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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.

Huang Kuo-chang’s recall vote

November 18, 2017

The Central Election Commission has announced the date – December 16 – for the vote to recall New Power Party legislator Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌, which gives me a convenient opportunity to rant about how stupid the new law is.

Recall that after the Sunflower movement, activists tried to recall several KMT legislators, including Chang Ching-chung 張慶忠, Wu Yu-sheng 吳育昇, Alex Tsai 蔡正元, and Lin Hung-chih 林鴻池. All of these efforts failed, and activists believed that the requirements for recall were unreasonably stringent. (The effort may have had some effect. None of the targeted legislators won re-election in 2016.)

When the NPP entered the legislature, one of its first goals was to revise the election law to make recall easier. Strangely, neither of the two big parties put up much resistance, and the revision was passed last December. I’ll steal this table from a UDN article summarizing the main changes:

  Previous law New law
Initiate a petition 2% of eligible voters 1% of eligible voters
Signatory period 30 days 60 days
Advertising Prohibited Allowed
Signatory threshold 13% of eligible voters 10% of eligible voters
Voting day concurrent with other election? Not allowed Allowed
Turnout threshold 50% of eligible voters Abolished
Yes votes Yes > No Yes votes must exceed 25% of eligible voters;

Yes > No

Let’s focus on those last two rows, since they are the most important. Previously, 50% turnout was required to pass a recall. This made it nearly impossible to pass a recall. The legislator could simply advise supporters to ignore the vote and stay at home. That meant that the opposition had to supply 50% of all eligible voters. In normal conditions and in normal districts, this was nearly impossible.

Huang’s district, New Taipei 12, had 251,191 eligible voters in 2016. (It’s probably a few thousand more now since Xizhi is a fast-growing area, but for the sake of simplicity I will ignore that.) This means that to recall Huang under the old law, opponents would have had to mobilize 125,596 votes. In winning the seat, Huang had only gotten 80,508 votes. That was in a general election concurrent with a presidential election, featuring campaign that dominated news in Taiwan for several months. The recall would have to mobilize 50% more votes without the benefit of a general election atmosphere. Not gonna happen.

As I’ve stated before, I think that is exactly how it should be. It should be nearly impossible to overturn an election result. One of the main ideas behind fixed terms is that we don’t need to continually re-litigate elections. We have a general election period, and then the winners get some time to focus on governing. The next election comes along in only a few years, so the wait is not oppressive. There is no need to overturn an election result except in the most exceptionally egregious cases. As a general principle, recalls should be doomed to fail unless most of the people who originally voted for the winner turn against him or her. In most such cases, the legislator will resign unilaterally, and there will be no need for a recall. However, if the legislator has really lost the confidence of his or her original supporters and refuses to step down, a recall may be necessary. In this case, that high threshold might be manageable.

The new law makes recall far too easy. Instead of 125,596 yes votes, recall supporters only need half that number, 62,798. How low is that number? In the 2016, Huang’s main opponent Lee Ching-hwa 李慶華 got 68,318 votes. That was nowhere near enough votes to win the seat, but if every one of those voters supports the recall, they can remove Huang from his seat. Take note, in this scenario, not a single person who originally supported Huang has changed his or her mind. It is now easier to recall Huang than it was to elect him in the first place.

Of course, the previous paragraph is ignoring the difficulties of mobilizing 62,798 yes votes without the atmosphere of a general election. This threshold is still probably unreachable. However, it is low enough that I have some doubts. 63,000 is difficult, but by no means impossible.

This puts Huang Kuo-chang in a difficult position. He now has to decide whether to try to mobilize his supporters to defend his seat. Even if they can pass the 62,798 threshold, he could still keep his seat if he can mobilize his original 80,508 supporters to come out to the polls and vote no. However, mobilization is expensive and difficult. The burden should be on the side trying to recall the legislator, not on the incumbent legislator. They are the ones trying to overturn a previous election result.

In a vacuum, I’d simply advise Huang to ignore the anti-gay marriage groups behind the recall effort. It’s highly unlikely that they have enough penetration in society to mobilize 10,000 votes, much less 63,000. However, there are other politicians making strategic choices. In particular, there are four city councilors who would love to have Huang’s seat. For the two KMT city councilors, this is a golden opportunity. Huang removed the old KMT incumbent, so now they have a wide open seat staring at them if the recall passes. You can bet that they are mobilizing their networks trying to recall Huang. The two DPP city councilors have to be more careful, since many of their supporters also voted for Huang. However, I suspect they wouldn’t be heartbroken if the seat were to come open. The point is, there are a lot of well-connected people who have an interest in Huang’s recall. The anti-gay marriage activists don’t have to supply all 63,000 votes; self-interested politicians will supply a substantial number of yes votes. It’s still a longshot, but it isn’t impossible.

Huang Kuo-chang won over 50% in 2016. Imagine how the calculations would be different for a candidate who had won a three-way race. For example, Tsai Shih-ying 蔡適應 won the Keelung seat with only 41.5% of the vote. He got 78,707 votes, but 111,162 people voted for one of the three blue camp candidates. The threshold in a recall election would only be 74,736, so a successful recall would be quite likely even if no voters who originally supported them had changed their minds. Recall elections are supposed to be tools to remove legislators who have betrayed their electoral contract, not second chances for when one side can’t agree on a single candidate. However, if Huang’s recall succeeds, this is where we are headed. Every legislator elected on the other party’s turf with less than 50% had better start looking over their shoulder.

If there is any ironic justice in this episode, it is that Huang and the NPP brought this recall on themselves. They insisted on drastically revising a law that was working well. At least they are the first ones to face the consequences of their lousy choice. And if the recall does pass, it won’t just be Huang personally who suffers. The outcome will be widely interpreted as an indicator that the general public is not ready for marriage equality, and the NPP will have succeeded in kneecapping one of its most cherished goals. Good going, guys.

Hopefully after the recall vote, the parties will decide to revise the election law again to make recalls harder and end this stupidity. In the meantime, Huang deserves to sweat a bit.








March 9, 2017

A few days ago, Mrs. Garlic looked up from the newspaper and said, “Here’s the story you keep blathering on about.” Liu I-chou 劉義周, head of the Central Election Commission, had said something about the upcoming legislative redistricting. Now, I’ve been chattering about redistricting for months (ok, a few years), so I eagerly picked up the story. My glee quickly turned to horror when I read that Tainan and Hsinchu County would get an additional seat and Kaohsiung and Pingtung would lose a seat each. Um, that’s not what I’ve been telling people for the past few months.

