Posts Tagged ‘malapportionment’

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.