Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

12 Years of FG

January 24, 2022

Frozen Garlic has hit a major milestone. I started writing this blog 12 years ago. Elections in Taiwan is a very niche topic, so I never expected a wide readership. Further, it’s written in English, and most of the people who are most interested in this topic prefer to read about it in Chinese. And the nature of the electoral cycle means that I go several months at a time without writing anything. When you don’t post any content, readers stop reading. When I started, I thought I was writing as much for personal expression as for the benefit of any readers.

Today, WordPress informs me that the blog has achieved 500,000 page views. In our modern world, we are used to seeing extremely large numbers, so half a million might not seem like a lot. However, I have done a lot of data entry over the years. In the old days when we had paper surveys, it only took a few minutes to enter the data for one survey. However, when you need to do that a thousand times, it starts adding up. That was a job for a team of RAs, and it took several days to plow through the pile. My database of candidates in Taiwanese elections is currently at about 69,000 candidates, and I have put a great deal of time and energy into that over the last decade. I think 500,000 is an enormous number.

I’d like to thank everyone who has spent several minutes plowing through one of my long, poorly edited screeds over the years. I hope it has been as informative and interesting for you as it has been fulfilling for me.

I’m going to start planning a small party for February 2034 when I should hit 1,000,000 page views.

Change under Chu? Never mind.

September 27, 2021

You know all that stuff I wrote in the previous post about how Chu might shift directions? Chu didn’t wait even 24 hours before squashing that thought. In basically his first act as the new chair, Chu sent a fawning, groveling letter to Xi Jinping. I’m going to steal Yang Kuang-shun’s excellent translation (thanks):

No photo description available.

“In the past three decades, the cross-Strait relations made very positive progress in exchanges and cooperation at all levels through the relentless works and promotion of our parties. In recent years, however, the DPP administration has changed the status quo across the Strait by adopting ‘de-China’ and ‘anti-China’ policies. It creates tough situation across the Strait and extreme sense of insecurity among the people across the Strait”

“People across the Strait are Chinese people. On the basis of ‘1992 Consensus’ and ‘Opposing Taiwan independence,’ we hope from now on that our parties can pursue consensus and respect differences, promote mutual trust and integration, enhance exchanges and cooperation, so that the peaceful development of the cross-Strait relations can move forward. This is beneficial to the people across the Strait and the promotion of the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

He starts by blaming the DPP. That is, he is seeking to ally with the CCP (a party dedicated to destroying the ROC) against the DPP. He then bases this relationship on the 92C and Opposing Taiwan independence. Note that he doesn’t bother to state the “each side with its own interpretation part”. What ever happened to this strident insistence that he was passionately against any “red unification”?

Chu basically announced that there will be no change in the KMT position. This is still Ma Ying-jeou’s party. He is not interested in actually placing the ROC first or moving toward the middle of the Taiwan electorate. More bluntly, he isn’t interested in winning national elections. All that stuff from the last two weeks? Let’s just pretend that never happened. He didn’t really mean it. He just had to say some stuff to win an election.

Chu wins. Now what?

September 26, 2021

Eric Chu was elected KMT party chair yesterday.

Eric Chu朱立倫8516445.78
Chang Ya-chung張亞中6063232.59
Johnny Chiang江啟臣3509018.87
Cho Po-yuan卓伯源51332.76
Eligible voters: 370711, turnout: 50.71%

On the one hand, this was utterly predictable. From the moment Chu announced his candidacy, he was the strong favorite to win. A month ago, 45% would have seemed about right to me.

On the other hand, this campaign when dramatically off script in the last ten days. Up until that point, this was an utterly ordinary race. The candidates all professed admiration for traditional KMT positions and complained that Tsai and the DPP were doing a terrible job. The biggest point of contention was about whether it was ok that Chu had not renounced a run for president in 2024. Yawn. And then lots of dubious “polls” appeared, showing that Chang was running a very close second or maybe was leading. And then Chu started attacking Chang as a “red unificationist,” something that I never expected to see.

This turned the race into a clear choice between Chu and Chang. Chu was the defender of the ROC, and Chang stood for political talks toward a peaceful arrangement with the PRC. To put it more bluntly, while Chang didn’t like the red unification label, he never tried to distance himself from red unification policies.

One way to look at this election is that we now have a pretty good estimate of how much of the KMT is serious about unification. One-third of party members heard Chu – a cautious stalwart party leader, not some radical Taiwan independence pundit – tell them that Chang’s pursuit of political arrangements with the PRC was a threat to the continued existence of the ROC, and they basically said, “Yeah, I’m ok with that. I’m for that guy.” Since Chang is something of a blank slate – he’s never run in a general election or held a political office – his support is untainted by his record. What I mean by that is that party members may have loved Hung Hsiu-chu in 2017, but she had just run a disastrous presidential race. (Chang’s 60,632 votes is better than the 53,063 Hung Hsiu-chu got in the 2017 race, especially considering there were 85,000 more votes cast in 2017.) If there had been an election in early 2019, Han Kuo-yu would have swept in partly because of his pro-China stance but partly because he seemed like he could win support from average voters. We don’t have that kind of history with Chang, so no one can say for sure what kind of public appeal he would have. One-third is a sizeable minority. In a previous post, I wondered if a victorious Chu might try to marginalize or even purge Chang. If Chang represents one-third of the party, that seems unlikely. One-third is just too large to ignore, much less actively marginalize. From another point of view, though, one-third is not close to a majority, much less a consensus. Chu’s defense of the ROC and vocal rejection of unification on the PRC’s terms is firmly in the mainstream of the KMT.

