campaign trail: KMT rally in Kaohsiung

November 19, 2018

This year there is only one candidate who everyone is talking about, Han Kuo-yu. Like Donald Trump, who Han echoes in many way, part of the buzz around Han involves his huge and passionate campaign rallies. So on Saturday, I drove down to Kaohsiung to see firsthand whether the gushing media reports were onto something or whether it was just a lot of hype. This was the Golden Weekend, the final weekend before the election, so this event promised to be the biggest and more enthusiastic rally that Han would put on in the entire campaign. The top line summary is that this was a fantastic event, though it wasn’t off the charts or unprecedented. It was very big, but not the biggest I’ve ever been to. It was very passionate, but not the most passionate I’ve seen. I’ve been to somewhere between 150 to 200 rallies of all shapes and sizes since 1993. This was in the top 10%. It was a fantastic event, but it was firmly within the universe of existing Taiwanese rally events. Or maybe I should reverse that emphasis: saying that this event was not groundbreaking does not in any way imply that it wasn’t a hell of a spectacular rally.

 

The physical space could be divided roughly into three areas. There was a relatively small area in front of the stage with stools set out. To the right of this area, there was a section where all the vendors had set up and were selling food. Behind the area in front of the stage, there was a huge grassy area, which was divided from the area in front by a small road. The first area was jam packed. In my younger days, I would have pushed in just to be right at the center of things and experience the maximum amount of excitement. However, over the years, I have found that the people sitting down in the front are not necessarily the most enthusiastic, and I no longer have the stomach for mosh pits. I spent the evening roaming around the other two areas.

The vending area was probably the most comprehensive I have ever seen at a rally. Imagine one of those night markets that sets up once a week in a parking lot.* Take away all the vendors with games, clothes, and assorted gadgets but keep all the food. That’s about what we had here. In addition, there were lots of people selling assorted campaign flags, shirts, air horns, and such. You see these vendors at lots of rallies, but there were more here.

(*Explanation for Taipei residents: In the rest of Taiwan, many night markets are not permanent fixtures and do not have storefronts. You have to go by scooter since the MRT doesn’t go there. Also, TVBS doesn’t profile these vendors very often, so lines for famous food are rare. But they are “markets” that are open at “night,” and, believe it or not, they are more enjoyable than the World Famous Shihlin International Tourist Night Market. Wow! Who knew!)

Most of the crowd was in the grassy area in the back. As you might imagine, the crowd was denser at the front of the space and sparser at the back. The campaign did not set up any stools in the back, so most people stood the entire time while a few sat down on the grass. It wasn’t exactly a thick, American-style lawn. I was tired and thought about sitting down, but the grass was not at all appealing. The organizers didn’t exactly go out of their way to make things easy for the crowd.

Estimating crowd sizes is not exactly an exact science (at least for another few years until Chinese surveillance figures out how to track each individual on the globe all the time). It’s extremely hard to produce an estimate; everything is a more or less a guess. Moreover, event organizers have a strong incentive to inflate the numbers, and the media generally goes along to avoid making enemies and since they don’t have any better estimates. My counts/estimates tend to be much lower than everyone else’s, and I usually expect that the number I come up with will be about half as much as the organizers claim. Yesterday in Taipei, for example, Yao Wen-chih claimed 50,000, Ko Wen-je claimed 40,000, and the marriage equality rally claimed 100,000. My default assumption is that if I had gone to those events, my estimates would have been slightly less than half those estimates. I’m a party pooper.

The people on the stage repeatedly claimed that there were over 100,000 people at Han’s rally. I think the actual number was closer to about 60,000. In other words, I don’t think they inflated the real figure as much as most organizers would. And make no mistake, 60,000 is a hell of a lot of people. That’s a whole town packed into a single city block.

The scale was impressive, but the character of the crowd was stunning. There was almost no mobilization from the campaign. Han claimed that the campaign hadn’t organized a single bus. I did see a couple of busses around the periphery, but the extremely small number of busses supports Han’s assertion. If the campaign gets involved, they are probably going to organize more than five busses. Most people seemed to come via MRT. The crowd was extremely happy and energetic. Again, I have seen more revved up crowds, but not many. Even way in the back, half the people were joining in the cheers. This was a happy crowd, not an angry crowd. KMT supporters in southern Taiwan haven’t had anything to cheer for in six full years. Ever since Ma Ying-jeou’s re-election, they have absorbed beatdown after beatdown. This year, it seems like they aren’t doomed to lose, so they have six years of pent up energy to release. They might win!!!! Hooray!!!

The organizers chose not to hand out little flags. At KMT rallies, they usually hand everyone two flags, an ROC flag and a flag with the candidate’s name. I’m tempted to think they didn’t hand out ROC flags because they are hoping to win votes from independents and light green voters who might be turned off by ostentatious displays of ROC patriotism. The stage decorations were simple black and white with no ROC or KMT party markings. However, if the campaign were really trying to make this into a personal contest, they should have handed out flags with Han’s name. Anyway, the crowd wasn’t about to cooperate with any attempt to de-ROC this event. About 3/4 of the crowd had some sort of ROC paraphernalia, such as a hand-held flag, a tee shirt, a sticker, face paint, and so on. The vendors did a brisk business selling all this stuff, and I’m tempted to think that Han didn’t hand out stuff for free precisely because he wanted to create a bustling vending scene. Anyway, the crowd was a roiling ocean of red and blue. There was no question which party was holding this rally.

I kept looking for groups of young men. On the one hand, some have charged that Han is being supported by organized crime gangs. I wondered if there would be blatant evidence of this. On the other hand, Han’s rhetoric is aimed at lower income, lower education, and lower skilled men who might feel that society has left them behind. I thought that if he were making some connections with them, a la Trump, I might see lots of rougher looking young men in the crowd. I did not see any groups of young men hanging out together. I didn’t see a lot of rougher looking people in the crowd at all. Of course, there were some, as in any crowd, but this wasn’t even like a DPP crowd from the early 1990s, where there were lots of young men looking for excitement. This crowd simply wasn’t defined by young, rough men. Instead, this was a thoroughly middle class, family-oriented crowd. There were lots of couples, families, senior citizens, and children, and they mostly looked like people who drive cars or take the MRT rather than people who ride scooters. In many ways, this was a classic New Party crowd: financially stable, educated, patriotic, with a high sense of personal political efficacy.

My guess is that the crowd also had a high proportion of mainlanders. I had expected that, because the event was in Kaohsiung, most of the speakers would speak in Taiwanese. My Taiwanese level is about three levels below “rudimentary.” Mrs. Garlic was not able to take Saturday off and join me, so I was afraid that I was going to miss out on most of the nuances. In fact, most of the rally was in Mandarin. While Mandarin is the preferred language of many younger and more highly educated people, many Taiwanese, especially in central and southern Taiwan, prefer to discuss politics in Taiwanese. I suspect that the choice of language at this venue had something to do with the fact that Fengshan District, where we were, has a large population of mainlanders that grew up in (now demolished and rebuilt) military villages. The MRT line also provided easy access to people from the other big center of mainlander population in Kaohsiung, (Zuoying District).

 

The lineup included several singers. I know nothing about pop culture, so I have no idea who these people were. The crowd sang along with several of the songs, so they must have been at least a little famous.

The featured speakers included Tainan city councilor Hsieh Lung-chieh, former Minister of Transportation Yeh Kuang-shih, legislator Chen Yi-min, former Premier Chang Shan-cheng, and, of course, Han Kuo-yu. I’m going to gloss over the first four pretty quickly. Hsieh and Chen spoke in Taiwanese, so I missed most of their content. However, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of content in any of the speeches. It was mostly rah-rah pep rally stuff. We’re gonna win!!

The main themes throughout the night were that the KMT didn’t have to lose this time, that Kaohsiung wasn’t the DPP’s private property, and that, after 20 years of DPP government, Han Kuo-yu would revitalize Kaohsiung with much needed change. Han’s plan was not unlike Trump’s: Things are terrible now, and it’s all the DPP’s fault. Elect me, and things will be better immediately. Don’t worry about the details. Trust me, I’ll change things, and it’ll be better.

No one fleshed out the details of Han’s grand economic strategy, but there were a couple of hints. One speaker talked about how Han’s campaign was exciting Chinese people on social media around the world, including in places like Malaysia and Indonesia. He promised that if Han were elected, all these Chinese would definitely want to come to Kaohsiung. In other words, Han will bring in Chinese tourism. If you want to read between the lines, ignore the diversionary words “Malaysia” and “Indonesia.” What the speaker meant is that the PRC will divert lots of package tours to Kaohsiung, so Kaohsiung will get rich. Later on, Han hinted at the other prong. He is calling himself a “vegetable seller” (since he ran the vegetable market distribution system), and the slogan on the big pillars at his rally was “stuff can be sold (outward), people can move in.” He proudly announced that the vendors in the night market area were all sold out, implying that his vision was already working on a small scale. (Note: They were not all sold out.) This is hardly envisioning the economy of the future. Hotel room cleaners and street peddlers are not exactly glamorous jobs. Rather, Han’s economic vision is simply that there will be more of the low paying jobs and that they will provide slightly more income. It’s not unlike Trump’s call to preserve threatened jobs in the dying coal industry, though at least Trump’s vision is based on revising the global trading system before declaring general prosperity. Han’s plan seems to be to rejigger a tiny corner of Kaohsiung’s economy and then declare that regional economic imbalance has been solved.

