Posts Tagged ‘桃園縣三’

mayoral races

March 8, 2010

A few thoughts on the mayoral races:

Su Zhenchang 蘇貞昌 announced last week that he will run for Taipei City mayor.  However the most significant part of the announcement is that he promised that, if elected, he would serve the entire four-year term and not run for president.  He’s going to have to repeat this time and time again over the next nine months, because right now everyone is a bit skeptical.  He’s going to have to work hard to convince people he’s sincere about that.  However, it does make Su a much better mayoral candidate if people think he really wants to win and govern Taipei City rather than simply use the race/job as a stepping stone to the presidency.

I think this also affects candidates in the other races.  If Cai Yingwen 蔡英文 and/or Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 ends up as the DPP nominees in either Xinbei City and/or Taichung City, they will face enormous pressure to make a similar promise.  In fact, since the 2012 DPP presidential is almost certain to be Su, Cai, or Hsieh, this points us to a slightly ludicrous situation.  Suppose all three run this year, all three make the “I will serve out my term” promise, the DPP has a smashing victory, and all three somehow win.  That would leave the DPP with no one to face a horribly weakened Ma Yingjeou 馬英九.  Somehow, I think one of them would break the promise.

At any rate, this is highly unlikely because Cai Yingwen doesn’t seem to want to run.  She seems to want to remain party chair, and she claims her big task is laying out the DPP’s big blueprint for the next five years.  This is precisely the kind of hard mental work that you have to do before becoming the president.  Su is running for mayor instead.

(This is one of the reasons I thought he should skip 2010 – you have to do homework before becoming president.  Chen tried to cram, but he only had a few spare months after the 1998 election before he started the 2000 campaign.  He really wasn’t ready.  Su doesn’t seem worried about this.  Cai does.  My opinion of Cai is rising.)


Zhu Lilun 朱立倫 seems reluctant to jump into the Xinbei City race.  A report a couple of days ago suggested that he would do it next month.  I’m starting to wonder if we have overestimated him.  He hasn’t really ever had to fight a hard election.  He won one term as legislator with heavy party backing, and he won two terms as Taoyuan County executive, hardly a difficult task in such a blue-leaning county.  One could argue that his career path has been handed to him; he hasn’t earned much himself.  On the other hand, I’m sure that he has impressed someone to get the unified support of his party in a county with lots of other ambitious KMT politicians.  Yet, let’s not forget that he has powerful patrons, particularly his father-in-law Gao Yuren 高育仁.  Gao was Tainan County executive, speaker of the Provincial Assembly, a four-term member of the legislature, and has been a member of the KMT central standing committee for 25 years.  He also has lots of money connections.  Zhu’s father, Zhu Zhangxing 朱樟興, was also a minor politician in Taoyuan County, having served as a member of both the county assembly and the National Assembly.

Another thing that makes me wonder about Zhu is that I don’t know of anything he has done.  That’s not surprising, since the Taoyuan County government doesn’t make the news very much, and I was out of the country for most of Zhu’s tenure as county executive.  However, we keep hearing what an outstanding job he did, and it bothers me that no one is saying anything concrete about that job or his current performance as Vice-Premier.  When his opponent tries to rip apart his record, I wonder whether it will be easy or hard.

Finally, there is Zhu’s reluctance to join the fray this year.  He seems to want to spend as much time as possible as Vice-Premier before he has to start the campaign.  Perhaps this is because he is actually using the resources of his current office to set up a more effective campaign.  But I wonder if he doesn’t simply like being in a high post in the central government and doesn’t want to leave just yet.  You can run an effective campaign for mayor of a huge district like Xinbei City in eight months, but you would be better off spending nine months.  There are so many people that you need to meet and forge relationships with, so many groups to curry favor with, and so many little impressions to be made.  I would just feel better about his chances if he seemed to relish the idea of jumping into the fray.

Is Zhu Lilun a paper tiger?  Probably not, but I’m less sure about that today than I was a month ago.


Some of the stories the media has to invent to fill airtime and column space are so unrealistic as to be comical.  One day the question was whether Jason Hu 胡志強 should move from Taichung City to Kaohsiung City.  The idea was that Taichung City is pretty firmly in the KMT’s grasp, so they should take their best candidate and move him to a harder district.  Yeah, then instead of having an easy win in Taichung, they could have a contested race with a real possibility of losing there, and Hu probably wouldn’t win in Kaohsiung anyway.  That’s genius!

Another day, the media was asking if KMT voters should strategically vote for Su so that he would win the Taipei City mayorship and wouldn’t be able to challenge Ma in the presidential election.  In Taiwanese parlance, that would be “dump Hao, save Ma” 棄郝保馬.  Again, a masterstroke!  I’m sure that if the DPP wins Taipei City, they would be so depressed by their victory in one of Ma’s strongest areas that they wouldn’t even bother to nominate a presidential candidate.

Can I suggest one?  I think the best way for Ma to stop Su would be for him to do it personally.  Ma should resign the presidency and run for Taipei City mayor.  (It’s not that much stupider than the other two ideas, is it?)

slander and libel

March 6, 2010

Nothing in this post, so far as I know, has a basis in fact.  It is all idle speculation by yours truly.  I have no reason to believe that any of these people actually engaged in any of the behaviors I will discuss.  The following are simply ideas that I might pursue if I were in their shoes.  Mostly, I think this is solid proof that I lack moral character, have no ethics, and do not know right from wrong.  But…

I’ve been thinking about Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 and how the local KMT figures reacted to him.  For person after person, I don’t see why they should have supported him.

Consider Zheng Jinling 鄭金玲.  She was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1994, moved to the legislature in 1998, and has been there since.  She was elected in the Taoyuan County district race in 1998, 2001, and 2004, and moved to the party list in 2008.  If I remember correctly, Zheng came up through the Huang Fuxing 黃復興 (military) party branch.  She gets a disproportional amount of her votes from Zhongli City 中壢市, and especially the military-dominated neighborhoods there.  In 2008, there were three districts that she could reasonably settle in.  Taoyuan 3 includes most of her Zhongli base, except for the military neighborhoods.  Toayuan 5 includes Longtan 龍潭鄉  and Pingzhen 平鎮市townships.  It has a lot of military votes, and Zheng has done moderately well there.  It isn’t her best choice, but it would do.  Taoyuan 6 has Daxi 大溪鎮, Fuxing 復興鄉, and Bade 八德市 townships plus the military neighborhoods from Zhongli City.  So it has her core area, but most of the district is territory that she hasn’t done as well in.  When the KMT passed out districts in 2007, they found themselves with four people for these three districts.  Sun Daqian 孫大千 got Taoyuan 6, Zhu Fengzhi 朱鳳芝 got Taoyuan 5, and Wu Zhiyang 吳志揚 got Taoyuan 3.  I’m not sure why Sun got Taoyuan 6, but he has a proven track record of attracting votes.  Zhu is the most senior KMT legislator in Taoyuan, and she probably got her first choice.  (She also has a very similar background to Zheng’s, having come up through the Huang Fuxing system.)  Wu Zhiyang is the son of then-KMT party chairman Wu Boxiong 吳伯雄.  I don’t think Wu Boxiong was going to let someone else have his hometown.  Zheng was left out, but she did get a compensation prize: a seat on the party list.  Wait, isn’t a seat on the party list better?  After all, you don’t have to fight an election campaign.  True, but from a career perspective, one of these three seats is still better than a spot on the party list.  The KMT only has 17-20 spots to hand out every election cycle, and the competition for those spots is intense.  Being on the list this time is no guarantee that you will get a spot next time.  In contrast, Sun Daqian is almost certain to be re-nominated and re-elected to his seat.