My initial reaction was to contact Dr. Liu, who I know better as a political scientist and my masters thesis advisor, to warn him that he had made a mistake. Hey, I just published one paper on redistricting and another on malapportionment, and I have been through those rules in excruciating detail. If anyone knows the rules, it should be me. However, doubt began to creep in, and I thought maybe I’d better check the rules one more time. So I looked up the documents and found a table (look on p 107) showing exactly how the apportionment had been done.

Well, isn’t this embarrassing. I’ve been doing it wrong. I omitted one step. I shouldn’t have doubted the excellent civil servants at the CEC. I really shouldn’t have doubted Dr. Liu. I guess the student isn’t the master just yet.

Taiwan uses a largest remainders system. You take the total population (minus the indigenous population) and divide by the number of seats to get a quota. In our case, the quota is 22,986,588/73=314,885. (These numbers are from December 2016. The apportionment will be done with August 2017 numbers, but it is highly unlikely that anything will change between now and then.) Every city or county with fewer than 314,885 people automatically gets one seat. There are six such places. Then take the remaining 16 cities and counties and get a new quota. ****This is the step I skipped.**** The new quota is 22088100/67=329673. For each full quota, a city gets one seat. New Taipei City can thus buy 11 full quotas (see column S2). We have now accounted for 66 seats. What about the remaining seven? To apportion those, you take what is left over for each city or county and give the seven largest remainders the last seven seats.


City pop S1 Pop2 S2 Remain S3 S
Total 22986588 6 22088100 60   7 73
新北市 3924326   3924326 11 297922 1 12
台北市 2679523   2679523 8 42138   8
桃園市 2077867   2077867 6 99828   6
台中市 2734190   2734190 8 96805   8
台南市 1878508   1878508 5 230142 1 6
高雄市 2745749   2745749 8 108364   8
宜蘭縣 440708   440708 1 111035   1
新竹縣 526274   526274 1 196601 1 2
苗栗縣 547911   547911 1 218238 1 2
彰化縣 1281569   1281569 3 292550 1 4
南投縣 476289   476289 1 146616 1 2
雲林縣 692532   692532 2 33186   2
嘉義縣 509510   509510 1 179837 1 2
屏東縣 776900   776900 2 117554   2
台東縣 141930 1         1
花蓮縣 238432 1         1
澎湖縣 102789 1         1
基隆市 362819   362819 1 33146   1
新竹市 433425   433425 1 103752   1
嘉義市 268826 1         1
金門縣 134109 1         1
連江縣 12402 1         1


Why did I take you through all that mess with such an emphasis on my stupid mistake? Hold on, there’s a point to this. But first, let’s see what would have happened in my alternate, error-ridden fantasy world. When you don’t calculate new quota but simply use the original quota (314885) to apportion seats, we get a different result. Pingtung, Nantou, and Chiayi County all lose a seat, and Tainan, Taichung, and Hsinchu County all gain a seat. Also, Kaohsiung gets to keep its 9th seat. The difference with the correct reapportionment is that two small counties (Chiayi and Nantou) would have lost a seat while two large cities (Taichung and Kaohsiung) would have gained a seat. Calculating a new, larger quota favors small counties.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate what could have been. (This still isn’t the big point.) I may have told a few Taichung politicians that they should start preparing for a ninth district. I even started drawing up some maps of what might happen. This is my favorite one. It meets all the formal criteria (all legislative districts are within 15% of the mean population and it doesn’t even need to split any administrative districts) and even a few of the evil political calculations. (Check out what it would do to Yen Kuan-heng!) Of course, if you have any local knowledge of Taichung, you will see in an instant that there is no way in hell this plan would ever be adopted. The deputy speaker, for one, might have some objections. (I promise this post wasn’t just a flimsy pretext to show everyone this picture that I spent a lot of time making and will never be able to use again. Well, maybe a little…)

Taichung 9D plan E

So after sulking for a while over my stupid error, I thought I’d go back and see what would have happened in previous elections if they had used my erroneous apportionment method. This is my idea of fun. Don’t judge me. Guess what I found. THEY CHANGED THE METHOD IN 2008!!!! In 2004, they used my method! Using the new method, Taipei County should have had 27 seats and Taoyuan should have had 14. But Taipei County actually got 28 seats and Taoyuan only had 13. My method yields the actual result.

Why did they change the formula? There were all sorts of little indications that the Chen administration had tried to influence the CEC’s decisions, so maybe the CEC was manipulating things for the DPP’s political advantage! Or maybe the CEC was stuffed full of career bureaucrats sympathetic to the KMT. Maybe it was a KMT plot! There’s only one way to find out. Which side benefited from the change? Who would have done better in 2008 using the original formula?


The answer is: no one. The 2008 apportionment would have been exactly the same using the old formula. The change had zero effect. Moreover, it isn’t as though 2008 was an aberration. The two formulae yielded exactly the same results in 1998 and 2001. 2004 was the only year it made a difference, and that difference was modest, to say the least. It’s a big deal if Nantou goes from one seat to two seats – it has doubled its clout. It’s not such a big deal for the largest county to get one more seat and the second largest county to get one less seat. In the old SNTV system, it is impossible to say if that helped the KMT, the DPP, or a small party.

I doubt the CEC made the change in 2006 or 2007 because it could foresee the effects in 2017. A lot has changed in the meantime. It’s hard to predict exactly how fast Hsinchu will grow or how fast Pingtung will lose population. Moreover, they would have had to guess that Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung Cities and Counties would merge. To put it another way, if I were given the opportunity to change the formula now to help one party in 2029, I’m not sure what I would do. Who can even say what the party system will look like then?

So why did they change the rule? My guess is that it was entirely apolitical. Some bureaucrat thought it would be fairer to apportion the last 67 seats according to their population rather than by taking into account the population of the six small counties. That bureaucrat probably had to propose a change, they probably held some meetings in which they discussed fairness and disproportionality, and they eventually rewrote the rule thinking it would probably never matter very much.

Only it has mattered. This year, two rural counties will double their representation. Because every county gets a seat and indigenous voters are given about 2.3 times as many seats as their population would merit, rural and agricultural areas are already overrepresented. This rule change furthers that overrepresentation. Sorry urban residents.


Let’s change gears and think like philosophers about fairness. Scratch that, let’s ask a question that economists would love. Is it fairer to have fixed prices or to allow competitive bidding?

