about the same?” For the first, 13% said better, 29% worse, and 49% same; for the second question, 23% said better, 30% worse, and 38% said the same.

These are good, neutral questions. The modal result is that things are about the same, but more people think things are worse than better. The headline is not unfactual, but it misleads readers by giving the impression of a binary question. If fewer than 30% think that things are getting better, does that mean that more than 70% think that things are getting worse? No, it does not.

Things getting better or worse is a meaningful question, but it is not the same as asking whether the DPP government is doing a good job. In the 2012 election, the DPP tried to argue that President Ma had failed miserably to fulfill his 633 promise (6% growth, 3% unemployment, USD30,000 per capita income), so he must have done a bad job as president. Of course, Ma had an easy answer: he had done a good job, but the external circumstances – the Global Financial Crisis – had made it impossible to meet the 633 promise. By re-electing Ma, voters effectively agreed with the proposition that, even though things had gotten worse, Ma had done a reasonably good job.

Voters seem to be making a similar judgment about Tsai’s performance. Even if most people either think things are about the same or worse, many of those people think she has done a good job. The line chart on page 1 shows changes in Tsai’s approval rating over her term, and she is now at 48% satisfied. Holy Crap!! UDN has (intentionally) buried the lede!! She was 43 points underwater just after last year’s election, but she is 10 points above water now. Maybe she’s not doing such a terrible job after all.

The text tries to minimize Tsai’s positive approval rating by saying that of the people who approve of Tsai’s performance, 43% couldn’t name a specific policy that they are satisfied with. Of people who did give an answer, 15% said pension reform, 10% said maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty, and 7% cited the legalization of same-sex marriage. (These response categories were unprompted, which is one reason many people did not name anything.) I’m not surprised by sovereignty, but I am a bit surprised that pensions and marriage equality were so high on the list.

 

On page 2, UDN continues to try to paint a cynical picture of Taiwan’s democracy. The headline reads, “Most voters don’t believe Tsai and Han will fulfill their campaign promises.” That headline is a bit problematic, but we’ll get to that later.

Before that, we have to talk about the graphic. This is what finally broke me. The top part of the graphic says that it is about using policies to buy votes and recklessly making campaign promises. The first line reads, “the government’s increases of stipends and subsidies,” while the second line reads, “making reckless campaign promises.” For the former, 25% say it is very serious, 21% say somewhat serious, and 29% say not serious. For the latter, 42% say very serious, 31% say somewhat serious, and 11% say not serious. There are several problems. First, the response categories are unbalanced. If you have three categories, you need one positive, one negative, and one neutral. If you provide two negative response categories, you need to balance them with two positive response categories. This is basic survey methodology, and everyone at UDN from the person in charge of the survey unit all the way up to the editor-in-chief knows this. Second, the use of the word “serious” presumes that something is wrong. What if you think that subsidies have been increased a lot and that this is fantastic? Third, the question asks about increases in subsidies and stipends, but the headlines and text have transformed this into “policy vote buying.” Survey respondents were never asked about “policy vote buying.”  Fourth, the way the graphic is put together, the first question is about something the government is doing, which makes it look like the second question is also about something the government is doing. However, the text clarifies that respondents were asked whether candidates had made reckless campaign promises. That is, it refers to ANY candidates, not necessarily the candidate representing the government or even most candidates. A response of “serious” is not necessarily an indictment of the government. In fact, if you keep reading the fine print, it isn’t at all. For people who responded that the problem was serious, they then asked which candidate was the worst offender. 51% named Han, 26% said Soong, and 1% replied Tsai. (Only 1%!!!) The UDN produced these questions and this graphic to give the impression that Tsai is spending and promising recklessly in order to get re-elected. In fact, a closer look at the data suggests that voters mostly think she is acting responsibly. Han is the one making crazy promises.

The main headline is taken from the bottom half of the graphic. They asked, if Tsai is re-elected, do you believe she will fulfill her campaign promises. They then asked the same question for Han. For Tsai, 43% said they believed she would, 40% said the did not believe she would, and 17% didn’t know. For Han, 23% believed, 59% did not believe, and 18% didn’t know. Recall that the headline proclaimed that most people do not believe the candidates will fulfill their promises. For Han, this is accurate. For Tsai, however, this requires manipulating the words a bit. To get to “most,” you have to lump together all the categories other than “believe” and call them “not believe.” However, there was already a category explicitly labeled “not believe,” and this category was far below 50%. Given the pattern of reporting, I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt; I have to assume this was an intentional slight of hand to make Tsai look just as bad as Han. In fact, more people believed than disbelieved Tsai would fulfill her promises, while over twice as many disbelieved Han as believed him. They are not equally bad; Han is the one with a credibility problem.

 

I understand that UDN has a partisan line and its readers want things presented in a partisan way. However, UDN has a fundamental responsibility to uphold basic media ethics. The construction of these survey questions and the reporting of the results goes right up to the edge of that ethical line and then slips over it a few times. The headlines, in particular, are consistently designed to mislead. I’m also quite offended by UDN’s failure to use balanced response categories. UDN likes to say that it is the paper of record in Taiwan, with a stature equivalent to the New York Times in the USA. If it aspires to such a lofty standard, it must do a better job prioritizing its duty to report facts neutrally over its partisan preferences.

Are there hordes of latent Han supporters?

October 29, 2019

Pundits have been obsessed with the idea that all the undecided votes are actually latent Han supporters. There is no evidence for this, but they need some rationalization to argue that the race is closer than it appears since everyone has an interest in claiming the race is close and exciting. The recent Apple Daily, United Daily News, and TVBS polls all showed similar leads of 12-13% for Tsai. However, Apple had 32% undecided, UDN had 28% undecided, and TVBS had 9% undecided. The TVBS results suggest that those 28-32% undecided in the Apple and UDN polls are not overwhelmingly latent Han supporters. In fact, a better guess is that they have about the same proportion of latent Han and Tsai supporters (which — imagine this!! — is always the best assumption for voters who tell you they can’t make up their minds).

 

One reason TVBS gets 91% of respondents offering an opinion is that they employ a filter question. 13% of their full sample say that they do not plan to vote, so TVBS doesn’t ask those voters who they plan to vote for. This suggests that most of the undecideds are going to be non-voters rather than latent Han supporters. If we multiply the 52-39% results by .87 to put those voters back into the sample, we get a 45-34% Tsai lead. That leaves 21% of all voters undecided, which is still considerably lower than the Apple or UDN estimates. Since Tsai’s lead is still roughly similar, we still aren’t seeing much evidence of latent Han support.

 

There is another reason that pundits (especially those who prefer the KMT) are convinced the race is actually closer than the polls say. The results for the party list vote consistently paint the KMT in a better light. For example, here are the results from the recent TVBS poll on who respondents expect to vote for in the party list category:

KMT 37
DPP 25
TPP 12
NPP 8
PFP 2
New .8
Green .8
TSU .2
Other 1.5
undecided 12

The KMT has a 12 point lead in this race!! It must be extremely popular!! And the DPP is way down at 25% Clearly voters don’t actually like the DPP!

Let me reproduce that table, but this time I’m going to cut a few of the rows and add a few columns.

 

  Party List Vote Party ID Presidential Vote
KMT 37 30 39
DPP 25 22 52
TPP 12 13  
NPP 8 6  
PFP 2 ?  
Others/none 26 29 9

The TVBS numbers for the KMT are a lot less impressive in context. The TVBS sample includes 30% KMT identifiers and only 22% DPP identifiers. This distribution is not what most other polls are finding. For comparison, the recent Formosa poll includes 19.4% KMT identifiers and 27.1% DPP identifiers. We cannot know which one is closer to the actual number of KMT or DPP identifiers in the full population of voters, but the TVBS sample is clearly a better-case scenario for the KMT. It looks as if the 30% of people who identify with the KMT expect to vote for the KMT in both the presidential and party list races – and very few other voters will join them. The DPP also wins its identifiers and not many more in the party list vote, but it has an enormous coalition of all anti-Han (anti-KMT?) votes in the presidential election. If anything, this table makes me think that those 26% undecided in the party list section and the 29% undecided in the party ID category are likely to break disproportionately for the DPP. That is, the undecideds might actually have more latent DPP sympathizers than latent Han votes.

 

Ok, here’s another angle. TVBS asks a couple policy questions. One says, “Han Kuo-yu has criticized the [DPP’s revision of the] Labor Standards Law as harmful to both bosses and labor, and he wants to discuss further revisions to this law. Generally speaking, do you favor exploring further revisions to [the current] system?” 50% are in favor, and 27% are opposed.

The second question reads, “Han Kuo-yu has recently criticized the Executive Yuan’s decision to extend the high speed rail line to Pingtung as an ‘Appendix Line,’ and he promises to reconsider this extension if he is elected. Do you agree with scrapping the Executive Yuan’s decision to extend the high speed rail line to Pingtung and reconsidering the route? 42% agree and 28% disagree.