When Taoyuan 3 opened up, Zheng could not run for the seat.  She is, after all, already a legislator.  However, if I were in her shoes, I would not be eager to see Chen win that seat and take possession of it for the next decade.  It would be much better for her if some non-descript DPP figure (Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 is perfect!) beat Chen so that Zheng could run against him in the next general election.  In a contest in 2012 between Zheng and Huang in Taoyuan 3, Zheng has to be a heavy favorite.

I’m not saying that Zheng worked against Chen in this election.  It would be very dangerous for her to be exposed as helping one of the minor candidates or, worse, Huang.  The penalty would probably be her seat in the legislature, which the party can take away at any time.  She certainly would not be nominated in 2012.  But I might find that some particularly time-consuming task in the legislature didn’t leave me any time to go home to stump for Chen or organize my network on his behalf.

(One argument against this: Zheng is 64.  She might just retire after this term.)

What about Wu Zhiyang?  Wu has just moved up to county executive, so he shouldn’t care too much about who takes over his old seat, right?  Perhaps, but we know that Chen is an ambitious person.  He was already dreaming about becoming Taipei mayor while he was still a member of the city council, and publicly proclaimed he would be Ma’s successor as early as about 2001, if my memory is correct.  Objectively, however, he was never the KMT’s leading candidate, and when he lost his re-election campaign in 2004, his hopes for winning the 2006 mayoral nomination were finished.  What did he do?  He moved to Kaohsiung and announced his intention to become mayor there.  That didn’t work out either, but you can see where this is leading.  He clearly thinks that he is underplaced in the legislature.  Based on his track record, you have to expect that he would have started planning his campaign for Taoyuan County executive the day after he won the by-election.  If I am Wu Zhiyang, this is a headache I don’t need.  I would like to be re-nominated in 2014 with no competition, please.

Coincidentally (?), there were grumbles coming out of the Chen camp that a certain party elder hadn’t done enough to convince the two independent candidates to withdraw.  There is only one party elder with that much clout in the Zhongli area, and he happens to be Wu Zhiyang’s father.  Perhaps he also thought that Chen Xuesheng and his ambitions didn’t need any encouragement.

The same logic can be extended to the 2018 county executive race.  Chen might decide not to challenge Wu in 2014, but you have to think he would run for the open seat in 2018.  (Zheng Jinling, in contrast, probably would not be a serious challenger.)  All of the other hopefuls probably don’t see this as a desirable state.  For example, Sun Daqian will be almost perfectly positioned to run in 2018.  He also has lots of connections in Zhongli City…

I have no idea what the story is between Zhongli City mayor Ye Buliang 葉步樑 and his deputy mayor Lin Xiangmei 林香美.  Both of them wanted the nomination.  In the KMT’s polls, Ye came in first, Lin second, and Chen Xuesheng was third.  When the KMT nominated Chen, one of the reasons Jin Pucong 金溥聰 gave was that if he had nominated either Ye or Lin, the other would have run as an independent.  In the event, as soon as Chen was nominated, Lin announced she was running, and Ye announced his immediate and enthusiastic support for Chen.  There must be a fascinating soap opera that we don’t know about.  At some point these two were close enough allies that Ye chose Lin as his deputy mayor.  At any rate, Chen Xuesheng paid the price for their enmity.

I was first exposed to Taiwanese politics in Nantou County in the early and mid 1990s.  During this time, the local DPP exploded from relative harmony into a war of Peng Baixian 彭百顯 against everyone else (most notably Zhang Junhong 張俊宏, Lin Zongnan 林宗男, Cai Huanglang 蔡煌瑯).  It took me a few years before I finally accepted that not only were they not on the same team, they hated each other passionately.  From this, I learned never to overlook the divisions among one’s purported allies.

Let me reiterate, I have no insider knowledge of what happened in Taoyuan this time.  These scenarios all came out of my twisted brain.  There is no evidence for any of them.

by-election results

February 28, 2010

The results of the by-elections are in.  On turf that heavily favors the KMT, the DPP won three of the four seats.  Here’s the breakdown:

English name Chinese name Party Votes Percent
Taoyuan County 3
Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 DPP 45363 47.3
Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 KMT 42600 44.4
Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 IND 4424 4.6
Lin Xiangmei 林香美 IND 3617 3.8
Hsinchu County
Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 DPP 71625 56.0
Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 KMT 56342 44.0
Chiayi County 2
Chen Mingwen 陳明文 DPP 57451 67.9
Lin Derui 林德瑞 KMT 27138 32.1
Hualian County
Wang Tingsheng 王廷升 KMT 39379 48.3
Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 DPP 33249 40.8
Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 IND 8863 10.9

For the record, my predictions were:

Chiayi County 2: Chen Mingwen 陳明文 (DPP) 69; Lin Derui 林德瑞 (KMT) 31.

Hsinchu County: Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 (DPP) 54; Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 (KMT) 46.

Taoyuan County Third District: Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 (KMT) 49; Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 (DPP) 40; Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 (IND) 7, Lin Xiangmei 林香美 (IND) 4.

Hualian County:  Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (DPP) 44; Wang Tingsheng 王廷生 (KMT) 42; Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 (IND) 14.

So I got Chiayi County 2 and Hsinchu County almost exactly right, and I messed up Hualian County and Taoyuan County 3.  Oh well.  I wasn’t too far off, and election predictions are hardly a scientific exercise anyway.

In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to myself when I was discussing the underlying partisan structures of Taoyuan 3 and Hualian.  Both seem to have changed from 2008 by similar amounts; Hualian was simply a bit more overwhelmingly blue to start with.

By the way, one of the hardest things to predict is what will happen to third-party candidates.  Third-party candidates often have wide gaps between their performance in the surveys and at the ballot box.  Some candidates’ support simply disappears, most likely due to strategic voting.  Others’ holds steady.  Once in a while, a candidate with low support in surveys will produce an eye-popping vote count.  From afar, it’s very hard to tell which will be the case with any particular candidate.  This time, I came very close in predicting the three independent candidates.  However, this was mostly luck.