One other specific point stuck in my head. Former premier Chang Shan-cheng is apparently eying a presidential or vice-presidential run, and he is stumping for a variety of KMT candidates this year. (Aside: Chang seems to think he has popular support since he had much higher satisfaction ratings than any of Ma’s other premiers. Of course, unlike the others, Chang didn’t try to do anything since he was the caretaker premier in the four months between Tsai’s victory and her inauguration.) The KMT is asking for a change after 20 years of DPP government in Kaohsiung, so it has to argue that those 20 years did not produce good results. Chang took on a specific claim, that the DPP gave Kaohsiung an excellent MRT system. The MRT system was not the DPP’s contribution, Chang insisted. As a bureaucrat who had served in the Transportation Ministry, Chang asserted that all the money came from the central government under Ma Ying-jeou. The Kaoshiung city government had provided nothing! Now, rallies are noisy, and I almost never hear reactions from people around me. However, when Chang made this claim, the person behind me exclaimed excitedly, “Yes, and on top of that, we have a huge public debt!” A DPP spokesperson couldn’t have refuted Chang’s claim much more effectively. Beyond the point that most of the construction took place under the Chen administration, not the Ma administration, the reason that the Kaohsiung city government has run up such an enormous pile of debt is precisely because the central government did not fund the entire MRT project. The MRT (and the associated debt) is exactly what the DPP city government has contributed to Kaohsiung. If you are going to criticize the DPP’s performance in office, at least make a plausible argument, such as that the MRT system is flawed, too expensive, or that the city government should have done something else with the money. Let’s just say that my early impressions of the Chang-for-president movement are somewhat less than glowing and gushing.

Han made three major points in his speech. First, he talked about being an outsider in Kaohsiung, and he did it in a very effective and surprisingly deft way: All nine legislators from Kaohsiung are DPP members. Except for Lin Tai-hua, not a single one of them is from Kaohsiung. Further, none of the four people who contested the DPP’s mayoral nomination were born in Kaohsiung. And Chen Chi-mai’s wife was born in Malaysia. What does this prove? It means that anyone can love Kaohsiung, and Kaohsiung will love everyone!

This argument charmed me. He didn’t complain about being attacked. Instead, he turned the attack back on the DPP. Moreover, he did it in a generous way. He didn’t call the DPP hypocrites; he simply celebrated Kaohsiung as a magnetic place that outsiders can’t resist. Sure, his rhetoric glossed over the fact that those DPP politicians have lived in Kaohsiung for decades, not months, but all good rhetoric takes your attention away from disadvantageous points and focuses it elsewhere. This was a happy and uplifting message. I keep comparing Han to Trump, and this is one area where Han is clearly different. He is not screaming to lock up Hillary, and he is not taking cheap shots at Marco. Trump revels in pettiness; (at least in this instance) Han eschews it.

Han’s second point was about the tenor of the campaign. I did not fully appreciate why he was talking about this because I was not aware of outside events. Earlier in the day, former vice president and current KMT party chair Wu Den-yi had called former Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu a “fatty” and said she looks like a “mother pig.” When this got out, the backlash was immediate and strong. Wu Den-yi’s political career was already in trouble, and I suspect this might be the last nail in the coffin. This sort of insult is exactly what the DPP needs to drive indignant wavering voters back into the fold and to the polls. On Sunday night, Chen Chu stood before a huge crowd and declared: “I am not a mother pig. I am a daughter of Taiwan.” See how she took a personal affront and transformed it into a general demand for dignity for all Taiwanese people? Chen Chu is a damn good politician. Anyway, that was on Sunday night. On Saturday night just a few hours after the news broke, Han tried to diffuse the crisis in his own speech, though he never mentioned Wu or Wu’s comments specifically. Han said that the election had been conducted in a fairly high tone. While both candidates had been insulted, the insults had come from people around the candidates, not from the candidates themselves. Han then demanded that everyone respect his wishes for a high-minded and positive campaign and refrain from hurtling insults at the other side. At the time, I thought he was talking about online conduct; at one point he asked his followers not to forward negative stories on social media. The cynic in me grinned: sure, assert your innocence at the end of the campaign after you’ve already gotten all the benefit! In hindsight, Han was talking about Wu, not about fake news, and, he was making his argument with an old KMT discourse about how democratic politics are dirty and messy (and inherently corrupt). Wouldn’t it be better if we could just rise above this all and have a happy and positive campaign? He indirectly disavowed Wu’s remarks by trying to rise above the (democratic) fray. This discourse is right in the New Party wheelhouse (remember how much simpler, less corrupt, and more civilized it was back when wise and benevolent CCK made all the decisions?), and the crowd ate it up.

Han’s third big point flowed easily from the second one: the DPP always uses dirty tricks at the end of a campaign, so be ready. This is a general theme for KMT candidates all over the country, but in Kaohsiung they have a specific history. In the KMT memory, the DPP razor-thin victories in 1998 and 2006 had only been possible because of unfounded last-minute accusations of vote buying and corruption against the KMT. The KMT charges that dirty tricks are in the DPP’s DNA and they will definitely try something this year, so KMT voters should not fall victims to these ruses. Han put it in a way that both a classic response and also uniquely illustrative of his populist appeal: when this happens, trust me, believe me, and have faith in me.*

*For the life of me, I can’t remember the exact Chinese phrase. Two of the three were 信任我,相信我, but I can’t remember the third part. I was struck by the wording, and I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to translate what was essentially three different ways to say “trust me.” When I figured out a short and effective translation, my stupid brain forgot what he originally said.

There is one last anecdote from this section of Han’s speech that I think is informative. He complained that the DPP tries to paint him black (organized crime), gold (money interests), and red (Chinese CCP). On the latter point, he said, “they say that if I am elected, I will give Kaohsiung to the CPP!” The audience’s response to this was … laughter. Dear reader, when you hear about pro-unification forces in Taiwan, remember just how narrow a slice of the population actually wants unification. This was a proudly patriotic Chinese nationalist audience that probably had a high proportion of mainlanders and New Partyish sympathizers. Their reaction to the charge that they want to open the city gates to China or have any kind of immediate political accommodation with China was a tired laughter. They have heard the charges again and again, and they believe those charges are ridiculous. Sure they may want amiable interaction with China and they are happy to promote mutually beneficial ties, but they instinctively reject the idea that they are selling out Taiwan to China. Han declared passionately, “I love Taiwan. I was born in Taiwan. I have lived my whole life in Taiwan. In the future, I will die in Taiwan.” I’m guessing that feeling resonated strongly with the overwhelming majority of that crowd.

 

This was a fantastic, passionate event, a smashing success by almost any metric. Yet, I left it feeling slightly stronger that Chen, not Han, was more likely to win the election. Rallies do not help candidates win the votes of people who are at the event. Thirty or forty years ago, when information was much scarcer, rallies had an education and persuasion component. Nowadays, no one goes to a rally to learn about a candidate. Everyone at the event is already a supporter. Modern rallies have two goals. First, you want to fire up your base so that they will go mobilize their friends and family who may be apathetic, apolitical, or on the fence. Enthusiasm drives up turnout among the unenthusiastic. Second, in case your dedicated supporters are trying to mobilize unconvinced people, you want to give them some effective talking points. Your fiery supporters don’t need to know and might not care about a flood control project, but they might need that information to persuade their friends who don’t care about identity.

Han’s rally didn’t really provide supporter with strong talking points. The main talking point is simply that, after 20 years, it is time for a change. However, they didn’t do a very good job of explaining why unequal economic development is the city government’s fault. They certainly did not convincingly convict the city government of incompetence, corruption, lack of vision, or even poor performance. I don’t think the rally gave them much ammunition to deal with a skeptical person who wants more than simply the initial assertion that the DPP city government has performed poorly.

However, it’s the first point that really concerns me. If the point of whipping up enthusiasm is to mobilize other people in personal networks, you would like to see a diverse audience with connections into all different parts of society. It isn’t a good thing that the crowd looked overwhelmingly like the stereotypical New Party middle class base or that the rally was in Mandarin. It looked to me like the KMT’s base is fully invested in Han’s campaign, but Han needs more than that. In Kaohsiung, he needs some voters who aren’t crazy about waving the ROC flag and who don’t already belong to the church. This crowd and this event defined Han and his campaign as firmly within the orthodox KMT tradition, and the KMT base in Kaohsiung is smaller than the DPP base, even in a year like this. A frenzied base simply isn’t good enough.

Three critical races

November 16, 2018

I guess I should probably stop obsessing over the American midterm election and start writing about Taiwan. This is the first time I can remember that I have been more engrossed in an American election than in a Taiwanese election in the same year. The American election seems monumentally important, while the Taiwanese election seems destined to be relatively unimportant in the historical scheme of things. I don’t think I need to explain why I think the American election is important, but let me briefly explain why I have thought for most of the year that the context here in Taiwan is rather unremarkable.

As we are all probably aware, the DPP won a smashing victory in the 2014 elections, and then followed that up by winning the presidency and legislature 14 months later. As we are all also probably aware, the national DPP government hasn’t gotten rave reviews. President Tsai’s satisfaction ratings are low. They’ve been in the thirties for most of her presidency, but in the last few months they’ve dipped into the twenties. To most of the world, that looks untenable. In the USA, the Republicans just got hammered, President Trump has a 42% approval rating. However, Taiwanese are a pretty tough crowd. 25% approval doesn’t mean the same thing here that it would in the USA (where roughly 25% was the point at which Nixon was forced to resign). Here, Presidents Chen and Ma both spent much of their second terms in the teens, and President Ma was re-elected fairly comfortably after spending most of his first term in the thirties. So the DPP government isn’t doing great, but neither is it a complete disaster. We should expect the DPP to slip somewhat from its 2014 results (which, remember, were unprecedented and probably unsustainable). At the same time, there aren’t massive street demonstrations, popular rebellions, or calls for impeachment. The DPP isn’t likely to collapse.

The other notably feature of this year’s races is that it seemed to lack any exciting or detestably candidates to drive turnout. None of the six big races had a fresh face who might be headed for the presidency some day (like the 2010 matchup between Tsai and Chu) or a wacky underdog outsider against an offensively tone deaf favorite (like Ko verses Lien in 2014). Every where you looked you had vaguely unlikeable incumbers (Ko, Lin), uninspiring challengers (Ting, Yao, Lu), and tired old war horses past their prime (Su). It was a whole field of blah.

I had expected that we were heading toward a dismally low turnout. People weren’t furious or inspired enough to vote. I thought overall turnout might be in the high 50s, or maybe even the low 50s.

As you are probably aware, this all changed rather dramatically about a month ago, when everyone suddenly realized that something unexpected was happening down south in Kaohsiung. Before I get to that, let me say that I think one of the effects of Han Kuo-yu’s surge in the polls has been to jolt both blue and green voters out of a stupor. Turnout probably will be a bit higher, though there are limits to just how much higher we can expect. I’ll guess that turnout will break 60%, though I doubt it will reach the 66.2% turnout of the 2016 presidential election.

