Posts Tagged ‘legislative’

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.

Gerrymandering in Taiwan?

February 19, 2010

So we all know that the 2008 Legislative Yuan elections were a bloodbath for the DPP.  With the new MMM system and the overall 55-40 advantage for the blue camp over the green camp, the DPP ended up with only 27 of 113 (24%) seats.  Most of us assumed that the DPP made a huge mistake in agreeing to the new system.

In fact, it goes further.  Aborigines’ seats typically all go to blue camp.  In fact, in all the different sorts of national elections (legislative, national assembly, provincial assembly), the DPP has only won one seat.  (Chen Ying 陳瑩 won a legislative seat in 2004.  Her father was an old KMT politician, and she relied heavily on his networks.  Her election did not signify a new partisan regime.)  Depending on how and who you county, aborigines make up 1.5-2.0% or so of the total population.  Since they are acknowledged as a disadvantaged group with a special place in Taiwan, they have always been overrepresented in the legislature.  In the 1998-2008 legislature, aborigines had 8 of 225 (3.6%).  Now they have 6 of 113 (5.3%).  I don’t know why the DPP agreed to this.

According to the rules, each county gets at least one seat.  The four smallest counties, Taidong, Penghu, Jinmen, and Lianjiang, had 262,016 eligible voters in 2008, or 1.6% of the total SMD electorate.  In the previous legislature, they had 4 of the 168 SNTV seats (ie, 225 total minus the 8 aborigines’ seats and the 49 party list seats).  Now they have 4 of the 73 SMD seats.  That’s an increase from 2.4% to 5.5%.  In case you’re wondering, these four seats have always been solid blue.  (Well, until last month’s shocking by-election in Taidong, that is.  But more on that later.)

So according to the rules, roughly 3% of the population that is reliably blue elects 11% of the seats in the new system, up from about 6% in the old system.  That sounds like a solid case of malapportionment to me.[1] It also sounds like a significant systemic advantage for the KMT.  If the DPP wants to govern, it should need to get quite a bit more than 50% to overcome this malapportionment.

Just for fun, I took the 2008 presidential vote and cut it into the 73 SMD districts.  Since the KMT won 58-42, not much different from the blue camp’s victory in the party list (55-40), I didn’t expect a much different outcome.  In fact, it’s basically the same.  The DPP actually won 13 seats in 2008, but the green camp led the blue camp in the party list tier in 15 districts.  For the presidential election, the green camp led in 16 districts.

What about the 2004 vote?  If we wanted to know what a DPP majority would look like, this is the best we’ve got.  Recall that the DPP won the 2004 election by a whopping 50.11-49.89%.  In other words, it was basically tied.  If we assume that on such a 50-50 vote, the KMT and DPP would each get 17 list seats, and we further assume that the KMT would sweep the six aboriginal seats, the DPP would need to win the 73 districts by a 40-33 margin.  This seems unlikely, given a 50-50 vote, but that’s exactly what you get.  Chen’s vote was higher than Lian’s vote in 40 of the 73 districts.  In other words, this little exercise produces a one seat DPP advantage, 57-56.

I was absolutely shocked by this result.  Somehow a system that looks skewed in favor of the KMT is actually quite fair.  A 50-50 election produces a 50-50 legislature.  There must be something offsetting the malapportionment.

In my previous post, I pointed to 16 districts that were very close to the overall national average in the 2008 party list vote.  Chen won almost all of these districts (by very small margins).  Ten of the twelve districts in Taichung and Changhua (in Central Taiwan) are among these 16 bellwether districts, and Chen swept them all.  In other words, the DPP has an advantage in that a large group of districts tip its way slightly before the party gets to 50% overall.  This is what offsets the malapportionment.

I had never done this exercise before, but I’m sure that both the KMT and DPP did it before agreeing to the new system.  No one wonders why the KMT agreed.  They expected to benefit from it because they didn’t expect the DPP would ever get to 50% again.  In 2008 at least, they were clearly right.  The question is why the DPP agreed, and now we have another piece of the answer.  If they can get to 50% they can win power.  This system is not as skewed as it looks.

