What is Taiwan independence?

June 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

the politics of the marriage equality vote

May 21, 2019

Last Friday, Taiwan passed the Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Constitutional Interpretation No. 748, which is pointedly not named the Marriage Equality Act. This is not a post about how wonderful it is for Taiwan to pass such landmark legislation or how it is the first country in Asia to do so. (For the record, I think it is pretty great.) T his post is about the politics behind that momentous act.

This issue has turned into something of a political nightmare for President Tsai and the DPP. Courtney Donovan Smith has done a fantastic job of following all the twists and turns over the past four years, tracing how it all went politically wrong for the DPP. I highly recommend reading that piece before continuing this one, because I’m going to assume all that as background knowledge. I only have two points to add to Donovan’s excellent account. People don’t pay enough attention to President Tsai’s judicial appointments, and it isn’t commonly appreciated just how much the revisions to the Referendum Act changed the entire process and outlook for marriage equality.

Marriage equality would not have gotten to the front of Taiwan’s political agenda if the Council of Grand Justices hadn’t put it there. Yes, there were demonstrations and activists, but they weren’t anywhere near powerful enough to force their way onto the agenda. There wasn’t a consensus in public opinion, and it wasn’t close to getting on the party platform of either of the two major parties. Without the court, this would have lingered on the sidelines, waiting behind other stalled causes such as judicial reform, moving the Taipei city airport, and absentee voting. Why did the court put this case on the agenda? It did so because a majority of the justices took a progressive view of this question. And that happened because President Tsai appointed progressives to the Council of Grand Justices. There are fifteen justices. The President and Vice President of the Judicial Yuan serve four year terms, and the other thirteen serve eight year terms. Due to disputes dating back to the late Chen presidency (ie: the legislature refused to confirm anyone Chen nominated), the calendar for filling vacancies got screwed up. A political settlement allowed Tsai to fill seven vacancies (including the President and VP of the Judicial Yuan) after she took office, so there are four justices nominated by Ma in 2011, four more nominated by Ma in 2015, and seven nominated by Tsai in 2016. All seven of Tsai’s nominees went on record as being in favor of marriage equality. None of Ma’s eight nominees publicly expressed support for marriage equality. The 2011 nominees weren’t asked about the issue. The 2015 nominees were asked to raise their hands if they supported marriage equality, and none of them did. Granted, at least one of Ma’s nominees actually did vote for marriage equality, and only two issued formal dissenting opinions. However, there is a clear difference between the types of people Tsai and Ma nominated. If Tsai had appointed the types of people Ma did, it is highly unlikely that the court would have ruled in favor of marriage equality. In short, Tsai was responsible for getting marriage equality on Taiwan’s political agenda. The activists seem to feel she has betrayed them by not vocally leading the fight, but without her contributions, there wouldn’t even be much of a public fight. No Tsai, no marriage equality.

The second point is that revising the Referendum Act changed everything. The act was revised in December 2017 to lower the thresholds for both proposal and passage of referendums. Under the old law, a referendum needed 50% turnout and more yes than no votes to pass. Since opponents simply declined to vote, the yes side needed to supply 50% of the total electorate. Six referendums had been held since 2004, none of which had come very close to passing. Under the new law, the yes side simply needs to exceed 25% of the electorate, and yes votes must outnumber no votes. When combined with a general election, this effectively removed turnout as a consideration. As long as the yes side got more votes than the no side, the referendum would almost surely pass. In 2018, 31 referendums were introduced, 10 made it onto the ballot, and seven passed. Five of them dealt with marriage equality.

Why was the Referendum Law revised? Two groups were most vocal in support. On the one hand, Taiwan independence fundamentalists have been pushing referendums for years. They would have us believe that referendums (“direct democracy”!!)  are a fundamental democratic right, and any system that doesn’t allow for referendums is not actually a democracy. (As a political scientist, let me comment on that: Horsefeathers! Malarkey! Bovine Feces!) Of course, they actually want referendums to become institutionalized because they hope to one day hold a referendum on Taiwan independence. On the other hand, the growing group of young and alienated voters sees referendums as a way to bypass the established (read: corrupt) parties and go directly to the people. Ko Wen-je’s fascination with i-voting neatly reflects this sentiment (even though it has been a disaster every time he has tried to use i-voting to make a public policy decision). The two groups intersect perfectly in the person of Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄。The independence fundamentalists, who are disproportionately socially conservative old men, probably weren’t too distressed by how referendums affected marriage equality. However, the young progressives should be. The New Power Party 時代力量 was the strongest voice in the legislature demanding the Referendum Act be changed. Ironically, its first important substantive impact has been to harm marriage equality, one of the NPP’s core goals. Somehow, the NPP leaders seem unable to connect these two points.

The court made its decision in May 2017 and set a two year deadline. Politicians rarely do anything controversial without a deadline, so it should surprise no one that the legislature hadn’t taken action by the beginning of 2018. Before the Referendum Act was revised, marriage equality activists could argue that public opinion was mostly on their side. They had some limited polling, which if you looked at it from just the right angle suggested that more people supported them than opposed them. They also convinced quite a few legislators to sign pledges supporting marriage equality. With the weight of the court opinion behind them, they had a strong case for hoping to get full marriage equality. As legislators went back home and talked to their constituents, we started getting rumblings of popular dissatisfaction. However, there was no authoritative way to quantify this public sentiment. Any circumstantial evidence could be countered by other circumstantial evidence. For example, NPP chair K.C. Huang 黃國昌 was subjected to a recall election in December 2017, and the activists who stood outside collecting signatures were almost all from social conservative groups opposing marriage equality. However, the recall vote failed, and it was easy to dismiss it as simply a KMT-led partisan effort (as I myself did) rather than as a sign of an enormous groundswell against gay marriage.

Once the Referendum Act passed, the anti-marriage groups started organizing almost immediately to put their measures on the ballot. And once it became clear that the public was going to have an opportunity to weigh in, the politicians had a perfect excuse to stall. Why should the politicians decide whether to amend the Civil Code or pass a special law before the voters had a chance to express their opinions? Once the Referendum Act passed, there was zero chance of the legislature doing anything on marriage equality before the November 24, 2018 election.

Stalling wasn’t the most important consequence. The most important consequence was that referendums provided a vehicle for activists to organize, focus, and interpret public opinion. Without a referendum, attitudes about marriage equality were vague. It wasn’t clear how broad or intense anti-marriage sentiment was. It wasn’t even clear if people cared enough about the issue to bother voting on it. There also wasn’t a strong organization of people to voice anti-marriage opinions or to decide exactly the form that those opinions should take. The referendum encouraged the religious organizations to join together under an umbrella group, to put together rosters of volunteers, to hold events, and to galvanize their own attitudes through their activism.

Once the referendum was held, society discovered that public opinion was much more strongly against marriage equality than even the anti-marriage activists expected. There simply is no way to sugarcoat losing by a two-to-one margin. You could tell that the anti-marriage side was stunned by their own success because they almost immediately tried to disown their own referendum. They had proposed a convoluted question in which they proposed “protecting” gay couples’ “rights” through some means other than amending the Civil Code. This measure passed 6.40 million to 4.07 million. (The marriage equality side asked a much clearer but logically equivalent question, and that one failed 3.38 million to 6.94 million.) The anti-marriage side had not dared to ask whether gay marriage should simply not be allowed. After the referendum results were tallied, they openly announced opposition to any legalization of gay marriage. The referendum emboldened them to take a much more radical stance than they had originally dared. Moreover, much of society bought into this new interpretation. Many people did not see the vote as an expression of support for a special law legalizing gay marriage (as it was literally written), but as an expression of opposition to any form of gay marriage.

The referendum erased any possibility of full marriage equality through a revision of the Civil Code. The only path that was politically palatable would be a special law, and even that was going to be extremely hard for the legislature. It took a heroic effort by the Tsai government, especially from Premier Su, to rescue the situation.

 

 

We now fast-forward to last week. With the May 24 deadline approaching, the legislature had to make its decision. In discussing the events of last week, I will draw heavily on two excellent accounts of what went on behind the scenes, one from Mirror Media (鏡週刊) and one from the Central News Agency (中央社). If you read Chinese, I highly recommend you read their full accounts.

The DPP had decided long ago to try to pass the cabinet bill without subjecting its members to extra votes. At the first reading on March 5, the DPP voted to bypass committee hearings and send the bill directly to the floor for the second reading. That vote passed 59-24, with 5 abstentions. All 59 yes votes came from the DPP and NPP; all 24 of the no votes came from the KMT and PFP. The five abstentions were all DPP members. The DPP did not want to force its members to go through public committee hearings in which the KMT would try to get them to openly take unpopular positions. The KMT, in contrast, was incensed that it was denied this fun. In addition to the cabinet’s bill, there were a few other bills proposed. Most of these were from marriage equality opponents, such as KMT legislator Lai Shi-pao’s 賴士葆 bill, which was tellingly titled, The Enforcement Act for Referendum #12 公投第十二案施行法草案. The DPP legislative caucus used its procedural powers to adopt a first-winner voting rule. Multiple versions of each clause would be placed on the agenda. The first one to be passed would be adopted with no need for a vote on any of the other versions. Moreover, the first version to be voted on would be the cabinet’s bill, so if the cabinet’s version passed, legislators would not have to vote on any of the other versions. The KMT screamed about these procedures, but there is nothing particularly abnormal about them. I wrote a chapter of my PhD dissertation on how majority parties use their procedural tools to provide political cover for their members to help those members make politically difficult decisions.

Even with these procedures in place, it was by no means certain that the cabinet’s bill would pass. In the days before the vote, the DPP party caucus polled its members and found it only had 31 solid votes. There are 113 legislators, and even if some of them don’t show up, 31 is not enough. There was even an attempt to organize legislators from central Taiwan to collectively boycott the votes. They knew they could probably count on the five votes from the NPP, and they thought they would have the support of one KMT legislator, Jason Hsu 許毓仁。With 39 other KMT, PFP, and independent legislators, the overwhelming majority of whom they expected to vote against them, they could not afford many absences, much less outright defections. There was a very real possibility that the cabinet’s bill would not pass. In that case, one of the other versions might have passed, or, worst of all, nothing might have passed.

Let’s pause to think about the political implications of such a failure. The Council of Grand Justices had set out a political demand, and there was a possibility that the legislature would challenge that demand. Among the alternate versions of the bill, there were some that did not include the term “marriage” and some that had larger legal differences between the version of marriage for straight couples as written in the Civil Code and the version for same-sex couples as written in this special law. The justices had left it up to the legislature to determine the exact form of the law, but they explicitly demanded that whatever framework was adopted would have to achieve “the equal protection of the freedom of marriage.” If everything had unraveled and the legislature had passed an extremely restrictive bill, it might have led to a constitutional confrontation with the court. It is entirely possible that the court would have lost this struggle. On the one hand, the referendum demonstrated that public opinion is not as favorable to marriage equality as most people had previously believed. In the Wikipedia entry on this case, one justice’s public statement in favor of marriage equality is precisely that people are more accepting now of homosexuality than they used to be. He might have to rethink that statement. On the other hand, when courts fight with elected officials, the courts usually lose. Courts have no power outside their courtroom. In one famous but probably apocryphal quote, U.S. President Andrew Jackson said, [Supreme Court Chief Justice] “Mr. Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” Although it probably would not have come to such a crisis, there is a sense in which the DPP was fighting a battle to ensure the continuing smooth operation of the rule of law.