 

Kaohsiung City

About a month ago, the DPP collectively freaked out when a series of polls showed that the unthinkable was happening: the KMT was leading in Kaohsiung. For that to happen in such deep green territory requires both a massively underperforming DPP candidate and a massively overperforming KMT candidate. I was surprised by the former. I’ve always thought highly of Chen Chi-mai. He is a very effective legislator who is hard working, sees the big picture, yet has a firm grasp on detailed minutia. He has been preparing for years to run for mayor, and he seemed to me like an ideal candidate. I was completely unaware that he would be such an uninspiring candidate on the stump. His command of the issues has not been matched with any charisma that might help him to make any emotional connection with voters. I don’t get the feeling that people dislike him. He just doesn’t inspire much passion.

I also misjudged Han Kuo-yu. When the KMT was nominated, I thought it was a worthwhile longshot for the KMT. The KMT has utterly failed to develop a discourse attractive to southern voters. If they want to win a presidential election any time in the future, they are going to have to figure out how to woo southern voters, and what they were do wasn’t working at all. Han promised to try something else. I didn’t think it would work, but it seemed like a worthwhile gamble. The most likely outcome was that Han would fall flat and that the KMT would lose miserably, but that was the likely outcome with a conventional candidate too.

What happened is that Han caught fire. The blue TV stations’ newscasts are basically wall-to-wall coverage of Han Kuo-yu, breathlessly reporting his every action, fawning over his rhetoric, and interspersed with softer stories about his background. His combination of complaints about the lack of economic development in the south and wild, bombastic promises somehow struck a chord with voters. I don’t quite understand this. As long as I can remember, southern voters have resented the more prosperous north. However, this has always been a reason to resent the KMT. The KMT, after all, decided that the south would have heavy industry while the north would have all the high tech, education, finance, and corporate headquarters. Suddenly this year, voters seem to have forgotten that. Huh? Moreover, while Kaohsiung has been governed by the DPP for the past 20 years, it has generally been considered to have one of the most effective local governments in the country. Both Chen Chu and Frank Hsieh consistently got high marks from Kaohsiung voters. But suddenly that record seems to be a burden.

Han has also parachute from the north with a plethora of wild claims (we can double the population in 10 years!). Every time he says something, he seems to reveal how unfamiliar he is with Kaohsiung, and yet this utter lack of familiarity or preparation for the job seems not to matter very much. Trump never apologies or admits mistakes. Likewise, Han’s brand of populism seems to involve voters who don’t care very much about facts.

(Let’s take a minute to note one important difference with Trump-style populism: the race/immigration angle is completely missing from Han’s discourse. Other than that, Han seems to be borrowing pretty liberally from the Trump playbook.)

There are widespread rumors that Han is benefitting from a Chinese-sponsored blitz of fake news. Like most people, I have seen hints and bits of this campaign. However, because it is based primarily in closed social media groups in Line and Facebook, most of only see the tip of the overall campaign. It is hard to understand the scope of the attack, much less the impact. It seems pretty clear that China is using Kaohsiung (and to a lesser extent, Taichung and Taipei) as a test run for a fake news campaign prior to the 2020 presidential and legislative elections. If it goes well for them, expect to see a lot more of this in 2020, perhaps in the USA as well as in Taiwan. I am deeply concerned but perhaps a bit less terrified of this campaign than most people.

Anyway, when the DPP freaked out about Kaohsiung a few weeks ago, they reacted by mobilizing the whole party to counter-attack. We have seen high profile person after person going to Kaohsiung to campaign for Chen. I think this is largely working. When you are losing this sort of a race, there are a few things you can do. The classic strategy is to transform the contest from a local one to a national one. You can also go negative in order to redefine the candidate as less likeable than voters might have thought at first blush. Finally, you can counter some of the rhetoric by challenging it. The DPP has done all of these. They have reminded voters at every opportunity that Han came up through the Huang Fu-hsing military branch of the KMT, that he has close ties to China, that he has questionable financial dealings, and that he is very unfamiliar with Kaohsiung. At the same time, they have been trumpeting all the things the DPP has done in Kaohsiung over the past 20 years.

I think the DPP’s counter-attack has probably been effective. The DPP politicians are certainly acting much less terrified than they were a few weeks ago. They seem to be pretty confident that they have turned the tide and that Chen is heading for a victory. On the other hand, Han shows no signs of weakening. His crowds are still big and boisterous.* He is still fiery and engaged on the stump. And he is going all over Taiwan working for other candidates. All the KMT candidates want a bit of the Han magic. (The other way to read this is than it is a little strange for someone engaged in a neck and neck race to spend so much time in other cities and counties. It could be interpreted as him knowing he will lose this race but seeking to build up as much political capital as possible while he can.)

*As longtime readers of Frozen Garlic are surely aware, I love outdoor politics. However, I learned long ago that crowd size or passion is almost entirely uncorrelated with election results. To give an example, in the 2010 New Taipei mayoral race between Tsai Ing-wen and Eric Chu, Tsai clearly had bigger and hotter crowds but Chu won the election. On the other hand, in the 2016 rematch between Tsai and Chu, Tsai again better crowds and she won the presidency handily. Crowds are fun, but they are a terrible indicator. 15,000 passionate supporters who would walk through fire for you is insignificant against 500,000 halfhearted voters willing to do nothing more than stamp your name on the ballot. The media has been completely caught up in the crowds, and they seem to have forgotten this lesson.

Overall, Kaohsiung is a highly uncertain race. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything from a 7% win for Han to a 15% win for Chen. I think Chen is probably a slight favorite at this point, but I wouldn’t bet the house on him winning.

 

Taichung City

The polls in Taichung City have been all over the place. If you want to find a poll with Lu leading by a lot, you can. If you want evidence that Lin is significantly ahead, you have a significant number of polls to choose from. If you think the race is razor-tight, there are lots of polls to back you up. This race, as much as any other, has made me throw my hands in the air in disgust and despair at the state of polling in Taiwan this year. Polling is worse now than at any point since the early 1990s. We have media polls that are becoming ever more friendly to candidates from their side of the partisan divide, we have supposedly non-partisan foundations that are trying to influence the public narrative by publishing eye-catching polling results, TISR has stopped doing its monthly polls of partisanship due to lack of funding, and the academic polls (TEDS), which were never released immediately to the public anyway, have had their funding slashed. It’s hard to figure out what is happening right now, and there won’t be much academic survey data available until next spring or summer to help us understand what in the world just happened. Good luck.

What I can say is that both sides seem fairly confident about Taichung. Mayor Lin seemed a bit more worried a few months ago, but he seems to think that he has a stable and increasing lead. The KMT has lots of polls to show that they are in the race (because there are lots of polls to show anything and everything), and they think that the overall national tide is in their favor. They also seem to expect to win in Taichung, though they perhaps don’t seem as sure as the DPP. Or at least that’s how I’m reading them. What do I know.

Taichung should be close. Central Taiwan is the traditional battleground. If the DPP is losing some support because of tepid feelings about its performance in power, Taichung should revert back closer to the mean. Mayor Lin is also a much less appealing candidate that he was four years ago. Remember the narrative from back then? Lin was the golden child who had been humbled. He was a Yale PhD who had gone into the cabinet and was a rising superstar until he was soundly defeated in the Taichung mayoral election in 2001. Rather than going back into national politics, the chastened Lin stayed in Taichung and patiently worked to rebuild his career by going back to the grassroots and doing the hard and unglamorous work of connecting with ordinary people. After four years in office, that humble and more likeable Lin is gone. The haughty Lin we see today firmly believes that he is a future president. People might respect him for his generally good record in office, but I don’t get the feeling that he is inspiring much love and devotion.

As for the KMT candidate, let’s use a baseball analogy. Nowadays it is common nowadays to evaluate baseball players using a metric called Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The idea is that zero WAR players are everywhere. A team should be able to find a zero WAR player for a nominal price any time it needs one. Better players, who might increase the number of games a team wins over the course of a full season, are harder to find. Lu strikes me as being uncomfortably close to a replacement level candidate. She isn’t a disaster, which is valuable. And she is a better quality candidate than the KMT has managed to scrounge up in Keelung or Chiayi County. However, a longtime legislator (with a media background) should be more interesting and inspiring than she is. She seems to more of an empty vessel to absorb KMT support and backlash against Lin rather than a candidate inspiring voters to specifically support her. This election is all about Lin and national trends. Lu is just … on the ballot.

 

New Taipei City

This race has been flying under the radar all election season. On paper, this should be a hotly contested race. New Taipei is always close to the national partisan balance, and it is an open seat. However, it hasn’t unfolded that way. Deputy mayor Hou You-yi has led the polls by a considerable margin from the very start. The various DPP legislators who wanted to challenge him were never able to get close enough to mount a credible challenge, so the DPP eventually turned to an old warhorse, former Taipei County magistrate and premier, Su Tseng-chang. These candidates who return years later to run for a position they already held never do quite as well as expected. Their best day in the polls is often the day they announce their candidacy, and then they gradually slide further and further away from victory. Early on, the old dudes have an advantage in name recognition, and people can remember their accomplishments in office fondly. However, as the campaign progresses, the name recognition advantage fades, and the focus turns to the future rather than the past. Is the best way to move forward by going back two decades? The answer is usually no.

Hou is probably winning this race, though I suspect it will be closer than the blowout the polls seem to indicate. In recent weeks, Su has been pressing Hou hard on ethical matters, such as taking advantage of his office to rent rooms at high rates to students and dodging taxes. Hou has complained quite a bit about this mudslinging, which might be an indication that it is working.