If you want to see public support for the KMT’s policy positions in these answers, you certainly can. Far more people agree with the KMT’s positions than with the DPP’s positions. However, there are a few reasons to be skeptical. First, these questions are designed to capture all dissatisfaction with the current policies. They only ask whether you would like to reconsider the policies, not whether you want to a specific alternative. A more neutral question would have stated the KMT’s position and asked whether respondents preferred the KMT position or the DPP position. Second, a pork-barrel project like the high speed rail extension isn’t designed to get mass approval. Of course people in Taipei are against it: they have to contribute taxes but don’t get very much benefit. However, people in Taipei are fairly unlikely to base their vote on the high speed rail extension. People in the south, in contrast, will be much more affected, and it might actually sway some of their votes. This is a classic case of diffuse costs and concentrated benefits. Third, why did TVBS choose these issues? Why didn’t they ask questions about whether respondents prefer the KMT or DPP versions of pension reform or whether respondents support the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the USA? There are a lot of policy questions out there, and these results are only a small fraction of the relevant ones.

 

To sum up, if it makes you happy to insist that the race is actually a lot closer than the polls suggest, go ahead. However, you are either cherry picking the data or ignoring it completely.

 

 

 

The presidential race: six months astonishing months

September 1, 2019

Yesterday, My-Formosa 美麗島電子報 released its August poll. I’ve been waiting to see this one. The pollster, Tai Li-an 戴立安, is the best public pollster that Taiwan has right now. He’s been doing polls for nearly two decades now, first with ERA, then Global Views, Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, and now he does a monthly poll for My-Formosa. It isn’t so much that I think his point estimates are more accurate than anyone else’s, it’s that he uses a standard methodology, asks the same questions again and again, and publishes detailed results. You can learn much, much more from his work than from anyone else’s. With other polls, you get a snapshot of a single moment in time; with Tai’s, you can see trends over time and some of the reasons for those trends.

My-Formosa started publishing polls in February, so we have a fairly good record of the past six months (including a starting and ending point). This is fortuitous, because these six months have been quite remarkable. At the end of February, Tsai Ing-wen was a failed president. She had just led the party into a disastrous election, her popularity was at dismal levels, and DPP supporters were mentally preparing themselves to lose power. In early March, Lai Ching-te launched his primary challenge, effectively repudiating her entire presidency. Six months later, Tsai is moving confidently toward re-election. She is leading in almost all the polls, her party is (mostly) unified around her, satisfaction with her performance in office has increased by leaps and bounds, and her primary competitor is in utter disarray. If you had shown me the August poll back in February, I wouldn’t have believed it.

August was a particularly good month for Tsai and a horrible month for Han Kuo-yu. On just about every indicator, Tsai has surged while Han has plummeted. This echoes all the other polling, but it’s nice to confirm a trend with time-series data from a single pollster.

Let’s get to the data. In this post, I will only use data from My-Formosa polls. There are seven polls: February, March, April, May, June, July, and August. They also did mid-April and mid-July polls, but I’ll ignore those for the sake of parsimony. My impression of Tai Li-an’s polling is that his methodology tends to be slightly favorable to the green camp, compared to other polls. The other major pollster that I take seriously, TVBS, has a similar tilt toward the blue camp. The two typically differ by about 10%. I don’t know which one is more accurate; perhaps it is somewhere in between. However, I care much more about consistency than pinpoint accuracy. That is, these polls should have the same bias in every period, so differences from one period to the next should be a result of shifts in public opinion rather than polling methodology.

Since I know you care most about the state of the race, here are the top-line results for the various matchups as of the end of August:

Tsai 52.1%, Han 33.4%.

Tsai 39.8%, Han 26.9%, Ko 21.9%.

Tsai 39.6%, Han 26.0%, Gou 23.4%.

Tsai 36.9%, Han 26.1%, Gou (supported by Ko) 26.1%.

Tsai 34.9%, Han 23.8%, Gou 14.9%, Ko 12.3%.

Tsai 41.2%, Gou 34.1%.

 

The result I care most about is the Tsai-Han head-to-head matchup, even though it looks like we will actually get a Tsai-Han-Gou matchup. There are a couple of reasons for my this. First, the presidential race drives voting in the legislative races, and most of the legislative races will be head-to-head matchups between the DPP and KMT. KMT legislators might have a slightly different set of supporters than Han, but there should be a high degree of overlap. The head-to-head presidential matchup is a better starting point for thinking about the legislative race than anything else, including (especially?) questions that ask respondents how they will vote in the district races. Second, I think the head-to-head matchup is probably the best predictor for the presidential race, regardless of whether Gou or Ko run. For various reasons, I am not confident that either one of them can avoid slipping into a clear third place. If that happens, large-scale strategic voting is inevitable. In other words, I assume that many, perhaps most, of the current Ko/Gou supporters will end up voting for either Tsai or Han.

As you can see, Tsai and Han have nearly reversed positions since February. Back then, he was winning in a landslide. Now she is leading by 18.7%. Moreover, this is one of those really nice trends in which every period (except July) shows a step in the same direction.

Tsai’s good results have reverberated in a different partisan balance. This chart looks at party identification, with the answers combined into the blue and green camps. In February, the blue camp had a 6.8% edge in party identification. Today the green camp holds a 10.2% edge. This is extremely important. Party ID is consistently the single most important factor in voting decisions. Getting a person to say that they support your party is the difficult part; once you do that, getting them to vote for your candidates is relatively easy. This shift in party ID also indicates that the changes in the presidential race are not simply a personal matter due to and confined to the unique personal qualities of Han Kuo-yu. He might be influencing some of these shifts, but they are affecting the entire system.

If we look at support for Tsai by age groups, there is an interesting pattern. Look at the red line, representing the 20-29 age group. Back in February, these young voters were thoroughly disenchanted with Tsai. She barely had 20% support among young voters. However, her support among this group surged in May and June, reaching roughly 65%. Tsai’s primary victory (in mid-June) was almost certainly powered by support from these young voters, who only a few months earlier had rejected her. What happened? The obvious answer is marriage equality. Looking at the overall population, marriage equality is clearly unpopular. However, there are dramatic age differences. Young people overwhelmingly support it, and it is possible that they care more about this issue than older people. The DPP pushed through the marriage bill in a very difficult vote in mid-May, and younger voters may have taken notice. Another possibility is Hong Kong. The Hong Kong protests heated up in May and June, and these probably focused attention away from issues like air quality and labor unions and toward national identity, sovereignty, and democracy. We know that young people are much more likely to express a Taiwanese identity than people in older age cohorts, so events in Hong Kong may have framed the choice in a way much more favorable to Tsai for them.

After June, the 20-29 cohort hasn’t changed much. The August surge is due to shifts in all the other age groups. These groups have steadily been increasing support for Tsai over the entire six-month period. Young voters changed their minds all at once; older voters have been changing gradually.

We’d like to know something about how support for Tsai and Han has shifted among people with different partisan outlooks, and Tai Li-an has thoughtfully provided us with a useful tool. He has divided the sample into nine different groups according to how they feel about the two main parties. Three groups express preference for the KMT and three groups prefer the DPP. He does not explain exactly how he defines these six groups, but they reflect intensity of support for the two major parties. I have labeled them as strong KMT, moderate KMT, and lean KMT, and likewise for the three pro-DPP groups. The three groups in the middle do not have a preference for either party. Group 4 gives both parties the same evaluation, and this evaluation is positive. This group likes both parties equally. Group 6 gives both parties the same evaluation, but this evaluation is negative. This group dislikes both parties equally. Group 5 isn’t very informed; this group doesn’t provide any evaluation for either party.

Group 6, the group that dislikes both parties, is critical. This group of disaffected voters was probably the most critical demographic in the 2018 election. They don’t like either party, but I think they voted en masse against the incumbent DPP. Han Kuo-yu, as an anti-party symbol, seemed to be quite attractive to them. They are also Ko Wen-je’s core supporters. However, as anti-establishment voters, they are inherently unstable. They are not tied down by strong ideological attachments, so anything that makes a populist politician look like he or she is actually just another establishment sellout (such as a corruption scandal) is potentially devastating.

Keep in mind that the three neutral groups look bigger than they will actually be in the election. These are the least likely to actually turn out to vote. Still, most of them will vote and their votes are more volatile, so politicians can’t afford to ignore them.

You can see from this chart that the size of the nine groups has changed a bit over the past year. The three pro-DPP groups have gotten bigger (as one might expect from the increase in green camp party ID), and the three pro-KMT groups have gotten a little smaller. The pink group of angry, disaffected voters has been consistently about twice as large as the orange group of happy voters who like both parties. The purple group of uninformed, unopinionated voters has shrunk over time, which is what we might expect in an election year.

Let’s look at how Tsai’s support has evolved among these nine groups. At the bottom of the chart, she has consistently gotten a sliver of support from the three pro-KMT groups. It isn’t much, but anything she gets from these voters is gravy. One of the things that campaigns tend to do is drive voters back to the fundamental preferences, so one might expect Tsai’s support among the three blue groups to trend toward zero. This hasn’t happened yet, perhaps because the KMT is still distracted by its internal squabbling. Where has Tsai increased her vote? She has, to a large degree, consolidated her support among pro-DPP voters. In February, large numbers of pro-DPP voters weren’t on board. Now, she has nearly 100% support among the strong and moderate DPP groups. She still only has about 80% among the lean DPP group, but there aren’t many “easy” votes left for her to consolidate. Among the three neutral groups, Tsai has made enormous gains among the amiable voters who like both parties and the clueless voters who can’t evaluate either party. Somehow, her message has broken through to these voters. She has been less successful with the surly voters who dislike both parties. Her support has climbed, but by a far smaller amount. Most of these voters remain skeptical of her.