More immediately, the DPP was fighting a battle to preserve its authority. When a leader sets out to do something, failure exposes the leader as toothless. If the Tsai government had staked its reputation on passing the bill and failed to do so, we would have seen a sheaf of declarations that Tsai was now officially a lame duck, that her party was in rebellion, that she was no longer the leader of her party, that her presidency was effectively over, and that the country would stumble along leaderless for the next year until a new president was inaugurated.

Finally, in the event that no bill had passed, we would have been plunged into administrative uncertainty. Local governments would have been left to figure out on their own how to (or even whether to) register same-sex marriages under their existing rules. The cries of “government incompetence” would have been deafening.

Politically speaking, one of the primary arguments for the DPP members to stick together was simply that failure to do so would have been worse. The party was not going to dodge the political responsibility for supporting marriage equality either way.

In the event, the DPP did not fail. Two things were critical: it slightly altered the language in the bill, and it launched a massive lobbying campaign at its legislators.

In discussions with its caucus members, it found that the hardest bit to swallow was the phrase “same-sex marriage” 同性婚姻 in Clause 2. Members proposed revisions removing that phrase and instead using wording such as “register in accordance with the directions set out in Constitutional Interpretation No. 748” and “register as same-sex spouses in accordance with the rules set out herein.”  However, Premier Su insisted on including the word “marriage” in the final wording. The compromise version was to remove the phrase “same-sex marriage” from Clause 2 but to instead stipulate that two people of the same sex could form a “permanent union” and to add in Clause 4 that couples should “register their marriage” at the local household registration office. Substantively, I don’t think there is any difference between the original wording and the final version. However, the compromise version was evidently politically more palatable.

The Tsai administration then launched a massive lobbying effort. Every legislator was targeted by multiple people from the party caucus, the presidential office, the cabinet, their geographic region, and their faction leaders. Some of the people involved included premier Su and vice premier Chen Chi-mai, presidential office secretary general Chen Chu and deputy secretary general Liu Chien-hsi 劉建析, caucus leader Ke Chien-ming, Taoyuan mayor Chen Wen-tsan, and a few cabinet ministers. Basically, almost all the DPP’s heavy hitters were enlisted. (The young progressives detest Ke Chien-ming, who they think is conservative and corrupt. Perhaps, but he gets things done, including this progressive reform.) The lobbyists made a variety of appeals, ranging from cold political calculations to emotional appeals about experiences fighting the authoritarian regime in the 1970s and 1980s. Premier Su was particularly effective; one of his entreaties reportedly left a group of legislators in tears.

William Lai is glaringly absent from this narrative. Lai did post a picture of himself with a rainbow background on social media, but he doesn’t seem to have lifted a finger to pass this bill, either when he was premier or in the last week.

The DPP wasn’t sure that its efforts would pay off until Friday morning, when it was finally confident that it had secured the votes of most of its members. The caucus decided not to formally impose party discipline on the votes, but rather to take collectively responsibility without such coercion. Somehow this worked. The group of legislators from central Taiwan that had been threatening a collective walkout instead decided to collectively support the cabinet bill. Other legislators that had been wavering under pressure from religious groups, such as Chao Tien-lin 趙天麟 and Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, also stepped back in line. In the end, the DPP was able to get nearly 60 votes on every clause, more than enough to ensure passage. It ended up looking like an easy win, but a lot of DPP legislators swallowed some incredibly difficult votes.

 

 

So much for the media narrative. Let’s look at the voting record. For readers familiar with the US Congress, a short background note on how voting works is useful. In the US Congress (and many other legislatures), a bill is put before the floor, amendments are processed, and then a final passage vote is taken to pass or reject the entire bill. If no amendments are offered, only one final passage vote is required to pass the entire bill. In Taiwan, there are no final passage votes. Instead, in the second reading, the bill is processed clause by clause. Each clause is voted for and passed independently. There is a third reading in which the entire bill is reviewed again, but this is not supposed to be a substantive vote. The third reading is only to catch errors or contradictions in the legal wording, and it is almost always a mere formality.

Friday’s bill had 27 clauses, so legislators had to pass 28 items: the title of the bill and 27 individual clauses. In addition, the DPP allowed votes on two other items, a vote to not consider Lin Tai-hua’s 林岱樺 (more conservative) version of Clause 8 and a vote on the NPP’s (more progressive) version of Clause 27. In each of the 30 votes, a yes vote represented a vote for the more progressive option. The Legislative Yuan hasn’t published the official record yet, so I got the votes by watching the video of the session published on the legislature’s IVOD system. There are two big video boards on which the votes are recorded, and at the end of each vote, the screen is supposed to show both of them, one after the other. Unfortunately, the camera people weren’t always paying attention, and sometimes they never bothered switching back to the second screen. I was able to get most of the votes, but in two cases my vote tally came up one yes vote short from the official tally. In both cases, it looks to me like the most obvious person to have voted yes was Jason Hsu 許毓仁, who seemed to habitually wait until the very last moment to cast his vote. The bigger problem was Clause 18, since the camera never got around to showing the second screen at all. As a result, I will only discuss 29 roll call votes. Clause 18 was a fairly routine vote; most of the later clauses had the same people voting all the same ways. I don’t think Clause 18 would have changed any of the conclusions reached in the following discussion.

The first five votes were the most important. The first vote, over the title of the bill, was the first test of how legislators would vote. It passed 68-27. Clause 1 passed 68-25. Clause 2 was the one that the DPP changed the wording of to avoid the scary “same-sex marriage” wording. It passed 75-22. Clause 3 passed 71-27. Clause 4, which included the word “marriage” was the most difficult vote for many legislators. It passed 66-27. The legislature needed about four hours to get through these first five votes. There was an extensive general discussion before the voting started, and several legislators spoke before the voting on the individual clauses. After Clause 4 passed, the legislature took a short recess. When the session resumed, deputy speaker Tsai took over the meeting, and it went through the remaining votes in less than two hours. For most of them, there was no debate at all; the staff member read the text, and the legislature voted. Almost all of Clauses 5 through 27 passed by either a 66-27 or a 67-26 vote. There was a short recess before Clause 27 so that speaker Su could preside over the passage of the bill.

The five New Power Party legislators all voted yes 29 times. They were the only legislators to do so.

The three PFP legislators voted no the first 27 times and didn’t bother to vote on the last two items.

The three independent legislators were absent.

The 68 DPP legislators had a few different patterns. The speaker and deputy speaker usually don’t participate in roll call votes; Su did not vote, but Tsai did vote (yes) on the first five items. 48 DPP legislators voted the party line all 29 times, including all 17 of the party list legislators (other than Speaker Su).  Eleven DPP legislators voted the party line 28 times but missed one vote. A few of these look like bathroom breaks. For example, Chen Ou-po 陳歐珀 missed the vote on Clause 14, Wu Chi-ming 吳琪銘 missed Clause 20, and Lin Chun-hsien 林俊憲 missed Clause 17. These random missing votes don’t seem very consequential. However, many of the single missing yes votes were on the controversial Clause 4. Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, Chao Tien-lin 趙天麟, Chen Ting-fei 陳亭妃, Yeh Yi-chin 葉宜津, Ho Hsin-chun 何欣純, and Chen Ying 陳瑩 all voted the DPP party line 28 times, but they were absent on Clause 4. Tsai Shi-ying 蔡適應 was absent four times, on Clauses 3, 4, 14, and 20; he voted with the party the other 25 times. I think these seven legislators were trying to both support the party line and also dodge a controversial vote. By the time they took the vote, they were certainly aware that their vote would not be decisive. Still, they did skip the single most important vote.

Five DPP legislators broke ranks and refused to show up at all. Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書, Chiang Yung-chang 江永昌, Hsu Chih-chieh 許智傑, Hung Tsung-yi 洪宗熠, and Yang Yao 楊曜 missed all the votes. Of these, Hung and Yang represent rural swing districts. If the party is going to forgive anyone for breaking discipline, they would be at the top of the list. Huang and Hsu, in green-leaning urban districts, have far weaker excuses. Finally, there is Lin Tai-hua 林岱樺, from a deep green district in Kaohsiung. Lin is perhaps the most vocal opponent of marriage equality within the DPP caucus, and she even offered her own (far more conservative) draft of the bill. Unlike the other opponents, Lin showed up and voted. She voted yes 18 times and no 11 times; she was the only legislator to vote both yes and no. I’m not sure what message she wanted to communicate with that action.

The 34 KMT legislators also had a few different patterns. 18 voted no all 29 times, and five others voted no at least 26 times but missed a few votes. Ma Wen-chun 馬文君 voted no four of the first five items (missing Clause 1) and then stopped voting altogether. Lin Li-chan 林麗蟬 and Wang Jin-pyng 王金平 missed all 29 votes. These 26 KMT legislators collectively cast zero votes in favor of marriage equality.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have Jason Hsu casting 24 yes votes, missing two, and voting to abstain three times. Recall, I think those two absent votes were probably actually yes votes. His three abstentions were on Clauses 7, 20, and 26, which seems pretty random to me. He was the only legislator to vote with the NPP on the NPP version of Clause 27.

This leaves seven KMT members who voted yes between one and three times. Wayne Chiang 蔣萬安, Ke Chih-en 柯志恩, Lee Yen-hsiu 李彥秀, Lin Yi-hua 林奕華, and Chen Yi-min 陳宜民  all skipped the first two votes, voted yes on Clauses 2 through 4, and then took the rest of the day off. Hsu Shu-hua 許淑華 voted yes on Clauses 2 and 4, and Lin Wei-chou voted yes on Clause 2. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I should think about their action. On the one hand, they voted yes on the three most critical clauses. On the other hand, they skipped out afterwards, and pointedly did not vote for the rest of the bill. If you are a supporter of marriage equality, wouldn’t you want to be on record as supporting the entire bill? On the third hand, this was a DPP bill. The KMT was entirely cut out of the process. Once they went on record as supporting marriage equality, they also wanted to express displeasure with the DPP’s actions. Expressing both substance and partisanship is entirely reasonable. On the fourth hand, the insider narratives indicated that these seven KMT legislators’ intentions were entirely unknown to the DPP caucus leaders. Because the DPP caucus leaders were expecting support from only Jason Hsu, they felt pressure to alter the language of the bill. They didn’t make substantively serious alterations, but they considered doing so. If the KMT legislators had openly expressed support for the original language, they might have ensured that the strongest version possible passed. On the fifth hand, maybe they, like those wavering DPP legislators, were only willing to vote for the altered language. On the sixth hand, their open support might be the bulwark that prevents other KMT politicians from trying to overturn the bill in the future. On the seventh hand, perhaps if the DPP hadn’t been able to cobble together enough votes, they would have let the bill go up in flames. They pointedly sat out the first two votes, which were the proof of strength. On the eighth hand, who the hell has eight hands?