Enough about Chang. Let’s talk about Chu. This may turn out to be a transformative moment in Chu’s career. For a decade, we have known Chu as a congenial, cautious, reasonable, capable, somewhat bland, never strident, consensus-seeking fellow. He is the guy solidly in the center of the KMT who everyone in the party can agree on. He might not be their first choice, but he is at least their second choice. From a policy standpoint, it’s the same thing. He doesn’t take positions that make other KMT members nervous. He is for the ROC, the 1992 Consensus, prosperity, new MRT lines, clean air, baseball, moon cakes, and mangoes. He thinks Tsai and the DPP are doing a terrible job in office, but even when he is attacking them, it doesn’t seem as venomous as other people’s attacks. Or at least that’s how I understood him two weeks ago.

His broadside attacks on Chang were completely out of character. He laid out his guiding principle as maintaining the ROC. If you attack the ROC, you are his enemy. This includes both Taiwan independence advocates and red unificationists. He attacked someone inside the KMT as not merely misguided but as an outright enemy. By extension, he was also declaring all of Chang’s supporters – KMT party members! – in favor of aggressively pursuing unification as his enemies. He equated red unification with Taiwan independence, suggesting they are both similarly repugnant to him. This is not the Eric Chu I thought I knew.

Changing the starting point from “One China, each side with its own interpretation” to “unconditionally maintain the ROC” could have monumental implications for Chu and the KMT. If taken to its logical conclusions, I think it could be a platform powerful enough to restore the KMT to electoral viability. However, I’m not convinced Chu is prepared to follow through, since what I have in mind would require significant revisions to KMT discourse.

To illustrate this, consider the repeated incursions of PRC fighter jets into ROC airspace. The current KMT response is that this is all a result of the DPP’s rejection of the 92C and the loss of trust between the two sides. Implicitly, they seem to believe that since there is One China, military threats are inevitable and reasonable if one side seems to deny that it is part of that One China. A KMT dedicated to maintaining the ROC might react differently. First, condemn the PRC’s military actions. They have no right to violate the ROC’s airspace. When civilized people disagree, they use civilized methods to express their unhappiness and seek resolutions. Military threats are unacceptable and inexcusable. Second, vocally and publicly support the ROC military. (Not the retired veterans; I mean the active duty forces.) Take photos with fighter pilots, and support weapons purchases. The ROC military has a sacred duty to protect the ROC, and the KMT should support that mission enthusiastically and unconditionally. Don’t hesitate to single out the PRC as the primary threat to the ROC. The KMT traditionally likes to complain about the Japanese and the Senkakus, but this is not an existential threat to the ROC. If the primary goal is to maintain the ROC, you must face the fact that the PLA is the only military power seeking to destroy to ROC. Third, after posing for photo-ops with DPP politicians and ROC military to clearly present a united front demonstrating the determination of all sides to maintain the security and sovereignty of the ROC – only after that – then proceed to partisan attacks on the DPP. “PLA incursions are absolutely wrong and unjustified, but DPP policies aren’t wise or helpful.” ROC first means national security comes before partisan politics.

I hope that example illustrates how hard this would be for the KMT and why I don’t think it is particularly likely. However, I do think that a KMT refounded on protecting the ROC could win an election. It would lose active support from businesses who want government support in China, and it would probably some votes from pro-unification voters. However, this party would be much better equipped to compete for the median voter, who identifies primarily as Taiwanese. If the DPP had a corruption scandal or some other massive failure of governance, this KMT could be one that people would feel comfortable voting for as an alternative. You wouldn’t need to worry about this KMT undermining Taiwan’s sovereignty or security.

This election may turn out to be the healthiest thing that has happened to the KMT in years. It originally seemed that they were sluggishly drifting along on the same path that had already led them to two dismal defeats. They seemed resigned to insisting that Ma’s path and the 92C were the right way to win in 2024. Suddenly, new alternatives may have opened up. The virulent clash between Chu and Chang forced the two to stand up for different visions of the future, and Chu’s vision is surprisingly viable. Now all Chu has to do is make that vision a reality.

It isn’t clear that he really wants to go down this path. The old Chu and the old KMT could re-emerge. But if he does, it won’t be easy. Chu won a clear victory, but 45% doesn’t automatically confer a mandate. He will have to glue together the 67% who didn’t vote for Chang and make them the foundation of his agenda. It will take tremendous political skill to articulate this vision in a way that both KMT members and average voters can identify with. This is essentially the same program that Chiang proposed last year, and last year it was an utter failure. It can be attacked as a return to the Lee Teng-hui era, and that is a damning accusation within the current KMT. Chu will have to package it as stemming from the genius of Chiang Ching-kuo and thread the needle of persuading the electorate that his is moving away from 92C orthodoxy while not inciting a rebellion from Ma and other defenders of the 92C. Nothing I have seen from Chu in the past decade leads me to expect that he is a brilliant politician capable of this. Then again, nothing led me to expect the previous two weeks either.

Taiwan is rainy — sometimes

August 18, 2021

I haven’t written a lot on Frozen Garlic in the past year and a half. Part of this is that this is the dead time in the election cycle, so there really isn’t a whole lot of news to write about. More importantly, this has been a difficult year and a half for me. I’ve been preoccupied with other things, of which the Covid pandemic is merely somewhere in the top ten. Anyway, this blog has always been a fun thing for me rather than a responsibility, so when I don’t want to write anything, I just don’t write anything. And that has described most of the last year and a half.

Today’s topic is going to be strange and uninteresting to many readers, and I imagine many people will not read all the way to the end. That’s ok with me.