 

Narrative

These are the three races that will, more or less, decide the narrative of the election for the DPP, regardless of what happens everywhere else. If it wins all three, it will claim a great victory. If it wins two out of three, it will claim a small win. If it only wins one, it will consider it a defeat, and no wins would be a catastrophic loss. Why is this important? In the latter two scenarios, there will be calls for Tsai Ing-wen to step down as party chair. If the losses are bad enough, those calls will be very hard to resist. The DPP has a long tradition of party leaders stepping down to take responsibility for poor election outcomes. However, if Tsai steps down as party leader, that will complicate her path to re-election substantially. She will have to essentially make two contradictory statements more or less simultaneously. On the one hand, she will have to say that the party suffered a rebuke from the voters due to her poor leadership. On the other hand, she will ask the party and voters to give her four more years to continue her successful governing program. This doesn’t make much sense to me; I pretty much assumed she could either resign or run for re-election. However, other people I have talked with don’t see these two things as necessarily contradictory. Still, imagine if the DPP had to hold a party chair election early next year at the same time all the aspirants to legislative nominations were jockeying for position. It might turn into a bloody knife-fight between the various factions. Moreover, if someone challenged Tsai for the presidential nomination and there were a contested primary, it would almost certainly turn bitter. Whoever emerged would lead a demoralized and divided party into the general election. This could throw the presidential race wide open and lead to who knows what. These are “only” local elections, but the stakes are not as low as they might seem.

How have I never noticed this before?

September 21, 2018

I haven’t written anything for this blog in several months, so it is a little intimidating to try to start anew. After so much time away, I should probably be sitting on something really profound, something that will clarify or transform how you understand the upcoming election.

Nope.

So instead, I’m going to write about something very trivial. This is something a stumbled upon a few days ago. Now that I’ve discovered it, I can’t believe I didn’t already know it. But again, in the big picture, it isn’t all that important.

 

In the 2016 presidential election, Taitung County had a turnout rate of 55.1%. This was somewhat lower than the national turnout rate (66.2%), which isn’t all that surprising. For people whose household registration is in Taitung but live elsewhere, getting back home is a considerable chore. You can’t just take the high speed rail, after all. For most people, a one-way trip is going to burn the greater part of a day. Travel is even more burdensome for people who don’t live near a major transportation hub. So it isn’t surprising that the turnout in Orchid Island, perhaps the hardest place to reach, was only 34.7%.

So far, there’s nothing unexpected. But humor me. For fun, let’s go observe the same pattern in 2014. Turnout in the county magistrate election (67.8%) was considerably higher than in the subsequent presidential election, which perhaps surprisingly, is almost exactly the same as the national turnout that day (67.6%). However, in Orchid Island the turnout was of course much lower, a mere 63.8%. Uh, hold on, that’s not very much lower. Something interesting is happening there.

I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t notice this pattern by looking at Orchid Island. I noticed it looking at county assembly elections in Pingtung. Pingtung has a whopping 16 county assembly districts, but 38 of the 55 seats are elected in the first four districts. I tend to focus my attention where the action is, so I usually don’t pay much attention to the other 12 districts, most of which are for indigenous voters. However, a few days ago I was looking at the last eight district, for mountain indigenous voters, and the turnout rates jumped out at me. Look at turnout in the following townships: 三地門 88.0%, 瑪家 86.7%, 泰武 88.9%, 來義 82.5%, 春日 87.2%, 獅子 85.7%, 牡丹 78.7%, 霧台 92.5%. You can go around the rest of the country and find the same pattern. Turnout in every mountain indigenous township is sky high, but only for local elections. In national elections, turnout is usually somewhat below average.

What’s going on? It’s not enough to say this is effective mobilization. Candidates all over Taiwan do their best to mobilize voters in every election, but turnout rates of 80% are extremely rare everywhere else. What these communities have that the rest of Taiwan lacks is, well, community (or what we call “social capital” in the academic literature). In these communities, everyone knows everyone, and they can use their social ties to make demands on one another. If your matriarch orders you to vote, you darn well better vote. If you don’t, word will definitely get back to her, and you are in for some stern looks. Likewise, if your neighbor (and everyone is a neighbor) is running, he will certainly ask you for your vote and will know if you didn’t vote. And if you don’t live in the village, your friends and family do, and they will reach out to you. It isn’t just negative penalties; working with your friends for a common goal is fun, even if you don’t really care about politics. These sorts of social sanctions simply aren’t available in the rest of Taiwan. Moreover, indigenous villages are bounded communities, and electing the town mayor is akin to electing a tribal leader. It’s a really big deal. (As to that 92.5% turnout in 霧台. I have a friend from Wutai. Wutai is populated by Rukai, a small tribe extremely active in trying to maintain its culture and identity, even in the face of having to abandon one its physical villages. Wutai’s social capital is through the roof.)

Interestingly, this local election mobilization effect doesn’t seem to work quite as well for plains indigenous voters. This might be because this group, which is overwhelmingly Amis, is larger and therefore not quite as socially cohesive as the mountain indigenous tribes. Or maybe it is that Amis tend to live in towns that are majority Han, so that the mayoral candidates are not usually one of their own. They get a bump, but it isn’t as large. Likewise, turnout is much lower for mountain indigenous voters who are registered in Han-majority townships. These voters might not be a bit more distant from the social networks, and they might not even be from the same tribe as the majority of the electorate. However, you can see the same effect in one specific Han society. Liuchiu Township in Pingtung is a small island with a clear identity somewhat differentiated from the more general Taiwanese identity. Turnout in the 2016 presidential election was 44.9%, but in the 2014 local election it was 78.7%. Social capital is powerful!

If you need more convincing for this social capital thesis, here’s one more little bit of evidence. I compared the turnout in 2009 for indigenous county assembly seats in Taitung with the turnout in the 2012 presidential election. After controlling for the overall different turnout levels, the turnouts in the local election were higher: 海端 +9.4%, 延平 +14.7%, 達人 +17.9%, 蘭嶼 +13.0%. However, there was one exception: 金峰 -7.5%. What?? It’s actually not hard to figure out. In Jinfeng that year, both the county assembly and town mayor elections were uncontested. With only one candidate who is sure to win, there is no need to activate those social capital networks. Sure, the county magistrate candidates tried to mobilize voters, but they can’t tap into the power of the social networks nearly as effectively. Grandma might mutter under her breath for weeks if you don’t vote for Second Cousin’s Wife, but she probably won’t take it personally if you are too busy to vote for #3 on the billboard (what’s his name again?).

 

I started this post by saying that this topic is trivial, and it is if you care primarily about who will win the city mayor and county magistrate elections. The number of indigenous voters is miniscule compared to the number of Han voters, so even a 20% bump in turnout for indigenous voters barely makes a ripple in the overall results. For example, there isn’t much chance that spectacular turnout among the 1800 or so indigenous voters in Wulai will be decisive in the New Taipei race. That result will be decided by the 3.2 million Han voters. In a different partisan balance, it might matter in Pingtung, where the astronomical turnout among the 40,000 mountain indigenous voters produces nearly 5000 extra votes (beyond presidential levels of turnout). However, Pingtung hasn’t had a close magistrate election since 1993, when Su Tseng-chang was beaten by 12000 votes. (I wonder whatever became of that guy…)

The only place where this local election mobilization bonus might impact the outcome this year is in Taitung. Some back of the envelope math suggests that the added turnout from local elections might be worth an extra 2000 votes from the 14000 mountain indigenous voters. I didn’t try to figure out how much the smaller bump from the 44000 plains indigenous voters might be, but let’s imagine that it is roughly also about 2000 votes.

We all know from years and years of experience that indigenous voters have tended to support the KMT over the DPP, so those extra 4000 votes are good news for the KMT. However, what none of us know is just how overwhelmingly indigenous voters support the KMT. If the KMT wins by a 95%-5% margin, then 4000 extra votes implies a net gain of 3600 votes for the KMT. Fantastic! If the KMT gets 80%, then they reap a net gain of 2400 votes. Still pretty good, though less likely to be decisive. If the KMT only wins 60%-40%, the net gain of 800 votes probably isn’t enough to matter at all. The thing is, you don’t know which of those scenarios is closest to reality. Your guess is as good as mine. (Out of curiosity, does anyone want to hazard a guess?) No one has ever put calculated a rigorous estimate of how indigenous voters vote in presidential elections, much less mayoral elections, so we just don’t know the answer.

Of course, that last sentence isn’t entirely true. It just so happens that I am working producing an estimate for indigenous votes. I’m just starting to put together results, so I don’t have a definitive answer just yet. However, I do have some interesting results from Taitung that I might write about if I ever get around to writing another Frozen Garlic post…

Hsinchu County has unequal districts too!

May 30, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

What the hell is wrong here?

 

The CEC abdicates its duty 中選會推動票票不等值原則

May 30, 2018

The Central Election Commission has abdicated its legal responsibility to oversee the drawing of fair district for elections to the Legislative Yuan. There are at least three cities in which population growth since the districts were drawn in 2007 has created large disparities in population between different districts in the same city. The law says that districts should be redrawn every ten years precisely to adjust for things like population growth, but the Central Election Commission has chosen simply to keep the old districts. In the bill it sent to the legislature on May 29, it proposed no changes in New Taipei and Taipei Cities and only a minor and inconsequential change in Taichung. With this egregious violation of the principle of “one person, one vote, each vote with equal value,” the CEC has failed to uphold its public duty.

 

To be clear, I am not talking about apportionment to different cities and counties. That is a separate question, and frankly the differences between the various options on the table are small. The CEC’s press release stressed the apportionment, and the media is following that lead. Most news stories today are about Pingtung losing a seat or Hsinchu County gaining a seat. I am talking about a different – and much more consequential – topic. After eight seats are apportioned to Taichung City, for example, eight districts must be drawn. I’m talking about the drawing, not the apportioning. This latter process has gone wrong, and the media is completely missing the story.

 

Redistricting is based on the Civil Servants Election and Recall Law (see here for entire text in English and Chinese). The two important articles are Article 35 and Article 37. Article 35 says that electoral districts should be reconsidered every ten years, and any necessary adjustments should be made according to the guidelines in Article 37 (每十年重新檢討一次,如有變更之必要,應依第三十七條第三項至第五項規定辦理). Article 37 says that the Central Election Commission has the duty to draw a draft plan for electoral districts to send to the legislature (由中央選舉委員會劃分). The districts should “be divided with consideration of the administrative regions, population distribution, geographical environment, traffic conditions, historical origins, and the quota of electees” (前項選舉區,應斟酌行政區域、人口分布、地理環境、交通狀況、歷史淵源及應選出名額劃分之。).