Aside: I do think this vote was extremely savvy for Wayne Chiang. I assume that, as Taiwan gets used to the idea of same-sex marriage, the yes vote will look better and better. Unlike many other legislators who have difficult elections this year, Chiang can afford to think a few years down the road. He will probably be the KMT’s Taipei mayoral candidate in 2022, and that will put him on the short list for the presidency somewhere between 2028 and 2048. He will be able to point back to this vote as an example of foresight, progressive values, and the courage to take an unpopular position.

Aside continued: In contrast, Johnny Chiang 江啟臣, one of the KMT legislators who voted no all 29 times, tried to claim that the KMT wasn’t really against marriage equality but were simply expressing anger with the DPP’s procedural tactics. Johnny Chiang is sometimes touted as a future KMT leader, but this statement was pathetic. There are some days in which you can complain about procedures, but this wasn’t one of them. The international media didn’t turn its eyes to Taiwan because they were interested in the DPP’s committee referral strategy. There are some times when a milestone decision is before you and you have to take a stand. This was one of those times. His grandchildren won’t care about procedures. They will only care if he was on the right side of history, whichever side that turns out to be.

Overall, the bill was the DPP’s bill, and the DPP provided the votes to pass it. DPP legislators had 1972 votes to cast, and they voted the party line 1749 times (88.7%). From a different perspective, there were 1875 total yes votes cast. The DPP provided 1688 of those yes votes (90.0%), the NPP provided 145 (8.6%), and the KMT only provided 42 (2.5%). In contrast, the KMT provided 662 (81.3%) of the total 814 no votes. While some media reports played up the DPP defections and the KMT yes votes to give the impression that both sides acted similarly, that simply isn’t correct. A small number of KMT legislators gave a small amount of support, and a small number of DPP legislators withheld their support. However, the main pattern was that the DPP overwhelmingly supported marriage equality, and the KMT mostly opposed it.

Lai’s example: LBJ???

March 29, 2019

One of the objections to William Lai’s challenge to President Tsai is that if he defeats her, she will be a lame duck for the remaining thirteen months of her presidency. Some worry that the resulting power vacuum would create a constitutional crisis. Yesterday on his Facebook page, Lai tried to refute this argument by pointing to the example of Lyndon Johnson (LBJ). In 1968, LBJ decided not to run for re-election, and Lai argued that this did not create any constitutional crisis.

This is a bad, bad argument. Only someone who knows nothing about 1968 would point to Johnson’s case as an example of a smooth transition of power.

LBJ did plan to run for re-election. Initially, most people expected him to win, even though he was fighting the unpopular Vietnam War. He was challenged for the nomination by Senator Eugene McCarthy, an opponent of the war who was not considered a major challenger. LBJ beat McCarthy in the March 1968 New Hampshire primary, but only by a 49-41% margin. Seeing LBJ’s weakness, Robert Kennedy announced he would also contest the nomination. LBJ responded by announcing that he would not run for re-election. Instead, he would focus all his energy on the war, which he hoped to win before the election.

By announcing that he would not run for re-election, LBJ avoided being defeated. He did not lose power to a rival nominee. In fact, LBJ eventually arranged for the nomination to go to his chosen successor, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. There was no power vacuum because LBJ did not lose control of the Democratic Party.

Lai argues that there was no problem in 1968. In fact, 1968 was one of the most turbulent and chaotic years in American history. There were anti-war protests all year. In April, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated. In response, there were race riots in several major cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. These were violent events, with widespread burning and looting and numerous deaths. In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. There were more riots outside the Democratic party convention in August, where Humphrey was nominated. Maybe there wasn’t a constitutional crisis, but there were plenty of political and social crises.

Finally, 1968 was a disaster for the Democratic Party. After fighting among themselves during the nomination battle, they continued fighting at the national convention. Everyone could clearly see that the Democrats were not united. The Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, used this chaos to his advantage. He ran promising to restore law and order to a country that seemed out of control. Even though far more voters claimed to be Democrats than Republicans, Nixon was able to win a narrow victory. Eugene McCarthy’s challenge to LBJ ended with President Nixon. Is this the model that Lai wants to follow?

In fact, there are no examples in American history of a candidate successfully challenging an incumbent from his own party and then going on to win the general election. In fact, in the last century, every time an incumbent has faced a primary challenge, the other party has won the election. Divided parties lose power.

 

The state of the presidential race

March 25, 2019

The presidential race is starting to develop. The Central Election Commission recently announced that the election would be on January 11. More importantly, there have been some important developments in the two major parties, and, now that the by-elections are finished, we are finally getting into the intense stage of the nomination process.

In the DPP, former premier William Lai surprised many people inside and outside the party by registering his candidacy. He kept this decision a secret until the last minute, and many of the DPP’s major figures were taken by surprise. Perhaps most surprisingly is that many heavyweights in Lai’s own New Tide faction didn’t know he was planning to run. Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan, presidential office secretary-general Chen Chu, and legislator Tuan Yi-kang all seem to have been surprised. It was not, however, a last-minute decision. The day Lai made his announcement, the Taiwan Braintrust think tank released a poll intended to show high levels of public support for him. This poll was conducted in the previous week, and it probably took at least another week before that to get ready to do the poll. Taiwan Braintrust is run by the Independence Fundamentalist wing of the DPP, which has been leading the opposition to Tsai basically since she emerged as the DPP’s leader. Taiwan Braintrust chair Koo Kuan-min ran against her for party chair in 2008 and infamously asked if “people wearing skirts” were suitable for leadership. Anyway, this was a coordinated and premeditated rollout. There are people suggesting that the DPP will convince Lai to withdraw or take the VP slot, but he looks pretty serious to me.

Over in the KMT, calls for the party to forgo its regular nomination process and directly draft Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu are gaining steam. The hopes of party chair Wu Den-yi and former president Ma Ying-jeou seem to faded, so the realistic candidates are former New Taipei mayor Eric Chu, former speaker Wang Jin-pyng, and Han. The former two want the regular process to determine the nomination. Han, as a newcomer who was just elected mayor a couple months ago, does not want to openly contest the presidential nomination. His best scenario is for the party to offer him the nomination so that he does not appear to betray his Kaohsiung voters by abandoning them for a better job almost immediately.

Meanwhile, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je seems more and more likely to run as an independent. He is doing quite well in the polls, so the opportunity and pressure is overwhelming. He is also making some of the necessary preparations. He has been in the USA this week. While this is officially just a routine tour, the real purpose is to talk with people in the USA foreign policy establishment to reassure them that he will have a reasonable policy toward China. Even better, he might hope for one of them to say publicly that he will have a reasonable policy and will be a perfectly fine partner for the USA. During that tour Ko tried to clear away another hurdle by announcing his position on marriage equality. He is both for and against it. He claimed to have voted against it in last year’s referendums, but he pointed out that Taiwan is a tolerant society. We’ll see if this waffle satisfies anyone.

 

What do the polls say about the race right now? I have seen four polls in the last month, and they do not necessary give the same answer. TVBS is a long-established pollster with a reasonably good reputation but a strong blue bias. Taiwan Braintrust and Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation are both green camp think tanks with an anti-Tsai Ing-wen bias. Fount Media is a new media organization. The main figure is Clara Chou Yu-kou, who is a respected and senior media figure who leans green. Their poll was conducted by Focus Survey, an established pollster. However, the general rule is that the organization commissioning the poll is more important than the organization conducting the poll; the buyer decides which numbers to release to the public and the seller rarely (never?) contradicts those numbers. I don’t have a high degree of trust any of these polls. The two think tank polls have a clear political agenda, and TVBS polls have tended to produce favorable results to the KMT. However, taken together they probably give us a picture of the outer bounds of public opinion.

Organization Organization date sample
TVBS TVBS 2/14-20 1582
Taiwan Brain Trust 新台灣國策智庫 3/12-13 1085
Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation 台灣民意基金會 2/27 1089
Fount Media 放言 (山水) 3/4-5 1077

The four surveys have published results for the 2020 presidential race with various groupings of candidates. I have put these together in the following unwieldy table. Depending on which survey you look at, Tsai is either competitive or hopelessly behind, Han is either an unbeatable juggernaut or somewhat vulnerable, and the 2020 race either promises to be a blowout or a very close race. Not very helpful…

Tsai Lai Chu Wang Wu Han Ko
TVBS 27 46
Brain 38 51
TPOF 38 47
Fount 35 50
TVBS 33 41
Brain 47 44
TVBS 25 54
Brain 42 50
Fount 32 55
TVBS 32 49
Brain 49 45
TVBS 32 27
Brain 54 30
Fount 34 43
TVBS 41 22
Brain 65 23
TVBS 26 39
Brain 37 49
TVBS 33 31
Brain 50 37
TVBS 16 29 41
Brain 29 34 31
Fount 22 34 34
TVBS 19 27 39
Brain 35 32 28
TVBS 16 37 35
Brain 31 35 28
TPOF 28 34 30
Fount 20 42 28
TVBS 19 36 33
Brain 35 35 24
TPOF 30 34 28
TVBS 20 16 44
Brain 34 16 41
TVBS 26 15 39
Brain 42 14 36
TVBS 17 23 41
Brain 28 27 36
Fount 21 25 40
TVBS 23 21 38
Brain 34 25 33

 

However, we can see a few clear patterns. Within each party, there is a clear hierarchy. In the DPP, Lai consistently beats Tsai. In one-on-one races with a KMT opponent, Lai is usually 5-10 points stronger than Tsai. In three-way races, Lai’s advantage over Tsai is roughly to 2-5 points. In the KMT, Han is the strongest, Chu is second, Wang is third, and Wu trails far behind in fourth place. There are clear gaps between all four. Ko beats most of the KMT and DPP candidates, but he is consistently behind Han.

If you put a gun to my head and asked me to rank-order all the candidates based on these poll results, I’d say that, from strongest to weakest, they are Han, Ko, Lai, Chu, Wang, Tsai, Wu. However, I’d also point out that these February and March polls don’t necessarily indicate what public opinion will look like next January. In fact, I suspect the numbers will shift quite a bit over the next ten months. Why? Let’s dive more deeply into the numbers!

 

The Taiwan Brain Trust poll was a piece of political advertising dressed up as a poll. The press release was designed to draw your attention to three bits of data: Lai beats Tsai 50-29%, in a two-way race Chu, Wang, and Han all beat Tsai but Lai beats all four KMT candidates, and in a three-way race, Tsai never wins but Lai wins against all four possible candidates. (See pages 19, 20, 42, 43, 62, and 63 of the TBT powerpoint slides).

 

There you have it: Lai beats Tsai head to head, and while Tsai loses most matchups in the general election, Lai wins them all. Lai is clearly the superior candidate, so the DPP should nominate Lai.