Go back up to the table and look at Pingtung and Nantou. Pingtung has 776900 people, while Nantou has 476289. Even though Pingtung has far more people, both counties will get two legislators. Is that fair? Suppose the country only had these two counties. Should Nantou really get equal representation?

The CEC formula essentially uses fixed prices. Our new country, “Pingtou,” has 1253189 people, so a quota is 313297. Pingtung can afford two full quotas, and Nantou can afford one. After paying those prices, Pingtung has a remainder of 150306, while Nantou has a remainder of 162992. Nantou thus gets the last seat.

However, what if they could bid? Nantou could offer 476289 people for one seat or 238144 each for two seats. Pingtung, however, can offer 258966 each for three seats. Since Pingtung can offer more for the fourth seat, maybe it should get three seats and Nantou should only get one. Wait, now Pingtung gets three times as much power even though it has less than twice Nantou’s population? This is clearly unfair, and I’m not just saying that because I used to live in Nantou and my wife used to live in Pingtung.

I don’t have an answer to which system is fairer. Largest remainders systems, like the CEC method, tend to favor smaller areas. The divisor method used above is called the D’Hondt system, and it favors bigger areas. Before you put on your urban hat and decide that the D’Hondt method is clearly more progressive / pro-industry and therefore more desirable, please remember that these methods are most commonly used for allotting seats to party lists in PR elections, not apportioning seats to different regions. Hey Green Party apologist / Faith and Hope League zealot who can’t stand the sellouts in the establishment, now you probably think the largest remainder system, which is good for your crazy fringe party, is the best way to go.

Since I know you are dying to know, if we used the D’Hondt method to apportion the 73 seats, the big cities would do much better. New Taipei would get a 13th seat, and Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Taipei would all get a 9th seat. The mid-sized cities and counties including Taoyuan (6), Tainan (6), Changhua (4), Yunlin (2), and Pingtung (2) would be unaffected. The rest would only get one seat, which is not good news for Hsinchu County, Miaoli, Chiayi County, or Nantou. Power to the (urban) people!


As you’ve been reading along, I’d be willing to be that in each scenario, you judged whether something was reasonable or not by whether it helped or hurt your side. Maybe you thought about it intentionally or maybe it was just an involuntary reflex, but I’ll bet you did it. We all do. It’s not an accident that my crazy map of Taichung with nine districts shows how well Tsai Ing-wen did in each of them. When I realized that the CEC had changed the apportionment formula, my heart sank. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be able to conclude that there was no obvious partisan motive behind that change. Whether or not one system is objectively slightly fairer than another is really beside the point. We have one system right now that wasn’t designed with obvious partisan motives. This year, it might advantage one side or the other. However, it matters that it was not intended to produce this result. It matters a lot. It is better to have a slightly imperfect but nonpoliticized electoral system than to chase perfection and risk politicization. This apportionment system is just fine.


Redistricting, on the other hand, is already a problem, and it is probably about to get worse.


Note: This post was written at 37000 feet. If it seems a bit loopy, I’m blaming altitude sickness.

Effort to recall Ker

November 30, 2016

Hey, there’s a bit of election news in Taiwan. As part of the current battle over marriage equality, there are efforts to recall DPP floor leader Ker Chien-ming 柯建銘.

[As an aside, I haven’t paid particularly close attention to Taiwanese politics over the past ten months. Rather, I have watched developments in Europe and America, often rapt in horror. We seem to be on the cusp of a fundamental shakeup in the international order, and, in my darkest nightmares, I worry that a democratic implosion is right around the corner. I’m not sure if it is reassuring or terrifying that Taiwan is preoccupied with “normal” political controversies, such as how to schedule vacation days, blissfully unconcerned that the rest of the world looks like it might be about to go up in flames. Is this oasis of calm one of the few sane spots in the world right now, or is it sticking its fingers in its ears and willfully ignoring the looming storm?]

The Taiwan Law Blog speculates that I do not support the efforts to recall Ker Chien-ming. That is correct, even though I support marriage equality. I explained my general dislike of recalls in the post the Taiwan Law Blog links to, and I stand by that reasoning. When the votes are counted, the election should stop. The battle over who occupies the seat should be settled until the next regularly scheduled election.

Recalls have a role, but they should only be used as a last-ditch resort when an elected official has fundamentally violated the implicit contract with the voters. I do not believe Ker Chien-ming has fundamentally violated his contract with his voters. When he ran, I do not remember him ever taking a public stance on marriage equality. His campaign was about representing the DPP and supporting Tsai Ing-wen’s agenda in the legislature. Marriage equality was merely one, very small part of that agenda. No matter what he does on this issue, it is hard to imagine it constituting a fundamental betrayal of his positions.

What do I think would be justifiable grounds to launch a recall? To give one example, I think South Korean President Park has fundamentally violated her contract with the voters. Massive corruption, allowing an unelected and unappointed spiritual advisor to make major decisions, and all the rest of it were clearly not what the Korean voters had in mind when they voted for her.

To go back to Ker’s case, since Ker’s central appeal was being a good party soldier, if he suddenly emerged as an intransigent opponent of Tsai’s agenda and plotted with the KMT to thwart her proposals, a recall would be justifiable. If we confine the hypothetical to the issue of marriage equality, if Ker had made support for marriage equality a central issue in his campaign but then had decided to throw his support behind a separate law that did not grant full equality, I think that would probably still be defensible and not justify a recall. After all, it is eminently defensible to compromise for 50% or 75% of your original goal. If he did all that, and then we further learned that he had accepted a massive bribe from an opponent of marriage equality to change his position, then a recall would probably be justified. In that case, Ker would have ignored his voters’ demands in favor of the briber’s demands. Ker’s current behavior is nowhere near these thresholds, and I hope the recall effort fizzles out.

The Taiwan Law Blog suggests that, instead of trying to recall Ker, perhaps marriage equality activists should campaign for him to lose his spot as the DPP party whip. I think he and many others are making the same mistake that President Ma made when he tried to purge Speaker Wang in 2013. They are imagining that the party floor leader is pursuing his own agenda.