I’ve been distracting myself over the past few months by thinking about water. Water is one of those topics that people interested in politics only think about when something goes wrong. It’s always important, but usually it fades into the background. However, when water becomes a problem, it has the potential to shift political outcomes. Taichung experienced a few months of water rationing this spring. When no water comes out of your faucet two days a week, the pain can build up. The train accident earlier this year got more headlines, but that was a one-time event that didn’t affect many people and was quickly forgotten. Water rationing had the potential to be a much more demoralizing event.

I don’t think water will turn out to be a critical factor in the next elections. It started raining the last two days in May, and it has been basically raining ever since. The reservoirs were all dangerously low then, but now they are all full. I might be wrong, but I think the pain of water rationing will fade from memory, even for Taichung voters. So the rest of this post will be discussing something that I don’t think will matter much for the 2022 or 2024 elections.

I’ve never really looked at rain and reservoirs before this year, so I’m probably going to “discover” a lot of things that experts already know. It’s also possible I will be making all the obvious mistakes that they learned to avoid long ago.

Let’s start with a data point. In the 16 days from July 25 to August 9, the Pingtung weather station recorded 1496.5mm of rain. 1.5 meters!!! I’m a pretty average height, and that is nearly to the top of my shoulders. And remember, this is the official Pingtung weather station. There are lots of rain gauges in Pingtung, and many of them were considerably higher.

But wait a minute. The first thing that you learn in dealing with data is that you have to ask, “Is that a lot?” At first glance, it seems like a lot, but is it? Is that more than normal? If so, is it a lot more than normal? After all, Taiwan is a rainy place. And when typhoons hit, we can see unfathomable amounts of rain in just a day or two. Anyone who has traveled through Taiwan has seen enormous river beds with just a trickle of water in them. Once or twice every few years, those enormous river beds are needed for a few hours to transport stupendous quantities of water back into the ocean. So maybe this year has just been – ordinary?

While we’re asking these questions, what about last year? This spring when all the reservoirs were nearly empty, we were reminded that last year no typhoons hit Taiwan so the rainfall had been abnormally low. It seems like a good time to check that assertion. Was rainfall markedly lower last year?

The Central Weather Bureau website provides daily rainfall data for 35 weather stations starting in 2009. However, some of these are missing chunks of data and some of them are rocks in the middle of the ocean that I don’t care about. Also, daily data would have been more than just a time-wasting project. I ended up collecting monthly rain data from 2009 to 2020 for 26 weather stations. (If it had been a real research project, I would have gotten daily data for the hundreds (thousands?) of rain measurement stations. But I study politics, not rain. Gotta keep time-wasting side projects under control.)

How much rain does Taiwan get? Most places get somewhere between 1500 and 2500mm annually, though there are some pretty big discrepancies. Central Taiwan (in red) gets a bit less than most places, while the Taipei area (in dark blue) gets a bit more. The islands (in diamonds) in the Taiwan Strait (light blue) all get considerably less than everywhere else, with Kinmen not even averaging 1000mm a year. Meanwhile, the northeastern corner (in yellow) of Taiwan is very rainy, with Keelung getting over 3500mm a year. I live in Keelung, so that didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was Su-ao, a little port town in southern Ilan. Su-ao is unbelievably rainy, averaging a staggering 4482mm a year! The mountains (with horizontal stripes) generally get more rain than the coastal areas. The two weather stations on Yangmingshan* get twice as much rain as downtown Taipei, and the station atop Alishan gets twice as much as Chiayi City. What’s crazy about Su-ao is that it gets mountainous quantities of rain at sea level.

*Why do we need two weather stations right next each other on Yangmingshan? Wouldn’t it be better to have a mountainous weather station somewhere in, say, Hsinchu or Miaoli? I’m guessing this has something to do with bureaucrats who want to be stationed in Yangmingshan and not deep in the Central Mountain Range.

How much rain is this? Is it a lot or a little? I did a quick internet search of annual rainfall in major cities around the world. For comparison, I used the Taiwan scale (0-5000mm). Taiwan’s rainfall is pretty standard for Southeast Asia (in red) and the two coastal South Asian cities (in green), but this is the rainiest region on earth. West Asia is very dry, with most cities getting somewhere around 500mm a year. In most of the rest of the world, cities get somewhere around 1000mm a year. In the USA, the southeast gets a bit more and the west gets quite a bit less. (Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain very much in Seattle.) Europe is quite a bit dryer than the USA, with very few cities even getting 1000mm a year. British comedians moan incessantly about how much it rains in Scotland and Wales, but Glasgow would be considered a dry spot here in Taiwan (and Cardiff is even dryer). In global perspective, Kinmen doesn’t seem arid at all.

I live in Keelung, so I was well aware that I live in the rainiest corner of the island. What I didn’t realize is that the rain falls at different times during the year here.

There are two distinct rain patterns in Taiwan. The dominant pattern covers central and southern Taiwan. In this pattern, there isn’t much rain at all between October and April. Almost all the rain comes from May to September, especially in June and August. The chart shows the rainfall for Tainan, but everything from Miaoli to Pingtung looks about the same. The second pattern is the northeastern pattern, covering Keelung and Ilan. Here, it rains all year round, and there is actually more rain in the winter than in the summer. The rest of northern Taiwan is a transition zone between these two patterns, though it is generally closer to the southern pattern than the northeastern pattern. In Taipei, for example, May-October is the rainy season, but it isn’t quite as rainy as in the south then. And the winter is the dry season, but it isn’t nearly as dry as the south.