Of course, this conclusion conveniently overlooks the facts that many of these “victories” are not statistically significant differences and that the other polling organizations didn’t find such strong support for Lai. Still, even if Lai’s advantage over Tsai isn’t as overwhelming as TBT would like you to believe, he does clearly have an edge.

But wait, there’s more. One of the main reasons I don’t simply dismiss the TBT poll as propaganda is that they have followed one of professional polling’s best practices: they have published their full results, including both frequency distributions and crosstabs. (No other public pollster in Taiwan routinely does this, but it is becoming the international standard for credible polling.) If you dig way down into the TBT results, the picture looks a bit more complicated.

Lai crushes Tsai in the overall head-to-head sample, and there aren’t many clear differences among different age groups, education levels, or regions. However, there is a big difference among people with different political attitudes. Looking at party identification, people who identify as DPP supporters are split fairly evenly. Lai has a small 5 point advantage, but nowhere near his 21 point overall margin. That enormous gap is a result of preferences among KMT identifiers, who Lai wins by 36 points. That is, people who aren’t going to vote for either Tsai or Lai are inflating the gap between them and making Lai look much stronger. You can see this even more clearly in another question, whether the respondent plans to support the DPP’s 2020 candidate. People who planned to support the DPP actually preferred Tsai by a robust 9%. Lai makes up this gap by winning undecided voters by 19%. However, the illusion of an enormous gap is created by the people who say they will not vote for a DPP candidate. This group prefers Lai over Tsai by 43 points.

Tsai Lai Don’t know N
All 29.2 50.9 19.9 1085
DPP 43.1 48.1 8.7 267
KMT 21.6 57.2 21.2 360
New 13
PFP 19
NPP 37.7 55.5 6.8 169
None 18.2 44.0 37.7 172
Other party 6
No answer 26.3 38.6 35.2 79

 

Question: Do you plan to support the DPP’s 2020 presidential candidate?

Tsai Lai Don’t know N
All 29.2 50.9 19.9 1085
Yes 49.9 40.8 9.3 325
No 17.9 60.6 21.6 515
other 25.5 44.1 30.4 245

(I’m omitting data for categories with almost no respondents since those numbers are basically meaningless.)

Why are blue voters overwhelmingly for Lai? My guess is that they are really expressing opposition to Tsai by supporting any intraparty challenge to her. However, it is not obvious to me that they will continue to prefer Lai now that he is actually in the race. First, supporters of one party often decline to participate in the other side’s business. When the call comes in the DPP polling primary, the interviewer starts by identifying themselves as a DPP poll. Many blue identifiers will simply hang up. Second, if blue voters want to pick the weakest DPP candidate (the way that four years ago some green voters probably supported Hung Hsiu-chu’s KMT nomination), it isn’t obvious who they should choose. They might think that Tsai is the incumbent and a moderate, but she has a lot of baggage and is trailing Lai in the polls. It isn’t obvious that Lai is their best strategic choice. Third, Lai’s first (and so far only) appeal was to pardon Chen Shui-bian. This will be hard for many blue voters to swallow. Fourth, the DPP polling question relies heavily on interparty matchups rather than intraparty matchups. That is, most of these blue voters will filter themselves out by expressing support for the KMT candidate, so they won’t affect the results that much. In sum, Lai is leading, but it is a lot closer than it looks.

How will the race develop? The DPP has now delayed its primary by a week, but that still only leaves less than four weeks for the race to unfold. It seems like what the rest of the party does NOT want is an extended debate over ideas. They seem to want to get this over quickly and painlessly. Apparently, the civil war of 2007 still haunts them. I’m not sure they can avoid a fight. After all, this is the presidency – the stakes cannot be higher. After Lai announced, 34 DPP legislators (of 68 total) responded by signing a statement in support of Tsai. Two other legislators later also expressed support for her. So far, only one legislator has openly supported Lai. A factional breakdown of the DPP legislative caucus shows that the 36 Tsai supporters include most of the party list legislators (who she had a hand in picking) and most of the legislators in her own faction, the Hsieh faction, and the Yu faction. The legislators who did not sign are mostly from either the Su faction, the CSB faction, or the New Tide faction. I think the Su faction mostly supports Tsai, but they wanted to stay publicly neutral since Su is on the five-person committee in charge of making decisions about the primary. The New Tide faction is the largest and most important faction, and I think it is genuinely torn. Lai is a New Tide member, but he has grown apart from the rest of the faction since he became Tainan mayor. Tsai has maintained good relations with New Tide, and many of them seemed shocked by Lai’s decision. I don’t know if the New Tide will try to act collectively. If they do try, they might end up ripping the faction apart. Among the party elites, Lai’s strongest support comes from the independence fundamentalists and Chen Shui-bian faction. If it were just a question of party elites, Tsai would probably win handily. Of course, Lai has a trump card in the form of public opinion.

I do see one path for Tsai to reverse that public opinion deficit. Right now, Lai is beating her quite a bit among New Power Party identifiers. In the head to head polls, Lai beats her by 18 points. In the two most likely races, the three-way races with Ko and either Chu or Han, Lai is about 6-9 points stronger than Tsai with this group. Tsai should be doing better among this group. She may not be economically or socially progressive enough to make them happy, but Lai is an economic and social conservative. He will not be better for them. I think that Lai’s initial support among this group is more a reflection of their disappointment with Tsai than any conviction that he will be better. Now that they have to make a choice, this group looks to me like one of Tsai’s best targets.

 

Tsai Lai Han Ko
All 30.6 35.4 27.9
DPP 71.3 6.4 21.4
KMT 5.6 74.7 16.7
NPP 34.8 10.0 50.4
None 26.8 28.0 29.5
No answer 15.8 14.4 48.1
.
All 35.3 34.7 24.1
DPP 76.7 5.5 17.1
KMT 5.3 76.4 15.5
NPP 42.4 8.4 45.4
None 37.6 24.4 20.6
No answer 23.8 15.8 41.6

I expect the DPP primary to be very close, and I will not pick a winner at this point. Actually, I take that back. There is already a clear winner: the KMT. The KMT’s initial reaction to Lai’s announcement was that Lai was declaring Tsai’s presidency a failure. What’s more, he was also declaring that his own term as premier was a failure. They are right. Whether or not Lai intends that message, that is exactly what many people heard. Moreover, since Lai’s first policy proposal was to pardon Chen Shui-bian, the KMT now has a legitimate reason to talk endlessly about CSB. There is nothing they love more than opining about the horrors of the CSB years. If Tsai wins the nomination, she will have to deal with the shadow of Lai’s negative judgment on or her presidency for the rest of the campaign. If Lai wins the nomination (or even the presidency), he will never escape the original sin of disloyalty. No one will dare give him too much trust or loyalty, since he himself has been guilty of this disloyalty. What a fiasco. On the one hand, Lai has made a terrible choice. On the other hand, he only made that choice because Tsai has been such an unpopular president.

 

Over on the KMT side, things are also messy. There are three declared candidates, Chu, Wang, and Wu. However, the chorus to sidestep the entire process and simply draft Han is growing every day. Part of this is that Wu is hopelessly behind Chu and Wang. Since he has no chance of winning, he has very little reason to insist on maintaining the formal process.

Let’s look first at the race between Chu and Wang. In the head to head race, Chu wins 44-34. Again, the party identification breakdown is the key place to look. Among KMT identifiers, Chu wins by 52 points. Among DPP identifiers, Wang wins by 25. As above, most of that support from the other party won’t translate into support in the polling primary. In a polling primary, Chu’s lead would actually be bigger.

Wu Chu Wang Han
All 6.1 43.8 33.8
DPP 6.5 26.4 51.1
KMT 7.8 67.0 14.5
NPP 3.3 42.4 43.7
None 5.1 29.1 37.2
No answer 3.3 33.9 30.9
.
All 4.3 26.3 31.2 28.7
DPP 6.8 20.8 53.3 8.9
KMT 2.9 33.0 9.7 50.7
NPP 3.1 30.2 44.2 17.6
None 4.8 21.1 32.7 21.6
No answer 2.2 20.7 22.5 29.2

 

 

What about Han? TBT thoughtfully asked the same question both with and without Han in the race. When they add Han, something interesting happens: Wang wins, beating Han by 2 and Chu by 5. Ok, as we just noted, Wang probably wouldn’t win since a major chunk of his support is from DPP identifiers. However, what is really interesting is what happens to the KMT identifiers. Without Han, Chu won 67.0% of this group. With Han, Han takes 50.7% and Chu is left with only 33.0%. Because Han won the race in Kaohsiung, we have a notion that Han has a strong cross-party appeal. What this data suggests is that Han’s core appeal is within the KMT. Han is an orthodox KMT politician. He comes from the military party branch, he got training in China, and he subscribes to all the orthodox party ideology.

If we look at three-way races with the DPP and Ko, you can also see this pattern. In the TBT data, the cross-party appeal is somewhat secondary. Han is stronger than Chu because Han does a better job of consolidating the blue vote. Look at the race with Lai and Ko. Chu gets 68.9% of KMT identifiers, and Ko manages to steal 21.2% of this group. Against Han, Ko can only win 15.5% of KMT identifiers, while Han rakes in 76.4%. Among the voters who don’t express any party preference or refuse to answer the question, Chu and Han are roughly even. Han is stronger because he is stronger among blue voters, not among neutral voters.

Lai Chu Han Ko
All 35.1 31.8 27.9
DPP 77.3 4.0 18.2
KMT 8.7 68.9 21.2
NPP 39.4 8.4 48.9
None 32.7 22.0 27.8
No answer 17.3 21.4 42.1
.
All 35.3 34.7 24.1
DPP 76.7 5.5 17.1
KMT 5.3 76.4 15.5
NPP 42.4 8.4 45.4
None 37.6 24.4 20.6
No answer 23.8 15.8 41.6

In fact, my conclusion that Han is generally stronger than Chu is based predominantly on TVBS polls. In TVBS polls, Han tends to be stronger than Chu by a considerable margin. In other polls, the difference between Han and Chu is much more modest. It is probably not a coincidence that TVBS has a blue tint. I suspect their sample contains more respondents with KMT sympathies and its sample of KMT identifiers contains more respondents who we would classify as deep blue.

 

[time passes]

 

It seems I will never finish this post. Things keep happening, and so I need to write more. While I wasn’t paying attention, TVBS published a new poll. Compared to the TVBS poll a month ago, the numbers are about the same for the KMT, slightly up for up for the DPP, and down quite a bit for Ko. Lai seems to be up a bit more than Tsai.

This poll does have crosstabs for party ID and presidential choice. Like the TBT polls this TVBS poll shows that Han’s core strength is within the blue camp. However, unlike the TBT poll, this one shows that Han also does quite a bit better than Chu among undecided voters. So stick that bit of data in your pocket and chew on it.