In fact, what successful floor leaders do is to help the party rank-and-file get what they want. Sometimes, this means that the floor leader has to take some public heat in order to shield the backbenchers from criticism. In the American case, the classic example is from budgetary politics. A house member knows that a particular spending item should be cut but it is also very popular back home. The backbencher needs the speaker to arrange the agenda so that he can tell his voters that he fought hard to keep the item in the budget but he just couldn’t overcome opposition from everyone else. Sometimes, the legislator will even single out the speaker for criticism, and a good speaker understands what is happening and facilitates it. In 2013, President Ma blamed Speaker Wang for not pushing the Services Trade Agreement strongly enough. Ma should have realized that Wang was protecting KMT legislators who did not want to defend support for particular clauses to their voters.

In today’s case, Ker is probably protecting DPP legislators as well. Most DPP legislators have publicly come out in support of marriage equality, probably because they cannot afford to alienate progressive activists and voters. They certainly do not want to alienate young people. (Ask Hillary Clinton if alienating young voters has any costs.) However, Taiwanese society has hardly reached a consensus in support of marriage equality. The surveys I have seen suggest that support and opposition are about evenly split. I am a bit skeptical of these support levels. While elites and young people have mostly come to a consensus on gay marriage, I suspect the rest of society has not. To put it simply, I doubt that Taiwan has wrestled with this issue enough yet. To too many people, homosexuality is simply an idea rather than an everyday reality of many friends and family. There are still a lot of moms and dads my age or older who grew up with the unchallenged assumption that homosexuality was weird and/or wrong, and you can’t simply tell them that they have been prejudiced all their lives. They will need some time and a lot of discussion before they come around. Moving too quickly could cause a backlash, and I suspect that many DPP legislators intuitively grasp that not everyone in society is comfortable with rewriting the social rules just yet. If there were actually overwhelming support for marriage equality in the DPP caucus, Ker would make it happen quickly. He hasn’t been re-elected party whip time and time again because he ignores the rank-and-file’s wishes. If he is stalling or pushing some compromise package, it is almost certainly because they are asking him to do it. Moreover, like any good floor leader, he is taking the public criticism so that they won’t have to.

So what do I suggest for marriage equality activists? Ker Chien-ming is not your problem. Your problem is that you haven’t yet thoroughly sold Taiwanese society on the idea of marriage equality. To put it another way, the DPP caucus looks like it would like to change the law, but activists haven’t done enough work changing minds among ordinary voters to make DPP legislators feel comfortable taking this step. Rather than bullying or threatening Ker Chien-ming, activists should be focusing on broader society, explaining why marriage equality is a good idea that everyone can support. The good news is that the marriage equality side has good arguments and, with a lot of discussion and persuasion, should be able to produce a stronger consensus in society. When that happens, resistance in the legislature will melt away.

Zero-sum Trump

November 11, 2016

Among the mountains of articles I read over the previous ten months on Donald Trump, this one stands out as particularly important for understanding how Trump will approach relations with China and Taiwan. Vox, a left-leaning website, read through all 12 of Trump’s books to see what they could learn about his core philosophies. It is a long article, and some of the books are more informative (or relevant to Taiwan) than others. Fortunately, the introduction gets right to the point. If you don’t want to wade through the whole piece, I strongly recommend reading the introduction carefully.

It isn’t reassuring. Trump is not philosophically predisposed to worry about whether the rest of the world is democratic, stable, or prosperous. International relations are a zero-sum game, and Trump’s goal is to make sure the USA “wins” every relationship by benefiting more than the other side. He also gets tremendous satisfaction out of making deals, the bigger the better. From our perspective here in Taiwan, it hardly needs to be said that a deal with China would be the biggest of all.

Perhaps this is a completely inaccurate portrayal of Trump and his values. I certainly hope so. However, it is consistent with the Trump I have observed over the past ten months. Until he demonstrates otherwise, we should probably take him at his word and believe that he really means the things he says.

The American election has plunged Taiwan into an uncertain environment fraught with danger.

What does Trump mean for Taiwan?

November 9, 2016

Several times over the past ten months, I have thought about writing something about the crazy American election for this blog. Each time, I have decided against it. This is, after all, a blog about elections in Taiwan, not elections worldwide. Now, a few hours after watching the shocking election result come in, I feel the need to grapple with the idea of President Trump.

As an American, I am a solid blue partisan. I strongly prefer the Democratic Party over the Republican Party. The fact that the Trump and the Republicans will now reverse much of what Obama and the Democrats put together is very painful to me. The thought that national health care will probably be gutted and the Supreme Court will continue to be dominated by conservatives makes me sick to my stomach. %$#@%#!

However, these are the ordinary partisan pains of victory and defeat in democracy. Elections are supposed to have consequences, and the only thing worse than President Trump and the Republicans implementing (stupid) Republican policies would be if there were no elections so that (wrong-headed) voters didn’t have the opportunity to put (cartoonishly misguided) people in office. We Americans can survive another cycle of (fundamentally flawed) policy missteps.

I am much more worried about two other things. As a Taiwanese and as an American, I worry about Trump’s understanding and commitment to democratic norms. During the campaign, he attacked various minorities and the media, both with tacit invitations for other actors to bully and attack them and also with explicit threats to use the courts to cow them into submission. His threat to put Hillary Clinton in jail is not reassuring.

The other big thing I worry about is Trump’s commitment to maintaining American alliances around the world. He seems to view foreign relationships as zero-sum trading equations. If you run a trade surplus, you are winning. If you run a trade deficit, you are losing and the other side is probably playing you for a sucker. He does not seem to think in terms of mutual gains from trade. In this zero sum economic view of the world, he does not seem to value security relationships as highly as previous presidents have. At least in his campaign rhetoric, he did not see the mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, or NATO as non-negotiable. Quite the contrary, he sees these as questions of cash. If the USA is paying a lot of money to maintain these military positions, Trump sees a problem. They are playing the USA for suckers; they should pay their own way. This is a position that no American president has taken since WWII, and it is a fundamental threat to us here in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s continued existence as an independent political entity depends on the American protective umbrella. Unlike Korea, Japan, or NATO, Taiwan does not have a formal mutual defense treaty with the USA, so this umbrella is more tenuous. If Trump doesn’t think it is worth it to clash with Russia over NATO, I shudder to consider how he might feel about a clash with China over Taiwan. Over the past 25 years, Taiwan has been able to point to its democratic system, its close economic ties with the USA, and its fiercely pro-American public opinion, and Washington has always seen the relationship as a vital American interest. This has been a bipartisan position: both Democrats and Republicans shared fundamental assumptions about the need for American leadership in the world, both to maintain stability and to maintain alliances of friendly democratic allies with similar values. Trump is challenging those fundamental underpinnings.