So that’s what happened.  More importantly, what does it mean?  From watching the talking heads on TV last night, it is obvious that you can draw nearly any lesson you want to.  Some of the stories various people were pitching include 1) we are seeing a structural change in partisan attitudes, 2) negative campaigning doesn’t work, 3) the KMT reform isn’t working, 4) the KMT reform needs more time, 5) the KMT simply failed to mobilize its votes (but no real partisan realignment), 6) the DPP will sweep all five mayoral seats later this year, 7) Ma should resign as KMT party chair, 8) the KMT nominated poorly.  Do I buy any of these?  The short answer is 1) kinda, 2) no, 3) no opinion, 4) no opinion, 5) no way, 6) that’s a little premature, and 7) that’s silly.  The ones I want to try to dig into are the stories about partisan realignment and mobilization.  I think we are seeing a partisan shift, or perhaps a reversion to the alignment of 2003 or so.  I think the mobilization story is fundamentally flawed.

Let’s do mobilization first.  The clearest version of the mobilization story I have heard is this.  Last December, Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 ran for Hsinchu County executive and got 77,000 votes.  He lost because the KMT candidate mobilized 97,000 votes.  In this by-election, Peng Shaojin ran again and got 71000 votes.  In other words, Peng turned out nearly every person who voted for him last time.  (In fact, the DPP has gotten between 70000 and 80000 votes in Hsinchu County in numerous elections over the past two decades.)  However, the KMT candidate this time only got 56,000, only about half as many as in December.  In short, the DPP mobilized all its votes, while the KMT did not.  This story is then fleshed out with a narrative of a divided KMT with key elites declining to work for the candidate in this election.  The Hsinchu County KMT has two dominant figures, Qiu Jingchun 邱鏡淳 and Zheng Yongjin 鄭永金.  In December, Zheng refused to support Qiu as county executive, backing a third-party candidate instead.  Qiu won, but it wasn’t easy.  The KMT tried to paper over this division by nominating Zheng Yongjin’s younger brother, Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂, for legislator.  Publicly, Qiu expressed his support, but the actual support never materialized.  As a result, Qiu’s supporters did not turn out to vote for Zheng, and the KMT lost.

The critical feature of the mobilization story is that there are no partisan changes.  DPP supporters still support the DPP, and KMT supporters still support the KMT.  The only question is whether the parties can persuade their supporters to show up at the ballot box.  Thus, the reason the KMT has done so poorly in these by-elections is that the turnout has only been around 40%, as compared to around 60% in the 2008 legislative elections and 2009 county executive elections and 75% in the 2008 presidential election.  Since no one thinks that turnout in any of the coming general elections will be 40%, we should only worry about what a 60-75% turnout election looks like: still very blue.  These by-elections are simply an aberration.

One way to attack this theory is by looking at survey results.  TVBS published a survey of Hsinchu County voters on Jan 26, 2010.  In the report, they produced the following table:

LY race
total Peng Shaojin (DPP) Zheng Yongtang (KMT)
total N=827 44 34
County Executive Qiu Jingchun (KMT) 38 32 51
Peng Shaojin (DPP) 15 89 4
Zhang Biqin 張碧琴(IND, supported by Zheng Yongjin) 17 37 44

So the 15% of respondents who reported voting for Peng Shaojin in the county executive race continued to express support for him by an overwhelming 89% to 4% margin.  So far so good for the mobilization story.  However, 32% of the 38% who said they voted for Qiu in December expressed support for Peng, and 37% of the 17% who voted for Zheng Yongjin’s candidate in December said they would vote against Zheng Yongjin’s brother in February.  This certainly sounds like Peng was picking up support from the KMT, not simply mobilizing his previous supporters.  In other words, Peng may have gotten 70,000 votes again, but they weren’t the same 70,000 voters.  A lot of them crossed party lines.

Another way to attack the mobilization thesis is to look at election returns.  In 2008, the KMT was enthused while the DPP was depressed, so the KMT should have had a marked advantage in mobilization over the DPP.  In 2009-10, the roles were reversed.

County 2008 LY list vote 2009 county executive
Blue Green Blue Green
宜蘭縣 Ilan 87613 83313 112469 133394
桃園縣 Taoyuan 471687 265842 396237 346678
新竹縣 Hsinchu 136854 45009 97151 77126
苗栗縣 Miaoli 157868 64985 181256 95469
彰化縣 Changhua 308182 225526 348341 276897
南投縣 Nantou 125074 72421 136951 107023
雲林縣 Yunlin 144559 142869 121832 229958
嘉義縣 Chiayi 104909 121225 128973 177333
屏東縣 Pingdong 183157 187474 185384 270402
臺東縣 Taidong 54553 20072 56354 50802
花蓮縣 Hualian 87332 27244 38603
澎湖縣 Penghu 19403 14754 22664 22069
基隆市 Jilong 95939 45290 86001 65673
新竹市 Hsinchu City 97260 57252 92667 68822
嘉義市 Chiayi City 54914 52659 69962 61268
金門縣 Jinmen 23555 1190 14269
連江縣 Lianjiang 3719 385 5404

There are three basic patterns.  In some counties, the blue camp’s vote fell while the green camp’s vote increased.  In Taoyuan, for example the blue camp produced 70000 fewer votes in 2009 while the green camp increased its total by 80000.  Hsinchu County, Yunlin, Jilong, and Hsinchu City also saw blue decreases and green increases.  Second, many places saw both camps increase their number of votes, indicating that both were better at mobilizing in 2009 than in 2008.  Ilan, Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou, Chiayi County, and Chiayi City followed this pattern.  Then there is the third pattern, in which the KMT vote did not change markedly from 2008 to 2009 but the DPP vote increased dramatically.  This was the case in Pingdong and Taidong.

How can all these patterns occur with a simple story about mobilization?  One could explain this by delving into the differences in the various county executive races.  For example, in Yunlin, a popular DPP incumbent was expected to win re-election easily, so the energized DPP voters turned out while the demoralized KMT voters stayed home.  Thus, the KMT vote fell while the DPP vote skyrocketed.  Unfortunately, the story was almost exactly the same in Pingdong, except the KMT vote stayed the same.  Moreover, Chiayi County also had a race that the DPP was expected to win easily, and the KMT vote was much higher than in 2008.   Thus, we are expected to believe that demoralized KMT voters stayed home in Yunlin, voted at normal rates in Pingdong, and voted at very high rates in Chiayi County.

The stories about counties the KMT expected to win easily are similarly contradictory.  In Miaoli, Changhua, Jilong, and Hsinchu City, the KMT was widely expected to win by comfortable margins.  In all of them, the KMT experienced a slight increase in its vote.  According to the mobilization story, we would conclude that the enthusiasm over good prospects in the county race outweighed the national factors making it harder for the KMT to mobilize.  Ok, but what about Taoyuan?  The KMT’s vote dropped by 75,000.  Maybe Wu Zhiyang 吳志揚 was so sure of victory that he declined to spend the money needed for a full mobilization.  If so, he seems to have been the only one to dare to attempt the non-mobilization strategy.  If non-mobilization were a viable electoral strategy, one would have thought that the winners in Miaoli, Yunlin, and Pingdong might have attempted it as well, but we see no evidence of this.  Moreover, in light of the two-by elections in Taoyuan, it is equally plausible that Wu fully mobilized but that the KMT has simply become less popular.