TVBS Lai Chu Han Ko
All 26 26 30
DPP 74 4 16
KMT 3 66 21
NPP 31 8 55
None 17 11 39
No answer 14 20 26
.
All 25 37 24
DPP 72 7 17
KMT 3 80 12
NPP 29 13 51
None 16 29 32
No answer 14 24 21

I’m going to wrap up here. I have more to say, but I’m probably not going to have time to write it any time soon. So enjoy this prematurely ended and poorly edited post. Things are developing pretty rapidly in the DPP (with their primary), the KMT (with their primary and Han’s China trip), and with Ko (who is apparently now walking back his anti-gay marriage trial balloon. Things might look quite a bit different in a few weeks.

 

four by-elections

March 17, 2019

Four legislative by-elections were held yesterday, in New Taipei 3, Tainan 2, Changhua 1, and Kinmen. The former two seats were originally held by the DPP, while the latter two were originally held by the KMT. The by-elections didn’t really change that. The DPP held its two seats, and the KMT won the Changhua seat. An independent won the Kinmen seat against the official KMT candidate, but she is a former KMT member who immediately announced her intention to try to return to the KMT.

The biggest headline today is that the DPP avoided a disaster by holding its two seats. I think this is basically right. You wouldn’t call these results good news for the DPP, though you also wouldn’t call them terrible news. From the KMT’s point of view, this is a missed opportunity. Other headlines suggest that the Han Kuo-yu Wave™ is receding. I think this is probably wrong. More on that later.

Here are the results.

New Taipei 3  

Votes

%

Yu DPP

56888

52.0

Cheng KMT

51127

46.8

Su  

1303

1.2

Turnout: 42.1      
.      
Tainan 2      
Kuo DPP

62858

47.1

Hsieh KMT

59194

44.3

Chen IND (from DPP)

10424

7.8

Yang  

492

0.4

Wu  

350

0.3

Hsu  

269

0.2

Turnout: 44.5      
.      
Changhua 1      
Ko KMT

47835

52.1

Huang DPP

41946

45.7

Chi  

2022

2.2

Turnout: 36.6      
.      
Kinmen      
Chen YC IND

7117

28.7

Chen TC IND (former DPP)

6020

24.3

Hung LP KMT

5681

22.9

Tsai IND

5175

20.9

Lu  

570

2.3

Hung CH Kaoliang Party

240

1.0

Turnout: 21.2      

 

The first thing we can do to sort out these results is to ask about the partisan lean of each district. In my previous post, I rated each district by comparing Tsai Ing-wen’s presidential vote in each district to her national total. This gives two indicators: a ranked ordering of the 73 districts from the DPP’s strongest to weakest and a number showing how many points above or below the national average the DPP is in this district. The data for these four districts is:

district

2012 Tsai

2012 rank

2016 Tsai

2016 rank

Rating

New Taipei 3

51.2

19

61.4

21

D+5

Tainan 2

62.9

2

71.3

1

D+16

Changhua 1

47.5

28

57.0

33

D+1

Kinmen

8.2

72

18.0

72

D-38

Recall that overall Tsai received 45.6% in 2012 and 56.1% in 2016.

New Taipei 3 covers most of the Sanchong District. This is traditionally considered deep green territory, though it is not actually as green as most people think. I think population mobility has regressed it toward the mean. In recent elections it has been about 5% better for the DPP than the national average, which makes it one of those districts that the DPP needs to win. It has in fact won all four elections (counting this by-election) since 2008, though the KMT has been competitive in three of the four. This was a contest with two high quality candidates. The DPP ran Yu Tien, the New Taipei party chair and the former legislator who managed to win this seat in 2008 in the face of a national KMT landslide. Yu is actually less famous as a politician than as a singer. He isn’t exactly an intellectual powerhouse, but he is a proven campaigner. His KMT opponent is a newcomer, but he is the nephew of Lee Chien-lung, the KMT legislative candidate in 2012 and 2016 and a longtime stalwart in local Sanchong politics. Yu won this race by a 52-47 margin, which was a solid victory for the DPP.

Next, let’s skip over to Changhua. Changhua 1 is a classic bellwether district. Tsai was about 2% better than average in 2012 and about 1% better than average in 2016. This should be a median district, meaning that the KMT should have won it narrowly in 2012 and the DPP should have won it fairly easily in 2016. In fact, Changhua 1 has not followed national trends at all. Instead, it has been a horror show for the DPP. In 2012, the KMT vote was split two ways, but the DPP candidate (himself a defector from the pan-blue camp) couldn’t even manage a third of the vote. In 2016, the DPP nominated a documentary film director, and got totally wiped out. Hey, any time you can nominate an intellectual who wants to talk about class conflict to a rural district, you’ve got to do it! (Just to make sure he was incompetent, that same guy ran for mayor of Homei Township in 2018 and got destroyed again.) I think most observers were expecting more DPP incompetence in this race. Instead, it turned out to be fairly close, with the KMT winning 52-46.

There was an interesting geographical split in this district. The legislative district covers six townships and two county council districts. Each county council district has one big town (Lugang and Homei) and two smaller towns. Huang, the DPP candidate, is the former mayor of Lugang and a former county councilor from county council district 2 (CC2). Ko, the KMT candidate, is presented in the media as being a technocrat – the bureaucrat with a legal background who rose to deputy county magistrate. Don’t be fooled. Technocrats with shiny degrees are a dime a dozen. His most important credential is that he is a from a political family. His uncle 柯明謀 was a longtime county councilor and faction leader who was eventually appointed to the Control Yuan and as senior presidential advisor. The Ko family is from Shengang, in CC3. As you might expect, Huang did quite a bit better in CC2, winning that half of the district by three thousand votes (51.8%-45.6%). However, Ko dominated the other half, winning CC3 by nine thousand votes (60.3%-37.9%). Let’s just say that there was quite a thick layer of local politics spread on top of the national political structure.

Given the partisan lean of this district, this result is quite similar to the result in New Taipei 3. Both imply that the DPP’s national vote is roughly 45-47%, or similar to the 2012 presidential election. This looks quite a bit better for the DPP than the 2018 local elections or the two January by-elections, though it is still a far cry from the 2016 results.

 

Next, let’s visit the charming island of Kinmen. From a partisan standpoint, Kinmen is a D-38 district. The DPP is basically irrelevant here. Everyone is some shade of pan-blue, so voters are free to choose their favorite candidate without worrying about national considerations. The official KMT usually does well, but not always. This was one of those other times. This turned out to be a true four-way race, with four candidates getting between 20-30%. Geographically, all four of the candidates had a home base in one of the five townships (ignoring the barely populated sixth town), and they all competed in Jincheng, the biggest town. The winner, Chen Yu-chen, won by winning Jincheng and her hometown, and by coming in second in two of the other towns. The official KMT nominee, Hung Li-ping, came in third. She had the misfortune to be based in the smaller Lieyu Township, and she didn’t do very well in the other townships.

Chen Yu-chen is a county councilor and the daughter of Chen Shui-tsai. Chen Shui-tsai is perhaps the most important elected official in Kinmen’s history. He was the first elected county magistrate. (Remember that, unlike Taiwan, Kinmen was not allowed to hold local elections until 1994.) During his term in office, Kinmen underwent a fundamental transformation. On the one hand, the military started withdrawing its enormous garrison, necessitating a wholesale transformation of the local economy and fundamentally transforming everyday life. On the other hand, Chen transformed the kaoliang distillery from a small military operation into what would eventually become the main source of funds for the county government. The decisions made under Chen’s administration reverberate in every corner of the county today. I don’t know if he still has political influence or to what extent those political ties contributed to his daughter’s victory, but I’m sure they at least helped to start her political career.

One thing that did surprise me about this election was the performance of Chen Tsang-chiang, who finished second. Above I said that the DPP is basically irrelevant in Kinmen. Chen is the caveat to that statement. Chen is a former county councilor and the only person ever elected to public office in Kinmen under the DPP label. However, because he was dissatisfied with the Tsai government’s performance, Chen withdrew from the DPP and did not run for re-election to the county council in 2018. Chen ran as an independent this time, but I did not expect that it would be so easy for him to shed the stench of the DPP label. I assumed that his former association with the DPP would have been toxic in Kinmen. That proved not to be the case, as he came shockingly close to winning.

The Kinmen election was probably a fascinating story. However, this is the kind of race that you need to have detailed local knowledge to fully understand. I’m sure there was all kinds of intrigue and interesting coalitions, but only the people on the ground involved in the campaigns will ever know the whole story. Without strong party lines to structure political conflict, the possibilities (and chaos) are limitless. From my perch at 30,000 feet, I can only sense that I am missing out on a fantastic soap opera.

 

Finally, there is Tainan 2. Tainan 2 is a D+16 district, and it is either the DPP’s best or second-best district in the entire country. (Neighboring Tainan 1 is the other; no other district is within four points of them.) This is a district that not only should the DPP never lose, it should never even come close to losing. The KMT just came very, very close to winning Tainan 2.

For the KMT to come so close to winning here, it needs a perfect storm. I see at least three important ingredients. First, the DPP is undergoing nasty factional infighting in Tainan between the New Tide faction (led locally by former mayor and premier William Lai) and the Chen Shui-bian/Independence faction. In the recent mayoral election, Huang Wei-che (the former legislator from this district) and Chen Ting-fei were more or less the representatives of the two sides, though it was a little messier than that. At any rate, it is safe to say that the eventual nominee and winner (Huang) has not yet managed to unify the local party. In this by-election, the DPP candidate was from the New Tide faction. I think it is safe to speculate that probably not all of the CSB/independence faction was working 100% for Kuo. Second (and related), there was a splinter candidate. Chen Hsiao-yu lost the DPP nomination fight and then ran as an independent. She is from a local political family. Her mother 郭秀柱 is a longtime city council member who has sometimes been inside and sometimes outside the DPP but has always claimed to be a strong supporter of CSB. During the mayoral primary, one minor DPP aspirant accused Huang Wei-che of cooperating with organized crime, by which he meant Chen Hsiao-yu’s mother. (Note the illogical factional alliances. Local politics don’t always make sense.) In the last few days of the campaign, CSB made a video endorsing Kuo. This probably saved the election for the DPP.

Third, even if you ignore the split in the green camp, the KMT overperformed in this election. Hsieh got 44.3%. For reference, when Ma Ying-jeou won re-election in 2012 (with 51% of the national vote), he only got 34.8% in Tainan 2. To put it another way, Hsieh’s 59,194 votes this time were more than the KMT mayoral candidate in 2018 won (58201), even though the turnout was 20% lower this year than last. In 2016, the KMT collapsed in this district, losing the legislative race by a comical 76-19% margin. It seemed like the KMT might never be competitive here again. Yet, they lost yesterday by less than 3%.

After 2016 I said that the KMT had to figure out some way to appeal to voters in the south if they wanted to win a future presidential election. When Han Kuo-yu ran for party chair with a distinctly different discourse than everyone else, I suggested that they might want to test that message in a general election to see if it could be the solution. It certainly worked in the Kaohsiung mayoral election, and I think the KMT’s excellent performance in Tainan 2 has a lot of elements of that same general approach.