In 2005, when it had to draw all the districts for the first time, the CEC issued a set of guidelines interpreting these laws. There were three main tenets. First, within each city or county, districts should not deviate from the mean population by more than 15% (每一選舉區人口數與各該直轄市、縣(市)應選名額除人口數之平均數,相差以不超過百分之十五為原則). Second, townships should not be divided unless their population exceeded 115% of the mean; otherwise all of a township should be entirely contained within a single electoral district (單一鄉(鎮、市、區)其人口數達該直轄市、縣(市)應選名額除人口數之平均數以上者,應劃為1個選舉區). Third, if it was necessary to divide a township, they should use tsun or li as the subunit; tsun or li were not to be divided (必要時,得分割同一鄉(鎮、市、區)行政區域內之部分村里(村里不得分割)).

The CEC guidelines also fleshed out the process. Each city or county election commission was instructed to draft a plan, and this should be submitted to the CEC by the end of March (各直轄市、縣(市)立法委員選舉區,先由各直轄市、縣(市)選舉委員會研擬劃分草案及理由,於95年3月底前報中央選舉委員會). The CEC would then organize a districting committee to draft a bill to send to the legislature by the end of May, taking the drafts from local election commissions along with suggestions from legislators as a reference (本會組成立法委員選舉區劃分專案小組,參考直轄市、縣(市)選舉委員會之選舉區劃分草案,擬具立法委員選舉區劃分建議案,於95年5月底前提報本會委員會議審議). (These guidelines can be found in 第七屆立法委員選舉暨全國性公民投票案第3、第4案實錄, page 106).

I’ve been very careful to list the legal foundations because I want to stress several points. First, all districts are supposed to be reconsidered every ten years. Second, equal population is clearly listed as one of the criteria for drawing acceptable districts. Third, the CEC is given the legal responsibility to draft a bill to send to the legislature.

It has been suggested to me that the ten-year clause applies only to apportioning seats, not to adjusting seats within a city or county. There is some legal gray area here, since the rest of Article 35 deals with apportionment. However, I believe that this argument will not hold up to scrutiny. By this argument, it is unnecessary to adjust electoral districts no matter how lopsided the population distribution becomes as long as the city or county never gains or loses a seat.  The constitutional principle of equality requires some respect for ideal of “one person, one vote, each vote with equal value” (一人一票,票票等值). At some point, deviations in population must be addressed. If so, there is no reason not to address them when all districts are reconsidered every ten years.

It has also been suggested to me that the CEC doesn’t have the authority to (a) force a local election commission to propose a new plan or (b) reject a plan proposed by a local election commission because it violates the 15% rule. These are clearly wrong. The law delegates power to the CEC and does not mention any local election commission. The CEC set up its own internal rules, asking local election commissions to present drafts. However, the CEC’s rules made it perfectly clear that it would only “reference” those drafts when preparing its bill for the legislature. The CEC absolutely has the authority to reject a local draft.

Finally, I want to ask why the 15% threshold is sacred. It isn’t. The 15% threshold was adopted by the CEC in 2005 apparently without any public debate. As far as I know, no rationale was ever publicly provided. Nevertheless, the law requires that district designers take population distribution into account, and this was the guideline adopted. If you believe 15% is the wrong number, you still have to propose some guideline for taking population distribution into account. As a practical matter, 15% proved to be entirely workable. In 2007, it proved possible to draw all districts while respecting the 15% guideline and still respecting historical origins, traffic patterns, administrative districts, etc. It is still workable today; I could easily draw all the districts without violating the 15% guideline. 15% has proven to be flexible enough, and existing rules generally should not be changed without a good reason. At any rate, 15% is the guideline that the CEC itself set up, and now it has apparently decided – with no explanation at all – to ignore that guideline.

 

How bad are the current districts? In some cases, one voter’s ballot is worth 1.60 times as much as another voter’s ballot in the same city. These differences will get larger over time. The fastest growing areas already have the largest populations, so population growth will increase disproportionality over the next few years. If the districts are not adjusted for another three terms, some districts will probably have twice as many voters as others by the time the next redistricting occurs in 2031.

I can’t give exact numbers for Taipei since I can’t find the indigenous population figures for tsun and li in Nov 2017. The Taipei numbers are estimates, but they are probably not wrong by much. Red numbers are violations of the 15% threshold.

Six districts violate the 15% threshold, and another three districts are very close to that limit. There is no reason for such enormous population differences in so many districts. In New Taipei, District 1 has 1.60 times as many people as District 6. In Taichung, District 5 has 1.60 times as many people as District 8, and the second biggest district, District 7, has 1.45 times as many people as the second smallest district, District 1. In Taipei, District 4 is estimated to have 1.34 times as many people as District 7. To put that another way, compared to New Taipei District 1, every two people in Districts 6, 7, or 9 get three votes. Some people have much more valuable votes than others do.

(Taoyuan is fine, so it was reasonable for them to keep their existing districts. I assume most other places that kept their old districts are also fine, but I have not checked yet. I also have not looked at the new districts in Tainan, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, and Hsinchu yet.)

 

New Taipei: mean=327579

New Taipei 1 421744 +28.7%
New Taipei 2 351193 +7.2%
New Taipei 3 316314 -3.4%
New Taipei 4 360558 +10.1%
New Taipei 5 312074 -4.7%
New Taipei 6 263128 -19.7%
New Taipei 7 284186 -13.2%
New Taipei 8 316314 -3.4%
New Taipei 9 290712 -11.3%
New Taipei 10 345923 +5.6%
New Taipei 11 339628 +3.7%
New Taipei 12 303847 -7.2%

 

Taichung: mean=343911

Taichung 1 271558 -21.0%
Taichung 2 362357 +5.4%
Taichung 3 317986 -7.5%
Taichung 4 392303 +14.1%
Taichung 5 418126 +21.6%
Taichung 6 332553 -3.3%
Taichung 7 394972 +14.8%
Taichung 8 261436 -24.0%

 

Taipei: mean=327579

Taipei 1 (estimate) 341325 +2.4%
Taipei 2 (estimate) 328926 -1.3%
Taipei 3 (estimate) 357159 +7.1%
Taipei 4 (estimate) 406070 +21.8%
Taipei 5 (estimate) 303070 -9.1%
Taipei 6 (estimate) 308788 -7.4%
Taipei 7 (estimate) 302962 -9.1%
Taipei 8 (estimate) 318840 -4.4%

 

Taoyuan: mean=353118

Taoyuan 1 (estimate) 385916 +9.3%
Taoyuan 2 (estimate) 362369 +2.6%
Taoyuan 3 (estimate) 349239 -1.1%
Taoyuan 4 (estimate) 356003 +0.8%
Taoyuan 5 (estimate) 335798 -4.9%
Taoyuan 6 (estimate) 329386 -6.7%

 

Why didn’t they adjust the districts? This is not a pro-DPP or pro-KMT manipulation. It is a pro-incumbent manipulation. Incumbents want to keep their existing districts where they have spent years building up their mobilization networks. They don’t want to be exposed to new voters. They especially fear that they might be challenged by politicians who have better connections to those new voters.

It’s not surprising that legislators don’t want to change. But democracy isn’t set up to make things easier for politicians. Voters generally want politicians to be worried about public opinion. We want them to worry about being responsive to popular demands and to spend lots of energy doing constituency service. We don’t want complacent and entrenched politicians who are impossible to kick out of office. The point of democracy is for voters to choose politicians, nor for politicians to choose voters.

This is precisely why the law gives the power to draft a districting bill to the Central Election Commission. Individual legislators do not have the formal right to draw their own districts. Unlike legislators, the CEC is supposed to care about maintaining a fair playing field by insisting on respecting principles such as equal population. If they don’t do it, no one will. Not only does the CEC have the power to insist on following even population guidelines, it has the obligation to do so. It is precisely the institutional body entrusted with that task.

 

Instead, the CEC has abdicated its duty. Today, it deserves round condemnation and universal scorn. It blindly and obediently went along with legislators’ schemes to entrench themselves at the expense of the general populace. The CEC has failed us.

Han is, um, unique

May 23, 2018

The KMT has nominated Han Kuo-yu to run for Kaohsiung mayor, and I want to say a few words about him. This is a near hopeless race for the KMT, so Han is highly unlikely to win. Chen Chi-mai is almost certain to win, and he is a talented and promising politician who will join Lai, Lin, and Cheng vying for the 2024 presidential nomination. So this is not an post about the horse race; it is about how Han is not a normal KMT candidate.

The KMT has been doing terribly in the south for several years, but it can’t afford to write off the entire region. If it wants to be competitive in future presidential races, it has to figure out some sort of appeal for southern voters. What it has now just isn’t working. The KMT could have nominated a standard KMT candidate and tried the same script again; instead it nominated Han who promises to try a new strategy.

Han came up in Zhonghe politics, up in New Taipei City. He served three terms in the legislature (1992-2001), though he was pretty anonymous. He drew strength from the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing military system, and he was a pretty standard military-sponsored politician. Like a couple other Huang Fu-hsing representatives (eg: Shih Tai-sheng), Han also is reported as having extensive ties to organized crime gangs. (Gee, that was a strangely constructed sentence!)

Han mostly disappeared from the public eye for about 15 years. Then, a couple years ago, he emerged as head of the Taipei City farmers association, where he was allied with former Yunlin county magistrate Chang Jung-wei (who other people have also suggested might just perhaps be deeply enmeshed in criminal networks).

And then last year, Han ran for KMT chair. He didn’t win; he only got 5.8% of the votes. However, his discourse was interesting and very different from all the other candidates. I watched all the debates on youtube, and this is what I wrote about Han:

 

Five of the candidates sounded rather similar. Han sounded completely different. During both debates, Han didn’t talk about things like the 1992 Consensus, KMT party assets, or other partisan topics. Instead, he talked about the difficulties of everyday life for lower income and less educated people. Good jobs are scarce, drug use is common, things are too expensive, and life is generally hard. Notably, he did not blame all of these woes solely on President Tsai and the DPP. He was complaining about the effects of President Ma’s policies just as much. His discourse was limited to expressing the pain felt by the lower class. He did not bother to offer any solutions, not even Trump-esque claims that everything could be easily fixed if only someone really wanted to. This was a campaign aimed at the people who know the system is rigged against them and will continue to be rigged against them. It was also aimed at young men, especially the types who might drive a truck or join a gang. This may not have been the best strategy for a KMT party chair race, since I would wager that KMT members are less likely than the general population to be young, unemployed, financially struggling, or to feel that the system is rigged against them. Nevertheless, Han didn’t do terribly. I wonder how many candidates will pick up this campaign strategy for the city and county councilor elections next year.