Oh, before we conclude, let’s revisit that malapportionment.  Now that the DPP has won Taidong (albeit in highly favorable conditions unlikely to hold in the future), we probably have to stop thinking of that seat as an automatic KMT victory.  Penghu also deserves a second look.  While the DPP hasn’t won anything there since 1993 and blue incumbent seems quite well-entrenched, this is not an unwinnable district for the green camp.  According to the 2008 party list vote, this is a 52-40 district.  Last December, the DPP candidate for county executive only lost by 600 votes, or about 1%.  So really there are only 8 overrepresented seats that the KMT seems sure to win, not 10.  Even the malapportionment isn’t as severe as it appears at first glance.


[1] If you’re really a nerd and need to know these things, I figured the Samuels-Snyder Malapportionment Index to be .0704, which makes the Taiwanese legislature a moderate, though not a severe, case of malapportionment.

Significance of the By-Elections

February 19, 2010

A month ago, the DPP swept three by-elections, picking up seats previously held by the KMT.  In a little more that a week, four more seats will be up for grabs, and the media is frothing with expectations of another DPP sweep.  I’ll have more to say about the individual races, but here I’d like to look at where these districts fit into the political landscape.

The Legislative Yuan has 113 seats.  34 are elected by party lists, 6 are elected by aborigines in two three-seat SNTV districts, and the other 73 are elected in single member districts by the plurality rule.  Technically, this is an MMM (mixed-member majoritarian) system, though with the nominal tier including both SMD and SNTV seats.  It was used for the first time to elect the current legislature in January 2008.

Most analysts assume that the party vote is a better indication of the underlying partisan structure of each district than the nominal vote, which is polluted by personal factors.  Taiwanese parties are commonly sorted into two big camps.  The blue camp is centered around the KMT and includes the PFP and New Party, while the green camp is centered around the DPP and includes the TSU.  These days, the small parties are gasping for life, so we have almost returned to the pure KMT/DPP two-party system that prevailed prior to the New Party’s splintering away from the KMT in August 1993.  At any rate, the best way to look at each legislative district is to sort them by party votes, aggregated into the blue and green camps.  Overall, the blue camp held a 55.2%-40.4% advantage.  However, the election was held at the nadir of green camp popularity, and things would certainly be much different if another election were held today.  My guess is that the blue advantage would by 50-45 or so.

Sorting the 73 districts by their blue camp party list vote, we get the following