Hsieh Long-chieh is, like Han, an outsider who parachuted into a strange new district. Hsieh is from the southern urban part of Tainan, not the rural north. He has some experience talking to farmers in small towns (he was chair of the KMT city branch), but most of his experience is in talking with urbanites. Like Han, he made a few outlandish claims related to agriculture. Hsieh railed about the pomelo industry, exaggerating how badly it was doing and making wild promises about how wonderful he would make it if only he were elected. Finally, Hsieh is TV personality. He is nowhere near the cult hero that Han is. Han gets 24-hour blanket coverage on some stations and merely excessive coverage on the others. No one can match that. However, Hsieh is a regular talk show guest, and he gets more than his fair share of media coverage. I suspect that the combination of extensive media exposure and being an outsider is critical to the recipe. People with long local associations might be better known and have more established reputations. The outlandish promises might be more “credible” or easily swallowed if you don’t have direct evidence from years of experience that this fellow is not actually superman.

At any rate, I expect we will see a wave of Han Kuo-yu imitators in the upcoming legislative general election. Not all of them will be able to pull it off. Some won’t have the personality. Not everyone is comfortable with blowing smoke or promising outlandishly wonderful and immediate results. Very few will be able to match the media exposure. There is only so much exposure to go around, and not everyone can be a media superstar. If the KMT nominates Han at the top of the ticket, he might be able to drag a lot of local candidates along, but I don’t think they can follow his recipe individually. Finally, most of the KMT candidates will be locally established politicians. If being an outsider is important, most will fail that test. However, this might be Ko Wen-che’s opportunity. If he tries to run a slate of legislative candidates, he won’t get the A-List politicians on his team. He will be forced to choose from the D-List politicians (remember: two years ago everyone would have considered Han Kuo-yu a D-List politician), and that might work to his advantage in this climate.

To sum up, if we ignore Tainan, the DPP didn’t do too badly. However, you can’t ignore Tainan. Following the Kaohsiung mayoral race, the KMT has once again made dramatic inroads in the south. The Han Kuo-yu recipe seems to be working, and that should terrify the DPP. I don’t know if this recipe is scalable, but I suspect we will find out next January.

Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 by-elections

January 28, 2019

There were by-elections for the legislative seats in Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 districts today. These fill the seats vacated when Yao Wen-chih and Lu Hsiu-yen resigned prior to the mayoral elections two months ago. (Another three seats that were vacated after the election by winners in Tainan, Changhua, and Kinmen will be filled in by-elections on March 24.)

Taipei 2      
Ho DPP

38591

47.8%

Chen PF KMT

31532

39.0%

Chen SY (Ko)

9689

12.0%

Wang  

897

1.1%

Chen YC  

89

.1%

Turnout: 30.4%      

 

Taichung 5      
Shen KMT

49230

57.8%

Wang DPP

32903

38.6%

Chiu (PFP)

2910

3.4%

Lin  

157

.2%

Turnout: 25.3%      

 

The result of today’s election was that the DPP held the seat in Taipei while the KMT held the seat in Taichung. In short, nothing changed hands, so there is nothing to see here. #analysis. That banal conclusion is probably, in fact, the best headline. However, we can always add a bit of color.

I’ll start with a bit of context. Taipei 2 is a green district. If you take Tsai Ing-wen’s vote share in the 2012 and 2016 elections and sort all 73 legislative districts from her best to her worst districts, Taipei 2 was her 25th best district in 2012 and her 20th best district in 2016. In other words, this is a district that the DPP needs to win. To put it another way, she won 61.6% of the vote in 2016, 5.5% more than her 56.1% national vote share. Similarly, she was 4.6% higher in Taipei 2 than nationally in 2012. So let’s drop the decimal places and call Taipei 2 a D+5 district.*

(*For people familiar with the American jargon, my D+5 is not equivalent to a standard American R+5. In the USA, R+5 means that a Republican is expected to beat the Democrat by five points. Here, I mean that the DPP vote should be five points higher locally than nationally.)

Taichung 5 is nearly a mirror image of Taipei 2. Taichung 5 was Tsai’s 51st strongest district in 2012 and 52nd strongest district in 2016. In the two elections, she was 4.6% and 4.7% worse locally than nationally. So let’s call Taichung 5 a D-5 district. This is the kind of district that the KMT needs to win if it is planning on winning a majority in the legislature.

Of course, needing to win and actually winning are different matters. When a party is having a bad year, it won’t win lots of places that it “needs” to win. The DPP lost Taipei 2 in 2008 and barely won it in 2012. The KMT has never come close to winning Taichung 5, but it did lose seven districts in 2016 where Tsai got a lower vote share than in Taichung 5. The expectations are that this is a bad time for the DPP, so the KMT should probably have easily won the race in Taichung 5 and we might expect a tighter race in Taipei 2. Historically, the lower turnouts in by-elections tend to produce extreme results, probably due to the enthusiastic side being able to turn out a higher percentage of its potential support. Back when the DPP had the energy, it won by-elections in deep blue territory such as Taoyuan 3 and Hsinchu County. Given the results from two months ago, it wouldn’t have been a shock at all for the KMT to win a green (but not deep green) district like Taipei 2.

 

The simplistic way to look at this election result is purely through the D+5 and D-5 lens. The DPP candidates got 47.8% in Taipei 2 and 38.6% in Taichung 5. That implies that a national DPP vote should be roughly 43%. This is a bit higher than the 39% they received in the mayoral races two months ago. So, relative to that stepping in dog poop, this result was good news. Maybe it was like having a bird poop on your car windshield. After all, 43% isn’t great, but it’s easier to clean poop off your windshield than off your shoe.

 

Of course, these two races aren’t quite comparable. The third candidate in Taipei was far stronger than the third candidate in Taichung. In fact, I think all the candidates in Taipei were probably stronger than all the candidates in Taichung.

The Taichung race was a contest between Shen Chih-hui and Wang Yi-chuan. Shen is an old KMT warhorse. She was elected to the legislature for the first time way back in 1989. She was one of several young, attractive, female, mainlander politicians sponsored by the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing branch (which was comprised mostly of military veterans). Hung Hsiu-chu is the most notable of this cohort. The others (people like Hsiao Chin-lan, Wang Su-yun, Chu Feng-chih, and Pan Wei-kang) are (mostly) gone from the political scene, and I thought Shen Chih-hui was pretty much gone as well. When the legislature was cut in half in 2008, she was the KMT Taichung legislator left with no seat. She wanted to run in (what is now) Taichung 5, which was always her best area in Taichung. Beitun District has the largest concentration of military veterans and mainlanders in Taichung. However, this group was also Lu Hsiu-yen’s political base, and Lu won the nomination. Shen tried to get back into the legislature in 2016, but she ran in Taichung 6 and got wiped out. Legislators who have been out for over a decade rarely get back in. In my imaginary candidate quality coding scheme, I don’t generally consider candidates like her as particularly strong. On the other hand, in that same rubric, the DPP candidate might be even worse. Wang Yi-chuan has no electoral experience at all. He comes out of the Taichung city government, where he was part of Lin’s mini-cabinet. Historically, candidates with this type of background are dismal at winning votes. The third candidate is even worse. Chiu Yu-shan just ran for the city council. Two months ago, running as a PFP candidate, she managed to get a measly 3293 votes. We are guessing about the other two, but I had hard evidence that Chiu was not an electoral juggernaut. Somebody had to win, but it didn’t have to be pretty. Most by-elections get 35-40% turnout. This one got 25%. Yuck.

 

On paper, the candidates in Taipei 2 all looked pretty good. The KMT and DPP candidates have both spent two terms in the city council, so both are at the perfect spot in their careers to move up. The third candidate was sponsored by Mayor Ko, who just won an impressive victory in an intense three-way race two months ago. Ko supported a few city council candidates, but this was really the first time he was going to test his strength in a single-seat race against the two major parties. He had a pretty good representative. Chen Si-yu is a young and bright member in Ko’s inner circle. Beyond that, she has a local network to draw on. Her father is a prominent politician, having spent the past twenty years in the city council and legislature as an independent (and previously as a TSU member). (In fact, all three of the main candidates come from political families.) I was curious to see how much support Chen would command, and whether it looked like that support was primarily drawn from the KMT or DPP side.

In fact, Chen did terribly. She only got 12%. This is a terrible result for Ko. Think about all the politicians considering whether they should jump from the KMT or DPP into Ko’s camp. He was unable to throw any support to a credible candidate with an established local network in his home city. How much will the Ko label be worth for a random politician in Changhua or Taoyuan? Maybe it is best to try to win a nomination inside the KMT or DPP, since we know those party labels reliably bring votes. This election will make it harder for Ko to build a network for a 2020 run. Does he really want to depend on an organization like the neo-MKT? Ick.

I do wonder if Chen’s candidacy helped the DPP in this race. In many ways, the outcomes of these two by-elections resembled a theme we saw in November. In one-on-one races, it looked like swing voters mostly supported the KMT. When they had another viable option, those voters seemed to turn to third candidates. In both scenarios, the DPP is left with not much more than their base vote. I’m not sure how much I believe this story, but it seems plausible. If it is correct, if Chen had not been in the race, her 12% would have mostly turned to the KMT or stayed home.

[This is a note that I’m not sure how to fit in. Ho’s victory speech tonight was interesting. He thanked his supporters and his volunteers, and then he thanked the KMT candidate for running an honorable and respectable race. And then he absolutely lit into Chen Si-yu, accusing her of running a dirty, underhanded, nasty, ugly, shameful, not-nice campaign. He went on to extend his attacks to Ko Wen-je, telling his crowd (and TV audience) that we were seeing Ko’s true nature. He clearly had some pent-up anger that he wanted to get off his chest. Victory speeches are usually magnanimous, but Ho was in the mood to kick Chen and Ko a few times while they were down on the ground. There are not many good feelings between Taipei city DPP politicians and Ko Wen-je’s people right now.]

I might be tempted to call tonight’s results moderately good news for the DPP. By winning Taipei 2, they held serve and stopped the bleeding. However, when turnout is 25% and 30%, there are no winners. Every winner should feel embarrassed at their low winning tally, and every loser should be appalled that they couldn’t meet such a low threshold. No one was able to inspire voters to go out to the polls. Ho and Shen probably feel happy tonight, but they really shouldn’t. Everyone else involved might want to question their career choices. Blecch.

Energy policy and referenda

December 1, 2018

I feel the need to rant about referenda today.

 

So what the hell is Taiwan’s energy policy supposed to be now?

 

Last Saturday, voters passed the referendum #16, commonly labeled as “go nuclear to go green” (my clumsy translation), which deleted a clause in one of the laws setting the phase-out date for nuclear power. (At least I think that’s what it did. I’m actually not sure, which, eventually, is the point.) They also voted overwhelmingly against the Shen-ao coal-fired power plant project (which the government had already cancelled). And Taichung voters elected KMT candidate Lu Hsiu-yen in a landslide, partially because she campaigned on the poor air quality caused by the huge coal power plant. She further promised to stop sending electricity generated in Taichung to northern Taiwan.