 

There are two names that I really don’t want to drop into this post, but I can’t think of any better way to make the point. The first is Donald Trump. Han is pushing an angry, populist message aimed at young and middle-aged men with low education levels and who want blue collar jobs. There are, of course, lots of aspects of Trump’s discourse that are missing (eg: immigration, attacks on the media, anti-trade), but the target audience is similar.

The second name—well maybe I’ll just let you guess. Unlike the standard-issue KMT-allied (alleged) organized crime boss (think Chang Jung-wei, Lo Fu-chu, Yen Ching-piao, Lin Ming-yi, …), Han is not merely allied with Chinese nationalism for convenience or patronage benefits. Coming from the Huang Fu-hsing system, Chinese nationalism is a core principal for Han. This makes him a different type of gangster. I am suggesting that the KMT might be interested in seeing how Han’s discourse plays out, but I suspect the PRC is also watching this very closely. If Han does well, they might be even more aggressive in sponsoring crime gangs in Taiwan politics.

 

I don’t know if Han’s message will work. I suspect it will not. If it doesn’t, he doesn’t have the deep organizational networks to overcome the lack of a compelling message. It’s entirely possible that more conventional KMT city council candidates will panic and encourage a more standard politician to run an independent mayoral campaign, worrying that their voters will not want to turn out to vote for a mayoral candidate like Han. However, if Han somehow manages to break into the low 40s, KMT presidential and legislative candidates (in green districts) in 2020 might decide to copy his populist approach. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

(Would it have been wrong to title this post “Han Solo” just for the extra clicks?)

DPP divorces Ko

May 17, 2018

I’ve been too busy to blog much. I’m way overscheduled for most of the rest of the year, so this probably won’t be a great year for Frozen Garlic. Sorry. I’ve been thinking about this post for about two weeks, and, unlike most of the things I think about these days, I finally found some time to sit down and bang it out.

 

The DPP has finally made a decision about the Taipei mayoral race. It will not cooperate with Ko Wen-je this time and will instead nominate its own candidate. This decision to split with Ko has been building for a long time.

Four years ago, the DPP was desperate to win what seemed an impossible race in Taipei. They didn’t have a strong candidate of their own, and they (and their new young allies from the Sunflower Movement) absolutely detested the KMT nominee, Sean Lien. Ko Wen-je emerged seemingly from nowhere as a viable candidate who was generally sympathetic to DPP ideals, and yet he was different enough to pull a few votes from the KMT base. The DPP yielded to him, and he eventually won with a seemingly unfathomable 57% of the votes. Ko was lauded in the media as an electoral juggernaut, but let’s not forget that he was running against a terrible KMT candidate. Ko was probably never as popular as he was made out to be. As mayor, Ko governed as an independent. He appointed people from both sides to his mini-cabinet, and he pointedly mostly stayed home during the 2016 election. He did not go out of his way to reinforce ties with the DPP.

That would have been fine. Mayors are not really expected by the national parties to do specific things. As long as they are competent and don’t get into any major scandals, the parties are pretty much ok with anything else. The decisions to pay down Taipei debt, stop the Taipei Dome project, tear down lots of overpasses, and not build very much are not at issue.

What really damaged Ko was his trip to China when he famously uttered that people on both sides all belong to the same family 兩岸一家親. With that statement, he crossed a line for many DPP supporters. Ko later “explained” that he worried about the possibility that China would cause problems for the upcoming University Games, so he was willing to say whatever was necessary to “get through it” 過關. China is famous for asking Taiwanese to go one step further, and Ko is not the first person to fall into this trap. Eric Chu did the same thing right after taking office as KMT chair in early 2015. Ko, like Chu, was guilty of thinking that he was simply playing word games, and that he could be cleverer than everyone else. The problem is that you can’t win that game. You can’t say one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. On this topic, everyone is always watching, and everyone sees and hears everything you do and say. Moreover, everyone understands the little nuances of the words, and when there is ambiguity, unfortunately China’s superior international presence and influence allows it to clarify the ambiguity as it sees fit for the rest of the world. Ko might have thought he was cleverly walking a thin line without falling over by plausibly meaning that the two sides are distant relatives from the same family, thus implying no need for unification. However, it could also mean that the two sides are close family. Ko might have satisfied China (which certainly chose to hear the latter interpretation), but DPP supporters back home also heard Ko’s ambiguity and wondered why they had put him in office.

There is only one way to play the word games with China, and that is not to play them. You have to carefully settle on a formula that says exactly what you want to say and then stick doggedly to that formula. You simply cannot “go a little further” in order to make a few PRC officials at a banquet happier; any deviations from the formula have to be carefully planned and vetted. Cleverness is not an advantage; you have to stick to the script. Ko may think he is the smartest person in the room, but that lack of humility is exactly why he messed up.

Let’s also be cynical about Ko’s motives. He probably wasn’t just worried about the University Games. After freezing out the Tsai government and with the impotence of the KMT, the PRC was actively looking for a new partner in Taiwan. Ko was exploring whether he might fit into that role. His ambiguous statement about the nature of Taiwan was a message to China that he might be someone they could work with if they wanted to bypass Tsai. Likewise, China’s appeal for him to go a little further was a probe to see if he might be their conduit. In this sense, Ko was not merely building amiable ties between the Taipei and Shanghai city governments; he was actively undermining the Tsai government’s ability to demand that the PRC deal with Taiwan’s national government.

 

At the beginning of this year, the DPP still had not decided whether to cooperate with Ko again. From the outside, it certainly looks to me as if President Tsai was the strongest voice in favor of cooperation. In January, she lobbed a softball to Ko, publicly asking him to “reassure” everyone that he shared “Taiwan values”. All Ko had to do was state in some vague way that he believed the 23 million people of Taiwan had the right to determine their own future, that Taiwanese are close family and China is distant family, that he subscribed to Tsai’s formula of respecting the ROC constitution, or something of that nature. Instead, he publicly wondered what Tsai meant by “Taiwan values.” This was not the answer Tsai and the DPP were looking for.

DPP legislator Yao Wen-chih 姚文智 wants to run for mayor, so he has been leading the calls for the DPP to nominate its own candidate. He has held several demonstrations, each one seemingly larger than the previous one. Notably, almost all of the DPP city council candidates have joined him. They have developed two powerful (and plausible) rationales for nominating their own candidate. First, city councilors fear that, because DPP loyalists are so disgusted with Ko’s China discourse, they will not come out to vote. They argue they need a strong mayoral candidate to drive up turnout so that they can also win their races. One might doubt this argument, but the DPP city council candidates have almost all voted with their feet. They have almost unanimously gone on record against Ko. Second, they have argued that Ko is going to run for the presidency in 2020, whether or not they cooperate with him in the mayoral race. According to this reasoning, it is better to split with him now rather than build him up even stronger. Amazingly, as this consensus within the DPP built and built over the past four months, Ko did almost nothing. It was as if he was oblivious to what was happening. A couple weeks ago, the DPP national party made one last effort, suggesting that internal polls showed that DPP supporters were split on whether to support Ko. However, while casual DPP supporters may still be amenable to Ko, the loyalists are not. Over the last few weeks, faction after faction has come out in favor of nominating their own candidate.

Ko did finally seem to awaken last week, he belatedly made an “apology” for his statement in China. However, he did not disavow the statement that both sides belong to one family. Rather, he said that he was sorry if anyone had been upset by his statement. You know, “Sorry, not sorry.” Then he made his excuse about just trying to successfully hold the University Games and claimed he had said things in the moment without really thinking about them. To me, it was a fairly pathetic show. Ko’s apology probably made people angrier. Moreover, he was suggesting he a) thought holding some stupid games were more important than cross-straits relations, and b) was basically incompetent at diplomacy. Also, he finally announced that he would support Tsai in her 2020 re-election bid for the presidency. This might have had some impact if he had said it in January, but now it is far too late. After several months of distancing himself from the DPP, his denial of presidential ambitions at the moment the DPP was making a final decision on whether to nominate its own mayoral candidate rang a bit hollow. It is certainly plausible to look at events and conclude that Ko was keeping his options open and might eventually turn on the DPP.

 

Aside: This whole process is a case study in President Tsai’s leadership style. Tsai believes strongly in consensus. She has her own preferences, but she does not generally try to impose them on the rest of the party. Instead, she prefers to slowly let a consensus build, and then she will lead the party in that consensus position. We have seen this on pensions and marriage equality, and now the same thing is playing out with the mayoral nomination. If Ko was counting on her to insist that the party yield, he hasn’t been paying much attention.

 

I’d like to think briefly about an article written by DPP city councilor Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑. Liang argues that Ko won in 2014 because voters despised Lien’s actions as a comprador, but that Ko in office has followed exactly that path. As with all good political attacks, this takes events and stretches them a bit. I don’t think Ko’s feelers toward China constitute Lien-level comprador activities, but he was plausibly taking the first steps in that direction. The significance of this article isn’t so much that it is incisive analysis; rather, this is more important as a blueprint for how the DPP will attack Ko over then next few months (or years, if he runs for president). They will pain him as a political speculator ready to sell out Taiwan’s interests for the sake of his own political career. It looks like a pretty good line of attack to me.

 

I’ve consistently underestimated Ko Wen-je over the past five years. I may be doing so again, but this looks like the beginning of the end for him to me. I expect the DPP to start attacking him, and these attacks will take their toll on his popularity. Right now the DPP is in third place in the race, but if they can knock Ko down to third place, strategic voting will eviscerate him. Right now, my guess is that he will end up between 10% and 15%, far behind the KMT and DPP candidates.