blue green
1 Jinmen 金門縣 90.7 4.6
2 Lianjiang 連江縣 86.1 8.9
3 Hualian 花蓮縣 73.0 22.8
4 Miaoli 2 苗栗縣第二選區 72.5 21.3
5 Taipei County 9 臺北縣第九選區 70.4 26.2
6 Hsinchu County 新竹縣 70.1 23.1
7 Taidong 臺東縣 69.2 25.4
8 Taipei City 8 臺北市第八選區 68.7 27.2
9 Taipei County 11 臺北縣第十一選區 68.3 28.3
10 Taoyuan 5 桃園縣第五選區 65.4 29.4
11 Jilong 基隆市 65.0 30.7
12 Taipei City 6 臺北市第六選區 64.9 31.0
13 Taoyuan 6 桃園縣第六選區 64.2 32.0
14 Taoyuan 3 桃園縣第三選區 63.7 31.8
15 Taipei City 7 臺北市第七選區 63.1 33.2
16 Taipei County 8 臺北縣第八選區 63.0 33.5
17 Nantou 1 南投縣第一選區 62.8 31.9
18 Taipei City 4 臺北市第四選區 61.7 34.6
19 Miaoli 1 苗栗縣第一選區 60.2 34.7
20 Hsinchu City 新竹市 59.7 35.2
21 Taichung City 1 臺中市第一選區 59.3 36.5
22 Taoyuan 4 桃園縣第四選區 59.3 36.9
23 Taichung City 2 臺中市第二選區 59.2 36.9
24 Taipei County 12 臺北縣第十二選區 58.9 36.5
25 Taipei City 3 臺北市第三選區 58.8 37.6
26 Taoyuan 1 桃園縣第一選區 58.6 37.5
27 Taipei County 1 臺北縣第一選區 58.2 37.7
28 Taipei City 5 臺北市第五選區 57.9 38.6
29 Nantou 2 南投縣第二選區 57.6 37.4
30 Taipei County 10 臺北縣第十選區 57.0 39.3
31 Changhua 2 彰化縣第二選區 56.7 39.0
32 Taipei City 1 臺北市第一選區 56.6 39.4
33 Taichung County 2 臺中縣第二選區 56.5 38.3
34 Kaohsiung City 1 高雄市第一選區 55.6 41.1
35 Taichung County 4 臺中縣第四選區 55.6 39.4
36 Taoyuan 2 桃園縣第二選區 55.3 39.2
37 Changhua 4 彰化縣第四選區 55.1 39.9
38 Taipei County 7 臺北縣第七選區 55.1 41.0
39 Taichung City 3 臺中市第三選區 54.9 41.2
40 Taichung County 1 臺中縣第一選區 54.8 40.4
41 Taichung County 3 臺中縣第三選區 54.5 40.8
42 Taichung County 5 臺中縣第五選區 54.2 41.2
43 Taipei County 6 臺北縣第六選區 53.9 42.2
44 Changhua 3 彰化縣第三選區 53.5 40.5
45 Changhua 1 彰化縣第一選區 53.2 40.2
46 Taipei County 5 臺北縣第五選區 53.0 43.2
47 Penghu 澎湖縣 52.6 40.0
48 Taipei County 4 臺北縣第四選區 52.0 44.3
49 Pingdong 2 屏東縣第二選區 51.8 44.6
50 Kaohsiung County 4 高雄縣第四選區 51.4 45.3
51 Kaohsiung City 4 高雄市第四選區 49.1 47.6
52 Chiayi City 嘉義市 49.1 47.1
53 Ilan 宜蘭縣 49.0 46.6
54 Tainan City 2 臺南市第二選區 48.7 47.9
55 Taipei City 2 臺北市第二選區 48.6 47.6
56 Taipei County 2 臺北縣第二選區 48.5 47.7
57 Kaohsiung City 3 高雄市第三選區 48.1 48.5
58 Taipei County 3 臺北縣第三選區 47.7 48.8
59 Yunlin 1 雲林縣第一選區 47.5 47.0
60 Yunlin 2 雲林縣第二選區 47.2 46.6
61 Kaohsiung County 2 高雄縣第二選區 46.8 48.2
62 Pingdong 3 屏東縣第三選區 46.7 48.9
63 Kaohsiung City 2 高雄市第二選區 46.4 50.6
64 Kaohsiung City 5 高雄市第五選區 46.0 50.6
65 Tainan County 3 臺南縣第三選區 45.1 51.2
66 Kaohsiung County 1 高雄縣第一選區 45.0 47.9
67 Chiayi County 1 嘉義縣第一選區 44.6 49.6
68 Tainan City 1 臺南市第一選區 44.6 52.0
69 Pingdong 1 屏東縣第一選區 44.2 51.4
70 Chiayi County 2 嘉義縣第二選區 43.1 52.0
71 Kaohsiung County 3 高雄縣第三選區 42.9 52.3
72 Tainan County 1 臺南縣第一選區 39.8 55.9
73 Tainan County 2 臺南縣第二選區 39.4 56.3

The DPP won 13 districts in the 2008 election; they are marked with green English names.  The other 60 were won by the blue camp.  I want to draw your attention to the 16 districts in the middle of the table marked in red.  These are median districts.  There are 29 districts that lean more toward the blue camp, and 28 that lean more toward the green camp.  Whoever wins these 16 districts will win a majority.  (Actually, since the blue camp regularly sweeps all the aborigines’ seats, the green camp probably has to win 40 SMD seats to win a majority.  As such, they would need to win three-fourths of this group.)  In 2008, these 16 districts were all basically 55%-40% in favor of the blue camp.  Not surprisingly, the blue camp easily swept all 16 seats.

Recall that the national party vote was also 55-40, and that the gap would almost certainly be smaller today.  So just how close would these bellwether districts be?  By-elections shed some light on the situation.

The three districts that had by-elections last month and the four that will hold them later this month are highlighted in pink.  Two of the bellwether districts, Taichung County 2 and Taoyuan 3 held elections last month, and both were won quite easily by the DPP.  Does this mean that the DPP has gained enough popularity that it would sweep the 16 battleground districts today?  And the DPP even won Taidong, a place that it had never even sniffed a victory before.  (Well, never prior to its stunningly close loss in December’s county executive race.)  Not so fast there, hoss.  The KMT’s national popularity clearly has slipped, but there are also three other important factors that must be taken into account

First, the DPP had a clear advantage in candidate quality in Taichung and Taoyuan, and arguably also in Taidong.  In Taichung and Taoyuan, both DPP candidates had previously served in the legislature, having won seats in the old SNTV system.  Both ran for re-election in 2008 and lost, but both put up a good showing.  In Taichung 3, Jian Zhaodong 簡肇棟 faced a 13.7% (54.5-40.8) deficit on the party list, but only lost by 10.0% (55.0-45.0).   Similarly, Guo Rongzong 郭榮宗in Taoyuan 2 faced a 16.1% partisan deficit but only lost by 9.6%.  In Taidong County, the DPP’s candidate Lai Kuncheng 賴坤成 has run in numerous elections since 1992 and has generally acquitted himself well.  He even won a term as mayor of Taidong City, which has about half the votes in Taidong County.  So all three of the DPP’s nominees were battle-tested and formidable.

