Effort to recall Ker

November 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero-sum Trump

November 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

What does Trump mean for Taiwan?

November 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


Relax. The Sky Isn’t Falling.

September 5, 2016

I haven’t weighed in on the current state of affairs in Taiwan in recent months since I have been busy with my regular job and since not all that much significant has happened. However, it seems that the rest of the world has a very different view of things than I do.

(I’m writing this on an airplane without access to the internet, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of concrete numbers. If you need some polling numbers, I suggest checking the TISR website.)

I keep reading that President Tsai’s and Premier Lin’s approval ratings are sinking fast. Communications in the new government do not flow smoothly. The new administration has taken some shockingly conservative positions, bungled several appointments, and is basically on the verge of becoming a failed administration.

Hey, relax! The world I see looks very little like that. Sure, Tsai’s new administration is going through some growing pains as it learns how to wield power. There have been a few missteps, but let’s keep a sense of perspective. These have been minor bumps rather than major failures that might define her first term. I think the biggest problem is that many deep green true believers are suffering from wildly unrealistic expectations. Did they really expect transitional justice to occur, economic transformation to be completed, KMT party assets to be recovered, the judicial system to be thoroughly reformed, and cross-straits relations to be fundamentally reset to Taiwan’s ideal position in just one hundred days? Maybe we should wait a couple of years before making our preliminary judgements.

Also, maybe DPP supporters might want to enjoy the victories when they occur. The party assets bill is a good example of unwarranted hand-wringing. So the process was marked by stops and starts, with compromises, delays, and a fair amount of screaming from both sides. So what? That’s how the process works in democratic politics. The important thing is that the bill was eventually passed, not whether the government was sufficiently sincere, enthusiastic, or inflexible during the process. To roughly paraphrase a friend, recovering ill-gotten KMT assets has been a core DPP goal since before there even was a DPP. And now they have won! They have completely won! But do they stop to enjoy the moment or give any credit to their leadership for this achievement? Not at all. They are too busy criticizing the slight imperfections to enjoy the larger victory. The DPP is the establishment now! It needs to learn how to accept and enjoy winning. It needs to stop thinking like idealist, perfectionist activists and start thinking like pragmatists.


Tsai took a lot of heat from the true believers over the international court’s decision on the South China Seas. They seemed infuriated that she had not taken the opportunity to renounce ROC claims to the nine-dash line, the various islands, or whatever. Personally, I couldn’t care less about all those islands way out in the ocean far away from Taiwan, but I thought her “conservative” stance showed considerable restraint. In a sense, this was showing that her promise to respect the “constitutional order” has real meaning. It doesn’t only constrain her from doing things that ardent Chinese nationalists want (ie: unification with no reference to public opinion), it also constrains her from doing things that many ardent Taiwanese nationalists want (ie: renouncing all commitments made and positions taken by the KMT regime). I don’t know whether Beijing was taking note, but they should have been. That this sort of message could be sent using “disposable” assets made it all the better. Taiwan actually has security interests in the Daioyutai and Pengjiayu Islands, so it might need to be more careful in how it treats those territories.


On public opinion, everyone is clearly overreacting. Tsai and Lin’s aggregate approval ratings have declined a bit from their initial levels. However, those initial approval ratings in the 70s were always unrealistic. Those were classic honeymoon numbers. Once normal partisan politics kicked in, a certain number of those people who have never liked the DPP were inevitably going to discover that she was doing DPP-type things. It’s not as if her current numbers are terrible. An approval rating of somewhere around 50%, give or take 5%, is a perfectly workable number. By all appearances, she is mostly holding her coalition together. It looks to me as though the green voters who are dissatisfied are mostly the deep green ideologues who sure as hell won’t be defecting to the blue camp. Moreover, there is another number that isn’t getting near the attention of the satisfaction ratings but is far more important. Party ID is trending in favor of the DPP. During the first three years of Ma’s second term, the KMT hemorrhaged support while this DPP gained identifiers and eventually passed the KMT. By the end of 2014, this trend had played out, and party ID was fairly stable between the December 2014 mayoral elections and the 2016 presidential election. However, in the past six months, the lines have started moving again, with the DPP stretching its party ID advantage over the KMT to unprecedented levels. At the beginning of the year, the DPP usually had a 5-10% edge; now that edge is around 20% in most polls. This is hardly a sign of a presidency in collapse.