Han’s chart is not quite a mirror image of Tsai’s. Tsai hasn’t quite consolidated all of the pro-DPP vote, but Han isn’t getting any of it. He is near zero for all three of those groups. Turning to the pro-KMT groups, you can see Han’s struggles quite clearly. He is failing to get large numbers of voters from within all three groups, and it isn’t getting better. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. Han has a lot of work to do consolidating the blue vote before he can turn his attention to the neutral voters. He had better hurry up, because those neutral voters need some attention. He is holding most of his support among the uniformed voters, but he started from a very low baseline. This is not good. The other two neutral groups are worse. The happy voters who like both parties and the angry voters who curse both parties have both decided they don’t like Han. The orange and purple groups have tilted decisively toward Tsai. The pink group doesn’t like either one. Faced with a choice of Tsai or Han, 37.8% of them refuse to choose either one!

 

Ok, enough of the two-way race. It’s time to bring in Ko. Yes, I know that Ko probably isn’t running and Gou probably is. However, we don’t have six months of data on Gou as an independent candidate allied with Ko. Anyway, Gou’s overlaps heavily with Ko’s support.

In the three-way race, Tsai still increases dramatically, and Han still drops dangerously. Ko’s support falls, but only by a modest amount, going from the high 20s to the low 20s. Nevertheless, this mild drop puts him in the deadly third place in a three-way race. It was only a modest drop, but he could not afford any dip in support.

Where does Ko’s support come from? As we all know, young people love Ko, and old people do not. The age chart shows this neatly. The youngest group, in red, is the strongest. The 30-39 group, in pink, is next, and so on. Ko gets very little support from anyone who has turned 50. What this chart also shows is that Ko’s support has been very stable for everyone over 40. However, his support has eroded a bit among voters 39 and under. In fact, Tsai now beats him in every age group.

Turning to the nine groups, I have produced charts for all three candidates. Tsai’s and Han’s charts look similar to their head-to-head charts. However, both of them lose a lot of votes within their own party. In the head to head matchup, Tsai had pretty much consolidated the entire pro-DPP vote; here she still has a lot of work to do. Han had not yet consolidated the pro-KMT vote; adding Ko to the mix just exacerbates his difficulties.

Ko’s chart is a jumble of colors. He is locked out of the strong KMT and strong DPP votes, but he gets significant support in every other group. In particular, his strongest group is the pink group of surly, disillusioned voters who hate both major parties. They have consistently given him around 50%, and this has remained stable. However, it is a different story for the sunny, happy voters who like both major parties. A large chunk of this group has deserted him and turned to Tsai. Tsai has also eroded Ko’s support among pro-DPP votes, though she still has a lot of work to do in that regard. Among the uninformed purple group, Ko’s support has actually increased. What this chart shows is just how diverse Ko’s coalition is. He attracts some young people of every stripe, but he doesn’t dominate any one group. Frankly, I’m impressed at his ability to hold together such an unwieldy coalition.

 

Finally, let’s bring in Terry Gou. What does his support look like? If he runs with Ko’s support, his age profile is similar to Ko’s. Starting with the youngest cohort, his support levels for the six age groups are 41.4%, 33.0%, 32.2%, 22.1%, 11.8%, and 8.2%. (If he runs without Ko’s support, his support in the youngest cohort falls to 32.6%, and the other cohorts are roughly the same.)

If we look at the nine partisan groups, the two again have very similar profiles. Gou does a bit better among both strong KMT and strong DPP supporters, but he does a bit worse among voters who lean DPP. When the two cooperate, they do a bit better with the three neutral groups. Presumably, those groups hate partisan bickering and are happy when everyone tries to get along. (Well, unless they are getting along by dividing the spoils of office. Then, maybe not so much, especially for the pink group.) For the most part, however, the two are drawing on the same profile of voters, even if they aren’t exactly the same voters.

How would Gou’s entrance into the race affect the Tsai v Han matchup (assuming Gou is supported by Ko)? Conveniently, our favorite pollster has provided the crosstabs.

Tsai Han Gou (Ko) No vote DK n
Tsai 70.1 0.0 24.9 0.4 4.5 567
Han 1.0 76.6 16.9 1.5 4.1 364
No vote 2.2 62.9 32.1 2.9 121
DK 6.7 13.3 3.4 76.6 37

These are row percentages. Of the 567 people who would vote for Tsai in a two-way race, 70.1% will still vote for her. However, 24.9% switch to Gou. 16.9% of Han’s original 364 supporters also switch to Gou. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that Gou is harming Tsai more than Han. Think about that. Gou ran in the KMT primary, proudly wears ROC symbols, and basically supports the 92 Consensus. Yet he draws disproportionately from voters who prefer Tsai to Han. The KMT might want to do some introspection and wonder how those voters got into the Tsai ledger in the first place.

A different way to look at Gou’s effect is to use the four-way race as a base. That is, what if we start with all four, but then Ko drops out and supports Gou? I like this approach because it allows us to differentiate between voters who really like Ko and voters who primarily support Gou rather then crudely lumping them together.

Tsai Han Gou (Ko) No vote DK n
Han 1.1 96.0 2.3 0.2 0.4 259
Tsai 90.5 7.0 0.4 2.0 381
Ko 21.6 10.6 57.5 6.3 4.0 134
Gou 5.6 4.1 90.0 0.3 162
No vote 2.8 4.9 20.1 69.2 3.0 49
DK 14.0 11.2 17.8 3.3 53.7 104

The three candidates remaining in the race all retain at least 90% of their original vote. You might be surprised that it is not 100%. However, it makes sense that a few might change. Consider the 7% of Tsai supporters who shift to Gou. These people probably like Gou better. However, if the vote is split four ways, Gou’s support is diluted, and he doesn’t have much chance of winning. As such, they strategically vote for Tsai to block Han. In a three-way race, however, they might think that Gou could win, so they vote sincerely for Gou.

Ko does not transfer all of his support to Gou. Only 57% of Ko’s votes end up with Gou, even though the question explicitly says that Ko gives his full support to Gou. (Perhaps surprisingly, when Gou runs by himself, the result is not much different. 51.8% of Ko’s supporters turn to Gou.) Ko, it seems, does not have the ability to tell his supporters what to do. They will make up their own minds.

Overall, it’s clear that there is a large degree of overlap between Ko and Gou. One might assume that Ko, with his past ties to the green camp, would siphon away more green votes while Gou, with his past ties to the blue camp, would siphon away more blue votes. In fact, they both siphon away more green votes. Gou’s entrance into the race is not necessarily a bad thing for the KMT.

 

There has been a lot of speculation that the KMT will dump Han and replace him with Gou or that Han might drop out and support Gou. The August survey includes a Tsai v Gou head-to-head matchup to deal with these sorts of scenarios. Tsai wins by 7.1%, but I don’t think that is very predictive. Gou is a brand-new politician, and he hasn’t been subjected to any serious scrutiny yet. If he does run, the person that voters face on Jan 11 will be a very different person than they understand today. That disclaimer notwithstanding, there is something quite interesting about that matchup. Let’s look at preferences of voters from the different camps:

Tsai Gou No vote DK n
Blue 8.4 55.5 35.1 1.0 307
Green 77.0 14.7 2.8 5.5 411
KPP* 29.2 66.8 1.9 2.2 40
Neutral 28.8 34.6 25.2 11.5 299
No response 26.1 32.3 27.4 14.2 32

Among blue camp supporters, 35.1% say they would either stay home or cast an invalid vote. Even more telling, looking at the nine partisan groups, 51.9% of the strong-KMT group say they wouldn’t cast a valid vote. In other words, when you tell KMT supporters that they have to choose between Tsai and Gou, lots of them get angry and refuse to accept the question. They do not like this choice one bit. There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, you might think that if they actually are faced with that choice, they will swallow their pride and vote for Gou. After all, anyone is better than Tsai. On the other hand, you might think that this is a pretty good indicator that dumping Han would cause a massive revolt among the KMT’s staunchest supporters. Han might be struggling to consolidate KMT votes, but his difficulties would pale in comparison to the challenge Gou would face in uniting a furious base. KMT loyalists chose Han, and they are sticking by him.

 

Let me wrap up this (long, long) post with a few general thoughts. Tsai is leading now, but that doesn’t mean she will win. Lots of things will happen between now and the election. For one thing, Hong Kong will probably not dominate the news in December and focus voters’ attention on identity and sovereignty. It is also possible that another corruption scandal could emerge. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure that things will be different.