The KMT, by contrast, did not field a great roster of candidates.  I don’t think Chen Liling 陳麗玲 in Taoyuan had any electoral experience.  She had previously worked in the county government on environmental policy, which makes her a nice person and a terrible candidate.  Yu Wenqin 余文欽in Taichung was a little better.  He was mayor of Taiping City 太平市, which had about half the votes in the legislative district.  Township mayors are like major league baseball minor leaguers.  That’s where many stars come from, but not all minor leaguers are ready for the big leagues just yet.  At any rate, Yu had much less of a proven track record than Jian.  In Taidong County, things are a bit murkier.  The KMT’s candidate was Kuang Lizhen 鄺麗珍, who had been the county executive.  She had not won the previous race in 2005, her husband had.  However, he was removed from office for “irregular” behavior.  He had appointed her as his deputy, so when he lost the office, she stepped into it.  Both of them were reportedly pious devotees of the clientilistic arts, but perhaps they were a bit heavy-handed.  The KMT did not renominate her for county executive in 2009, instead turning to the incumbent legislator, Huang Jianting黃建庭.  However, in order to get her to step aside, they agreed to nominate her for the legislative seat that would open when Huang took office.  Now, it is easy in retrospect to suggest that Kuang was a weak candidate, but candidates with illicit money flying around them tend to do quite well in Taiwanese elections.  Certainly, her family had proven its ability to assemble a winning campaign team in the past.  In this case, though, I would have to agree with the conventional wisdom and argue that she was a big drag on the KMT effort.  So give the DPP a big edge in candidate quality.

The second factor is scandal.  As just mentioned, in Taidong Kuang and her husband had to deal with swirling (and credible) rumors of corruption.  In both Taichung and Taoyuan, the seats were vacant because the KMT incumbent had been convicted of buying votes in the 2008 election and had been stripped of his seat.  So both Jian and Guo benefited from a sympathy vote, having lost to a cheater.  (I have never quite understood this psychology.  The very voters who accepted the money in the first election are supposed to be the ones who cast the sympathy votes in the second election.  But if they shouldn’t need a court conviction to tell them someone was buying votes, they took the cash!  My imaginative deficiencies notwithstanding, this sympathy vote is widely held to be a real and have a significant effect on the outcome.)

Third, turnout was very low.  In the general election, turnout was just under 60%.  In this by-election, turnout was just under 40%.  We political scientists still have no idea what to make of turnout, but I’m damned sure it’s important in producing a result like this.  If turnout had been higher, I doubt the results would have been the same.  I just don’t know how they would have been different.

Where does this leave us?  I tend to think that the Taidong election result is probably just a one-time freak occurrence.  Kuang and her husband were corrupt, heavy-handed, and bad at governance (one poll named her the worst county executive in Taiwan).  The voters were simply punishing a terrible incumbent.  (Yes, I know she wasn’t technically an incumbent since she was running for a different office.  I also realize that the county executive race in December produced a nearly identical outcome with a much cleaner KMT candidate, except that the aboriginal vote swung the outcome the other way in that race.)  I just don’t think this election suddenly produced a sea-change in the electorate.  They’ll get over it and go back to voting for blue candidates next time.  If I were Lai Kuncheng, I wouldn’t get too comfortable in Taipei.

I attach much more significance to the two elections in Taichung and Taoyuan.  While the DPP won both handily (55-45 in Taichung, 58-40 in Taoyuan), I don’t think that the DPP is so strong right now that it would easily roll through the 16 bellwether districts if another general election were held today.  However, these districts are certainly not 55-40 anymore.  They are probably around 50-45 and may even be even.

Is this a stunning development?  Why yes, it is.  2012 is more than two years away, and it looks to me like a lot of KMT incumbents will view that date with dread while a lot of DPP challengers will await it eagerly.