I can still see a second act for Ko if he, in fact, does hold presidential ambitions. I’ve been saying almost since he was elected that there is a political vacuum waiting for him to step into. James Soong is old and ripe to be replaced. With the DPP now repudiating Ko, it is certainly plausible that he will slide over into that space in the political spectrum, perhaps taking over the PFP or perhaps leading a new force centered on current PFP supporters. If the KMT does not figure out how to revitalize itself, Ko could eventually displace the KMT as the main political force opposing the DPP. We are a long way from that happening, but it is a bit more plausible today than it was at the beginning of the year. If it does happen, we might look back on the One Family discourse as a foundational strategic move launching Ko into national politics rather than as a monumental blunder that cost him the mayorship.

 

 

On polling primaries

March 8, 2018

The KMT and DPP have now finished their first round of polling primaries. It seems to me that the polling primary might not be around very much longer. But before I get to that, let me start this post with some quick comments about the DPP results of the past couple days.

We have been headed for factional wars in Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Chiayi for a few years now, but it turned out that the full-blown battle only materialized in Chiayi. Chen Ming-wen’s 陳明文 side has won that battle, so he and his friends will control the county government for the next four years. This will make a full two decades in power for him since he switched sides in 2002. To recap, during the 1990s Chiayi County was reliably KMT, with the DPP never really coming close to victory. Even in the 1997 DPP tidal wave, Chiayi stayed blue. Chen himself was the second most important politician in the Lin Faction, which was clearly the second faction in the KMT. The dominant Huang faction won the intra-party struggles, and then the KMT won the inter-party struggles. Two things changed this. First, the dominant Lin faction politician, legislator Tseng Chen-nung 曾振農 (famed as king of rattan chairs涼椅王), faded away. I can’t remember clearly, but I think he had some legal and financial problems and eventually went to exile in Cambodia where he died in the early 2000s. Chen Ming-wen thus assumed leadership of the faction. Second, Chen read the changing political environment, and showing considerable political skill convinced nearly his entire to switch sides. Inside the DPP, Chen’s faction was the dominant force, and the newly strengthened DPP easily beat the KMT. Chen served as county magistrate for two terms and then turned the county over to his ally (and Tseng Chen-nung’s widow) Helen Chang 張花冠. During her two terms she apparently decided to try to take over leadership of the faction, and so here we are today. The Chen and Chang factions went head to head in the primary, and Chen’s candidate Weng Chang-liang 翁章梁 won a narrow but clear victory 43-35. I really only know three things about Weng: 1) He is in Chen’s faction, 2) He comes from the Wild Lily student movement, and 3) He has three surnames 翁、章、梁.

The Kaohsiung primary momentarily turned nasty about a month ago, when mayor Chen Chu 陳菊 released her book and rehashed some of the unpleasantness of her 2006 campaign. It turned out to be a terrible strategy, and her favored candidate Liu Shi-fang 劉世芳 ended up withdrawing from the race. This left the field wide open for Chen Chi-mai 陳其邁, who was probably always going to win anyway. However, without Liu (and with mayor Chen staying neutral), Chen Chi-mai lapped the field, getting more support than the other three candidates combined. This large win makes it highly unlikely that anyone from the green side will challenge him in the general election. Unless something really strange happens, Chen is a shoe-in to win in Octobler.

Chen Chi-mai’s smashing victory in the Kaoshiung primary is important for another reason. Chen has a good head on his shoulders and plenty of ambition. He probably slots into third place in the future DPP presidential candidate sweepstakes, just behind Premier William Lai 賴清德 and Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍. I think he jumps ahead of other contestants, such as VP Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁, Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan 鄭文燦, Chen Chu, and people not currently in the DPP such as Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌 and Ko Wen-je 柯文哲. I have a very high opinion of Chen Chi-mai, and I expect his national profile to soar over the next few years.

The contest in Tainan was also a blowout, with Huang Wei-che 黃偉哲 clearly beating Chen Ting-fei 陳亭妃 and the rest of the field. Tainan can be a launching pad to the presidency (see Lai, William), but I don’t have such a high opinion of Huang. Thus far in his career, he has been better at going on talk shows than actually doing politics. But there is absolutely no chance that the KMT will win Tainan, so Huang will get a chance to prove himself and make me eat my words.

 

I don’t really want to write about the specific races. I want to write about the future of the polling primary. I think this institution might be on its last legs.

Nominations are always challenging. Parties want to nominate a (1) candidate who will win the race and is (2) ideologically consistent with the party’s mainstream values. They further want to do this in some sort of process that (3) gives the party some degree of control over who they nominate, and (4) convinces the other aspirants not to challenge the decision in the general election. These various goals usually conflict with each other. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when elections were becoming more and more competitive, both parties struggled with nominations. The KMT tried decentralizing its process, but it ended up with candidates the party leaders didn’t like. It also found that candidates who were highly rated by the local party office weren’t always great candidates, such as the 1989 Taipei County magistrate debacle in which all the local factions rebelled against the bookish and clueless Lee Hsi-kun 李錫錕. (Somehow, Lee has re-emerged after all these years to launch an internet-fueled campaign for Taipei mayor. The world is weird.)

The early KMT “primaries” were generally advisory and non-binding. The DPP tried holding binding votes among party members. This resulted in widespread accusations of mindless factional vote trading, cultivating phantom party members, and outright vote-buying. When the DPP tried giving more weight to elite party members’ preferences, the factionalism only intensified.

This clearly didn’t work. The DPP tried moving toward an American-style public primary in the 1996 presidential nomination. However, in the USA, the primary elections are run by the state. The Taiwan government was not interested in helping the DPP run its primary election. Instead, the DPP launched a touring roadshow. They set up a stage, just like a political rally, and the two finalists debated each other (saying the same things every night). After (ok, during) the debate, the audience could go to the side tent and vote by casting a special commemorative coin into a custom-made vending machine. It was a disaster. The machines broke repeatedly, there were rumors of repeat voters and other forms of cheating, turnout was much lower than the DPP had hoped for, and the DPP fundamentalists ended up nominating Peng Ming-min 彭明敏, one of the worst candidates in Taiwan’s electoral history. (He could barely be bothered with unimportant things like, you know, policy.) The DPP was never going to win in 1996, but it was clear that in a more winnable race this nomination process might torpedo their chances.

Telephone polls were the answer. At first, parties used a mixture of party member voting and telephone polls. However, the polls were seen as a more authentic gauge of support in the electorate. A candidate who lost the party vote but won the telephone poll was not going to withdraw in favor of a candidate who had won the party vote but lost the telephone poll. Moreover, as long as there was some component of party voting, there was a danger of vote buying. The death knell for party voting came prior to the 2008 election, when the electoral law was revised extending the penalties for vote buying to primary elections. The parties (especially the DPP) were terrified that their nominees would be indicted for vote buying BEFORE the election. Since 2008, the parties have resolved all of their nomination disputes by polling primaries. They don’t always need the polling primary; sometimes they can negotiate a nominee acceptable to everyone. However, the polling primary is always the default final solution.

Telephone polls were particularly useful because they convinced losers to accept losing. When they work properly, polls give each candidate a fair chance to demonstrate their support. It is hard to argue that you are actually the more deserving nominee when a telephone poll with a representative sample says the opposite. Polls are also hard to manipulate, especially in comparison to other alternatives such as voting by party members. Because each resident with a telephone is potentially a polling respondent, it is inefficient to buy votes or intimidate voters.

To top it off, polling is pretty cheap, so parties can easily afford to hire multiple companies and do large samples.

So what is the problem? I think that polls are losing their authoritativeness. For one thing, there are rumors that innovative politicians are finally learning how to manipulate polls. We hear again and again that politicians are buying thousands of telephone lines to increase the chances that pollsters will call them. I have doubts about this. Wouldn’t Chunghua Telecom notice a person registering 1000 new numbers at one address and flag that transaction? Who would staff all those telephones? Besides, you need a lot more than a thousand extra numbers to move the needle in, for example, Kaoshiung, which has over 2 million residents. Nonetheless, rumors of manipulation are an important ingredient.

The second ingredient is real. There is a growing crisis in polling caused by the rise of mobile phones. For decades, pollsters have assumed that a representative sample of household landlines was effectively a representative sample of the entire population. Every house had a phone, so a sample of phone numbers covered everyone. This was never actually true, but it was close enough. No longer. Now we don’t quite know how construct a representative sample. It is clear that you cannot rely simply on landlines. However, there is no theoretically rigorous algorithm to combine landlines, cell phones, and internet surveys. That 3% margin of error (which is calculated solely by sample size) you see reported in every newspaper story was always something of a lie, because a sample of landlines was never actually a true random sample. Now it is even more meaningless.

Note that I did not say that pollsters are intentionally manipulating the results. Professional pollsters don’t do that, especially for something like a party primary. The protocols are set up to allow observers from each candidate to make sure that no manipulation occurs during the interview process.

Many candidates don’t know what they are looking at; the speakers of the Keelung and Chiayi councils are not exactly members of the numerati. They might really think they have somehow been cheated because, for instance, the polling company refused to call the list of telephone numbers they brought in. Other candidates, such as Chou Hsi-wei 周錫偉 in New Taipei, probably do understand the basics of polling but cynically proclaim doubts that the results were manipulated to explain away their losses. The problem is that when these sorts of accusations are made (as they always are), the experts no longer fight back with a unified front. We no longer have absolute confidence in our own results. Rather than a solid wall of rejection from the experts, the complainers now have little cracks to exploit. Polls simply don’t have the authority that they did ten or twenty years ago.

Without this aura of authority, polling primaries will probably start to fail at one of their most basic tasks: convincing losers to accept defeat. That means that parties will need a new mechanism. I suspect the next thing they will try might be an American-style publicly run primary election. However, that will require significant legal changes, so it is still some distance in the future.

Wayne says no

January 21, 2018

Wayne Chiang 蔣萬安 has announced that he will not run for Taipei mayor. You might think that it would be no big deal for a person who has been in politics for all of two years and has never publicly declared his intention to run to clarify that he is, in fact, not running. You would be wrong. To give you an idea of how important some people see this, here is the front page of today’s China Times.