Make no mistake: Trump’s election does not mean – as many experts here in Taiwan seem to think – we will have business as usual between Taiwan and the USA. The common wisdom seems to be that foreign policy depends on large bureaucracies, dense relationships based in government, think tanks, and businesses, so Trump won’t be able to single-handedly upend them. The problem is that the president has enormous freedom in foreign policy. Trump has just completed a hostile takeover of the American establishment, so he owes very little to all those elite networks. We do not yet know who he will put in charge of the State Department, but I do not expect President Trump to simply hand over all decisions to a standard Republican. Republican elites seem to be gambling on the idea that they can control or guide Trump, but that hasn’t worked yet. So far, Trump has seemed quite capable of pushing back and bending the Republican elites to his will. If Trump wants to do something, he won’t be easily dissuaded by experts at Brookings, CSIS, the American Enterprise Institute, or even the State Department.

We could hope for benign neglect. Trump apparently knows very little about Japan or Korea, much less any of the smaller countries in Asia. His (cursory) knowledge of the outside world seems to be focused on Europe and the Middle East. I’ve never heard him mention Taiwan. Of course, he has mentioned China, but only in very shallow terms. (Their leaders are very smart, they outcompete Americans, they take away American factories and jobs, and they brilliantly manipulate their currency.) As with most countries, he seems to think that what is needed are new terms of trade: he is going to negotiate a better deal. The vision of China as a place that steals American jobs is not comforting to me. I am terrified of a possible deal. As long as Trump doesn’t see democracy as fundamentally important, Taiwan might easily become a bargaining chip that Trump could dangle in front of China.

I wish I didn’t have to write that previous sentence. It is terrifying and nauseating to me. However, this is now a concrete danger. Taiwan could become a bargaining chip. (Scenario: China slows down the exports of manufactured goods to the USA, and America might quietly inform the Taiwanese government that military support might not be forthcoming so Taiwan might want to negotiate a peace treaty with China.)


What is Taiwan to do? First, Taiwan needs to watch the new Trump administration very closely over the next few months to see just how far Trump will follow his campaign rhetoric in designing his foreign policy. However, while we might hope for the best, we should probably be preparing for the worst.

Second, Trump doesn’t like the idea of anyone free-riding off the American military budget. If that is the trigger, then Taiwan has to demonstrate that it is not a free-rider. For years, the USA has been pushing its allies to spend 3% of GDP on military budgets. Now is the time for Taiwan to reach for that goal. As I understand, Taiwan currently spends about 2.3% of GDP on the military. It might not be efficient to shower the military with new equipment, higher salaries, more personnel, or better facilities. (In fact, I have been told several times in recent months that American diplomatic and military no longer stress the 3% goal since other uses of precious budget funds may do more to strengthen allies’ economies and militaries.) However, it might be good strategy to spend 3%, even if it is somewhat wasteful, just as a means of preventing Trump from singling Taiwan out as a free-rider. Taiwan must not give him an excuse to make an example of Taiwan to the rest of the world.

Third, Trump has repeatedly lambasted the Washington elites, especially those from the Bush administration, for trying to create democracy in the Middle East. The Iraq war was a colossal mistake because it was always going to be impossible to miraculously transform Iraq into a democratic society. “Promotion of democracy” is proof that the Washington elite are completely out of touch. The challenge for Taiwan is to separate itself from Iraq in the American political discourse. Taiwan should cooperate with other democratic countries to stress that there is no need to create or build democracy. Taiwan is already a thriving democracy. Taiwan already shares American values. Taiwan is already a natural friend and ally for the United States. It might be folly to try to create democracy where none exists, but it would also be folly for the USA to abandon friendly democratic allies that already exist. This is about defending democracy.

Finally, Taiwan may have to be more conciliatory toward China for the next few years. Trump is not predisposed to want to actively project American power around the world. The hard truth is that the USA is now less likely to support Taiwan in a clash with China. Taiwan may have to work a little harder to prevent such a clash from happening. I am not suggesting a unilateral surrender to China. Rather, I am suggesting that Taiwan might not want to scream so loudly about international diplomatic indignities, and it might even want to explore some alternate fuzzy formulations of the relationship between China and Taiwan. What Taiwan does not want to do is the sorts of overt, aggressive nationalist acts that Chen Shui-bian engaged in toward the end of his term. That was important yesterday; it will be even more important tomorrow.


Donald Trump has been elected president of the USA. This marks an enormous upheaval in American politics. Many ideas that were previously considered sacrosanct are about to be challenged. Very few Americans cast their votes with foreign policy in mind, but foreign policy will (probably) nonetheless experience some fundamental shifts. Friendly people in the Washington establishment might reassure Taiwanese that they still value the American relationship with Taiwan and hope to maintain its stability, but those people may suddenly have far less influence than they did yesterday. The worst thing we in Taiwan could do is to ignore the new reality, however unpleasant it may be. Changes are afoot, and we had better be prepared for them.


Taipei LY districts

July 10, 2016

For the KMT, it was a dismal legislative election. Even many seemingly entrenched incumbents were swept aside in the enormous DPP wave. For almost all KMT challengers, it was beyond hopeless. Amidst all this ruin and rubble, there were a couple of KMT newcomers who bucked the trend. In particular, Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀 and Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安 Wayne Chiang) managed to push their way into the legislature. Assuming it can’t get worse for the KMT and the pendulum will probably swing back toward the blue camp,[1] Lee and Chiang survived the harshest test and should be set up for long careers in the legislature. They both have districts that should be solidly blue in most years, so defending that turf should be less challenging than winning it in 2016.

I’ve got some bad news for Lee and Chiang. They are about to lose their districts. More precisely, Taiwan is due to redraw legislative districts before the 2020 election, and their districts are almost certainly going to change in ways that they will not like. To make things worse, they really can’t do much to stop the process. The DPP, by virtue of controlling both the legislative and executive branches, has the final say. If the DPP wants to screw Lee and Chiang over, it can.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) has ruled that legislative districts within any given city or county must be within 15% of the mean population. Here’s the problem. Lee’s District 4 is no longer within that range. It was barely under the 15% limit when the districts were drawn in 2006, and it had grown to 21% over the mean by the 2016 election. It has to be redrawn.