So, hey, try something different. Just chill. Taiwan was in ultra-politicized/crisis mode almost constantly between September 2013 and January 2016. Try to enjoy a few months, maybe even a couple of years, of more normal, relatively boring politics. Go take a bike ride or hike a mountain or something. Just stop panicking.

Taipei LY districts

July 10, 2016

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

TGPIS 2016 Taipei downtown v2

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

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


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

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

TGPIS 2016 Taipei downtown v3

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

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

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

[3] Barack Obama is a classic example.

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

The evolution of Taiwan’s media

July 4, 2016

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

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

Which newspaper do you read most often?

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

Here are the results:

TEDS newspapers

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

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

TEDS TV stations

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

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


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

2016 election data

January 23, 2016

I know all of you have been waiting breathlessly for a neatly organized spreadsheet of the presidential and legislative elections broken down by legislative districts, so here it is! Start analyzing, and let me know if you find anything interesting.

2016 LY prez by LY district

The Caretaker Cabinet

January 22, 2016

While I’m waiting for the Central Election Commission to release the full election results in Excel form (as opposed to having to cut and paste each results from each town or polling station into my own spreadsheet), let’s take a break from analyzing election results. Instead, today’s topic is whether Tsai Ing-wen should agree to form a caretaker government.

I think it is an awful idea. I think Tsai is handling the situation perfectly by refusing to form a caretaker cabinet, proposing a bill to govern the transition of power during the lame duck period, and insisting that appointing the cabinet is still the president’s prerogative. However, there seems to be a growing call for her to take over immediately. Let me explain why I think this is a bad idea.

This problem should be considered from two angles: legal and political. From a legal perspective, the constitution sets out a four year fixed presidential term. There is no mention of a caretaker government, and the president’s formal powers are not diminished during the period between the election and the inauguration of the next president. Many people will argue that there is a new expression of public opinion that has removed the president’s mandate. However, mandates are ambiguous. It is impossible to know exactly what message, if any, the electorate collectively intended to send. Thus, constitutions make no mention of mandates. Legally, we need only be concerned that a majority in the legislature will have significantly different preferences than the president. This tension is played out in the struggle for the control of the cabinet, where most of the concrete government policies are determined.

The cabinet is appointed by the president. (Technically, only the premier is appointed by the president, and the premier then appoints the rest of the cabinet. In practice, the president determines the makeup of the entire cabinet.) Many people have pointed to the French model of cohabitation and suggested that the cabinet should be responsible to the legislative majority. However, there is a critical distinction between the French semi-presidential system and the Taiwanese semi-presidential system. In France, the president nominates the premier, who must be confirmed by the legislature. In Taiwan, the president appoints the premier, and no confirmation vote is necessary. This difference fundamentally changes the relationship between the executive and the legislature. In France, the legislative majority always forms the cabinet. In Taiwan’s only previous period of divided government, from 2000 to 2008, the legislative majority never formed the cabinet. The same pattern happens again and again in countries all over the world.

In Taiwan, the constitution gives the legislature the right to vote no confidence in the premier. If this happens, the premier resigns, and the president simply appoints a new premier. (The president could dissolve the legislature and call for new elections, but that is almost unthinkable during a lame duck period following a decisive electoral result.) The constitution thus empowers the president to appoint a cabinet that will implement his favored policies, so long as those actions are not so clearly against the preferences of the legislative majority that the legislative majority is moved to use its nuclear option. In the current situation, the legislative majority will not allow the cabinet very much freedom of action, so the cabinet will be constrained mostly to routine business. If the cabinet tries to make on any controversial or important decision, such as applying to join the AIIB, negotiating a Trade in Goods agreement with China, or approving the takeover of a Taiwanese high tech company by a Chinese company, the legislature can simply vote no-confidence and block the move.