The summer spike for Tainan makes it clear just how seasonal rain is in central and southern Taiwan. All the rain comes either in late spring/early summer plum rains or in late summer typhoons. Even more importantly, when the rain comes, it comes all at once. On average, most places in central and southern Taiwan get a fourth to a third of their rain in August, but there is tremendous variation in that average. Tainan, for example, averages 576mm in August, but that has ranged from 91mm in 2016 to 1301mm in 2018. Remember, this is only a 12-year dataset; if we went back 50 or 100 years, we’d almost certainly find even more extreme Tainan Augusts. Remember that 1.5m of rain in Pingtung? Is that extreme? Well, it’s a lot, but it’s not unheard of. There are 48 months in my dataset with at least 1000mm, and 11 months with at least 1500mm. This Pingtung storm was split between July and August and didn’t reach 1000mm in either month, so it is not part of the 48 1000mm months, much less the 11 1500mm months. The heaviest rainfall in a single month since 2009 was August 2009, when Typhoon Morakot dumped 3346mm of rain on the Alishan weather station. For those of you who don’t understand metric, that is almost exactly 11 feet. Think about eleven feet of rain. It’s hard to even imagine.

The reservoirs were all empty in mid-May. Was 2020 really an extremely dry year? It turns out that 2020 wasn’t the worst year for a lot of places. It was the lowest year (from 2009 to 2020) for 11 of the 26 weather stations that I had data on. That means that the other 15 had at least one dryer year. In fact, the three northeastern areas got more rain than normal.

2020 wasn’t a historically dry year everywhere, but it was in central Taiwan. 2020 was the worst year for Hsinchu, Taichung, Wuqi, Sun Moon Lake, Chiay, Alishan, and Yushan. I’m missing some data for Miaoli, Changhua, and Yunlin, but from the data I have, 2020 was the worst year for them too. It just didn’t rain much in central Taiwan.

Every ranked list has to have a first and last place, so maybe it’s better to use a threshold. It is very rare for a place to get less than 60% of its normal yearly rainfall. Of the 312 place-years, only 8 fell below this 60% threshold. Four of those occurred in 2020, including three in central Taiwan. (Kinmen was the other.) Miaoli and Changhua may have also fallen below this threshold, but I don’t have complete data for the other years. Remember, people don’t get first claim to rainfall. The trees drink first. If central Taiwan only saw 60% of the normal rainfall, that implies that the reservoirs probably got quite a bit less than 60% of their normal supply. Central Taiwan was dry, dry, dry in 2020.

Ok, so it didn’t rain much in central Taiwan in 2020. Why were all the reservoirs empty? Why was there a water crisis stretching from New Taipei City all the way to Kaohsiung?

I learned something new this year staring at maps of rain and reservoirs: most of the reservoirs are fed by central Taiwan. The Shimen Reservoir is located in Taoyuan and supplies most of Taoyuan and New Taipei City, so I have always thought of it as a northern reservoir. However, its watershed covers the mountainous areas of Miaoli, Hsinchu, and Taoyuan. That stretches pretty far into central Taiwan. If it doesn’t rain in Miaoli and Hsinchu (like in 2020), the Taipei suburbs are going to run out of water (as almost happened in May 2021). Likewise, the Tsengwen reservoir, which supplies most of southern Taiwan, is fed by the Tsengwen River, which empties out into the ocean in Tainan City. I think of it as southern. However, the water in the Tsengwen Reservoir comes mostly from Alishan. While most of us think of Chiayi as politically and culturally southern, geographically it looks pretty central. If it doesn’t rain in Alishan (as in 2020), the water supply in Kaohsiung is going to run low (as happened in 2021).

In May, the only big reservoir that was more than half full was Feitsui, which supplies Taipei City. Feitsui is in Shiding, southeast of the city. More to the point, the rainfall pattern in Shiding is closer to the Keelung pattern of steady rain all year long than the central Taiwan feast or famine pattern. Strangely, this is one place where the Japanese did not plan well. It might seem obvious to build a reservoir where there is a steady supply of water, but Feitsui was not built until the 1970s.

We are all very aware that power plants in Taichung ship electricity north. I never realized that central Taiwan also supplies most of the water for the island. Except Taipei. CKS – always wary of angry mobs in the capital – was careful to ensure a steady water supply for Taipei.

To conclude, I am very happy to say that I assume none of this will have much impact on any elections coming up over the next few years. We (mostly) dodged a bullet this time.

A lecture on populism

January 15, 2021

This is the most important story in Taiwan electoral politics in recent years. It’s too bad it took me so long to realize what was going on.

Do referendums reflect public opinion?

November 7, 2019

I have previously written that I do not think referendums are a good way to make public policy choices because voters never have sufficient information about the choices to make good decisions. In this post, I’m going to go one step further. Referendums are also a lousy way to make decisions because voters usually don’t care very much about those choices. You might obtain a “clear” result indicating that 53% of the electorate opposes or supports some policy, but the actual public opinion underlying that electoral result is usually far less defined. In some extreme cases, you might as well be drawing random numbers.

Last year, Taiwan put 10 referendum questions on the ballot. We got 10 results, but I don’t think those results reflected any particularly solid attitudes in the overall population.

Fortunately, we have some data. I’m using the Taiwan Elections and Democratization Studies (TEDS) post-election surveys. Three face-to-face surveys were conducted (mostly in February 2019) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung cities. I am merging the three files together. This is NOT a nationally representative sample. Still, if people in the three most urbanized and highly educated areas of Taiwan don’t care about referendums, you aren’t likely to find stronger results elsewhere.