I also doubt that Tsai is quite so far ahead of Han. A few years ago, I had a discussion with Doug Rivers, a methodologist at Stanford, about convention bounces. In American elections, presidential candidates generally see a noticeable increase in their support in the week after a nominating convention. Doug believes that this bounce is an illusion, and we should probably pretend it doesn’t exist. During convention week, the news is dominated by people from one side making persuasive arguments and showing unity. There isn’t much to cheer up supporters of the other side, so they tune out of politics for a while. And when pollsters call up right after the convention, those people decide that they have better things to do than answer a poll. After a few weeks with a more neutral news context, those people seep back into the sample. In other words, the convention bounce is entirely due to a temporary selection bias, and it is not a result of people being (temporarily) persuaded. I suspect something similar might be happening right now in Taiwanese politics. The news in August has been pretty dismal for KMT supporters. Han has had personal problems, and Hong Kong makes it difficult to crow about seeking win-win cooperation with China. Some KMT supporters may choose to tune out of politics for a while and tell pollsters that they are too busy right now to answer a bunch of intrusive and discomforting questions. However, when the news shifts, those people will seep back into polling samples, and Han’s support will rebound.

I don’t mean to imply that Tsai isn’t leading. She has had an astoundingly good six months. There is no way to explain away her shocking renaissance as a methodological blip. However, I’m skeptical that August was quite as fantastic for her as the raw data imply. It was probably great, but I’m not sure it was stupendous.

Finally, the talk shows keep saying things about what will happen “if current trends continue,” meaning “if Han continues to slide.” Those are not the same. If current trends continue, the polls will stay exactly the same. Vote shares are not like basketball scores. Imagine one basketball team scores three points for every two points the other team scores. You can look up at the scoreboard at halftime and think, “We’re winning 60 to 40. If current trends continue, we will win 120 to 80. Right now, the lead is 20; if current trends continue, it will be 40.” Vote shares are percentages, and they do not work that way. In July, Tsai led Han by 9.2%, and now she leads by 18.7%. What happened? We can tell a story about how Han’s personal problems (drinking, sleeping late, farmhouse), the Hong Kong protests, or some other factors influenced some people to shift their support from Han to Tsai. However, the remaining Han supporters were unconvinced by these factors and continue to support Han. If all those factors continue as before – the news stays about this bad for Han – those remaining supporters will presumably continue to support Han. In order for his slide in the polls to continue, something new and different has to happen to convince people who have heretofore stayed staunchly in his column to change their minds. Presumably, the stream of bad news would have to get even more intense. However, I don’t think that pundits are assuming even worse news for Han when they talk about “if current trends continue.” They seem to think that support levels have some sort of magical momentum, so that they keep moving in the same direction. That is not what usually happens. There is actually very little reason to think that Han’s support will inevitably slide all the way down to 20%, as the pundits keep insisting. If current trends continue, he will stay right where he is now.

 

One last thought: A big thank you to My Formosa 美麗島電子報, Tai Li-an 戴立安, and Beacon Marketing & Research Co 畢肯市場研究股份有限公司 for funding, producing, and publishing all this wonderful data. You are documenting Taiwan’s democracy and writing the first draft of its history.

 

 

Attitudes toward Hong Kong protests

August 24, 2019

A TVBS poll conducted a couple weeks ago (Aug 5-7) contains an interesting question. Respondents were asked, “Hong Kong has experienced protest activity opposing the extradition bill. Overall, do you support the protest activities by Hong Kong residents?” 香港發生「反送中」的抗議活動,整體而言,請問您支不支持香港民眾的抗議活動?  Overall, 57% of respondents said they supported the protests, 19% did not support the protests, and 24% did not have a clear opinion or did not know about the protests.

I think this question is interesting because how to deal with China is one of the fundamental questions facing Taiwan. Should Taiwan take an assertive, even confrontational approach, or should it take a deferential and conciliatory approach? In Taiwan, most people – supporting both the blue and green camps – worry a lot about the threat from China. Only a very few people on the extreme unification fringe want to become part of the PRC.  However, there is a clear divide in how supporters of the two camps think Taiwan should act in the face of Chinese ambitions. (To put it very crudely, green camp sympathizers tend to believe that Taiwan needs to stand up and voice its determination to resist Chinese aggressions. Taiwan needs to tell the world that it does not accept the premise that Taiwan is part of China, and Taiwan is determined to maintain its sovereignty. Blue camp supporters tend to think that the best way to maintain Taiwan’s status is to avoid giving China any excuse or reason for aggression. They believe that Taiwan should do its best to keep out of the limelight and let Chinese leaders worry about all the other problems that China faces. If Taiwan is never China’s top problem, China will never get around to attacking Taiwan. However, if Taiwan loudly asserts its interests, Chinese leaders will feel threatened and feel a greater need to react.

The Hong Kong protests are just the sort of thing that evokes contrasting reactions among these two different mindsets. TVBS helpfully provided a breakdown of responses by party ID and age. The differences among people who identify with different parties are striking:

 

% of
sample
Support
protests
Don’t
support
protests
No
opinion
Don’t
know
about
protests
Full sample 100 57 19 11 13
DPP 22 82 6 4 8
NPP 4 84 6 5 5
KPP* 8 80 14 5 1
KMT 28 33 39 13 15
Other parties 11 40 13 16 31
None 26 58 16 15 12

DPP sympathizers support the protests by an 82-6% margin. The figures for the NPP and KPP* are similar. There is almost unanimity among these groups in favor of a confrontational stance. There is a problem, and you don’t solve that problem by pretending it isn’t there. You have to deal with it, and that may involve some civic actions.

*Yes, I know the party’s formal name is the “TPP.” I prefer to call them the KPP (Ko-P Party) because it is more accurate and I’m petty.

KMT sympathizers look very different. About a third support the protests, a third oppose, and a third don’t know what is right (or, following Han and Ko’s lead, simply refuse to take much of a position). Among Taiwanese respondents, KMT sympathizers are alone in taking such a skeptical view of the protests. However, a hesitance to directly confront the PRC is consistent with the KMT’s longstanding practice in dealing with China. (One additionally suspects that KMT sympathizers might also resent the negative effect the protests are having on the KMT’s electoral prospects, and that might contribute to their generally unsupportive attitudes.)

Let’s look quickly at the age breakdown on this question:

% of
sample
Support
protests
Don’t
support
protests
No
opinion
Don’t
know
about
protests
Full sample 100 57 19 11 13
20-29 16 75 8 9 9
30-39 19 70 12 9 9
40-49 19 61 24 10 5
50-59 19 56 25 9 10
60&up 28 38 23 14 25

There is a clear age difference. Young people are the most likely to support the protests, and the level of support declines with each older age cohort. However, among everyone 59 and under, the percentage of supporters is an absolute majority and at least twice as large as the percentage of non-supporters. Only the oldest cohort is anywhere near split, and even there, support is still clearly the most common response.

These age and party breakdowns point to clear problems for Ko Wen-je. Ko has tried to duck the Hong Kong question as much as possible, but sometimes that has been impossible. When he has to give an answer, it has been the most tepid response possible. As I mentioned a week ago, one of these answers was that he didn’t know about the protests and they had nothing to do with Taiwan. Ko has clearly decided that he needs to not antagonize China for his China policy to make any sense. He wants to give the impression that China will deal with him, so he is strategically not challenging them on the Hong Kong question. However, Ko’s position is diametrically opposed to the preferences of his target demographic. Both people who support his KPP and people under 40 overwhelmingly express support for the protests. They have to be a bit disappointed when he is afraid to voice their thoughts. After all, one of the reasons they like Ko-P is precisely because, unlike professional politicians, he speaks his mind directly and bluntly without worrying about whether it is going to rub anyone the wrong way.

It’s looking more and more like Ko will not run for president. I think this might be emblematic of his root problem. Ko has a lot of supporters who don’t actually like the things he stands for. There are still a lot of people who traditionally support the DPP and think of him as part of the broader green camp. However, in a presidential election, Ko cannot avoid the China question, and his strategy for dealing with China is much closer to a traditional KMT approach. Likewise, Ko gets a lot of support from young people, but his policies aren’t particularly well-aligned with the things that young people want. The Hong Kong protests are one example of this.

People often complain about long and grueling political campaigns, but I’m concerned that this one won’t be long enough. I want Tsai, Han, Ko, and Gou to have to answer questions about the important questions facing Taiwan every day for several months. I want them subjected to intense scrutiny so that these sorts of contradictions are exposed. Campaigns are crucial to helping voters understand what politicians want to do. Without lengthy, intense campaigns, it is harder for voters to make good decisions.