Some people are calling for President Ma and Vice President Wu to appoint Tsai as Premier and then resign. Since the premier takes over the presidency if both the presidency and vice presidency are vacated, this would lead to Tsai taking office as president four months early. This is a terrible solution. Systems in which orderly transitions of power cannot be handled through routine procedures are systems with weak constitutional orders. When a president steps down early, this is always a clear signal to the rest of the world of a country in crisis and democratic system on the brink of collapse. That is not the signal that Taiwan wants to send out.

Tsai also has to think about a possible second term in which she might not have a legislative majority. She probably doesn’t want to weaken the presidency.

If the four month lame duck period is indeed problematic, Taiwan should handle it calmly and carefully. After considering the lessons of this year’s experience, Taiwan should put together a comprehensive reform package to institutionalize smooth power transitions. This might involve constitutional reform, so it will need a high degree of consensus.


That’s enough legal stuff. The political arguments are much more interesting. To put it bluntly, these calls for Tsai to take power immediately are a trap.


Tsai is not ready to take power. She has spent the past few months campaigning, not preparing for office. These are very different purposes. She needs a month or two to put together her governing team, plan out her concrete agenda, listen to detailed briefings from government agencies so she can get up to speed on specific policy questions, and engage in unofficial diplomacy with the USA, China, Japan, and others. She could probably also use a little rest.

Once Tsai takes power, there will be public expectations for her to govern. If she appoints an interim cabinet, even if she is not the premier, the public will expect it to immediately start implementing her agenda. However, she won’t have complete power yet. President Ma will still control important levers of power, and her team won’t be able to completely dominate the political arena. Imagine if she sends a team to negotiate with China and President Ma undermines the mission by screaming loudly that the DPP should respect the 92 Consensus (a position that he reiterated today). Or imagine that Ma uses the intelligence networks to leak information that might undermine a policy proposal. The interim cabinet might be dragged down in nasty fights, and Ma manages to block things it might look ineffective. Tsai’s popularity and mandate will slowly be eroded away. By the time she takes office, she might not have any honeymoon period left.

She is much better off simply waiting on the sidelines and letting the Ma government take responsibility for a period of relative inaction. If pressure builds up for her to act forcefully and dynamically when she takes office, Great! She can prepare a broad agenda, have everything ready to go on Day 1, and take power in a whirlwind of energy and action. This will allow her to make maximum use of her honeymoon period, and it might even extend that period.

[In American politics, all presidents are judged by their first hundred days. This is because President Roosevelt pushed through a slew of fundamental reform legislation during his first hundred days in 1933. These legislative acts formed the core of the New Deal, which fundamentally transformed the nature of American government. What most people don’t remember is that Roosevelt also had a four month lame duck period, and during the winter of 1933 the American economy sank into a deeper and deeper depression. Roosevelt ignored calls to take office early and waited calmly as public pressure for action mounted. When he took office, he was able to use that pressure to push through his agenda. By not grabbing at power, he was ultimately able to achieve far more of his political program.]


One of the things on Tsai’s agenda is constitutional reform. She wants to change the electoral system and lower the voting age. If the transition period turns out to be rough, this will provide added pressure for constitutional changes in order to rectify legislative and presidential terms. She might be able to work all her proposals together into a single package that would have a better chance of passing. In other words, a messy transition in the short term could be useful as a way of achieving the constitutional reform necessary to produce a better political system for the long term.


I think the KMT (and it is mostly blue voices clamoring for her to take power immediately) is trying to tempt Tsai into a political trap by enticing her with immediate power. If she is a ruthless, calculating, determined idealistic politician who wants to fundamentally transform Taiwan, she will continue to resist these calls.

How did the DPP win in Taitung and Hualien?