In sum, I simply don’t think the pure mobilization / no partisan change story is a viable explanation for what has happened over the past two years.

I’m not arguing that mobilization doesn’t matter or that it isn’t part of the story.  We all know that mobilization is critically important.  However, political scientists have done a terrible job at explaining exactly how mobilization matters precisely because it is very complicated.  Simplistic stories like the one I argued against are nearly nuanced enough.  They are very appealing though, precisely because they are simplistic.  They focus on one variable, the network of cadres that moves people to the polls.  If you put in more resources, you get more votes.  Taken to the logical extreme, this is an anti-democratic argument.  No matter what happens, KMT voters will continue to support the KMT.  It simply might be harder to get them to the polls.  However, the democratically produced president/legislator is a function of resources, not of appeals and/or actual public opinion.  As such, the legitimacy of such officials to act on behalf of the public should be discounted.  This story is only partially wrong, but that part is critical.  Mobilization and resources matter, of course, and can affect the outcome of an election.  However, voters do change their minds, so party platforms, issue appeals, and scandals also matter.  As a result, elections do not depend solely on resources.

The difficult part is figuring out how mobilization matters in conjunction with changes in opinion.  I accept the argument that it was harder to mobilize DPP voters in 2008 and harder to mobilize KMT voters in 2009-10.  I do think that a lower turnout rate helped the DPP this time.  However, I do not think that all DPP voters turned out and only part of the KMT voters did.  A higher turnout rate likely would have helped the KMT, but only slightly.  For example, the turnout in Chiayi County 2 was 38%, and Chen Mingwen 陳明文 won 68-32%.  If the turnout had doubled, Chen would almost certainly still have won handily, though not by quite as overwhelming a margin.  Perhaps it would have been something like 64-36%.  In that case, the half of the electorate that didn’t turn out (but would turn out in a presidential election) would have preferred Chen by a 60-40% margin.  Of course, that is just a guess.

We do have some evidence of the effect of different levels of turnout.  For example, the legislative election in Jan 2008 had a turnout of 58%, while the presidential election of March 2008 had a 76% turnout.  There was very little difference in the vote share of the camps.  The presidential election was 58.5-41.5%, while the legislative election was 55.2-40.4%.  Since independent votes tend to come mostly out of the blue camp’s vote share, the two are roughly equivalent.

Since we think that the KMT was enthused in 2008, their voters should have turned out more heavily in the first 60%, and the DPP should have benefited from the higher turnout.  Thus we have to invent some story about how Ma Yingjeou 馬英九 is a great candidate (or voters were sick of President Chen 陳水扁), candidate effects offset the turnout effect.  I don’t believe this.  I think the same partisan effects drove both elections.

After years of staring at voting returns, I have come to the tentative conclusion that turnout above 60% really doesn’t affect partisan results.[1] Another way of saying this is that almost everyone who can be mobilized has already been mobilized by 60%.  Higher turnout comes from voters outside the mobilization networks, and they tend to split their votes among the parties in nearly the same way that the first 60% do.  However, turnouts below 60% start to affect partisan outcomes.[2] In jargon, there is a non-linear relationship.

So, given that I think that there has been some partisan shift since 2008 and that turnout below 60% matters, where does the partisan balance stand right now?  Nearly half the electorate has voted in the past six months, so let’s compare them to a benchmark, the party list vote in the 2008 legislative election.[3]

2008 LY Party List 2009-10 LY by-elections
votes blue% green% valid KMT% DPP%
雲林縣二 Yunlin County 2 156911 47.2 46.6 126297 23.2 58.8
南投縣一 Nantou County 1 99695 62.8 31.9 119284 55.3 44.7
台東縣 Taidong County 78880 69.2 25.4 46887 45.2 49.5
台中縣三 Taichung County 3 138134 54.5 40.8 115111 45.0 55.0
桃園縣二 Taoyuan County 2 128994 55.3 39.2 92382 40.0 58.1
嘉義縣二 Chiayi County 2 112866 43.1 52.0 84589 32.1 67.9
桃園縣三 Taoyuan County 3 135277 63.7 31.8 96004 44.4 47.3
新竹縣 Hsinchu County 195144 70.1 23.1 127967 44.0 56.0
花蓮縣 Hualian County 119669 73.0 22.8 81491 48.3 40.8
total 1165570 59.8 34.8 890012 41.6 53.4
2008 LY Party List 2009 County executive
votes blue% green% valid KMT% DPP%
宜蘭縣 Ilan County 178872 49.0 46.6 245863 45.7 54.3
桃園縣 Taoyuan County 771850 61.1 34.4 758722 52.2 45.7
新竹縣 Hsinchu County 195144 70.1 23.1 252424 38.5 30.6
苗栗縣 Miaoli County 236260 66.8 27.5 284138 63.8 33.6
彰化縣 Changhua County 564959 54.5 39.9 634640 54.9 43.6
南投縣 Nantou County 208186 60.1 34.8 269217 50.9 39.8
雲林縣 Yunlin County 305439 47.3 46.8 351790 34.6 65.4
嘉義縣 Chiayi County 238892 43.9 50.7 317135 40.7 55.9
屏東縣 Pingdong County 386762 47.4 48.5 455786 40.7 59.3
臺東縣 Taidong County 78880 69.2 25.4 107156 52.6 47.4
花蓮縣 Hualian County 119669 73.0 22.8 151730 25.4 0.0
澎湖縣 Penghu County 36867 52.6 40.0 45910 49.4 48.1
基隆市 Jilong City 147613 65.0 30.7 156065 55.1 42.1
新竹市 Hsinchu City 162818 59.7 35.2 166563 55.6 41.3
嘉義市 Chiayi City 111827 49.1 47.1 134031 52.2 45.7
金門縣 Jinmen County 25979 90.7 4.6 38280 37.3 0.0
連江縣 Lianjiang County 4321 86.1 8.9 5482 98.6 0.0
total 3774338 57.1 37.8 4374932 47.9 45.3

That’s 26 races: nine by-elections and 17 county executive races.  In three of the county executive races, the DPP did not have a candidate.  In 22 of the other 23 races, the DPP increased its vote share.  (In Chiayi City, the DPP vote share declined by 1.4%.)  The smallest gains were 4-5%, but most of the gains were 10% or more.  8 races saw the DPP gain more than 15%.  You can tell a soap opera about each election and explain the outcome in purely local terms.  However, when the same thing happens in district after district, you have to start looking for national-level explanations.  In other words, the DPP’s popularity has significantly increased since early 2008.

How much has the KMT slipped and the DPP risen?  These 26 districts are slightly more favorable to the KMT than the national average.  In 2008, the national balance in the 2008 legislative party list was 55.2-40.4%.  Among the nine districts that had by-elections, the 2008 balance was 59.8-34.8%.  In the 17 counties that elected executives last December, the 2008 balance was 57.1-37.8.