But while those are the most recent results, we also have to think about previous lessons from public opinion. Five years ago, the government wanted to have a referendum on whether to open the fourth nuclear power plant, but it was so unpopular that KMT legislators weren’t even willing to vote to propose the referendum. Also, after the KMT lost the 2016 presidential election, Eric Chu singled out increases in electricity (and propane gas) prices as one of the major reasons that the public rebelled against the Ma government. Finally, let’s remember how much outrage there was last summer when an accident at one power plant caused one day of blackouts over much of the island.

To summarize, the voters don’t want clearly coal. They definitely don’t want nuclear, or maybe they do. They don’t want any power plants in their neighborhood, and they definitely don’t want electricity generated in their neighborhood to be sent elsewhere. They want low prices, and they absolutely demand a stable supply of electricity.

It should be easy to satisfy all those demands simultaneously. I’m glad we used referenda to clear up this entire matter.

 

I have three big objections to this attempt to use referenda to decide energy policy. First, voters are not forced to consider trade-offs. None of the proposals suggested that cutting coal power might be possible if an increase in electricity prices spurred less electricity consumption. Voters in central Taiwan were not asked if they supported refusing to send electricity generated in central Taiwan northward even if it resulted in companies in the Hsinchu Science Party (read: Taiwan Semiconductors) being forced to cut production. Trade-offs are exactly what governments do. The Tsai government restarted nuclear reactors that had previously been offline over the protesting screams of its anti-nuclear wing because it was much more afraid of blackouts. Taiwan could cut pollution by using higher prices to suppress demand, but that would be unpopular. It could also cut pollution by retrofitting some of its older coal plants, but that is extremely expensive and it would take a few years. None of the options are ideal. You can’t have everything you want; you have to make trade-offs. Referenda almost never present the question this way.

Second, energy policy takes years to implement. Five years ago, the Ma government bowed to public pressure and shuttered the fourth nuclear power plant. Unfortunately, this left Taiwan’s energy reserves precariously low. The Tsai government has invested heavily in wind power, which is starting to come online now, and it is planning a natural gas facility in northern Taiwan. However, in the meantime, the choice was essentially getting more electricity out of the existing coal plants or the existing nuclear plants. In fact, the government had to do both. It’s a reasonable stopgap measure, given the long-term strategy. Unfortunately, Taiwan’s referendum law has a short-term orientation. Under the December 2017 revision, the thresholds for proposal and passage are ludicrously low. A successful referendum doesn’t necessarily reflect a deeply held consensus in society. It can just as easily reflect a short-term blip in public opinion. A few years ago, nuclear was extremely unpopular. Now, that has faded somewhat, so maybe this year coal is the villain. What if we do this next year and find that public opinion has shifted again? Are we supposed to fundamentally shift energy policy every two years just because 29.8% of eligible voters said yes to some unintelligible question on the ballot?

And that brings me to the third and most basic problem: information. Referenda place extremely high demands on voters to become educated, and there is very little evidence that voters are up to the task. I’ve been reading Democracy for Realists by Chris Achen and Larry Bartels, and they make this point forcefully. Voters simply do not have the time, capacity, or desire to become fully informed on any given question. We all have better things to do. At any rate, division of labor is a hallmark of modern society. Why should we think that society is better off if everyone neglects their other responsibilities (that is, the things that they are good at) and spends months learning about energy policy? That’s crazy. Instead, people find shortcuts. There are usually plenty of people who are happy to advise them how to vote, but that isn’t necessarily good advice. The people with the strongest incentive to give advice are the people who will directly benefit from the outcome. Not surprisingly, referenda tend to favor the wealthy. The promise of referenda is that voters can bypass the disgusting politicians and go directly to the people. Unfortunately, the people have to rely on an even more disgusting set of people (who are actually also politicians in a different guise) for advice.

Achen and Bartels cite a couple of stories vividly illustrate these problems. In one, many counties in Illinois adopted a requirement that any increase in taxes to fund fire departments had to be approved by referendum. In other counties, the local administrators and councils made this decision. Predictably, voters refused to pay higher taxes, and the quality of fire departments in the referendum counties declined noticeably. Training was neglected, equipment became outdated, staffing was thinner, and response times were longer. Wait, maybe that’s what voters wanted. Maybe they were willing to accept worse fire protection for lower taxes. It seems unlikely; most people also want better services, especially when those services involve life and death. However, they did not save money. They paid lower taxes, but they paid higher fire insurance rates. The county administrators understood this, but voters did not. Poorly informed voters made self-harming choices, and this problem, unlike national energy policy, was fairly easy to understand. Voters are ALWAYS underinformed.

But what if some voters could be fully informed? Would other voters defer to them? In Canada, the province of British Columbia tried to find out. There was a movement to reform the electoral system by putting in some form of proportional representation. The provincial government took a large group of citizens and basically gave them a college class for a few months. Various experts came in and taught this group all the pros and cons of the various proposals. Eventually, the group formed an overwhelming consensus for a specific proposal which was put on the ballot. The voters rejected it by a decisive margin. The voters apparently weren’t impressed by all the study that the select group had done. Average voters made their decisions based on their own limited knowledge rather than assuming they, like the people in the select group, would see things differently if they were more fully informed.

Remember at the beginning when I stated that I wasn’t exactly sure what referendum #16 did? Of course I don’t! I’m underinformed. I’ll bet you are too. I want experts who have spent their careers thinking about the details and tradeoffs involved to sit down with politicians who have spent their careers thinking about how to balance the aggregated demands of society and figure the damn thing out. If I try to set energy policy, I’m probably going to overlook something very basic and end up with expensive, dirty, and unreliable electricity. I might even end up burning my own house down.

Referenda are a terrible way to make public choices.

Election summary

November 30, 2018

I wrote a short recap of the election for Taiwan Insight.

I have a lot of work on my desk right now, and I probably won’t write too much more about the overall result. If I do write anything, it will probably be about the referenda. I’m not so interested in the outcomes of these ten votes as in the process. Theoretically, referenda do not necessarily create better policies or deeper democracy. Empirically, referenda tend to favor rich people over poor people. They do not sidestep politicians; they simply empower a different set of political elites. As such, I’m not crazy about referenda in the first place. Ideally, the chaos created by this year’s ten referenda would be an inspiration to abolish the Referendum Law, to forbid holding referenda on the same day as a general election, or, at the very least, to raise the thresholds for proposal and passage. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that this will happen. More likely, politicians will try to “solve” the problem by using “better” technology: someone will decide that digital voting is the way forward. I don’t have the time to go into it now, but this is a TERRIBLE idea. The current low-tech system is fantastic. It is transparent, accurate, fast (when not swamped by numerous referenda), trustworthy, highly resistant to vote rigging, and completely unhackable. When the CEC says that Ko Wen-je won the Taipei mayoral race by 3000 votes out of over 1.4 million cast, no one doubts this. No one doubts that the people who voted all had the right to vote, that they only voted once, that they each made a choice without coercion, and that their preferences were accurately counted and recorded. That is a fucking miracle. Putting a touchscreen voting machine in the middle of it might seem “modern,” but it is not more trustworthy, it might be less accurate (since some people will not know how to use the new machines), and it is almost certainly more prone to breakdowns. It is also much, much more fertile territory for conspiracy theorists as well as actual hackers.

not an election postmortem

November 25, 2018

Well, that was a bad election for the DPP. I mean, it was really, really bad. Just disastrous. #analysis Sure, you can try to dismiss these results as simply the result of local problems and local elections (and I did try), but after staring really hard at the numbers for a day, it was simply too broad and too deep to explain away. The swing had to be grounded in dissatisfaction with President Tsai and the DPP government, and I’m not sure if she can recover from this repudiation.

It was bad for me too. I’ve spent much of the past few years arguing that the swing that occurred in the 2014-2016 cycle wasn’t likely to be ephemeral because it was grounded in long-term shifts in national identity. Uh, seems like that might have been ephemeral.

One thing I’m fairly sure of is that the 1992 Consensus will have a large place in the public debate over the next 14 or 16 months. Did you think it was dead? It might or might not be, but either way, the KMT is going to try to win the 2020 elections with it as the centerpiece. Yesterday’s results make its successful reanimation much more plausible.

Anyway, while I’m processing all these results, I’ll let everyone explain why it happened and what it means. There will be no shortage of opinions during the DPP’s imminent civil war over the next few months.

Here’s something different, a low-profile result that I don’t know if anyone has picked up on yet. The number of women elected to local councils continues to grow, albeit at a modest pace. In 2014, 278 (30.7%) of the 907 city and county council seats were won by women. By my count, this year that figure climbed to 33.8% (307 of 912). The growth was driven by more rural areas. In the six municipalities, women only won three more seats than last time (increasing from 35.5% to 36.3%), while in the sixteen other cities and counties, female representation increased from 27.3% to 32.1%.

This increase is important because, more and more, these local councils are the entry-level job into politics. That is, the candidate pool for higher-level positions, such as seats in the legislature (which elected 38% women in 2016), is drawn heavily from local councilors. In fact, I recently published a paper showing the importance of this pipeline for higher-level offices.

Americans are crowing about their Year of the Woman, but there is a huge gap between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly 40% of the Democrats in the House of Representatives are women, while fewer than 10% of Republicans are. Or, as I like to put it, Democrats are like Taiwan, and Republicans are like Japan.

the Taitung race and ecological inference

November 21, 2018

A few weeks ago, I promised to eventually get around to writing about Taitung. I don’t have a blow-by-blow account of what is happening there, but I perhaps can use a closer look at some of the historical election results to shed some light on the race.

Taitung, on the southeastern part of the island, is traditionally a deep blue area. It is ethnically diverse, and places with fewer Min-nan residents have historically been more challenging for the DPP. Even today, the DPP has almost no presence at the county assembly or town mayor level. In the 2016 election, Taitung and Hualien on the east coast were the only places on the main island that produced more votes for Eric Chu than for Tsai Ing-wen. However, the two-term legislator from Taitung is Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, from the DPP. Liu has previously run for and lost county magistrate four times, and this year he is trying again. There isn’t a whole lot of info coming out of this relatively obscure race, but my impression is that observers think Liu has a good chance of winning. There have been several complaints from within the KMT camp that their candidate, Rao Ching-ling 饒慶玲, is extremely weak, and of course she responds that these are unfair attacks and that she is winning. Who can tell?

 

Instead of looking at the past two months, I’m going to look at the two main candidates’ past electoral performance. Here’s a summary of the county-wide races over the past two election cycles. The DPP candidates in the non-presidential races are all Liu Chao-hao. The KMT candidate in the 2012 legislative race was current KMT nominee Rao Ching-ling.