January 21, 2016

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of election night was that the DPP won the legislative district seats in both Taitung and Hualien. Moreover, this happened even though those two (and the two Fujian counties) were the only places in which the KMT beat the DPP in the presidential race. Perhaps some people thought that Taitung wasn’t a surprise since the DPP already held that seat, but let’s remember that they won that seat in 2012 with only 41.6% of the vote, taking advantage of a split in the KMT. This time, both Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪 in Taitung and Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 in Hualien won convincing majorities (64.2% and 53.4%, respectively). How did they do this?

There is an obvious possibility. In both Taitung and Hualien, indigenous voters account for about a third of the electorate. While the DPP has made some inroads with this group, indigenous voters still overwhelmingly support the KMT. Since indigenous voters cast their legislative votes in indigenous districts rather than in the regular geographical district, it stands to reason that the electorates in the Taitung and Hualien legislative districts should be quite a bit greener than the electorates in those counties in the presidential race. Is that difference sufficient to explain Liu and Hsiao’s victories?

Let’s examine the party list votes. As in previous posts, I combine the votes of all the green parties, the blue parties, and the others.

  total green blue Others
Taitung 95309 34869 54453 5987
% 100.0 36.6 57.1 6.3
Hualien 152350 51887 89886 10577
% 100.0 34.1 59.0 6.9

Party lists are like the presidential votes; they include indigenous voters. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tsai got 38.4% and 36.9% in the two counties, running about 2-3% ahead of the green party list vote just as she did in the rest of the country.

Now let’s look at the vote in the indigenous districts:

  total DPP KMT Others
Taitung 30248 4191 19197 6860
% 100.0 13.9 63.5 22.7
Hualien 35745 4794 24642 6309
% 100.0 13.4 68.9 17.7

In both counties, the DPP got about 14% of the indigenous district vote, while the KMT candidates got about 65%. However, that leaves another 20% voting for other candidates. On the party list, only about 7% voted for non-blue and non-green parties. I’m going to make a few big assumptions here. First, I assume that people who voted for the DPP in the indigenous district also voted for a green list. Likewise, I assume that KMT indigenous votes indicate blue list votes. Second, I assume that indigenous voters voted for one of the non-blue and non-green party lists at about the same rate as non-indigenous voters. This means that I have to reassign some of the votes in the third column to the first two columns. Since this is sloppy, I eyeballed it and shifted 4860 votes in Taitung (leaving an even 2000 in the “other” column) and 4000 votes in Hualien (leaving 2309). Third, I’m going to assume that 90% of these shifted votes went to a blue list and 10% went to a green list. I don’t really have any defense for these proportions other than to say they sound reasonable to me. If they don’t sound reasonable to you, remember that we are talking about relatively small numbers. If you assume it is 80-20, that only changes the final numbers by about 800 votes.

Here are the adjusted indigenous votes. Remember, these are my estimates, not actual results:

  total DPP KMT Others
Taitung 30248 4677 23571 2000
%   15.5 77.9 6.6
Hualien 35745 5194 28242 2309
%   14.5 79.0 6.5

From here, it is a relatively straightforward job to subtract these numbers from those in the first table to get the estimated party list votes for the non-indigenous electorate. These should be the voters that Liu and Hsiao were competing for.

  total DPP KMT Others
Taitung 65061 30192 30882 3987
%   46.4 47.5 6.1
Hualien 116605 46693 61644 8268
%   40.0 52.9 7.1

As a reminder, here are the actual district results:

  total DPP KMT Others
Taitung 65933 42317 23616  
%   64.2 35.8  
Hualien 117594 63231 51248 3115
%   53.8 43.6 2.6

As you can see, both Liu and Hsiao outperformed the party lists by quite a lot. Eliminating the indigenous votes does not explain the results. Taitung should have been a toss-up (which is a stunning finding in and of itself), while Hualien should still have been a fairly safe KMT seat. In reality, both were lopsided DPP wins.