It does not bode well for the KMT that it could only manage a 47.9-45.3% advantage in the county executive races.  A 20% edge in early 2008 was cut to less than 3% in late 2009.  If this 16.7% swing extended to the entire electorate, the DPP would hold a 1.9% advantage instead of a 14.8% disadvantage.

As bad as the county executive races look for the KMT, the by-elections look worse.  Originally, the KMT held 8 of the 9 seats.  It now holds 2.  Arguably, Yunlin 2 is a DPP-leaning district, but the other 7 seats looked like they were clearly more favorable to the KMT and the DPP won 5 of them.  Where the KMT had a whopping 25.0% advantage in 2008, it ended up with a 11.8% deficit in 2009-10, an unbelievable 36.8% swing.  These results don’t merely portend a KMT loss of power, they warn of a bigger DPP sweep than the KMT had in 2008.  If even districts like Taidong, Hualian, and Hsinchu are in play, then the KMT only has two safe seats left (Jinmen and Lianjiang).

Perhaps it is not that bad for the KMT.  Remember, the by-elections generally had around 40% turnout.  The exception is Nantou 1, which held its by-election on the same day as the county executive elections and thus had a “normal” 66.3% turnout.  Not coincidentally, the KMT won Nantou 1.  Its vote share slipped significantly, but not calamitously.  I argued above that the 20% of voters missing in a 40% turnout would disproportionately favor the demoralized party, in this case the KMT.  However, I also argued (with very little evidence) that the effect wouldn’t be too dramatic.  It would probably only sway the final vote share by a few percentage points.  With a 60% turnout, instead of 41.6-53.4%, we might get something like 45-50%.  That is still a disaster for the KMT, though perhaps not of the same magnitude.

There is another possibility.  Perhaps the DPP simply does better in by-elections.  The logic of this argument would go something like this.  KMT campaigns tend to be more organization-oriented, while the DPP campaigns tend to be more issue oriented.  With only a few election districts holding elections at any one time, the DPP can concentrate all of its rhetorical fire and oratorical superstars on a small number of voters.  At the same time, with all eyes on a few districts, the KMT finds it much harder to run a “traditional” (read: corrupt) campaign.  I am reluctant to bring up this argument since I don’t really believe it.  You can easily make the opposite argument about the KMT concentrating resources.  However, I am grasping for plausible explanations for implausible results in these by-elections, even given the 2009 county executive results.[4]

So where is the national partisan balance right now?  My best guess is that the two parties are roughly even.  Perhaps the DPP has a slight edge.

How could this have happened?  I have two answers, and I think both are basically correct.  One answer is that President Ma has frittered away his entire electoral advantage in less than two years.  By moving too quickly in opening to China, bungling the relief effort to Typhoon Morakot, and so on, he has alienated all the swing voters who supported him in early 2008.  TVBS has done a series of polls on party image.  The most recent was released on Jan. 20.  They ask a series of questions, including whether you agree or disagree that the KMT (DPP) pays attention to public opinion, is honest and not corrupt, is energetic, values reform, is united, has the ability to reflect on mistakes, and is trustworthy.  Opposition parties tend to do better on these questions, but during Chen Shui-bian’s term in office, it took a full four years before the KMT started to enjoy a clear advantage in party image.  The held this advantage for roughly the last three years of Chen’s tenure and the first few months of Ma’s tenure.  However, in less than two years, the trend lines have completely reversed, and now all these indicators are solidly in favor of the DPP.

A second answer is that the KMT never had such a huge advantage.  Ma’s landslide victory was not due to overwhelming public support for him or his party.  Rather, the electorate was disgusted with the scandals of the Chen administration and was punishing his entire party.  As the DPP steps away from the Chen era, we revert to a more realistic balance of power between the parties, one based on opinions toward the entire KMT and DPP rather than just toward the very polarizing Chen Shui-bian.  I don’t mean to say that it is suddenly 2003 among the electorate again.  Other interesting things have happened in the meantime.  Geographically, the biggest change in the electorate has been a clear shift in the Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan region to the DPP.  I’ll almost certainly delve into this some other time.  However, the biggest story nationally is that this Chen era is over.  The DPP is a viable contender for power once again.

[1] Alas, this will not be an airtight argument.  This is simply my gut-feeling after years of attempting to come up with something better.  One of the advantages of a blog is that I can make these kinds of arguments.  This would never get past a referee.

[2] Why 60%?  60% is merely a convenient number since almost all general elections have gotten 60% or more, and I have not been able to figure out any relationship between turnout and partisan results in general elections.  Only by-elections have fallen significantly below 60%.  Over the past year, most by-elections have had roughly 40% turnout.

[3] The 2008 presidential vote is nearly identical.

[4] The exception is Taidong County.  Taidong produced nearly identical results in the county executive race and the by-election.  However, aborigines voted in the county executive race, and aborigines heavily support the KMT.  Subtracting them from the electorate in the by-election produces a narrow DPP victory instead of a narrow KMT victory.

The Hualian campaign and predictions

February 26, 2010

On the eve of the legislative yuan by-election, I thought I’d update the races and make some highly dubious predictions.

Three of the races are shaping up mostly as I discussed in my previous posts.  Chiayi County 2 is going to be a landslide DPP win.  Stunningly, the KMT seems to have publicly given up on the race in Hsinchu County.  KMT spokesmen are  publicly only hoping to protect two seats, and they always mean Taoyuan 3 and Hualian.

In Taoyuan, the race has degenerated into an ugly series of accusations that the other side is cheating, corrupt, an outsider, and so on.  The KMT has largely ignored the two independent candidates and focused its attacks on the DPP candidate, Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼.  Huang seemed like a much stronger candidate at the beginning of the campaign, but I think the KMT’s efforts to portray him as a small-minded, local, visionless, grassroots figure are taking some effect.

Something very interesting, however, is happening in Hualian.  The campaign has turned into a full-blown issue-oriented, not personality-oriented, campaign.  One issue is dominating discussion: transportation.  To understand this, we’re going to need some background.

Here’s a map of Hualian County from Wikipedia.  Hualian is in red.

Taiwan ROC political division map Hualien County.svg

At the end of 2009, 4.5% of the total population lived in the three counties along the east coast.  2.0% lived in Ilan County, just north of Hualian County; 1.0% lived in Taidong County, just south of Hualian County; and the other 1.5% lived in Hualian County.[1] Why do so few people live on the east coast?  A quick glance at a topographical map answers this question.

As you can see, it’s very hard to get from the Taipei area to Ilan County.  It’s even harder to get from Ilan County to Hualian County.  It’s not hard at all to get from Hualian to Taidong, since the East Coast Rift Valley is about 30km wide and runs from Hualian City at the northern mouth of the valley, to Taidong City, at the southern mouth.