Aggregated Presidential Polls

August 12, 2019

final 1231.png

(more…)

The NPP’s internal divisions, Ko’s new party, and the China Cleavage

August 7, 2019

Every now and then, an international media outlet will publish a story on Taiwan elections that interprets everything through the lens of relations with China. For example, someone might write a story saying that, after the recent events in Hong Kong, the DPP’s presidential prospects are surging. Every time this happens, a gaggle of Taiwan-based analysts responds by pointing out that it isn’t that simple. Taiwanese politics are complex, and Taiwan’s international relationship with China isn’t the only thing that affects voting. All kinds of things unrelated to China policy – nuclear power, labor policy, air quality, food safety, overdevelopment, corruption, marriage equality, pensions, health care, industrial policy, tax rates, whether to ban drinking straws, and on and on – also affect electoral outcomes. Of course, they are right. But…

In the broader argument about the fundamental nature of Taiwanese politics, I come down firmly on the side that argues that Taiwan has one and only one dominant political cleavage. Taiwan’s relationship with China, broadly conceived, is more important than all of those other issues put together. This China Cleavage fundamentally shapes every aspect of Taiwan’s politics, most notably the party system. To put it bluntly, you can understand most – somewhere between 70% and 90% – of Taiwan’s politics if you understand the China Cleavage. (Of course, no one – including me – fully understands the China Cleavage.) Moreover, you can’t understand anything else unless you understand how it is embedded within the China Cleavage. The conflicts over all those other issues I listed above don’t make any sense unless you understand how they are filtered through the China Cleavage. They aren’t completely absorbed by it; otherwise they wouldn’t matter at all. However, they are deeply influenced by it. The opposite is not true. You don’t need to have a solid background in food safety issues to understand the China Cleavage.

Lots of people have written about this messy cleavage that defines Taiwanese politics, so I’ll be brief. I think of it as having four related but somewhat different dimensions. The first is ethnic background – the conflict between native Taiwanese (those who were already here during the Japanese colonial era) and mainlanders (who came after WWII). This dimension was most important during the authoritarian era but has faded in importance over the past few decades. The second is national identity, whether a person self-identifies as Chinese or Taiwanese. My personal opinion is that this is currently the single most important aspect of the China Cleavage. If I were cut off from all information about Taiwan for five years and you offered to give me just one number, I would want to know the percentage of respondents identifying as Taiwanese only in the NCCU Election Study Center tracking polls. The third dimension involves Taiwan’s future status. Should Taiwan unify with China, become a formally independent state, or something else. This dimension seems to have faded in importance in recent years. The fourth dimension is how to manage day-to-day relations with China. On what basis should Taiwan have economic interactions with China? How should Taiwan regulate Taiwanese citizens in China and Chinese citizens in Taiwan? Is it important to have government-to-government communications? What is the best way to prevent war? What is the best way to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty? This dimension is rapidly increasing in importance and may even be approaching national identity in significance. It will probably continue to increase in importance because China is increasingly making demands on Taiwan and more and more aggressively challenging Taiwan’s place in international society. National identity and day-to-day relations focus attention in different places. National identity is idealistic, looking at how citizens feel about themselves and who they want to be. Day-to-day relations is much more pragmatic, searching for a workable plan of action that may not completely reflect the choices they would make in an ideal world.

Lots of people would prefer for Taiwanese elections not to be about the China Cleavage. These people are like climate change deniers. It doesn’t matter if you want to ignore this set of issues, the world will force you to pay attention to them. You might want to think about air quality, but whether or not Taiwan continues to exist simply matters more. You might want to think about labor relations as a purely domestic issue, but Taiwan’s economy is highly intertwined with China’s, and China periodically does things that send shockwaves through Taiwan’s political and economic environment. Until Taiwan’s status is thoroughly resolved – something that is hopefully not on the immediate horizon – the China Cleavage will inevitably dwarf everything else in importance.

 

Why am I talking about the China Cleavage? The last couple weeks in Taiwanese politics have been eventful, to say the least. I’m going to focus on two big stories, the civil war threatening to rip the New Power Party apart and the recent moves by Ko Wen-je and Terry Gou. Both of these are much more easily understood through the lens of the China Cleavage.

 

The New Power Party was founded on the assumption that Taiwan does NOT have a single dominant political cleavage. The NPP positioned itself as a pro-Taiwan party occupying roughly the same space as the DPP on the China Cleavage spectrum. Unlike the Taiwan Solidarity Union or some of the new political parties that have been announced in the past few weeks, the NPP did not differentiate itself from the DPP by staking out a markedly more extreme position on this spectrum. Rather, it differentiated itself by staking out a markedly different position on a second dimension, the progressive-conservative dimension. The NPP argued that the DPP was fundamentally a conservative pro-Taiwan party, and it would be a progressive pro-Taiwan party. Thus, the NPP took different positions on things like labor unions, the welfare state, student issues, and, above all, marriage equality.

In recent months, the NPP has had an internal debate over its future path. Some, led by Freddy Lim and Tzu-yung Hung, want the NPP to cooperate with the DPP in the presidential election to guard against throwing the presidency to pro-China forces. Others, led by KC Huang and Yung-ming Hsu, feel that this will condemn the NPP to an existence as the DPP’s junior partner. They want the NPP to set its own course and become an unaffiliated party that can bargain with (and extract more concessions from) either major party. These two visions effectively force members to ask themselves whether the China Cleavage or the progressive-conservative cleavage is more important to them.

If the latter is true, Huang and Hsu are probably right to want to escape the DPP’s shadow. The NPP will be able to maintain its popular support, since its voters will continue to support them. (Voters tend to vote for whatever they think is the most important thing.) Moreover, the NPP will have more bargaining power in the legislature if it can deny both major parties an outright majority.

However, the progressive-conservative cleavage simply isn’t more important than the China Cleavage. Even NPP, who might like that to be so, know deep in their guts that the China Cleavage trumps everything. Maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty is a prerequisite for everything else. Marriage equality is impossible without liberal democracy, and liberal democracy is incompatible with any arrangement the PRC would agree to. Lim and Hung simply (and correctly) aren’t willing to throw the presidency to the KMT, even if that means that the NPP is doomed to remain a “small green” party. They can’t convince themselves that their progressive agenda makes it ok to ignore the China Cleavage. If Huang and Hsu insist on directly challenging the DPP, the NPP will inevitably be plunged into this sort of civil war.

Being a “small green” party may not be the path that the NPP wants, but, unless it wants to adjust its position on the China Cleavage spectrum, that is the only viable path to survival. They simply cannot be a pro-Taiwan party that purposely divides the pro-Taiwan vote and helps the pro-China side to win, no matter how wonderfully progressive they are. They can perhaps survive by sticking to their 2016 positioning. In 2016, they cooperated with the DPP in the presidential and district legislative races. In the party list ballot, they contented themselves with the (small) chunk of pro-Taiwan voters who were also progressive. If the NPP does choose to adjust its position on China, it has two other options. It either has to become more extreme and argue that the DPP is not actually a pro-Taiwan party or become more moderate and argue against pro-Taiwan positions. If it takes the latter path, it has an obvious ally in Ko Wen-je.

 

Ko Wen-je is setting up a new party today, the Taiwan People’s Party. He also may or may not be running for president. He also may or may not be cooperating with Terry Gou, who also may or may not be running for president. I’m fairly sure that at least one of them will run. At any rate, we don’t know exactly what it will look like, but there will be a challenge from the center.

Like the NPP, Ko’s most enthusiastic supporters may not want to care very much about the China Cleavage. Ko’s base is disaffected youth who think that both major parties are corrupt and do not represent them. However, there isn’t really a cluster of issues that Ko taps into to bind these voters to him for the long run. Ko, unlike the NPP, was glaringly absent during the debate over marriage equality. When he did speak, it was for the other side. To the extent that Ko has any specific issue, it is that he has paid off lots of government debt. However, I don’t think that his supporters are really motivated by lowering the city debt. I think they are more motivated by his style. They see him as speaking bluntly and plainly. He sometimes says controversial things, but that is ok because it shows that he is not an ordinary, polished (meaning corrupt) establishment politician. So far, Ko has a good record on corruption, and this is also one of his main appeals.  However, corruption is what we call a valence issue: it is unidirectional. Everyone is against corruption, and everyone wants less of it. Being against corruption is like being for a good economy and praising mothers. Enduring parties are founded on positional issues, not valence issues. Someone else has to enthusiastically take the position that you are standing against. If Ko were just a plain-speaking, honest politician, he wouldn’t be very interesting.

However, Ko has also taken a centrist position on the China Cleavage. His One Family discourse effectively stakes out a position somewhere in the muddy middle. Unlike the KMT, he does not explicitly endorse the 92 Consensus or the One China policy. Unlike the DPP, he makes nods toward the notion that China and Taiwan are somehow connected.

Terry Gou has also staked out a relatively centrist position, though his is closer to the KMT than Ko’s. While the KMT drifts to a more extreme position by endorsing a peace treaty and jettisoning ideas such as No unification, No Independence, No War, Gou has shifted toward the center. He has suggested that Ma’s 92 Consensus is too weak, and the critical part is “each side with its own interpretation.” He has also played around with a Two China’s discourse.  Gou is clearer than Ko about the fundamental nature of Taiwan as Chinese. However, both argue that they would do more than the KMT to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty.

This centrist positioning suggests that the Ko/Gou alliance (if one takes shape) might be a viable stance. However, China will have something to say about that. Under Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT’s policy was to engage formally with the PRC to spur economic growth. However, this meant that the KMT had to entice the PRC into the meeting room, and that meant satisfying PRC demands on sovereignty. The 92 Consensus was designed as a formula that would simultaneously satisfy China (“One China”) and reassure the Taiwanese electorate that the KMT wasn’t plunging headlong into unification (“each side with its own interpretation”).  In recent years, the PRC has been increasingly dissatisfied with this formulation, constantly urging the KMT to go one step further. Since the KMT still needs the PRC to enter the meeting rooms, it has been dragged to a more extreme position.