So if indigenous voters are not the answer, what is? The green-leaning media has fallen in love with the story that Hsiao has won over a skeptical Hualien population with her years of hard work. Supposedly, they never expected to see her again after her good showing in the 2010 by-election, but she kept coming back. Moved by her sincerity, they fell in love with her. Well, I suppose there must be some truth to that story, but a lot of candidates have spent a lot of time working local districts only to be disappointed on election day. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I suspect this story makes for a better movie script than a convincing accounting of her victory.

My guess is that these two elections turned on local factional machinations. In Hualien, there has been a constant tension over the past decade between the local KMT machinery, led by outgoing legislator Wang Ting-sheng 王廷升, and the Fu faction, which is led by county magistrate Fu Kun-chi 傅崑萁. These two have repeatedly tried to undermine the other over the past several years, and I suspect Fu might have clandestinely done it again. The KMT was worried enough about this possibility that they put Fu’s wife on the party list. I had thought that this bribe would be sufficient to convince Fu to mobilize his supporters to vote for Wang, but maybe it wasn’t. The civil war in the Hualien blue camp doesn’t get a lot of headlines in the national press, but I’ll bet there are some angry accusations flying around.

In Taitung, the factional story is even more plausible. Remember, Liu has a history of cooperating with factions on the blue side. He was the deputy magistrate from 2001 to 2005 for Hsu Ching-yuan 徐慶元, who was elected as a PFP nominee. Apparently, this local PFP-DPP collaboration went very well. In 2005, Hsu did not run for re-election. Instead he supported Liu’s unsuccessful campaign to succeed him. It would not be surprising at all to me if Liu has been nurturing all those contacts for the last decade. Perhaps his blue friends weren’t willing to openly help Liu in his county magistrate campaigns against the popular Justin Huang 黃健庭, but they might have been willing to do so against the relatively unknown KMT nominee this year.

In sum, I only have a speculative explanation for these two victories. I can, however, rule out the possibility that Hualien and Taitung have already turned decisively green, once you remove the indigenous vote. Both Hsiao and Liu somehow managed to win over a large chunk of blue voters.

The Humiliation of Hau

January 20, 2016

Let’s consider the case of Hau Lung-bin. Two weeks ago, Hau seemed pretty well positioned to take over leadership of the KMT. All the other potential contenders were old (Wang, Hung, Wu, Hu), unpopular with the general electorate (Wu, Hung), unacceptable to a crucial faction within the KMT (Wang), had just been discredited by a terrible election loss in 2014 (Hu, Wu Chih-yang, Lien), or had proven to be a terrible leader as was about to suffer a humiliating election defeat (Chu). Hau was going to be the last man standing. He didn’t lose in 2014, and he was acceptable to the powerful mainlander faction in the KMT while still being perceived as more moderate than Hung. All he had to do was prove his electoral viability by winning his legislative race in Keelung, a city that had always been reliably blue until 2014.

Let’s remember that Hau originally indicated that he was going to go to southern or central Taiwan to win a difficult seat for the KMT. I even wrote a post looking at his options. In hindsight, they all look ridiculous. The DPP won all of the other possibilities by huge margins, and Hau would almost certainly have been slaughtered in any of them. Instead, Hau decided that the cautious approach was the wisest. He probably could see the DPP’s wave coming and cynically decided to save himself by choosing the one winnable race. After he muscled the locals aside, his road to the legislature and leadership of the KMT seemed to be on track.

Instead, Hau lost. Perhaps the important point isn’t merely that he lost, but just how badly he lost. He didn’t lose because there weren’t enough blue votes. He didn’t lose because the DPP nominated a spectacular candidate. He lost because blue voters didn’t vote for him. In a city that still has more blue voters than green voters, Hau could only manage to win 36.1% of the vote. This election was supposed to prove Hau’s popularity with the general public and solidify his position as the only KMT leader who could win elections in a difficult year. Instead, the Keelung electorate collectively decided to veto Hau’s aspirations to take over the KMT.