Currently, there are three ways to get from Taipei to Hualian.  You can fly, take the train, or drive.  Driving is a real drag.  Ten years ago, there were two provincial highways going from Taipei to Ilan.  One was a winding mountain road; the other was a winding coastal road.  Both roads are heavily traveled two lane highways and are quite slow and dangerous.  The coastal route, which most heavy trucks used, had the added disadvantage of going to Jilong City, not directly to Taipei City.  Getting to Ilan is the easy part.  There is one road going from Ilan to Hualian.  This road is one of the most breathtaking roads in the world.  The mountains rise straight out of the ocean over 1000 feet high in many places.  (This is also true below the waves; the ocean floor is over 1000 feet below sea level.  From mountain peak to ocean floor is probably less than 100 feet horizontally in many places.)  For long stretches at a time, the road is carved out of the rock halfway up the side of the mountain.  Since you follow the shape of the mountainside, the road can be very twisty and prone to collapse.  In several sections, they have opted to build a short tunnel, but you can still see the old road going around the outside of the mountain.  Over the past three decades, the road has gotten progressively safer but less beautiful as they have built more and more of these bypass tunnels.  However, there is still plenty of scenic road left.  On a sunny summer day, the ocean waters are a deep blue and the mountains are dark brown, except where covered with lush green vegetation.  I’ve taken several memorable trips on this road, and it makes me happy every time.  Well, unless it’s not a sunny summer day.  When it is dark, when it rains, or both, this road is downright terrifying.  Even when it’s bright and sunny, this road is very slow.

About 5 years ago, it became much easier to get to Ilan from Taipei.  The government built a beautiful new four-lane divided freeway.  It cost a lot of money because it has several long tunnels deep underneath the surface.  The longest tunnel is over 12km long.  It also cuts the time to get to Ilan by more than half (unless, as is frequently the case on holidays, it has a traffic jam), and is far safer than either of the old roads.  As you might guess, weekend tourism in Ilan is booming.  It’s still very hard to get to Hualian or Taidong, however.

Let’s return to the campaign.  The DPP has never done very well in Hualian, and it didn’t have a local candidate willing to take up the fight.  They nominated Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴, who has likely spent more time in Ohio[2] than in Hualian.  I think a lot of what has happened is probably due to a short-term horizon.  Hsiao had to have figured that her political career in Hualian would last all of two months, after which she would return to Taipei.  She took the nomination as a service to her party, and determined to fight (and lose) the good fight.  Since she had no reasonable chance of winning and wanted to bolster, not sully, her national image, she had no reason to descend into ugly mudslinging.  Rather, she constructed a policy-oriented campaign centered around economic development and transportation.  She is calling for several things, most notably for the government to subsidize half the price of bus and train tickets to Hualian and for Hualian businesses to be exempt from the operating tax.  The latter is inspired by her shock and disbelief[3] upon coming to Hualian and finding that Hualian’s level of development is roughly the same as Penghu’s.[4] Penghu businesses have a special exemption from the operating tax, and Hsiao insists that the residents “behind the mountains” should get the same treatment.  All of this would be just more cheap talk, but the DPP has introduced an “East Coast Development Act” in the legislature and pushed it through to the second reading.  The DPP bill budgets NT50 billion (USD 1.6 billion) for east coast development.  The KMT has reacted with its own version of the bill, but it provides for far less funding.  I wonder how Hsiao ever managed to get the DPP to accept responsibility for her campaign promises.  It must have been part of her conditions for accepting the nomination in the first place.  “If I go, I’ll have to run on transportation issues, so you’ll have to support my bill in the legislature.”  Of course, since neither she nor the DPP expected her to win, they probably did not expect to really have to pass or take responsibility for the financial consequences of these promises.

One thing that Hsiao noticeably has not endorsed is the freeway plan.  There is a plan to extend the Taipei-Ilan freeway all the way down the east coast.  Public opinion in Hualian (and presumably Taidong) is solidly in favor of the freeway.  There are two major reasons that it hasn’t been built: cost and environmental impact.  I can’t judge the environmental issues, except to say that people around the rest of the island seem to be more worried about environmental impact than people in Hualian.  Financially, this is a classic case of concentrated benefits and diffused costs.  People in Hualian would benefit disproportionally from the road while paying only a small fraction of the costs.  One estimate for the cost of the section between Ilan and Hualian was NT 89 billion (USD 2.8 billion).  About 70% of that was earmarked for one especially long tunnel.[5]

The candidate stumping hard for the highway is independent Shi Shenglang 施勝郎. In fact, the KMT has accused Shi of only having one idea.  Perhaps, but it seems to be a potent one.  The Shi campaign is practically daring the KMT to match its appeal.  County executive Fu Kunqi 傅崑萁 has publicly said that he will switch his support to the KMT candidate as soon as President Ma signs a statement that he will start building the freeway this term.

The KMT has responded by attacking Shi almost as much or perhaps even more than Hsiao.  I think this is a big mistake.  In Taoyuan, the KMT has ignored the two minor candidates, and they seem to be fading into the background.  In Hualian, the KMT has ensured that people think of this race as having three distinct choices.  It is entirely possible that the KMT argument that a vote for Shi is really a vote for Hsiao may backfire by reminding voters that Shi is in the race.  The KMT would have been better off by focusing on Hsiao and turning this into a choice between KMT and DPP.

OK, how about some predictions?  First, a disclaimer.  I don’t have much confidence in my predictions.  Each election is an incredibly complex phenomenon that we only see a very small slice of.  This is true for people working 24 hours a day on the campaigns, and it is much more true for people like me who see the election from afar and in scattered little bits.  Moreover, I rely heavily on past events to predict future events.  One reason that the social sciences are much more difficult than the natural sciences is that people, unlike molecules, learn, adjust their behavior, and even strategically.  My “predictions” are really just glorified guesses, and I expect them to be wrong quite often.

Here are my best guesses:

Chiayi County 2: Chen Mingwen 陳明文 (DPP) 69; Lin Derui 林德瑞 (KMT) 31.

Hsinchu County: Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 (DPP) 54; Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 (KMT) 46.

Taoyuan County Third District: Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 (KMT) 49; Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 (DPP) 40; Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 (IND) 7, Lin Xiangmei 林香美 (IND) 4.

Hualian County:  Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (DPP) 44; Wang Tingsheng 王廷生 (KMT) 42; Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 (IND) 14.

I’m stunned by my own predictions.  That would be DPP 3, KMT 1.  According to the political map, the KMT should win the latter three seats handily.  I can’t believe that I think the DPP will be close in all of them, much less win in two of them.  I must be off my rocker.

[1] For reference, 29.7% of the total population lived in Greater Taipei (Taipei City, Taipei County, and Jilong City on the northern tip of the island.

[2] Hsiao has a BA from Oberlin and an MA from Columbia.

[3] Somehow she has turned being an outsider into an advantage.  She could naively and innocently be shocked by conditions in Hualian, leading to (convenient) moral outrage at the state of affairs.  In other words, her appeal is “I had no idea it was this bad!  We have to do something about this!”