To refresh your memory, the ten referendum questions were as follows (translations from Wikipedia):

#7 Do you agree “To reduce by 1% year by year” the electricity production of thermal power plants?
#8 Do you agree to the establishment of an energy policy to “Stop construction and expansion of any coal-fired thermal power plants or generator units (including the Shen Ao Power Plant currently under construction)”?
#9 Do you agree that the government should maintain the prohibition of agricultural imports and food from areas affected by the Fukushima March 11 Disaster? Specifically, those from Fukushima proper and the 4 surrounding districts and cities of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba?
#10 Do you agree that marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman?
#11 Do you agree that the Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools?
#12 Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in co-habitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code?
#13 Do you agree to the use of “Taiwan” when participating in all international sport competitions, including the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
#14 Do you agree to the protection of same-sex marital rights with marriage as defined in the Civil Code?
#15 Do you agree in accordance with the Gender Equality Education Act that national education of all levels should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, and same-sex education?
#16 Do you agree to repeal Article 95 Paragraph 1 of the Electricity Act: “Should Nuclear-energy-based power generating facilities shall stop running by 2025”?


The first thing to remember is that the turnout in the mayoral elections was much higher than the turnout for the referendums. Many people who voted in the mayoral election, often after waiting for several hours, then looked at the (relatively short) lines for the referendum ballots and decided it wasn’t worth it. About one in six mayoral voters skipped the referendums altogether. Meh.

Seven of the ten passed (all but #13, 14, and 15). Let’s look at how the survey respondents reported their votes. I’m only showing people who said they voted in the referendums. I show four different response categories: yes, no, can’t remember or don’t know, and all others (including invalid votes, refusal to answer, and didn’t pick up this particular ballot).

Ref # yes no forgot other
#7 61.6 14.3 17.5 6.6
#8 54.7 21.5 16.8 7.1
#9 45.6 16.5 8.6 4.9
#10 61.9 26.0 7.7 4.3
#11 47.4 36.6 11.1 4.9
#12 42.0 41.1 11.5 5.4
#13 44.9 39.5 11.1 4.5
#14 31.9 52.4 9.9 5.9
#15 36.9 44.8 12.2 6.2
#16 38.2 38.2 16.4 7.2
average     12.3  

On average 12.3% of voters couldn’t remember how they voted. This doesn’t sound like a population that had thought long and hard about energy policy or marriage equality and had come to solid conclusions (that could serve as the basis for government decisions) about what to do. Nope. It sounds like a lot of them cared so little about the issue that they couldn’t remember what they did. Remember, the one-sixth of the electorate that REALLY didn’t care about the referendums had already left; these are the people who supposedly cared the most.

Perhaps you think that this is normal.  Maybe it is unreasonable to expect that people might remember how they voted two or three months later. Well, let’s look at the mayoral results from the three cities. It turns out, respondents could remember that vote pretty clearly. In a choice that the electorate took seriously, only 1.1% couldn’t remember how they voted. The referendum simply didn’t make as deep an impression in their minds.

KMT candidate 48.5
DPP candidate 30.2
Ko Wen-je 14.3
Other minor candidate 1.0
Forgot 1.1
Other 4.9


But wait, it gets worse. One-sixth of the mayoral voters didn’t care enough to vote in the election, and one-eighth of the remaining voters couldn’t remember how they voted in the referendums. However, it isn’t the case that the rest of the voters all had strong and clear opinions. In fact, their behavior is, if anything, even more discouraging to the pro-referendum set.

Five of the referendum questions dealt with marriage equality. The referendum questions were criticized as being a bit confusing, however, the TEDS survey included a fairly straightforward question on attitudes toward marriage equality. (This question was near the end of a long questionnaire. Most respondents would have had ten to forty minutes between answering questions about their voting choice on the referendums and this question.) The question was as follows: “On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, some people believe that it should be legalized while others do not. Do you agree with legalizing same-sex marriage?” About 95% of respondents provided an answer, and opponents outweighed supporters by roughly a 3:2 ratio.

Legalize same-sex marriage?    
Strong agree 10.1 37.1
Agree 27.0
Disagree 30.0 58.0
Strong disagree 28.0
Other 4.9  

If those attitudes toward same-sex marriage are deep and strong, they should be highly correlated with voting behavior on the five referendums related to same-sex marriage. Let’s see. These tables show attitudes toward same-sex marriage (rows) and reported behavior in the referendums (columns). Each cell is the table percentage (the percentage of all referendum voters in that cell).

Ref #10 (define marriage as one man, one woman)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 12.1 21.9 1.6 1.3 37.1
Don’t 48.2 3.7 5.0 2.1 59.1
Other 1.6 0.3 1.1 0.8 3.8
total 61.9 26.0 7.7 4.3 100.0

Ref #11 (against gender equality education)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 12.2 21.4 2.1 1.3 37.1
Don’t 33.9 14.5 7.9 2.8 59.1
Other 1.3 0.6 1.2 0.8 3.8
total 47.7 33.6 11.1 4.9 100.0

Ref #12 (don’t amend the Civil Code)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 20.7 12.7 2.4 1.3 37.1
Don’t 20.1 27.9 8.0 3.0 59.1
Other 1.1 0.5 1.2 1.0 3.8
total 42.0 41.1 11.5 5.4 100.0

Ref #14 (amend Civil Code)

  Yes no forgot other total
Legalize 25.7 7.3 2.6 1.5 37.1
Don’t 5.8 43.8 6.0 3.4 59.1
Other 0.3 1.2 1.2 1.0 3.8
total 31.9 52.4 9.9 5.9 100.0

Ref #15 (support gender equality education)

  yes no forgot other total
Legalize 25.7 7.7 2.3 1.4 37.1
Don’t 10.5 36.1 8.6 3.9 59.1
Other 0.7 1.0 1.3 0.9 3.8
total 36.9 44.8 12.2 6.2 100.0


Focus on the four upper-left cells in each table. For example, people who support legalizing same-sex marriage should probably be against Referendum #10 while people who are against legalization should probably support it.  In fact, 70.1% of the respondents fall into one of these two boxes. However, 15.8% voted the “incorrect” way. That is, their vote contradicted their stated attitude. This wasn’t the most egregious example.