Ko and Gou are effectively ignoring the KMT’s experience and arguing that they can get all the benefit of the 92 Consensus with even less of a concession on sovereignty than even Ma, much less Han, had to make. This is going to be a difficult position to explain to the public during the campaign. I have no idea if China will stay silent, thus helping Ko/Gou by not publicly vetoing their proposal, or feel the need to clarify that it requires more. If either is elected, I suspect they will find their position untenable and will be driven either to the DPP’s position of living without official contact or the KMT’s position of fully endorsing One China and taking concrete steps toward unification (eg: peace treaty) in order to get into the meeting room. As we say in Texas, the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.

 

The hegemony of the China Cleavage isn’t entirely a bad thing. In fact, Kharis Templeman has made a powerful argument that Taiwan’s successful democracy has been achieved not in spite of the China Cleavage, but precisely because of it. The China Cleavage gives Taiwanese politics structure and stability. You may have a different opinion, but we don’t get to try it a different way. For better or worse, Taiwan’s relationship with China, broadly conceived, will continue to be the most important force in Taiwanese for the foreseeable future.

————————————————————–

I wrote this post before watching the rollout of Ko Wen-je’s new party. Let’s just say that it isn’t going well so far.

When news leaked that Ko had registered a party named the Taiwan People’s Party, a name previously used in the 1920s by a group led by Chiang Wei-shui, criticism came quickly. Chiang’s family members publicly and vocally opposed Ko’s use of the name. They think that Ko is taking advantage of Chiang’s good reputation while not representing Chiang’s ideals. DPP surrogates have elaborated on this by contrasting Chiang’s defense of Taiwanese autonomy (“Taiwan is the Taiwanese people’s Taiwan”) with Ko’s ambivalent One Family discourse. Right off the bat, Ko is being defined as wishy washy on China and lacking in core values.

I wondered who would show up as a founding member of the new TPP. I thought maybe Ko would have some high-profile figures from society and maybe even a smattering of defectors from both the blue and green camps. Nope. Almost all of the prominent roles are being filled by officials from the Taipei city government. (Terry Gou and Wang Jin-pyng sent flowers but did not personally attend.)

Today’s other big news is that protests and government/thug crackdowns continue to intensify in Taiwan Hong Kong. Han Kuo-yu gave a pro-China response to the media, expressing hope that the chaos in Hong Kong would end quickly and pointedly refusing to express support for demonstrators or democracy and declining to assign blame to China or the Hong Kong authorities. That was predictable, as the KMT has decided to do whatever it takes to maintain an amicable relationship with the PRC. Ko’s response was more surprising. Ko said that he didn’t know anything about it, and that the protests in Hong Kong had nothing to do with Taiwan. He might as well have covered his eyes, turned his back, and then buried his head in the sand. So maybe that is how Ko intends to deal with China…

At the ceremony, Ko gave a short speech laying out his vision for his new party. He argued that Taiwan has lousy government because the two big parties run the country along ideological lines. What is he for? All the things you want! Good policies, effective governance, human rights, democracy, standing with public opinion, respect for expertise, no corruption, and (I think) economic development. Notice anything missing? That’s right. In this speech laying out the basic ideals of the new party, Ko did not mention sovereignty or China. He completely ignored the question of how he would manage the single most important question facing the country.

I guess Ko doesn’t agree with my thesis in this post. If today’s performance was any indication, he’s going to try to ignore the China Cleavage. At the very least, he’s going to argue that other things are more important. We’ll see how well this argument goes over with the general public. I don’t think he can run for president this way, though maybe his party can win a few (less than five) seats on the party list. Perhaps he is leaving the door open for an alliance with Terry Gou. If Gou is the presidential candidate, he will define the position on China. Still, I expected him to say something vague about protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty and having fruitful relations with China. He couldn’t even manage that.

types of voters

June 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1

Solid

blue

2

Alienated

 

3

Battleground

 

4

Anti-Est.

Parties

5

Solid

green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

the state of (out of date) public opinion

September 26, 2017

I’d like to take a look at the general state of public opinion in Taiwan these days. I’m not really interested in exactly what it is right this moment. After all, the next election is still more than a year away, and by then no one will care whether Tsai Ing-wen had a 27% or 29% approval rating 14 months ago. I’m more interested in taking stock of the general trends over Tsai’s first year and a half in office. Over the past few months, we have seen headlines screaming that Tsai has a lower approval rating than Donald Trump or that her administration is sinking fast as it loses popularity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who assume that the KMT is doomed and that continued DPP rule is inevitable, unless the New Power Party replaces it.

Public opinion is always a bit murky, but right now it is murkier than usual. To put it bluntly, reasonable people can see whatever they want to see in the data. None of the trends are sharp or clear enough that you can’t easily explain them away with other readily available numbers. It’s like staring at clouds: maybe it’s a duck, and maybe it’s a train. Not only that, but the person who thinks it is a duck can see the duck clearly, while the moron who thinks it is a train can’t see how anyone could look at that train and see a duck. I think that one interpretation of public opinion is more correct, and I’ll argue for that one. However, keep in mind that the other interpretations aren’t necessarily stupid or misguided.

I’m relying on data from the Taiwan Election and Democratization Studies (TEDS). TEDS is the main academic project for political surveys. The surveys are done by academic institutions (mostly the Election Study Center, NCCU) for scholarly purposes. They are not contracted out to private survey companies, nor are they designed to make a splash in the public discourse. Questions are designed by committees of scholars with all political stripes, so a leading question designed to make one side look good or the other side look bad will simply not make it onto the final questionnaire. We all have lots of questions that we want to ask, and space is severely limited. Only items that can be rigorously defended from an academic perspective make it through. You might wonder why you have never seen a media report trumpeting the latest finding from a TEDS survey. The reason is simple. TEDS doesn’t hold press conferences to announce its newest results. In fact, it doesn’t release results immediately at all. Data usually are only released several months after the interviews are completed. For example, I am using quarterly surveys in this post. These surveys are only released when interviewing for the next survey begins. For example, TEDS just released the data for the June 2017 survey, but we currently have a small army of students doing calls for the September 2017 survey. Who cares about the June 2017 results? We want up-to-the minute information! When the June survey was done, pension reform hadn’t passed, the brouhahas over the infrastructure plan were still in the future, Mayor Ko was still planning for the university games, and Lin Chuan still had a couple more months to go as premier. Everything is different now! Well, it is precisely because the media doesn’t pay attention to TEDS results that they are so trustworthy and valuable. Unlike all the other data you see, you can be confident that these results weren’t produced with the goal of manipulating your opinions. And if you want to know what the state of public opinion is today, I guess I’ll be able to tell you that in three months, even if by then you will no longer care what people thought before Trump’s nuclear attack on North Korea, the Bangladeshi refugee crisis following the massive cyclone, or the upheavals in China following Xi Jinping’s aborted attempt to name his housekeeper’s mentally deranged son as Crown Prince of the CCP.

 

Let’s start with the headline number. Everyone has been talking about President Tsai’s low approval rating. How far did she sink over her first year in office?

請問您對她擔任總統以來的整體表現滿不滿意?

“How satisfied are you with Tsai Ing-wen’s overall performance as president?”

(Chinese question wordings are from the TEDS website: teds.nccu.edu.tw. Some of the English translations are from that website, and some are my own.)

Tsai approval

As you can see from the chart, Tsai’s satisfaction rating dropped quite a bit from June 2016 to June 2017. In the first survey, she was over 50%, the next three surveys were in the mid-30s, and the latest survey was in the upper 20s. That looks pretty terrible. If you want to see the electorate as unhappy with her performance and primed for a change, you certainly can.

It gets worse. TEDS asks about Tsai’s performance in four specific policy areas, cross-straits relations, foreign affairs, the economy, and national defense. These all mirror her overall satisfaction rating fairly closely, except that the trend lines for economy and cross-straits relations are 5-10% lower than the overall trend line. That is, Tsai’s general satisfaction is the optimistic number. As you drill down into specifics, people are even less satisfied.

那您對蔡英文在處理兩岸關係的表現滿不滿意?

那您對她在外交方面的表現滿不滿意?

那您對她在國防方面的表現滿不滿意?

那您對她在促進經濟發展的表現滿不滿意?

Tsai approval areas

We can go further. People are even less satisfied with the cabinet’s performance than with President Tsai’s. Tsai just changed premiers, but most of the unpopular cabinet is still in office. (Premier Lin did slightly better than the cabinet but significantly worse than Tsai.) Ick.

cabinet approval

On the surface, it doesn’t look good. However, I think Tsai’s approval ratings probably mean a lot less than the international media thinks. Comparison with American presidents is especially misleading. Taiwanese are simply more skeptical of their presidents. Unlike American voters, Taiwanese voters historically do not connect expressing satisfaction and intention to vote for a politician. To give a famous example, Mayor Chen Shui-bian had an approval rating in the 70s during his 1998 re-election bid but only got 46% and lost. Looking at presidents, perhaps Ma Ying-jeou’s experience is instructive. Ma had fairly pedestrian approval ratings during his first term, and yet he was comfortably re-elected. In fact, President Ma’s first term approval ratings look shockingly similar to Tsai’s thus far. At roughly this point (August 2009 – February 2010), Ma hit his nadir and then slowly recovered as the 2012 election approached and partisan loyalties reasserted themselves. It probably didn’t hurt that Ma appointed a professional politician who could communicate effectively with the public as premier at about this time. You will also notice that Ma started with a sky-high approval rating. Both he and Tsai had honeymoon periods that quickly evaporated. If you ignore those first data points, the declines for both don’t look quite so dramatic. Somewhere between 25% and 40% approval seems to be normal for Taiwanese presidents. (In contrast, anything below 40% is a disaster for an American president.)