Hau’s basic problem was that he was unable to consolidate the blue vote. There were two other blue candidates in the race. Liu Wen-hsiung is an old PFP warhorse, and Yang Shi-cheng is a city councilor who lost to Hau in the KMT primary and ran under the MKT banner. The fact that they were in the race is insufficient to explain Hau’s loss; a strong KMT candidate would have easily marginalized these two candidates and consolidated almost all of the blue vote.

Duverger’s Law says that single seat plurality elections tend to produce two main contenders. One reason is that voters simply won’t waste their votes on trailing candidates. Why did nearly a quarter of Keelung’s electorate vote for the two minor candidates? There are several possible reasons. One, voters must be able to identify who are the leading and who are the trailing candidates. This probably wasn’t a problem. All the media focus focused on Hau and the DPP’s Tsai, and the few publicly available opinion polls also showed them to be well ahead. Besides, years of experience (including last year’s Keelung mayoral race) have shown that the KMT and DPP nominees are almost always the top two candidates. In short, many voters chose to support Yang or Liu even though they knew those two were unlikely to win. Second, the race between the top two candidates must be close enough for strategic voting to make a difference. All indications were that Hau and Tsai were in a close race, so this should have driven Liu and Yang supporters to abandon their favorites in an effort to help determine the outcome of the race. Third, potential strategic voters must have a clear preference between the top two choices. This might be a more likely culprit. Several recent surveys have shown that PFP identifiers (unsurprisingly) don’t like the DPP. More surprisingly, their evaluations of the KMT are roughly as low as those for the DPP. In other words, many PFP supporters don’t clearly prefer the KMT to the DPP. Hau’s status as an outsider who parachuted in from Taipei may also have hurt him, especially among people who voted for Yang. Yang represented the localist faction of the KMT, and his supporters might disliked the outsider Hau just as much as they disliked the DPP’s Tsai. Fourth, most models assume that strategic voters are short-term rational. This means that they care only about the outcome of this election. However, some voters might choose to vote for a hopeless candidate precisely because they care more about some long-term goal. For example, PFP or MKT supporters might have voted for Liu or Yang because they cared about the long-term health of the PFP or MKT. More intriguingly, I wonder if some light-blue voters didn’t look to the impending KMT leadership struggle and decide that the best way to support a nativist KMT leader was to vote against Hau in the legislative race.


Let’s look at some votes. The following table shows the party list votes aggregated into green camp (DPP, NPP, TSU, Free Taiwan, Taiwan Independence), blue camp (KMT, PFP, MKT, New, MCFAP, China Unification), and others. It also shows the four candidate’s votes:

Yang Liu Hau Tsai
list list list 楊石城 劉文雄 郝龍斌 蔡適應
green blue Other MKT PFP KMT DPP
87915 92463 11963 19,045 23,485 68,632 78,707
中正 11971 13051 1602 2,202 3,336 9,242 10,530
信義 11529 14320 1756 2,414 3,491 11,284 10,152
仁愛 11421 10673 1365 2,329 2,942 8,139 10,057
中山 11923 11889 1404 5,480 2,525 7,645 9,646
安樂 19208 20158 2629 3,434 4,588 15,192 18,521
暖暖 8354 9844 1252 1,529 2,752 7,542 7,455
七堵 13509 12528 1955 1,657 3,851 9,588 12,346

On the party lists, there were about 4,500 more blue votes than green votes. (This might be a bit misleading since it includes about 3,500 indigenous voters who didn’t vote in the district election. The DPP only got about 500 of those votes, so the overall blue advantage in the legislative district was probably closer to 2,000 votes. I’m going to ignore the indigenous vote for the rest of the post.) However, Tsai was not able to soak up all the green votes. Nearly 9,000 green list voters split their tickets and voted for a blue district candidate. Given this, the race should have been winnable for Hau.

Some people like thinking in numbers of votes, but I think it is often easier to think in vote shares.