  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 70.1 15.8 14.1
#11 55.3 26.7 18.0
#12 32.8 48.6 18.6
#14 69.5 13.1 17.4
#15 61.8 18.2 20.0
average 57.9 24.5 17.6

Referendum #12 was confusingly worded, and respondents mostly got it wrong. A whopping 48.6% reported voting in a way inconsistent with their attitude toward same-sex marriage, while only 32.8% got it “correct.” Referendum #14 asked basically the same thing, but in a much clearer way (and from the opposite direction). On this question, far more respondents reported a “correct” vote. However, even with a clearer question, 13.1% got it wrong.

It really isn’t great if voters are reporting behavior inconsistent with their values. Any way you slice it, the implication for referendums is pretty terrible. If you suggest that they are just misrembering their votes, doesn’t that imply that the vote wasn’t important enough to them to make a deep impression? If they remembered correctly, does that mean that the attitude is very shallow (and thus not something you want to base public policy on) or that the referendum result did not reflect public opinion (and thus something that you should not base policy on)?

Did anyone vote “correctly”? Theoretically, the people with the strongest attitudes should be the ones most likely to match up their votes with their attitudes. So let’s divide the respondents into “extremists” and “moderates,” depending on whether they strongly agreed or disagreed with legalizing same-sex marriage or just moderately agreed or disagreed. Here is the above table for these two groups:



  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 83.0 7.4 9.6
#11 61.9 24.1 14.0
#12 37.0 48.8 14.2
#14 82.6 5.9 11.5
#15 72.7 12.4 14.9
average 67.4 19.7 12.8
average w/o #12 75.1 12.5 12.5



  “correct” “incorrect” unclear
#10 66.1 22.7 11.2
#11 54.5 30.3 15.2
#12 32.0 51.8 16.2
#14 65.3 18.9 15.8
#15 58.4 23.5 18.1
average 55.3 29.4 15.3
average w/o #12 61.1 23.9 15.1

On average, extremists produce more “correct” votes than moderates, as expected. However, this is not as evident on #12, the confusingly worded question. On that one, extremists were nearly as likely as moderates to answer “incorrectly.” However, if we exclude that question, extremists only voted “incorrectly” half as often as moderates.

This is still dismal. Even setting aside the confusing #12, extremists voted incorrectly one-eighth of the time and moderates did so nearly one-fourth of the time. Oh, and don’t forget all the people who can’t remember how they voted and the people who showed up to vote but thought that referendums weren’t worth their time.


Ultimately, the point is that most people don’t know enough or don’t care enough about specific policy questions to make a good decision. It sounds high-minded and democratic to bypass the elected politicians and put a question directly to the people, but, in practice, “direct democracy” is a disaster.

Upcoming Event: Talk at CSIS

September 2, 2019

For those of you in or near Washington, DC, I will be speaking at CSIS on September 12 about the upcoming Taiwan presidential election.

Hsinchu County has unequal districts too!

May 30, 2018

This is unbelievable. The CEC’s plan for Hsinchu County is terrible. Remember, Hsinchu County just increased from one to two seats, so they are not even maintaining an old district that has grown unbalanced. They are designing a brand-new uneven districting plan. The CEC doesn’t care at all about equal populations. This is inexcusable.


The gory details. Hsinchu County has 13 towns. The current plan is as follows:


District 1 竹北市 181419 312702
  新豐鄉 56800 (+17.9%)
  湖口鄉 77500  
District 2 Other 10 towns 217712 217712


Could I do significantly better without violating the sanctity of township district lines, geographical contiguity, traffic patterns, and the rest? Yes, it took me about 5 seconds to figure this out.

District 1 竹北市 181419 236461
  新豐鄉 56800 (-10.8%)
District 2 Other 10 towns 217712 293953
  湖口鄉 77500 (+10.8%)

Please note that most of the growth in Hsinchu County is concentrated in 竹北市, so the current plan will get worse and worse over the next decade. My revised plan would get more and more equal over the next decade.


This one isn’t hard. It’s supposed to be the Central Election Commission’s job to do common sense policy like this.

What the hell is wrong here?


The recall aftermath, part 2

December 25, 2017

In my previous post, I noted that since there haven’t been many recalls, we don’t really know how to interpret the results. I suggested that, for the time being, I was using the working assumption that recall votes were very similar to normal party votes in a by-election, at least for the “yes” side.

Let me explain that a bit more. I am considering two basic mobilization stories. In one, the KMT and ambitious KMT politicians are the main actors. They appeal to their normal networks, so the pattern of yes votes should look basically like a KMT party vote. In the other story, the mobilization is done by social activists. The marriage traditionalists might have some allies in the KMT or in traditional KMT networks, but they also have their own connections. Equally importantly, even when they ally with the KMT, they can’t tap into all of the KMT strength. As a result, if this is the dominant group, the pattern of yes votes will look quite a bit different from an ordinary KMT vote.

When I wrote the previous post, I still only had the numbers for the seven administrative districts in New Taipei 12. To be honest, these numbers weren’t much more illuminating than the overall result. Seven subgroups isn’t a whole lot, and nearly two-thirds of the population is concentrated in one of those districts, Xizhi. However, just about the time I finished that post, the Central Election Commission released the precinct-level data. So now we can dig more carefully into the results and see if the yes votes do, in fact, look like they are simply a reflection of KMT mobilization.