Anyway, I increasingly don’t believe in the predictive value of satisfaction. Lots of the people who are dissatisfied are unhappy that Tsai Ing-wen has been too timid. These people wanted more of her program, not less. Someone who is angry that transitional justice has been too slow or that pension reform wasn’t drastic enough is not itching to vote for the KMT in future elections.

 

So let’s turn to party ID, a much more important and accurate indicator of which way the winds are blowing. Here are the five quarterly surveys from Tsai’s first term:

在國內的政黨之中,請問您認為您比較支持哪一個政黨? (if none, follow-up) 那請問您有沒有比較偏向哪一個政黨?

“Among the political parties in our country, which do you support most?” (if none, follow-up) “Which party do you lean toward?”

party id recent.png

The initial impression is that the DPP is bleeding support and the KMT is gaining. The gap between the two parties has shrunk from about 20% in June 2016 to about 3% a year later. Wow!

Again, some caution and some longer-term perspective is useful. That first survey showing the DPP with 39% party ID is wildly out of line with historical patterns. The DPP has never been near that high in any other survey. Let’s chalk that up as a fleeting honeymoon effect and discard it. Still, the last few surveys show the DPP falling from about 30% to about 25% and the gap between the two main parties narrowing. The KMT is making a comeback!

About that, maybe we should look at a longer time period. The TEDS quarterly surveys started in September 2012, so we don’t have the same sort of regular data before that. Nevertheless, party ID is always asked on every ESC and TEDS survey, so we have fairly reliable numbers going back to the mid-1990s. I’ve started this chart at the end of the Chen era to compare current party ID trends to the relatively stable period during Ma’s first term. As you can see, during Ma’s first term the KMT generally had a 10-15% advantage over the DPP in party ID. During his second term, the KMT hemorrhaged support, going from the mid-30s to the low 20s while the DPP gained slightly, going from about 25% to 30%. Put into that context, party ID in June 2017 doesn’t look anything like party ID in 2009. We are still in the post-Sunflower world in which the DPP is the more popular party and the KMT is in second place. In the chart with only five surveys, it looks like the KMT is making a comeback. In the longer perspective, it doesn’t look like that so much. The KMT is still mired in the low 20s, where it has been since late 2014.

party id since 2008.png

One interesting thing about this chart concerns the DPP’s honeymoon peak. The DPP’s peak comes in June 2016, after Tsai’s inauguration. The KMT also has a massive peak, when it hit 43% at the end of 2011. The difference between these two peaks is that one occurred right around election day. The KMT’s 2012 campaign apparently peaked perfectly, with a spike in support for the party just when the voters were going to the polls. This spike (and the 15% advantage in party ID) produced 51% of the votes in the presidential election. In 2016, the DPP’s spike was well after the election, so it did not translate into more votes. At the election, the DPP had an advantage of just a bit more than 10% in party ID, not the 20% it would have in June. The DPP’s party ID in the low-30s around election day produced 56% of the vote for Tsai.

Historically, the DPP has added more voters to its base of identifiers than the KMT has. If the DPP still has a narrow lead in party identifiers, it probably has a somewhat larger lead in actual votes.

The past two data points are not good for the DPP. However, I’m not ready to proclaim them as a tipping point or the start of a new trend. On party ID, it looks to me like we are still in the same post-Sunflower world. Nonetheless, it is something I’ll be keeping my eye on.

 

If I want to know what will happen in the near term, I look at party ID. If I want to know about the longer and deeper trends, I look at national identity. This is measured using a very simple yet telling question:

我們社會上,有人說自己是「臺灣人」,也有人說自己是「中國人」,也有人說都是。請問您認為自己是「臺灣人」、「中國人」,或者都是?

“In Taiwan, some people think they are Taiwanese. There are also some people who think that they are Chinese. Do you consider yourself as Taiwanese, Chinese or both?”

national id recent.png

Looking at the recent data, it doesn’t appear that there is any honeymoon peak. Rather, there is simply a decrease in exclusively Taiwanese identity and a commensurate increase in Chinese and dual identity. This is wrong. Actually, the June 2016 data point is higher than either 2015 or the rest of 2016.

TaiwanChinese.jpg

A look at the longer trend shows that the decline in Taiwanese identity is not merely something that has happened over the past year. The gap between the lines peaked in 2014, when exclusive Taiwan identifiers outnumbered people with some Chinese identity by about 60 to 35%. Over the past three years, that gap has slowly narrowed to roughly 56 to 40%. This is not merely a statistical blip. These data points in the ESC chart combine data from numerous surveys; each data point represents over 10,000 respondents. There is a real decline in Taiwanese identity over the past three years; the only question is how we should think about it.

Many smart people think that 2014 was a real inflection point, and the historical trend toward more and more Taiwanese identifiers has now reversed. They expect that Chinese identity will continue to increase over future surveys. I have not yet heard a convincing explanation for why this might happen, but then I don’t have a airtight explanation for the last three years either.

For now, my working hypothesis is that long-term drivers of Taiwanese identity are still in place. Younger people identify more strongly as Taiwanese than older people, and this is driven by education and real-world experiences in which China clumsily continually reminds Taiwanese that they are a different group of people. If the fast-growing China of a decade ago couldn’t attract Taiwanese youth, I don’t see how the slower-growing and more oppressive version of today will win over many hearts and minds.

For the time being, I am considering the peak in 2014 to be the outlier. My guess is that after the dramatic upheavals of the previous few years, many respondents who would have normally been on the fence were inspired to describe themselves as exclusively Taiwanese. As things calmed down, those people may have drifted back to their more “normal” dual identities. There is a rapid growth in Taiwanese identity from 2011 to 2014, and I suspect at least some of the people who changed their minds then have changed them back again. If you look in longer terms, the basic trend line over the past two decades still looks like it fits the current data.

It is also important to note that, even with the changes over the past three years, we are still not back in the world of 2008, when Taiwanese and Chinese identities were roughly equal. Exclusive Taiwanese identifiers still significantly outnumber people with Chinese identity, and the current trends will require several more years to close that gap. However, if my interpretation is correct, there may not be many more wafflers to convert back to Chinese identity. Closing the gap much further will require some fundamental change in the relationship between China and Taiwan to make Chineseness more appealing to Taiwanese youth. Perhaps that has already happened, and I am simply oblivious to it.

Regardless, this is an important indicator to keep an eye on. It is not at all an overstatement to say that Taiwan’s political future depends on the distribution of opinions about national identity.

 

The TEDS quarterly surveys mostly ask the same questions each time, but they also stick in one or two questions on topical issues each time. Some of these are illuminating.

In September 2016, respondents were asked a question on the recent Illicit Party Assets bill:

立法院在今年7月通過「不當黨產處理條例」(全名: 政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例),請問您對政府在處理不當黨產的表現滿不滿意?

“In July the legislature passed the Illicit Party Assets Act. Are you satisfied with the government’s performance in handling illicit party assets?”

35.0% of respondents said they were either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied, while 42.0% said they were either somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the government’s handling of this issue. The easy interpretation might be that the public sides with the KMT’s insistence that the DPP is conducting a vengeful, unjustified, and undemocratic witch hunt against it. However, digging a little deeper casts doubt on that interpretation. 26.0% of people who self-identified as DPP or NPP supporters also expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of illicit KMT assets. Of course, we can’t know exactly what each individual was thinking and every individual thinks something slightly different, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine that the overwhelming majority of these people were dissatisfied because they thought the efforts to recover illicit KMT assets were not aggressive enough. If you want to know how much support the KMT has for its position, you probably need to subtract the vast majority of these people – 9.9% of the full sample – from the 42.0% who were dissatisfied. Similarly, a considerable chunk of non-identifiers were probably also dissatisfied for the same reason. What starts out looking like a good result for the KMT is probably actually nothing of the sort. People might be dissatisfied with the Tsai government, but this does not necessarily mean they are jumping over to the KMT.

 

Both the March and June 2017 surveys had a question on pension reform. Note that the June survey was conducted about two weeks before the legislature passed the pension reform bill.

In March, the survey asked about the preferential savings rate:

有人說: 「公教優惠存款(十八趴)的廢除對退休公教人員不公平」,請問您同不同意這種說法?

“Some people say, “Abolishing the preferential savings policy (18%) is unfair to retired public employees.” Do you agree or disagree?”