Wayne Chiang is, as all you fine readers are doubtless already aware, the son of former Foreign Minister John Chiang, grandson of former president Chiang Ching-kuo, and great-grandson of the generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. There are family politicians, and then there are political royalty. So when Wayne* announced he was entering the political world in 2015, he was immediately a media star. It’s not just that he is young and reasonably good looking, moderately charismatic, and a scion of the imperial household, it’s also that he is all of those things at a time when the KMT is facing an acute shortage of leaders. One of the most devastating legacies of the Ma presidency is that Ma did not cultivate a large cohort of potential successors. They have old warhorses like Wu Den-yi, politically damaged figures like Eric Chu, Hau Lung-pin, and Yi-huah Chiang, and not much else. They are desperate for a savior, and many people have projected all their hopes and dreams on Wayne. He’s the Lion King; his name is Wayne, but lots of people look at him and see Simba.

[*I would normally refer to Wayne Chiang by his last name. However, in order to avoid confusion with the other members of his family, I’m going to call him “Wayne.” This is purely for clarity and is not meant as a sign of either disrespect or familiarity.]

I’m in the early stages of a project on family politics, and I’m still working out how to think normatively about politicians who inherit their power bases. On the one hand, family politicians still have to win elections. The voters have to confer power on them through a democratic process. It would be strange to disqualify a group of citizens from democratic politics simply because their parents held power. On the other hand, the children of politicians are far more likely than other citizens to become elected politicians in their own right. This is true of every profession, but the advantage in politics is greater than in almost every other profession. To quote Dal Bo, Dal Bo, and Snyder, “power begets power.” In a democracy, the notion of hereditary political power is disconcerting. (This is especially true in the modern world, in which Picketty reminds us that the returns to capital are returning to historical norms so that people who have money are the people best positioned to continue to have money. If democratic politics also perpetuates wealth and power and cannot counterbalance the concentration of wealth, what hope do we normal people have for an equitable or just society?) I think it is safe to say that most people’s actual behavior suggests that the former discourse is the dominant one. People might occasionally complain about politicians from political families, but voters generally seem quite happy to vote for them. It certainly doesn’t seem that family politicians pay any electoral penalty (though I haven’t produced any systematic evidence on that yet).

Wayne is a fairly popular politician who seems to enjoy the benefits of coming from a prominent family without paying much penalty for that advantage. He won his seat almost entirely on the strength of his family name. That is, if he had merely been a 37 year old American-educated lawyer, he would not have been able to defeat the KMT incumbent legislator in the party primary. In campaign events, he made sure to remind voters of his heritage, even though everyone was already quite aware of it. If you only know one thing about him, it’s going to be his family pedigree. The hardcore KMT supporters see him and think of the glory days of the ROC, when the prestige of the Chiang dynasty was unchallenged. What’s more interesting and a bit surprising to me is the extent to which the rest of the electorate does not seem to hold that past against him. It isn’t as though he has renounced or questioned his family’s record (even to the extent that some other members of the fourth Chiang generation have). He has shown zero signs of anything other than fully embracing the Chiang legacy, but somehow he hasn’t been painted as a reactionary, extremist, or ultra-nationalist. Quite the contrary, his support of marriage equality and his opposition to parts of the DPP’s revisions of the Labor Standards Law have allowed him to present himself as forward-looking and progressive. Small wonder that many in the KMT wanted him to run for mayor!

If Wayne did run, I think he would have a reasonably good chance of winning. In the 2016 election, Taipei was almost a tossup between the blue and green camps. Before that, however, Taipei reliably produced sizeable blue majority. None of us really know whether the 2014-2016 electoral lines were ephemeral or will prove durable, though most in the KMT seem to believe that 2018-2020 won’t be as bad as the 2014-2016 for them. If that’s the case, a KMT nominee should be favored to win back Taipei City. Longtime readers of this blog will know that I wasn’t that impressed with Ko Wen-je in the 2014 election. I still think the 2014 result was more due to Sean Lien being a historically horrible candidate than to Ko Wen-je being a particularly good one. I don’t think Ko has done much in office to build an imposing political coalition. He has alienated a lot of DPP supporters who voted for him last time. He has not been terrible, but I suspect that his support is much more fragile than it appears at first glance. Wayne might have a 50-50 shot (or slightly better) in a one-on-one race with Ko. If the DPP ran its own candidate, Wayne would become a clear favorite.

If Wayne is the KMT’s best candidate and he has a reasonably good chance to win, why isn’t he running? There are two good reasons. First, he probably realizes that he is still a political novice and isn’t ready to step onto the big stage. My first instinct was that he should wait another four years to get a more solid political foundation before making his move. However, the more I thought about it, the less I believed that. Opportunities are precious, and you have to seize them when you have them. Inexperienced people can and do learn on the fly. It’s not as if people judge mayors harshly. Unlike the president or premier, mayors get the benefit of the doubt, and you have to do a pretty bad job as mayor to get bad press. Moreover, the upside is tremendous. The mayor of Taipei is almost automatically on the short list for the presidency. If Wayne steps up to the big stage at this early age, he will be a potential president for the next two or three decades. Wayne might already have a higher probability than anyone else in the KMT of winning the presidency at some point in the future; if he becomes the mayor, he will be far ahead of everyone else.

Second, and I suspect this is the real reason, Wayne might worry that he won’t be able to control his family and their cronies in the KMT. Keeping Dad at arm’s length is an underappreciated problem for all young dynastic politicians, and it might be especially acute in Wayne’s case. Wayne knows he is still a political novice, so he will have to rely heavily on other people’s expertise to run the city government. There will be lots of people eager to volunteer, and most of them will have their own agenda. Remember what Alex Tsai did after losing the mayoral primary in 2014? He jumped into Sean Lien’s campaign team and tried to hijack it with his own schemes (like privatizing and selling off the airport land). If he couldn’t be mayor himself, having an inept figurehead like Sean Lien to manipulate would be just fine. He would have happily monetized and sold off Taipei city property to his friends while letting Lien take all the blame. Of course, Sean Lien’s father may have intervened to prevent that, since he presumably had his own ideas about how to milk the cow. Wayne’s father is not as venal as Sean’s father, but there are plenty of people in the KMT who would love to put Wayne in office and serve as the shadow regent. Wayne needs time to build up his political foundations. He needs to learn how to exercise power, cultivate talented people loyal to him, and build up the capacity to fend off the hordes of eager leeches. In short, Wayne might win the election, but he could very well see his promising political career destroyed in a corruption scandal. If he runs for mayor in 2018, I think Wayne is at least as likely to spend 2025 or 2029 in jail as in the presidential office.

Perhaps you think I’m overestimating the potential for corruption. Consider Ko Wen-je’s record in office. No, I’m not suggesting Ko has been corrupt. Quite the opposite. Ko ran as a progressive, but I don’t think he has an especially progressive record. He hasn’t gotten involved in the debate on marriage equality (unlike Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu). He hasn’t done much for working conditions. He has built some public housing, but so has Eric Chu, who no one thinks is particularly progressive. He promised direct democracy, but his ivoting project really hasn’t gone anywhere. Putting aside his attempts at carving out an independent China policy, Ko has done two things. First, he has torn down lots of bridges and overpasses. Most politicians want to build things (to put their names on). Ko has done the opposite, tearing down lots of those unsightly and mostly unused things. The city streets now looks more open and spacious. The most spectacular example was the overpass in front of the north gate. Now that that ugly thing is gone, we have a restored view of the north gate. Ko’s demolition has reminded Taipei of its history and given it a new public symbol. Excellent! Second, Ko has paid off a lot of Taipei’s debt. Demolition is cheap, and he hasn’t launched any major spending projects. Most of the current MRT construction is out in New Taipei. Taipei’s revenue streams aren’t as egregiously high now as they were 20 or 30 years ago, but Taipei still takes in more than its fair share of revenue. Ko has taken the surplus and paid down the debt. Taipei’s debt has fallen from 160 billion to 100 billion in the last four years. Don’t expect future generations to thank Ko, because there is no chance that they will enjoy his frugality. The prime beneficiary will the next mayor, who will have as much money as he wants to launch spectacular new initiatives. Want to build a trophy building downtown? No problem. How about a dozen new exercise facilities? Fantastic. Will fifty new day-care centers help spur a higher birth rate? Give it a shot. Or perhaps you just want to line the pockets of your cronies with expensive and useless “cultural and creative” festivals. Bam! There is a golden goose sitting there just waiting to be plucked. A wise politician could use that to both make Taipei a better place and advance his or her career. A clumsy and greedy politician could end up jailed and disgraced. If Ko wins another term and continues to pay down the debt, that golden goose will still be waiting for a more mature Wayne (and a less energetic father four more years removed from power) to harvest.

 

One more thing. Let’s not assume that Wayne is definitely not running for mayor this year. I think he was probably sincere in announcing his intention not to run, but it might not be that easy. The rest of the KMT isn’t going to just give up their dream without a fight. We’ll almost certainly see a movement to draft him, especially if Ko continues to lead all other potential KMT candidates in the polls.

Twenty years ago, President Lee tried to neuter the KMT heartthrob, Ma Ying-jeou. Lee replaced Ma as Justice Minister and gave Ma a meaningless position as Minister Without Porfolio. After a few months, Ma resigned his cabinet position, famously asking “what am I fighting for” 為何而戰? Ma announced he was retiring from politics and took a full-time teaching job at the NCCU Department of Law. Supporters repeatedly implored Ma to run for Taipei mayor in 1998, as he seemed to be the only person with a chance to defeat the popular incumbent, Chen Shui-bian. Again and again, Ma refused. At one point, he answered in exasperation that he had said he wasn’t running a hundred times, and he had given the NCCU president his personal word that he wasn’t merely using the university as a launching pad for the next stage of his career. But under extreme pressure, Ma did eventually decide to run, and it was the right political decision. He beat Chen, positioned himself to eventually take over the KMT, won two terms as president, and was able to attempt to fundamentally alter Taiwan’s path. Don’t be surprised if Wayne hears a lot about his duty and unique opportunity for his party and country over the next few weeks and ultimately comes to the same decision as Ma did.

 

 

The recall aftermath, part 2

December 25, 2017

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

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

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

Let’s start with those district-level results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xizhi map

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

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

recall 2017 xizhi yes_kf.png

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

 

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

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

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

cc2014 Pai Pei ju.png

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

cc2014 Liao Cheng liang.png

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

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

 

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

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

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