[4] Penghu is the chain of islands to the west of central Taiwan.

[5] The central government is investigating an alternate plan to upgrade the existing provincial highway by putting in a few tunnels in the most treacherous sections.  This plan would cost about half as much as building a new freeway.  It would also still leave east coast residents with a two-lane, unlimited access highway with large stretches of winding road.

Feb 27 by-elections

February 20, 2010

Ok, what about the four seats up for election next week.  Well, there aren’t any of our bellwether districts among the four.  Chiayi County 2 is a very strong DPP district, while the other three are heavily blue.

Chiayi 2 is hardly worth talking about, since the DPP candidate is going to crush his opponent.  Chen Mingwen 陳明文 just finished two terms as county executive and is highly popular in a district that favors the DPP.  The KMT has a political novice plucked out of a university who is so anonymous that the party chair can’t even remember his name, which, for the record, is Lin Derui 林德瑞.  (At a recent rally, President Ma called him Lin Dexun.  Twice.)

The other three races are on decidedly pro-KMT turf.  In the table above, Taoyuan 3 is 64-32, Hsinchu County is 70-23, and Hualian is 73-23.   Even if KMT popularity has slipped significantly, these should still be safe KMT seats.  Only if you think that the Taidong County by-election was an indicator of a new island-wide political reality rather than a freak local occurrence should you think that the DPP might be expected to win any of these seats in a straight fight.  However, that seems to be exactly the line that most of Taiwan’s media has swallowed.  Again and again, I read or see someone point to the “Taidong Experience” as a reason that the KMT will win Hualian.  More people seem to expect the DPP to sweep all four seats than expect the KMT to win two of them.  Personally, I think the KMT has done a masterful job of lowering expectations so that if they win two or three of the seats, they’ll be able to claim they have been re-energized (under Secretary General King Pu-tsung 金溥聰) and things are now different.

Taoyuan 3 is entirely in Zhongli City 中壢市, and it covers about 90% of the city.   Unfortunately for the KMT candidate in this race, the best 10% is not in this district.  This district is 64-32 blue; the 20,000 or so votes in Taoyuan 6 went blue by a whopping 77-19.  Zhongli is traditionally part of the Hakka heartland, but the ever-expanding Greater Taipei region has sent more and more non-Hakkas into this area looking for cheaper housing.  There is also a heavy military and mainlander presence in Zhongli, though a large number of them are in the other legislative district.  The TVBS surveys indicate that this district is currently about 45% Hakka, 40% Minnan, and 12% Mainlander.

The DPP candidate is Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼.  I can’t tell you much about Huang other than that he was a member of the county assembly for several terms.  He ran for Zhongli mayor last December and lost a three-way race by only 1,000 votes, a very good showing for a DPP candidate in this very blue city.  But let’s not make too much of it, it was, after all, a three-way race and Huang only got 37%.  Huang seems to be a classic grassroots candidate.  He isn’t making much of a splash in the media, and he just seems to be a solid, though limited, candidate.

The blue side is much more fun.  The KMT made a hash of their nominations.  This was one of King Putsung’s 金溥聰 first big decisions when he took over the KMT party machinery.  King decided that he wanted to match the DPP by nominating either an image or grassroots candidate according to their choice.  He had two grassroots possibilities, the mayor and deputy mayor of Zhongli City, and one image candidate, Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖.  King ran some polls and found Chen in third place.  However, he found he couldn’t nominate one of the grassroots candidates without provoking a backlash from the other, and in the meantime, the DPP had nominated a grassroots candidate.  So he nominated Chen, the image candidate.  This prompted the mayor to announce his enthusiastic support for Chen and the deputy mayor, Lin Xiangmei林香美, to announce her candidacy.  So basically, King didn’t achieve any of his goals.  He didn’t match the DPP candidate, and he didn’t avoid a party split.  In fact, he legitimized the split by publicly admitting that Lin had more support than Chen.

Chen Xuesheng is an interesting character.  He started out as a member of the Taipei City council in the 1990s, but he was bright, ambitious, and by all accounts performed well in office.  He moved up to the legislature in 1998, and he was convinced that he would take over as Taipei City mayor in 2006 after Ma’s two terms.  However, he lost his LY re-election bid in 2004.  Oops.  (Why did he lose?  I published an article on strategic voting and strong candidates in SNTV elections.)  With his ambitions in Taipei in tatters (and Hau Longbin steamrolling to the nomination), Chen announced that he was moving to Kaohsiung City, where he would run for mayor.  Well, that didn’t work out so well.  A couple of years ago, he landed in Taoyuan in the county government under Zhu Lilun 朱立倫  (who was then Taoyuan County Executive, is now Vice-Premier, and is rumored to be the KMT’s favored candidate in Taipei County later this year).  I’m guessing that Zhu had something to do with this nomination.  Chen is not a great fit for this district, since he isn’t local and he isn’t Hakka.  However, he does have a track record as an effective, idealistic, and honest legislator.  He needs a district, and Zhongli is blue enough that his partisanship alone should be enough.

The media seems ready to hand this district to Huang and the DPP, but then the national media can’t seem to imagine that the DPP could lose any race right now.  The polls say that Chen has a small lead, but polls must be interpreted, not simply read.  You have to account for voters who don’t live in the district but will return home to vote, low turnout, strategic voting, poll-fatigue among respondents, and a few other things.  The polls also say that Lin Xiangmei and Wu Yudong 吳餘東 (who I don’t know anything about other than that he served a couple of terms in the county assembly) are drawing significant support.  Support for third candidates that seems solid in surveys often dries up in the voting booth, so we’ll see.  Presumably, these two are taking more votes away from Chen than from Huang, so if their support vanishes, Chen should be the beneficiary.  In short, the best reason to believe that Huang will win is turnout.  Turnout should be low, and the prevailing assumption is that energized DPP supporters will vote and demoralized KMT supporters will not.  That seems like a fairly risky assumption to me.  If I had to bet, I’d bet with, not against, the partisan structure of the district and throw my money on Chen.

Hsinchu County is, on paper, even bluer than Taoyuan 3.  In 2008, the party list vote was 70-23.  However, partisan attachments are not as solid here as in most of Taiwan.  During the 1990s, the DPP had a string of successes and held the county government for 12 years.  There are two KMT heavyweights who have dominated local politics for the past decade, and this current by-election is still largely about them.  Zheng Yongjin 鄭永金 started out as speaker of the county assembly, moved up to legislator, and just finished two terms as county executive.  Qiu Jingchun 邱鏡淳 was a member of the provincial assembly, then a legislator, and was just elected county executive in December.  In the 2005 county executive race, Qiu wanted to challenge Zheng, but was persuaded to step aside and wait his turn.  In 2009, Zheng did not return the favor by supporting Qiu.  Instead he put forward his own candidate, and Qiu had to fight a bitter campaign.  The antipathy runs deep between these two.  The KMT would have certainly preferred to let these wounds heal a bit before launching into another campaign, but they have to fill Qiu’s vacated seat in the legislature.