    2006   2016  
    Pop. % of mean Pop. % of mean
1 Beitou, Tianmu 334363 1.03 332274 0.99
2 Shilin, Datong 325598 1.00 342977 1.02
3 Zhongshan, Songshan 345086 1.06 361907 1.08
4 Nangang, Neihu 371665 1.14 405507 1.21
5 Wanhua, Zhongzheng 307665 0.94 304815 0.91
6 Da-an 311626 0.96 311718 0.93
7 Xinyi, Songshan 308313 0.95 304577 0.91
8 Wenshan, Zhongzheng 300300 0.92 323189 0.96


Let’s take a step back and discuss some of the basics of redistricting. In principle, administrative districts are supposed to be respected. That simply is not practical in Taipei, with its eight legislative districts and only twelve administrative districts. Some of them will need to be split. However, that does not give designers carte blanche to go crazy and draw Americans-style districts. Take a look at the official map of the current districts. No administrative district is divided into more than two legislative districts. Moreover, the lines don’t look like they go around particular neighborhoods. The Tianmu 天母 neighborhood is put into D1. In Songshan 松山區, the dividing line between D3 and D7 is Nanjing E. Rd. 南京東路, a major thoroughfare. The only one that seems somewhat arbitrary is the line between D5 and D8 in Zhongzheng 中正區, though even that line roughly corresponds to the old Guting area 古亭區. It turns out that the first two of these were somewhat strategic, helping the KMT (who dominated the process in Taipei City in 2006) to ensure that D1 and D4 would be good KMT districts. However, the point for us is that the strategic aims are not obvious at first glance. They weren’t too brazen. (In fact, the DPP might not have even recognized they were being played.)

The Taipei City Electoral Commission (TCEC) gets the first crack at drawing the new districts. Someone in the city government (usually a deputy mayor) will likely chair the TCEC, and they should be able to nudge things in the directions that they prefer. The TCEC plan is sent to the CEC, which can alter it if there is a problem. Unless the TCEC violates the 15% rule, the CEC will probably respect the TCEC recommendation. The CEC then submits the plans to the legislature. The legislature cannot revise the plans. It can only pass them. If it does not pass the plan, the speaker and premier jointly decide what the final electoral districts will be. This means that the speaker and premier can throw away the CEC plan and substitute anything they like. Since both the speaker and premier are DPP members, the DPP can pass anything it likes.

The DPP’s priorities will be to (1) protect the two DPP incumbents in D1 and D2 and the NPP incumbent in D5, (2) create more winnable districts, (3) cause problems for the KMT incumbents, and (4) even out the population differences across districts.


I originally thought that D1 and D2 might be ripe for redrawing. D2 has more than enough DPP voters who might be redistributed to other districts to make them more competitive. However, there are a couple factors that make this unlikely. First, D1 and D2 are almost exactly the right size. There is no obvious reason to redraw the lines. Any change would be attacked as being made solely for the DPP’s political benefit. Second, these are the two DPP incumbents, and incumbents generally don’t like changes. The DPP incumbent in D1 might not mind giving away some of Tainmu (a relatively blue neighborhood) and getting better areas of Shilin 士林區, but the DPP incumbent in D2 would probably resist this. So I’m going to assume that D1 and D2 will be unchanged.

D5 is the other green camp seat. It is slightly undersized right now (9% under the mean), but that is still within the 15% range. Moreover, there are no good neighborhoods to add to it. Everything to the south and east is heavily blue. Keeping the current district is defensible, so that is probably what they will do.

If D5 is unchanged, D8 should probably be left alone as well. One of the informal guidelines is that no administrative district should be broken in more than one place. Since the other part of Zhongzheng is almost exactly the right size when combined with Wenshan 文山區 and D8 is so blue that there is almost no hope that the DPP could ever win it, there is little reason for green designers to want to change D8.


That leaves the other four districts, and this is where it gets fun. Let’s start with the current D4, which includes Nangang 南港區 and Neihu 內湖區. This district is too big and will have to be split up. At first glance, one might think about splitting one of the two administrative districts, but I have a better option. Neihu plus the Dazhi 大直 area of Zhongshan District 中山區 is almost the perfect size. (On the map, Dazhi is the area of Zhongshan north of the Keelung River 基隆河. Roughly, connect the northern borders of Songshan 松山區 and Datong Districts 大同區 in your mind and take the area north of that.) Dazhi and Neihu run together, so this is a natural fit.

This new D4 is also politically devious. Dazhi is a fairly blue area, so taking it out of D3 and putting it into D4 will be a minor disaster for the KMT’s D3 incumbent, Chiang Wan-an. For D4, replacing Nangang with Dazhi will make Lee Yan-hsiu’s district bluer, but there is another problem for her. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

What to do with Nangang? It turns out that Nangang and Xinyi 信義區 can fit together nicely to form a new D7. Since the actual boundary between the two administrative districts are small streets and it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, this is another fantastic (read: defensible) combination.

What are the political effects? Lee Yan-hsiu is from a Nangang family. We have now divided her Nangang base from the majority of her electoral district. (Her old city council district was also Nangang and Neihu, so she has spent decades working these voters.) She can either go with 70% of her district into the new D4, or she can try to keep her core areas but contest a completely new set of voters in Xinyi. If she chooses D4, she might well lose a primary fight to a Neihu politician. If she chooses D7, she will either have to beat the incumbent or convince him to retire. Neither way is very appealing for her or for the KMT.

This leaves two districts in the middle of the city. D3 now includes the southern part of Zhongshan and all of Songshan. This D3 should be a competitive district. D6 is Da-an, and it is solidly blue. But wait, we have one final trick. This D3 is 19% over the mean, a bit too big. Meanwhile, Da-an is 7% below the mean. We can shift a few neighborhoods from D3 into D6. Since Zhongshan has already been divided, the neighborhoods should come from Songshan. Which neighborhoods? That depends on how daring you want to be. There is a square in the middle of Songshan district that is very blue (the Minsheng Community 民生社區), while the border areas of Songshan are all greener. If you just take the southwest corner of Songshan, there isn’t much political effect on D3. However, if you stretch that up a bit into the center of Songshan, you start to remove some of the KMT’s best areas. This could be deadly to Chiang Wan-an. However, it would also be patently obvious to anyone looking at a map. This is not a natural line. I decided to split the difference, taking only one extra neighborhood on the southern border of the Minsheng Community. This probably won’t be the actual final district. The DPP will either take the high road and not include that extra neighborhood or go ahead and take one or two more neighborhoods on the logic that, since there are going to be screams anyway, they might as well go ahead and transfer 10000 more deep blue votes from D3 to D6.