Let’s start with those district-level results.

  yes eligible Yes% turnout
overall 48693 251191 0.191 0.278
Jinshan 2614 18072 0.143 0.235
Wanli 2707 18434 0.146 0.212
Xizhi 33907 157860 0.209 0.306
Pingxi 674 4362 0.159 0.221
Ruifang 5865 33333 0.177 0.239
Shuangxi 1535 8000 0.197 0.261
Gongliao 1391 11130 0.126 0.191

Turnout was much higher in Xizhi than everywhere else. This is reasonable. Xizhi is overwhelmingly urban; it is a lower-cost suburb of Taipei City. Most of the people with residences there actually live in Xizhi (and many commute to work in Taipei every day). Very few people have to make an effort to go home to vote since they are already home. In contrast, the rest of the district is mostly rural and relatively hard to get to. Many of the people with household registration in these places actually live somewhere else. For them, going back home to vote (in a relatively low-salience recall election) is more of a burden. Still, because of the difference in turnout, Xizhi has 63.6% of eligible voters but produced 69.6% of the yes votes.

In the above table, the column yes% is the number of yes votes divided by eligible voters (not valid votes). However, if we want to argue that recall votes are simply a matter of mobilizing previous party votes, we need to control for party support. I went back to the 2016 legislative election and looked at the votes for two candidates: KMT nominee Lee Ching-hua and Faith and Hope League nominee Chen Yung-shun. If you recall, the Faith and Hope League’s main issue was opposition to marriage equality and many of their leading figures had originally belonged to the KMT, so I think it is reasonable to group their 4892 votes together with the KMT’s 68318 to get our potential base of support. The following table shows the percentage of eligible voters won by these two candidates in 2016, the percentage of eligible voters who voted yes in 2017, and the ratio of these two numbers:

  李陳% Yes% ratio
Overall 0.291 0.191 0.654
Jinshan 0.261 0.143 0.547
Wanli 0.279 0.146 0.522
Xizhi 0.295 0.209 0.707
Pingxi 0.300 0.159 0.531
Ruifang 0.316 0.177 0.560
Shuangxi 0.288 0.197 0.682
Gongliao 0.234 0.126 0.540

Overall, the yes side mobilized 65.4% of the previous votes. It was higher in Xizhi (70.7%) and much lower (between 52-56%) nearly everywhere else. Shuangxi is the glaring exception. In Shuangxi, the yes side mobilized 68.2%, nearly matching Xizhi. What happened there? I don’t have any idea. However, I will note that this is not exactly consistent with a KMT mobilization led by ambitious city councilors. The two people most likely to benefit from a recall are the two KMT councilors from Xizhi. However, their district includes only Xizhi, Jinshan, and Wanli. If they were behind this, I would have expected Jinshan or Wanli to be the outlier, not Shuangxi. Whatever the story in Shuangxi is, it isn’t that one. This looks more like the social movement story, in which the marriage traditionalists have a particularly strong organization in Shuangxi.

Anyway, let’s turn to Xizhi. I’m going to focus on Xizhi and ignore the rest of the electoral districts for three reasons. First, Xizhi is much bigger than the other places. Because of its size, the fate of the recall was determined here, not in the outlying areas. Second, I’m going to use maps, and the teeny areas with dense populations in Xizhi would be nearly impossible to see on a map of the entire district. (Also, I’m lazy, and it is easier to use a single shapefile than to combine seven.) Third, I know Xizhi in much more detail than I know the other areas in New Taipei 12. Because I have so much more local knowledge about Xizhi, I can tell a much more informative story. I’m sure the rest of map is equally interesting, but I don’t have the skills to read it.

Xizhi map

Most towns have one main population center, but Xizhi has three distinct centers. The traditional downtown area is in the eastern part of the city along the three train stations. About half the population lives in this area, which is as similar in population density to Taipei City. The other two centers are on the western edge, and they are really lower-cost extensions of Taipei City. South of the river, about 10% of the population lives in an area that is an extension of Nangang. This area is geographically cut off from the rest of Xizhi. The main road in and out of this area is Academia Road in Taipei City. On the west side of the road, you have Academia Sinica and a few Nangang neighborhoods. There is a tiny river that runs about a block east of the road that forms the border between Nangang and Xizhi, so the eastern half of these neighborhoods around Academia Sinica is in Xizhi. North of the river, there is a bigger urban center that comprises about 25% of Xizhi’s population. This neighborhood is an extension of Taipei’s Neihu District. More specifically, it borders Eastern Neihu (Donghu 東湖). One small two-lane road is the main conduit between Donghu and downtown Xizhi. I’ve never driven this road during morning rush hour, but it’s already pretty miserable during the off-hours. Freeway #1 runs right through this area, but there is (infuriatingly) no easy access to it. Nonetheless, this area is significantly cheaper than Donghu, and the population has more than doubled over the past two decades. The three li on the eastern edge of this area 湖蓮里、湖光里、湖興里 are a bit different from the rest of the gritty neighborhoods north of the river. These three li are filled with gated communities and townhouses, so they are quite a bit wealthier than their adjacent areas.

Now that you have a firm grasp of Xizhi geography, let’s look at the election results. This map is NOT the raw data. It is the ratio from the last column of the above table. That is, it is looking at how many yes votes there were, controlling for how many votes the KMT and FH League won in 2016. If the yes side was actually a disguised party effort, then it should have simply mobilized about 70% of the KMT/FH vote in every li. If it was not, then we might see some variations. In fact, you can see at a glance that there is a distinct geographical pattern. The yes side turned out far more of the KMT/FH vote in the eastern (downtown) area than in the western (overflow suburbs) area. The gap is pretty large, about 10-15%. In the east, most li are in the high 70s; in the west, they are in the mid 60s. For whatever reason, the yes side turned out far more votes in the downtown Xizhi area than anywhere else.

recall 2017 xizhi yes_kf.png

[Quick aside. There are two conspicuously green li 義民里、禮門里 right downtown in the sea of red. These two lightly populated li are dominated by the traditional market street that runs behind the main road, though so is the very red li 仁德里 to their east. Turnout in these two li was not markedly lower than in adjacent li. However, a much higher percentage of voters cast a “no” ballot. In 禮門里, the no side actually beat the yes side 146-142. This was one of only six li in the entire New Taipei 12 district in which no beat yes. I don’t have any explanation for the high proportion of no votes in these two li, though I will note that Huang Kuo-chang has an office in one of them. Maybe his staff made the mistake of working too hard in the surrounding neighborhood and ignoring more distant areas.]