  List Tsai list Hau
  Green DPP blue KMT
45.7 41.5 48.1 36.1
中正 Zhongzheng 45.0 41.6 49.0 36.5
信義 Xinyi 41.8 37.1 51.9 41.3
仁愛 Ren-ai 48.7 42.9 45.5 34.7
中山 Zhongshan 47.3 38.1 47.1 30.2
安樂 Anle 45.7 44.4 48.0 36.4
暖暖 Nuannuan 43.0 38.7 50.6 39.1
七堵 Qidu 48.3 45.0 44.8 34.9

Hau ran 11.9% behind the blue list vote. This gap was similar everywhere except Zhongshan District, where he ran 16.9% behind the list. Tsai ran 4.3% behind the green list vote. He also did worse in Zhongshan, where he was 9.2% behind. However, he did better in Anle, where he was only 1.4% behind. If you guessed that Tsai’s city council district is Anle, you guessed correctly.

Let’s look at the other two candidates. This time we’ll compare their votes with their party’s list share.

  List Liu list Yang
9.2 12.4 2.0 10.0
中正 Zhongzheng 9.5 13.2 2.0 8.7
信義 Xinyi 9.1 12.8 1.9 8.8
仁愛 Ren-ai 8.4 12.5 2.0 9.9
中山 Zhongshan 9.2 10.0 2.8 21.7
安樂 Anle 9.4 11.0 1.8 8.2
暖暖 Nuannuan 9.9 14.3 1.9 7.9
七堵 Qidu 8.8 14.0 1.7 6.0


Keelung is one of the PFP’s stronger areas, as its list garnered 9.2% here compared to 6.5% nationally. Like in the rest of the country, Soong got roughly twice as many presidential votes (16.5%) as the PFP list. Liu Wen-hsiung split the difference, getting 12.4% of the vote. Liu’s vote thus looks like it is mostly a party vote rather than a personal vote. These PFP voters might be part of the blue camp when it comes to national identity, but they seem fed up with the KMT. Many of them didn’t give any of their three votes to the KMT, something the new KMT leadership should probably reflect upon.

Finally, we come to Yang Shi-cheng and the MKT. Unlike the other parties, the MKT doesn’t really have much of a presence. Its party list only got 2.0% in Keelung, and Yang’s vote seems to be rather unrelated to the MKT support. I imagine most people who voted for the MKT list probably also voted for Yang, but the vast majority of his votes came from other sources. You have probably guessed by now that Zhongshan is Yang’s city council district, and he got more than twice as much support in Zhongshan as in the rest of the city. Since each of the other three candidates’ vote shares suffered in Zhongshan, it stands to reason that Yang’s local networks extended into KMT, DPP, and PFP vote bases alike. In the rest of the city, I think that Yang’s vote probably reflects the localist backlash against Hau. We saw a similar backlash in the 2014 mayoral election. The KMT can probably win these votes back, but only if they stop nominating outsiders from Taipei.

Hau lost the race by 5.4%. He probably could have won the race if he had been able to make an alliance with the localist faction represented by Yang. However, this is precisely the part of the former KMT coalition that is furious with the mainlander KMT elite for their treatment of Speaker Wang and their efforts to promote ideological purists such as Hung Hsiu-chu. There were some districts in which these voters stayed with the KMT, especially in central Taiwan. However, the nominees in those districts were almost all from the nativist wing of the KMT. Hau is decidedly not from that wing.

In the wake of the election, several KMT pundits have attempted to downplay the KMT’s defeat by pointing to low turnout, the K-pop singer incident, and the splintering of the blue camp vote by other parties. All the KMT needs to do, they suggest, is simply to consolidate the blue vote. Keelung’s experience suggests there is nothing simple about it. A localist candidate might have won, but that would have required Hau to put his leadership ambitions aside. More generally, the orthodox wing of the KMT seems unwilling to put aside or water down its ideological positions or to yield leadership of the party to the nativist wing. Absent those sorts of compromises, the KMT might be headed for a future with many more races like Keelung.