What does that leave us with? This table shows I’m going to use eligible voters as a substitute for population since the CEC election database doesn’t report population for each neighborhood. The two rarely differ by more than 2%, so the difference is negligible. All of these districts are within 10% of the mean of eligible voters, so I am confident that they are also within 15% of the population mean. (* indicates no change in district boundaries.) I’ve also included a column with Tsai Ing-wen’s (DPP) presidential vote in each of the proposed districts. If these numbers look high, remember that Tsai won 52.0% citywide.[2]


  Proposed districts 2016   2016
    Eligible % of mean Tsai
1 Beitou, Tianmu* 275449 1.02 54.9
2 Shilin, Datong* 268464 1.00 61.3
3 S. Zhongshan, Songshan 287040 1.07 52.8
4 Neihu, Dazhi 256018 0.95 50.1
5 Wanhua, N. Zhongzheng* 248868 0.93 53.1
6 Da-an, SW Songshan 278852 1.04 47.0
7 Xinyi, Nangang 283372 1.05 49.7
8 Wenshan, S. Zhongzheng* 252360 0.94 43.9


Here’s a map of the central parts of the city (excluding most of the northern two and the southern administrative districts). You can see that the district lines appear to be fairly reasonable looking. There aren’t any crazy and unnatural shapes, with the exception of that one little bump going up near the Minsheng Community.

TGPIS 2016 Taipei downtown v2

The green side currently holds D1, D2, and D5, and these are the three districts in which Tsai got the highest vote share. In my new plan, D3 has been redrawn so that it is almost as green as D5. In the original D3, Tsai won 51.9%, so the DPP has gained 0.9% (and the KMT lost 0.9%). If Chiang Wan-an runs for re-election in 2020 in this district, he will be fighting on significantly tougher turf. The new D4 is actually a bit bluer than the old D4 (Tsai: 51.9%), but I’m fairly sure Lee Yan-hsiu would rather have her old district than have to choose between the new D4 or D7. The DPP has a slightly better chance to win in the new D7 (old D7 Tsai: 49.3%) and D6 (46.6%), but these are going to be tough targets.

What’s my advice to Lee and Chiang? They probably have no way of avoiding these districts (or whatever other districts the DPP wants to impose on them). They have three choices. First, they can put their heads down and try to win re-election in the new, less friendly districts. Second, they can avoid the problem by trying to move up the ladder. The conventional wisdom is that they are too young and inexperienced to be viable mayoral candidates, but successful politicians often climb the ladder faster than expected.[3] The KMT doesn’t have an obvious nominee already in place, so why not Chiang or Lee? Third, they could try to change the game. If the electoral system is changed to a German-style MMP system,[4] these lines won’t matter so much. Chiang and/or Lee could publicly call for electoral reform, which would both give them a national reputation as a forward-looking reformer and also resolve their impending re-election challenge.


There is still one other possible twist to the redistricting story. There exists a fifth possible winnable district for the DPP. However, producing that district would require them to violate all the established norms of fair play. They could do it, and it will tempt them. There are several ambitious DPP city councilors who will probably never get into the legislature without this district. Best of all, it barely overlaps at all with the DPP’s current four winnable districts. I could draw this district with minimal disruption to DPP concerns. Do the DPP leaders have the moral fiber to resist this temptation?

Since I love a good moral conundrum, here is the district. If you take most of the neighborhoods along the Keelung River (the border between Nangang and Neihu) and then also add in the northeastern corner of Xinyi and the southeastern corner of Songhan, you can draw a district that would have just enough population (eligible voters: 251411; 6.5% below the mean) and would be roughly as green as D1 (Tsai: 54.4%). Of course, it would cut up four administrative districts, look terrible, and it would require all the neighboring districts to look terrible as well. Some of the areas south of this district would only be connected to the next district only by mountain hiking trails. I could draw this district and satisfy the letter of the law, but I’d have to step all over the spirit of that law. In the USA, they would do this without a second thought. At least in 2006, Taiwanese designers showed some restraint and eschewed this type of district.

TGPIS 2016 Taipei downtown v3

Does this post make you queasy about Machiavellian partisan machinations? It’s only going to get worse each redistricting cycle as the parties learn how to game the system and knock down norms of restraint one by one. The long-term solution is electoral reform (MMP!) so that the district boundaries do not have such a dramatic effect on winning and losing.

[1] The way the KMT is going these days, this may not be such a reasonable assumption.

[2] 52.0% for the DPP presidential candidate in Taipei City??? Are you kidding me!! I’m still not used to the idea that the DPP can win a straight party to party fight in Taipei.

[3] Barack Obama is a classic example.

[4] In mixed-member proportional systems, the party list ballot determines the total number of seats a party will win. Winning an extra district seat doesn’t increase the party’s total number of seats, so there is little reason to violate norms of fairness to draw friendlier districts.

The evolution of Taiwan’s media

July 4, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a conference at the University of Nottingham on Taiwanese politics. (For the record, I left two days before the referendum. Don’t blame me for Brexit. Everything was still in working order when I left the UK!) Among the many fantastic papers was one on Taiwan’s media by Chien-san Feng, Ming-yeh Rawnsley, Jon Sullivan, and James Smyth. Inspired by this paper, I thought I would go back to the survey data to see how respondents have reported consuming media over the years.

These data are from Taiwan Elections and Democratization Study surveys (after 2001) and Election Study Center surveys (before 2000). I only report the results from the quadrennial presidential face-to-face surveys. (1992 was a legislative survey; the 2016 face to face survey data has not yet been released so there is only data on one of the questions from a pre-election telephone survey.) There are two questions that have been asked with relatively few changes in question wording, though the answer response categories have changed quite a bit.

Which newspaper do you read most often?

Which TV station do you watch most often for the news?