Agree Disagree
All 30.2 58.7
KMT identifiers 45.3 44.2
DPP + NPP identifiers 21.8 72.7
Public employees 42.7 47.6

This question wording is a particularly strong one for proponents of pension reform. This focuses attention on the most easily understood aspects of a very complex topic. The preferential savings rate has been the horse that advocates have loved to beat for years, as a guaranteed 18% interest rate on savings deposits is far out of line with anything a normal person could hope to obtain. In fact, nearly twice as many people disagree with the statement as agree with it. Even among KMT identifiers and public employees, the two groups most hostile to pension reforms, nearly as many people disagreed as agreed with this statement.

In June, TEDS asked a very different question:

整體而言,請問您對政府處理公教人員年金改革的表現滿不滿意?

“Overall, are you satisfied with the government’s performance in handling public employees’ pension reform?”

satisfied Dissatisfied
All 31.7 56.4
KMT identifiers 17.6 77.5
DPP + NPP identifiers 49.9 43.0
Public employees 20.1 75.4

(Remember, this is before the legislature passed the bill.)

By now, you should know how I feel about these satisfied/dissatisfied questions. Taiwan’s population is highly critical. If they don’t get their ideal outcome, they do not hesitate to express dissatisfaction. In fact, the Tsai government moved deliberately and cautiously on pension reform, angering a lot of green supporters who wanted a more radical approach. In this survey, not even half of DPP and NPP supporters were satisfied.

On this topic, I have a little private data. I’m doing a project on fighting in the legislature, and I did an internet survey before and after the pension reform was passed. Now, internet surveys have to be interpreted with extreme caution since they are not representative samples. Our goal was to study how attitudes changed after a brawl, not to make statements describing the Taiwanese population. However, that is what Nathan Batto, rigorous scholar, does with the data. Frozen Garlic, the irresponsible blogger, is going to throw caution to the wind and give you some results that you shouldn’t take at face value.

First, let me tell you that my data are biased. My respondents are extremely highly educated, have too many middle aged people, too many northerners, not enough farmers or homemakers, and too many public employees. KMT and NPP identifiers are overrepresented, while DPP identifiers are underrepresented. In general, all the results in my survey skew much bluer than those of a representative telephone sample.

Unlike the TEDS questions, we framed our question in terms of partisan positions:

在年金改革的議題上,您比較支持國民黨的立場還是民進黨的立場?

“On pension reform, do you support the KMT position or the DPP position more?”

Wave 1 Wave 2
KMT position 20.8 21.1
DPP position 39.9 42.1
Neither/no opinion 39.3 36.8

In this sample, roughly twice as many people preferred the DPP position as the KMT position. Remember, this sample is too blue, so in the actual population it was probably more than a two to one ratio.

Think about this. The general population was generally dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the pension reform, even though it preferred the DPP’s position over the KMT’s position by a large margin. Taiwanese people are not easily satisfied! Nevertheless, even if the general public isn’t happy with the DPP’s performance, the pension reform issue is definitely not a winner for the KMT.

 

How about marriage equality? TEDS has questions from March and June 2017:

有人說: 「應該修改民法讓同性可以結婚組成家庭」,請問您同不同意這種說法?

“Some people say, “The Civil Code should be amended to allow gays to marry and form a family.” Do you agree?”

 

This question wording presents a stricter test for support of marriage equality than a less specific question, such as “Do you agree that gay should be allowed to marry?” Amending the Civil Code is the strongest version of marriage equality. There are people who support a weaker version of marriage equality, such as enacting a special law but not amending the Civil Code. Nonetheless, the degree of opposition to amending the Civil Code is striking.

agree Disagree
March 2017 39.1 52.1
June 2017 33.7 57.0
Breakdowns of June sample
KMT identifiers 21.9 69.4
DPP identifiers 37.5 54.3
NPP identifiers 64.6 32.3
Taipei City 40.3 44.8
Age 20-29 71.1 21.1
Age 30-39 50.0 40.5
Age 40 and up 18.6 72.1

KMT identifiers are overwhelmingly against amending the Civil Code, while DPP identifiers also have a clear majority against it. NPP supporters are clearly the outliers. Geographically, Taipei City sticks out. While Taipei residents are split evenly, every other place has 60-70% against amending the Civil Code. When Taiwanese sarcastically talk about Taipei residents living in a bubble (天龍國), maybe this is part of what they are talking about. There are dramatic differences by age. People in their 20s are overwhelmingly for marriage equality, while people in their 30s are somewhat for it. However, most eligible voters are over 40, and these people are overwhelmingly against amending the Civil Code.

In May, the Council of Grand Justices ruled that the current law is unconstitutional and gave the government two years to change it. Looking at these numbers, you can see why the Tsai government is not eager to push through an amendment to the Civil Code, regardless of President Tsai’s personal sympathies. I don’t think the very vocal supporters of marriage equality have yet realized that the government is on their side. (Don’t forget, Tsai appointed most of the Grand Justices.) With these numbers, the only realistic action is a special law, which the activists don’t want. Instead, the government has chosen a third path: wait for the two year period to expire and then simply consider the Civil Code to allow gays to marry. At the cost of a two year wait, the marriage equality activists will get their most favored outcome while not inflicting enormous political costs on a sympathetic government.

 

The final item to consider echoes newly elected KMT chair Wu Den-yi’s proposal that Taiwan should revert to the 1992 Consensus. This was asked in the June 2017 survey.

在處理兩岸關係上,有人主張我們應該使用九二共識與中國大陸協商,也有人主張我們不應該再使用九二共識,請問您比較支持哪一種看法?

“On cross straits relations, some people say the we should use the 1992 Consensus as a basis for negotiations with mainland China, other people say that we should not use the 1992 Consensus again. Which side do you support?”

use Don’t use Doesn’t exist
All 41.8 29.4 3.7
DPP + NPP identifiers 21.6 52.9 6.9
Exclusive Taiwan identity 26.0 41.4 5.6

I have to admit, I was quite surprised by this result. 42% of people were in favor of re-adopting the 1992 Consensus, while only 33% were against it. (I’m counting the 4% who refuse to admit the existence of the 1992 Consensus as being against using it.) I guess Wu Den-yi’s position is more popular than I thought.

Let’s take a minute to think about polling and the 1992 Consensus. For years, the Ma Ying-jeou government would shove reams of polling data showing a solid majority in support of the 1992 Consensus in the face of any journalist willing to look. Many eagerly and unskeptically repeated the government numbers in their stories. It wasn’t just journalists, though. I’ve heard academics reference the Mainland Affairs Council survey numbers. Here’s the problem. The MAC was producing survey results in order to justify – not to inform – its policies. The typical MAC question wording was both leading and confusing. (Is it possible to be both leading and misleading?) Here’s a footnote from one of my recent papers on this point:

“For example, a July 2014 survey asked, “The government’s position on the 1992 Consensus is that the ‘one China’ in ‘one China, each side with its own interpretation’ refers to the ROC. Do you support this position?” 52.3% expressed support, which was a fairly typical result. Sometimes the MAC preceded this question with other leading questions or employed even more loaded question wordings. For example, a May 2015 survey asked, “Some people say, ‘Since 2008, the important result of the government’s mainland policy has been to maintain cross-straits relations and a stable peace.’ Do you agree with this statement?” It then asked a loaded question on the 1992 Consensus: “Since 2008, on the foundation of the 1992 Consensus – One China, each side with its own interpretation, One China means the ROC, the government has steadily promoted cross-straits negotiations and exchanges. Do you support this position?” 53.9% expressed support.”

Note that in all of the MAC surveys, the formula is spelled out in its strongest version, emphasizing “each side with its own interpretation.” This matters a lot. The more you spell out the parts of the formula that the PRC doesn’t agree with, the more support there is. In these questions, they further emphasize the constitution and confusingly (at least to me) allow people to think they are agreeing with the statement that the government’s position is that One China refers to the ROC (and not the PRC), and so on. That’s how you get over 50% for this question. When TISR asked the questions in a more neutral manner two years ago, they got about 40% support for “one China, each side with its own interpretation”, 30% for “1992 Consensus,” and 20% for “one China, both sides with the same interpretation.”

Nearly two years later, support for the 1992 Consensus seems to have risen a bit. The 1992 Consensus gets 42% support, even though the wording does not include the phrase “each side with its own interpretation.” Moreover, this item has a response category for opposition, not just for support. 42% support turns out not to mean 58% opposition. In fact, 33% is not anywhere close to 58% opposition. A large chunk of the population is ambivalent on this question. Like many people, I interpreted the 2016 election result as a death sentence for the 1992 Consensus. I still think the chances of the Tsai government ever accepting it are between razor-thin and zero, but, in light of this result, I can see why Wu Den-yi and the KMT are holding out hope that the 1992 Consensus can still be the basis for a winning election campaign.

 

To sum up, I think these data suggest that the DPP is still on track to win another term in 2020. There are some encouraging numbers for the KMT, but they are easily exaggerated. Overall, I think these data are at least as discouraging for the KMT as for the DPP. I think we are most likely going to have something like the previous Japanese election in which a somewhat unpopular government easily beat an even more unpopular opposition.

PS: If these results trouble you in any way, don’t worry. They’re all horribly out of date. Everything is probably completely different now.