The KMT surprised many people by nominating Zheng Yongjin’s younger brother Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 for the empty seat.  Perhaps King Pu-tsung thought giving each heavyweight a piece of the pie would keep them both in his camp for the 2012 election.  However, the immediate result will probably be an election debacle.  Publicly, the Qiu faction elites are saying the polite things about Zheng Yongtang, but I don’t think they’re working for him.  They’re probably working against him to the extent they can keep their actions hidden.  Or it might be that the voters, not the leaders, are the ones who can’t bring themselves to cooperate with Zheng.

The DPP candidate, by the way, is Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾, though he might as well be a toaster since this election is all about the KMT.  Peng is a former prosecutor who made his name in the judicial reform movement.  He served a couple of terms in the legislature, winning his seat in Taoyuan County.  In 2008, Taoyuan didn’t have enough spots for all the DPP politicians, so he moved south to his original home in Hsinchu County.  He hasn’t exactly lit the district on fire in his past campaigns.

The polls[1] show Peng with a healthy lead, and I think he will probably end up winning.  If he does, let’s not get carried away and start claiming that the DPP is now the dominant party in Hsinchu.

Hualian is probably the hardest race to understand.  This is usually the case.  Years ago, a friend from Hualian tried to explain to me why I couldn’t understand what was going on there by saying that voters in Hualian never vote for anyone, they only vote against.  Ok, I’m still confused.

Demographically, Hualian is the most diverse county in Taiwan.  The common saying is that each of the four major groups (Minnan, Hakka, mainlander, aborigine) has a quarter of the population.  This is not quite accurate, though no group has a majority.  Minnan voters are roughly 40% of the population, and Hakka and Mainlanders are considerably less than 25%.  Since this is a legislative election and the aborigines have their own constituency, that 24.3% of the electorate doesn’t vote in this race.  TVBS breaks the district down as roughly 60% Minnan, 25% Hakka, and 10-15% Mainlander.

Hualian is also a very blue county.  In fact, according to my favorite table (see previous post – if only I knew how to create links…), Hualian is the blue camp’s best district in Taiwan at 73-23, losing only to Jinmen and Matsu, the two islands off the China coast.  Unlike Hsinchu County, this partisanship seems fairly solid.[2] The best the DPP has ever done in Hualian is 43% in the 1997 county executive election.  That was, of course, the year everything went right for the DPP.  Other than that year, the green camp’s best showing was 34% in the 1998 legislative election.  Unfortunately, the 34% was split between two candidates, and both lost.  Normally, the DPP has been between 20% and 30%.  This year, the DPP doesn’t even have a local candidate.  They had to parachute in someone from Taipei (more on her later).  So how could the KMT possibly lose this race?

Sometimes I think this race is all about Fu Kunqi 傅崑萁, who vacated this seat when he won the county exective race in December.  Other times, I think that’s ridiculous.  Let me explain.  Fu was a three-term PFP legislator who wanted to move up to the county executive position.  Unfortunately, he has been convicted in a financial speculation case and is currently appealing the sentence.  The KMT did not wish to be tainted with this scandal and disqualified him from the nomination contest.  Instead, President Ma handpicked one of his closest allies, Department of Health Minister Ye Jinchuan 葉金川, to run in the race.  With Fu disqualified, the KMT thought it would just run a normal primary and Ye would win easily.  However, Fu decided that he was going to run, and he wanted to face a weak opponent.  So in the primary, he mobilized his supporters on behalf of Du Lihua 杜麗華, a candidate without much real support of her own.  Du won, Ye withdrew, and the KMT got stuck with a lousy candidate.  In the general election, Fu rolled up a huge victory.  In the by-election, Fu is supporting his own candidate, Shi Shenglang 施勝郎.  What is Fu’s game?  One school of thought is that he is playing a game of chicken with the KMT.  The KMT’s ultimate goal is the 2012 election, and Fu is demonstrating just how much popular support he has and how dangerous it would be to alienate them.  What he wants in return for being a good soldier is, of course, for his conviction to conveniently go away.  (This is, it should be reiterated, all speculation.  It is not clear that the judiciary is not sufficiently independent that it cannot repulse any efforts to meddle.  It is also not clear that I am incapable of refraining from not using any more negatives.)

On the other hand, there are actual candidates in this race, and maybe we should think about them.  The KMT has nominated Wang Tingsheng 王廷升.  Wang is a professor at a local university, and, more importantly, his father Wang Qingfeng 王慶豐 was county executive in the 1990s.  Wang thus has his own network of supporters (and probably a set of people who oppose him) deeply embedded into the political fabric.  Much of the national media coverage has been focused on the DPP candidate Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴.  Hsiao is a figure with a national profile, having served in several highly visible party and government positions during the Chen administration.  She has no connection with Hualian, but agreed to attempt what she called this “mission impossible.”  She has run an aggressive campaign, talking a lot about economic development on the east coast, but it’s hard to tell just how much effect her publicity has actually had.

The polls show this to be a very close race, which is, in and of itself, a major victory for the DPP.  Many of the same questions that I raised in the section on the Taoyuan 3 election also apply here.  Will Shi Shenglang’s support disappear in the actual voting?  How low will turnout be, and will this favor one party or another?

As in Taoyuan, I tend to think that the underlying blue advantage is just too overwhelming for the DPP to win this seat.  Strange things happen from time to time, but it’s probably not wise to expect them to happen.

In thinking about these races, I have written a lot about local and particular factors.  Maybe it is a good idea to end by coming back to the national factors, which clearly matter quite a lot.  The KMT’s popularity has slipped significantly since 2008, so that what was a 73-23 district in Hualian is probably now a much smaller KMT advantage.  We don’t know how much things have changed, but we’re pretty sure that they have.  No matter who wins the seats, the DPP will almost certainly do very well.  Just remember that three of the four seats are being fought on decidedly pro-KMT turf.  If even these districts have close contests, the KMT is in real trouble nationally.

[1] Here’s an example of how you have to be careful with polls.  The sample in most recent TVBS poll is 61% Hakka, 28% Minnan, and 7% mainlander.  I’m pretty sure the actual percentage of Hakkas in Hsinchu County is closer to 80%.  Why would the survey be so far off?  One possibility, and this is just speculation, is that TVBS doesn’t have enough interviewers who are fluent in Hakka.  I don’t have any idea how undersampling Hakka voters might affect the horse race.

[2] A couple of people have tried to remind me that the DPP won a legislative seat here way back in 1992 by parachuting in former DPP chair Huang Hsinchieh 黃信介.  This, they claim, is a precedent and proves the DPP could win this election.  Pshaw!  That was a two seat district.  The first KMT candidate got nearly twice as many votes as he needed and the second got just fewer than Huang (after they subtracted the extra ones he stuffed in the ballot boxes).  There was also a third KMT candidate who came very close to winning.  Huang got a little less than 22% of the total votes.  In other words, this was roughly a 73-23 district back then, too.