Here are the results:

TEDS newspapers

The newspapers are relatively simple. There has been a long and steady decline for the two old authoritarian-era mainstays. I don’t have data for 2016 yet, but my impression is that the United Daily News has steadied itself while the China Times has continued to lose market share (and credibility). The Liberty Times broke through the old duopoly in the mid-1990s and has consistently outsold the two old papers. Nowadays, it has as many readers as the CT and UDN combined. Apple Daily burst on the scene early in the Chen Shui-bian era, and it quickly outstripped the others in terms of circulation. However, its political impact is not quite as large as its circulation. As a pseudo-tabloid, it simply isn’t the place for serious discussion of society’s great questions that the other three majors aspire to be. Finally, there is the black line representing all the other papers. When I first started reading newspapers in the mid-1990s, I had about ten choices every time I went to the newsstand. 首都早報 was gone by then, but we still had 自立早報,民眾日報,台灣時報,中華日報,台灣日報,中央日報,台灣新聞報 in the morning as well as three evening papers 聯合晚報,中時晚報,自立晚報 two financial papers 經濟日報,工商時報 and two tabloid/entertainment papers 民生報,大成報。Only two of the papers in that list (聯合晚報,經濟日報) are still publishing a daily print edition. (Every now and then, I see something called 民眾日報 or 台灣時報 and get really excited, but these are more ad inserts than real newspapers.) It was the golden age of newspapers in Taiwan — martial law had ended and the internet had yet to begin destroying print media. The black line probably underestimates the fragmentation of the media market since respondents could only give one answer. Many of the people who read one of the three major papers also read a smaller one. At any rate, these smaller papers have largely disappeared from the scene. These days, new startups such as go straight to the internet.

To sum up, the newspaper market has undergone massive changes since the early 1990s. The United Daily News is arguably the only constant.

TEDS TV stations

Compared to the TV market though, the newspaper market has been a paragon of stability. There is not a single TV station that is recognizable from 1992. When I came to Taiwan in 1989, there were exactly three TV news sources. All of them had the same political stance. TTV was owned by the provincial government; CTV was owned by the KMT; and CTS was run by the military. Cable TV had existed for over a decade at that point, though it was technically illegal and it certainly did not do anything as daring as produce a news program. In the early 1990s, some of the local cable companies started airing local political talk shows, which quickly became labeled as “democracy TV stations” 民主電台. However, these had a very limited reach. Real change came with the establishment of TVBS, the first national station to present the news without an overt-KMT slant. A few years later, several DPP politicians banded together to start the fourth terrestrial station, FTV. By the early 2000s, several other channels had set up 24 hour news channels. In the face of this intense competition, the old three stations’ grip on the news collapsed. These days, they are all minor players. (CTV, the most resilient of the three, was bought by the Want Want group which also owns cti and the China Times. In other words, CTV isn’t even the most influential media organ or even TV station in that conglomerate.)

Today, there is no single dominant TV news station. TVBS, FTV, SET, and cti are perhaps the four most influential, but even TVBS has less than 15% of the market. Moreover, there is a partisan balance, with TVBS and cti having a blue slant and FTV and SET favoring the green side. (TVBS switched sides in 2005 after being bought by Hong Kong capital. It was recently purchased by HTC boss Cher Wang, but this does not seem to have influenced its partisan stance as yet.) NEXT had been owned by Apple and had usually taken an anti-KMT stance. However, it was recently purchased by ERA, which seems to have an itch for James Soong. We’ll see if their anti-KMT stances change to an anti-DPP stance now that President Ma has left office.


Gosh, this post makes me feel old. The 1992 media world is so far from today’s. It’s as if I’m discussing a world with ticker-tape stock prices, telegraphs, and carrier pigeons.

KMT security deposits

January 18, 2016

I’ve been inputting election numbers for years, so I’ve seen lots of cases of hopeless races where the main challenger loses by a huge margin. What’s different this year is that the hopeless challengers are KMT candidates. You can’t imagine how disorienting it is to me to see a result like DPP 146,414, KMT 35,742. This does not compute. However, that’s a real result from Tainan 2. I think the best way to illustrate just how badly a few KMT candidates got beaten is to point out that a few of them won’t get their security deposits back. To discourage frivolous candidacies, candidates pay a security deposit when they register. As long as they can get at least one-third as many votes as the winner (or one-half in a multi-seat district) they get the deposit back after the election. Of course, the major candidates ALWAYS get the deposit back. Except not this year.

Pingtung 3: KMT nominee Hsu Chin-ju 許謹如 got 12.8% of the vote. DPP winner Chuang Jui-hsiung 莊瑞雄 got 4.18 times as many votes.

Tainan 2: KMT nominee Huang Yao-sheng 黃耀盛 got 18.7% of the vote. DPP winner Huang Wei-che 黃偉哲 got 4.10 times as many votes.

Kaohsiung 4: KMT nominee Kuo Lun-hao 郭倫豪 got 23.2% of the vote. DPP winner Lin Tai-hua 林岱樺 got 3.25 times as many votes.

Tainan 1: KMT nominee Huang Jui-kun 黃瑞坤 got 22.2% of the vote. DPP winner Yeh Yi-chin 葉宜津 got 3.21 times as many votes.

There were also seven other districts in which the DPP nominee got more than twice as many votes as the KMT nominee. Those KMT nominees got their security deposits back, but some of these cases were very close, including Tainan 5 in which the DPP candidate got 2.97 times as many votes as the KMT candidate.

It’s just strange to see districts in which the KMT is not merely the minority, but is actually no longer competitive.


Update: Bob Kao from the fantastic Taiwan Law Blog has pointed out (correctly) that I’m a big, fat, stupid idiot. According to the Article 32 of the Election and Recall Law, the threshold for getting one’s security deposit back is one-tenth of all eligible voters, not one-third of the winner’s total.

According to my (new) calculations,Hsu Chin-ju in Pingtung 3, who got 8.0% of the eligible votes was the only KMT candidate who fell below the threshold. The candidates in Tainan 2 (12.0%) and Tainan 1 (13.2%) just barely cleared the threshold. So sorry, almost all of the KMT candidates will get their security deposit back.

So what is the one-third thing that my lousy memory told me was the threshold for security deposits. According to Article 43 of the Election and Recall Law, any candidate (in a single seat district) getting at least one-third of the votes of the winner is eligible for a subsidy of NT30 per vote. The four candidates listed above will not be getting that subsidy.

This is perhaps not as big a blow as you might think. Since they didn’t get many votes, the subsidies wouldn’t have been very large anyway. While all money is useful, these subsidies would have only covered a fraction of campaign costs. Here is the amount they won’t be getting:

Pingtung 3: KMT nominee Hsu Chin-ju 許謹如: NT 482,910

Tainan 2: KMT nominee Huang Yao-sheng 黃耀盛: NT 1,072,260

Kaohsiung 4: KMT nominee Kuo Lun-hao 郭倫豪: NT 1,131,330

Tainan 1: KMT nominee Huang Jui-kun 黃瑞坤 NT 1,100,520

Anyway, the general point I was trying to make still stands. To put it in the type of legalese that Bob will appreciate: Holy shit, there were some KMT candidates who got totally destroyed!