 

  KMT DPP others
2009 magistrate 56354 50802  
2012 prez 72823 33417 3313
2012 LY 22553 31658 21932
2014 magistrate 64272 53860  
2016 prez 43581 37517 16565
2016 LY 23616 42317  
.      
  KMT% DPP% Others%
2009 magistrate 52.6 47.4  
2012 prez 66.5 30.5 3.0
2012 LY 29.6 41.6 28.7
2014 magistrate 54.4 45.6  
2016 prez 44.6 38.4 17.0
2016 LY 35.8 65.2  

The DPP has done markedly better when Liu is on the ballot than in presidential races. While Tsai did not break 40% either time, Liu has broken 40% all four times. However, he only got a majority once. In the 2012 race against Rao Ching-ling, former county magistrate Wu Chun-li 吳俊立 split the blue vote, and Liu was able to win with only 41.6%. To put it another way, Rao was so weak that she couldn’t even soak up 42% of the votes, even though there were plenty of blue votes available.

You will note that there are a lot more votes in the presidential and county magistrate elections than in the LY elections. That is because 30,000-40,000 indigenous voters vote in the special indigenous districts in LY elections rather than in the normal district elections. Anecdotally, we know that indigenous voters overwhelmingly vote blue. Are they the difference between the DPP’s victories in the legislative races and losses in the presidential and magistrate races? Who knows. Surveys don’t give any precise answers because there are never enough cases to break out indigenous voters. If a survey has 1000 respondents and 2% of the population is indigenous, you expect 20 indigenous respondents. That’s simply nowhere near enough to produce even a bad estimate. And if you want to know about indigenous voters in Taitung (as opposed to those in some urban area in the north), you’re even more in the dark.

 

Warning: Extremely Boring Methodology Section

I do have a potential solution, but it’s going to require a bit of explanation. What I’m doing goes by the name of ecological inference. In a nutshell, I am trying to infer individual level behavior from aggregate level data. More specifically, when there were two elections on the same day, I’m trying to figure out how people voted in both of them. Did they cast straight tickets or split tickets? The basic problem looks like this:

    President    
    KMT DPP Total
legislator KMT ? ? 55000
  DPP ? ? 75000
  total 70000 60000 130000

If there is a district with 130,000 voters, all of whom vote in both the presidential and legislative elections, we will know how many total votes each candidate got. What we want to know is the four missing cells. The table shows the aggregate totals, but we actually have a little more information since we know the totals for each precinct.

About 20 years ago, Gary King at Harvard proposed a solution to this problem. King’s solution looks at the bounds defined for each cell by each precinct. If the KMT gets a very high or very low percentage of presidential votes in a given precinct, it can be quite informative in defining the logical bounds for how the legislative vote breaks down. Likewise, if the numbers of votes for the KMT are quite different in a given precinct, that implies there must have been at least a certain level of split ticket voting. At any rate, these bounds and a few other parameters help to define a distribution, and then you start taking random draws from that distribution. The algorithm assumes that the underlying distribution is the same for all precincts, though the observed level of split-ticket voting in a given precinct is a random draw from that underlying distribution. With each simulation, the algorithm slightly tweaks the parameters of the distribution. After a large number of simulations, the results stabilize. Essentially, the algorithm will eventually settle on the solution with roughly the highest levels of straight ticket voting that the data will support. Of course, these are simulations and you are drawing lots of random numbers, so the solution is slightly different each time.

King’s method is controversial. Some studies using it have been published in top journals. However, the solution that the algorithm produces is not guaranteed to be correct, and it may be biased toward straight-ticket voting. Nonetheless, we don’t have any better solution. If you have something better, cough it up. Otherwise, let’s go forward with the understanding that this isn’t foolproof but it’s the best we have at the moment.

The matrix above has two rows and two columns. Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. Taiwanese elections certainly do not fit into a 2×2 matrix. For one thing, the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections have had three candidates. More importantly, the presidential and legislative elections have different numbers of valid votes, and we need the same number of voters in each precinct. Instead of valid votes, I need to look at everyone who voted in the bigger election. That means adding another column and three more rows to my matrix. In the presidential vote, some people cast invalid votes. In the legislative election, we have invalid votes and indigenous voters. That still leaves a small group of people who are eligible to vote in the bigger election but not the smaller election. These are usually people who have recently moved into the district and so are not eligible to vote for the legislative candidate but are still eligible to vote for the presidential candidate. (About 1% of precincts actually have one or two more legislative votes than presidential votes. I made the numbers add up by creating the necessary number of invalid presidential votes.) That means I will have at least a 5×3 matrix, and I might have even more rows if there are more than two legislative candidates. However, I’m not very interested in invalid votes or people who just moved, so I combined these two categories, yielding at least a 4×3 matrix.

Running the model takes a lot of computer time. It also required me to learn rudimentary R. (R is the new statistical software that all the young technical wizards are using these days. I’m a SPSS and Stata dinosaur.) One of Gary King’s students, Olivia Lau, wrote a package (eiPack) to run the Ecological Inference algorithm on RxC matrices (the original solution was only for 2×2 matrices). As you might imagine, this solution involves a lot more parameters, random draws, simulations, and it takes a lot more computing power. You simply can’t run all the data at once. You have to run it overnight or over a weekend, see what it has produced, and then set it off on the next round. Typically, I double the number of simulations each round, so each time I’m dissatisfied, the next round takes twice as much time. When I first started doing this, I used as few as 50,000 simulations. Then I realized I needed to add lines for invalid voters, and the number of simulations needed skyrocketed. In a few districts, I had to run nearly 40 million simulations before the algorithm produced a solution that looked reasonable to me. Each of those *&%#$#^& districts took my computer (with a 3.9 gHz CPU) nearly 10 hours. (There doesn’t seem to be any clear pattern for why some districts take longer than others. 2012 Taipei 8 seemed like a fairly straightforward blue vs green district, but the 19.2 million simulation model still showed nearly 50,000 votes split between then KMT and DPP. That clearly was not what actually happened. We would have heard something about Lai Shi-pao’s irresistible appeal to Tsai Ing-wen voters. In the next round, with 38.4 million simulations, everything popped into place, with only about 1600 split tickets. Modelling is an art as well as a science.)

I’ve been working on and off with this thing for the better part of a year, and I still haven’t done all the districts I want to do. In a few days, we will get a huge new trove of election results, and I’ll be even further away from finishing. Hooray!

This concludes the extremely boring methodology section.

 

 

So how did Liu win his two legislative elections? In the 2016 presidential race, Chu and Soong got about 60,000 votes while Tsai only got 37,000, and it was a straight DPP vs KMT legislative race. However, Liu crushed his KMT opponent, 42,000 to 23,000. What happened to all those blue votes?

Here is my estimate of how the votes broke down. Remember, this is only an estimate. It is not an actual reported result.

2016     President    
legislator Chu (K) Tsai (D) Soong (P) invalid total
Chen (K) 15575 672 7179 190 23616
Liu (D) 8843 31645 1629 201 42318
Invalid/move 522 294 680 425 1921
Indigenous 18569 4932 7062 466 31029
Total 43509 37543 16550 1282 98884

The first thing to do is to subtract indigenous votes. According to this estimate, about 25,000 indigenous voters voted for Chu or Soong, while only about 5,000 voted for Tsai. That reduces the blue partisan advantage among Han voters to 35,000 to 32,000. In other words, the 2016 district race was actually fought on almost neutral partisan turf. We generally think of Taitung as solidly blue territory, but in this race it was not.

However, while the underlying partisan structure was roughly neutral, Liu still won in a landslide. To do this, he had to win a significant number of blue presidential voters. The estimates show that he took over 10,000 blue presidential votes, while the KMT candidate was held to less than 1,000 of Tsai’s votes. Interestingly, most of Liu’s blue support came from Chu, not Soong. Liu clearly has crossover appeal. On a neutral playing field, this strong crossover appeal (and ability to absorb all the green vote) made him an easy winner.

Liu’s election in 2012 is also instructive. Remember, in 2012 the KMT candidate was Rao Ching-ling, who is also the KMT nominee in this year’s county magistrate election.

2012     President    
legislator Ma (K) Tsai (D) Soong (P) invalid total
Rao (K) 21283 780 336 154 22553
Liu (D) 6129 25048 353 155 31685
Wu (I) 15969 2622 284 140 19015
(Green) 168 165 158 61 552
others 1054 541 700 69 2364
Invalid/move 527 476 476 163 1642
Indigenous 27605 3728 1071 362 32766
Total 72735 33360 3378 1104 110577

Taitung was bluer in 2012 than in 2016 (as was the entire country). The blue presidential candidates won Taitung 76,000 to 33,000. As in 2016, most of this margin came from indigenous voters. After subtracting them, the blue advantage was reduced to 48,000 to 30,000, which is still a sizeable margin. So how did Liu win the 2012 election in this solidly blue territory?

As in 2016, Liu won a significant number of blue camp votes. He took about 6500 from Ma and Soong voters. In addition, the blue vote was split between Rao Ching-ling and former county magistrate Wu Chun-li. Rao was not even able to soak up half of the Ma voters who were eligible to vote in the district election.

So Liu won his two legislative races because he had significant crossover appeal, his opponents were weak, and indigenous voters did not vote in those elections. However, in this year’s county magistrate race, indigenous voters will vote. In the 2016 race, indigenous voters in Taitung favored blue presidential candidates 84%-16%, and in 2012 the gap was even wider, 88%-12%. Further, because turnout in indigenous villages is extremely high in local elections, nearly 10,000 more indigenous voters voted in 2014 than in 2012 or 2016. That seems like an insurmountable firewall for the KMT.

However, let’s look more closely at the 2014 race. I broke down the 2014 election by county assembly districts and then added the results together to get an overall picture for Taitung County. There really isn’t any meaningful party competition at the county assembly level, so the first few rows of this table don’t convey much useful information. We also can’t see much evidence of Liu’s crossover appeal since that is baked into the magistrate totals and the assembly figures are meaningless. We are mostly interested in the last row, for indigenous voters.

2014     Magistrate    
Assembly Huang (K) Liu (D)   invalid total
KMT 24970 19449   523 44942
DPP 3918 3290   249 7457
Others 7552 16691   368 24611
Invalid/move 1365 1027   1129 3521
Indigenous 26400 13387   1108 40895
Total 64205 53844   3377 121426

According to my estimates Liu only lost the indigenous vote 2 to 1, not 7 to 1. Tsai was only able to get 4000-5000 indigenous votes, but Liu won 13,000. Liu may have some personal appeal to indigenous voters, or perhaps party labels simply don’t matter as much in a local election. Still, Huang Chien-ting’s 黃健庭 13,000 advantage among indigenous voters was the difference between winning and losing. Liu actually won by about 2,000 votes among Han voters, but indigenous voters put Huang over the top.

Taken together, you can see why Liu might have a chance to win this year, even with the presence of the indigenous votes. First, Liu has demonstrated a strong crossover appeal to people who normally vote blue. Second, Rao appears to be a weak KMT nominee. She was unable to defend even half of the pool of available blue votes in 2012, and anecdotal evidence suggests she is a clear step down in popularity from Huang Chien-ting (who Liu beat among Han voters in 2014). Third, indigenous voters tilt the partisan balance in Taitung blue, but (based on one data point) indigenous voters are not nearly as overwhelmingly blue in county magistrate elections as in presidential elections.  Maybe the fifth time is a charm.