Does this lopsided map suggest that the yes vote was actually driven by a social organization and not the KMT? It certainly is consistent with that story. A new group with no previous experience has to try to mobilize voters wherever it can reach them. One obvious strategy is to go where the voters are. Downtown Xizhi has the most voters, and many of them commute to work on the train. Camping out at the train stations and haranguing commuters is an obvious strategy. It certainly is more appealing than trying to talk to people commuting to work in individual cars or buses on the western edge of town. It might also be that the yes side had more previous connections in downtown Xizhi. Perhaps many of their church members live there. If you are a brand-new organization, you play to your strengths. Parties are a bit different. Parties have a long-term orientation, and they have spent decades filling in the weak areas. Parties should have connections everywhere, not just in the city centers. My first impression on looking at this map was that it looks like the work of a hastily organized social movement, not the effort of an established party organization.

However, there is a bit more to the story. The two people who stand to benefit the most from Huang’s recall are the two KMT city councilors, Pai Pei-ju 白珮茹 and Liao Cheng-liang 廖正良. Perhaps we should look at them more closely.

First, let’s look at Pai Pei-ju’s vote share in the 2014 city council election. Her support is concentrated on the western edge of Xizhi, especially in the extension Donghu north of the river. Her pattern of support doesn’t look anything like the pattern of yes votes.

cc2014 Pai Pei ju.png

However, Liao is a different story. His support is on the east side, especially in downtown Xizhi. His map looks very similar to the yes vote. (The three more affluent li north of the river are the most notable outliers.)

cc2014 Liao Cheng liang.png

What does this suggest? To me, it looks like only part of the KMT mobilized to support the yes side. Pai Pei-ju may have sat on her hands, while Liao Cheng-liang went all out trying to recall Huang. The relative weakness of the yes side outside of Liao’s core suggests that most of the KMT machinery also held back. The social groups may have drummed up some support to augment Liao’s base (such as in the three affluent li), but this looks mostly like Liao was the driving force turning out higher numbers of voters in downtown Xizhi.

Some media report indicate that this may indeed be what happened. Liao is frequently mentioned in reports of the pre-recall campaign activities, while Pai rarely is. The KMT seems to have had an internal debate about how to approach the recall. While Hung Hsiu-chu was still chair, she apparently wanted to go all-in on the recall. However, Chair Wu Den-yi has been much more cautious about getting too involved. For one thing, marriage is a thorny topic that cuts across party lines, and the KMT grassroots workers seem to have been reluctant to get too involved. [Note: this doesn’t mean that a majority supports marriage equality. You can’t afford to offend a minority of your network, even if that minority is only a third or a fourth of the people. Neighborhood chiefs (lizhang) prefer to emphasize valence issues (things that everyone likes) such as local development, not divisive things like marriage equality.] For another, the KMT was unsure about how an unsuccessful recall campaign would be interpreted. Finally, I found this article which states explicitly that Pai has been sitting on her hands. Pai’s political base is in the farmers association. [Her father served a term in the legislature on the KMT party list as a representative of farmers associations.] While Liao presents himself to the public as an orthodox KMT member (all his ads cloak him in ROC symbols), Pai’s ads present her is much less overly partisan pink and light blue themes. To put it another way, Liao presents himself as a member of the Chinese KMT, while Pai presents herself more in the tradition of the Taiwanese KMT. I don’t know if that reflects their actual positions, but that is the vibe they send out. The article echoes this difference, suggesting that many of Pai’s allies in the farmers’ association are actually quite sympathetic to Huang, and that is why she was hesitant to dive in to the recall effort.


To put it more generally, I no longer believe the yes vote was simply two-thirds of the normal KMT vote. Instead, it was the result of differing efforts by various parts of the (diverse) KMT coalition, plus an outside social group. Some parts of the KMT went all out, while other parts held back. The national KMT leadership hesitatingly endorsed the recall, but it deliberately kept enough distance to decouple the result from any interpretations about the KMT’s or President Tsai’s current popularity.

If this interpretation is correct, the recall effort did not max out its potential. If President Tsai or Huang Kuo-chang had been somewhat less popular, the people who held back, like Pai Pei-ju, would have been much more likely to eagerly dive into the fray. Those 48,000 yes votes might have gone a lot higher. (Remember, 24.2% of eligible voters voted yes against Alex Tsai in 2015 in a district with a clear blue advantage, while only 19.1% did against Huang this time in a district with a much more even partisan balance.) In this recall, the yes side was 15,000 votes short of the threshold, and that is a large number. It’s doubtful that Pai Pei-ju has that many votes in her pocket ready to be mobilized. However, if she and all of the other KMT figures throughout NT12 had plunged in enthusiastically, they might have come close.

The lesson that many people will probably take from this recall is that it is hard to successfully recall a legislator. That’s too strong. This result shows that it is hard to recall a legislator who has performed reasonably well in a tossup district when there hasn’t been a clear national partisan swing since the previous election. In different circumstances, it looks to me like a recall might have quite a plausible chance of success.

The Recall: Is 48,693 a lot?

December 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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