Predicting the outcome of the legislative elections is tough. Polling is weak or nonexistent, local factional and personal networks can be a factor, incumbency can be a blessing or a curse, vote buying happens, negative campaigning can have an impact. The list goes on and on. One of the best analyses out there, albeit too conservative in my opinion, was done by Nathan Batto on the excellent Frozen Garlic Blog. I highly recommend it and agree with much of it. He may also have topped me in specificity in prediction, with that article.
Much of why I’m confident in my predictions is based on what was, last spring, a similarly bold prediction: The KMT was about to start collapsing, and soon (Chinese translation here). When, as I had predicted then, factional politicians started leaving and the internal contradictions in the party started to come out into the open in mid-July, my previously ‘bold’ predictions from last spring began to seem obvious. The concepts explained in that article underlie my conviction that the KMT is not sustainable as a major political party.
Most of the predictions on my list can be broken down into two categories: The KMT is going to do worse that most predict and late polling suggests, and, third parties are going to do better than expected. Legally in these last ten days we can’t reference specific poll numbers, so discussion on that will be general. You can find polls online.
Since Taiwan democratized, the political lines have been broken down on the related Taiwanese vs Chinese identity and unification vs independence debates. However, outside of a handful of districts in Taiwan, this is essentially no longer a debate — the Taiwanese identity has won hands down and almost no one wants unification. This has been demonstrated in the polling numbers as well as in the stunning sweep of the pan-greens in last year’s nine-in-one elections.
One of the very helpful things that Nathan Batto did in the article mentioned above is to break down district seats in columns from left to right this way: “Safe Green”, “Lean Green”, “Toss-up”, “Lean Blue” and “Safe Blue”. He is a noted scholar with deep knowledge of Taiwan’s local political scene, so his judgments on this should be taken very seriously. The area I know best, as ICRT’s Central Taiwan correspondent, is Central Taiwan, and looking over his judgments of the districts here I realized I completely agree with his rankings of the districts relative to each other on the blue-green spectrum — but, I would have moved them en masse one category to the left towards the green side. So, for example, he had the Taichung 5 in “Safe Blue”, but I would move Taichung 5 to “Lean Blue” and “Nantou 1” from “Lean Blue” to “Toss-up”. He had Taichung 2, Taichung 3, Taichung 4, Taichung 8, Nantou 1, Changhua 1, and Changhua 2 in “Toss-up”, and I would have put them in “Lean Green”. And so forth with the ones in the “Light Green” — I’d move them to “Safe Green”. If my categorization is correct, that radically changes the predicted outcome math.
With all of the problems in predicting local outcomes it is surprising how correlated our estimates are of the relative blueness and greenness of each district, but why have I shifted everything one step towards green? Obviously a major political and cultural shift is going on, and the trend is in that direction. But in a sense the polls have already accounted for that. One set of numbers suggests he and most people are underestimating the degree of the underlying political shift. Every district in Central Taiwan outside of Nantou 2 delivered a pan-green majority in last year’s nine-in-one elections. Previously Central Taiwan was a blue stronghold for the most part, so that shift is emblematic of an underlying change. Of course, one could argue that perhaps much of that was specific to the local elections. Since the entire country also underwent such a dramatic shift though suggests that was not the case. Even the district he notes as “Safe Blue” delivered 53.16% for the DPP in the last election. That indicates that the voting public there has a majority willing to consider a pan-green vote. In that particular district there is a powerful KMT incumbent pitted against a TSU candidate, so I would call it “Lean Blue” — but a pan-green win here isn’t inconceivable, just difficult. All Taichung districts delivered between 53.16% and 59.45% majorities for the DPP last time around.
Meanwhile, the situation since the nine-in-one elections has not stayed static. Then, there was widespread discontent with the Ma administration and a cultural shift away from what the KMT stands for. If the KMT and Ma administration had responded to the will of the electorate and changed, they could possibly have done better, or at least no worse, than in the previous election. It started well, with the popular Eric Chu being chosen as party chair. It was all downhill from there, with one disaster after another from the nomination of the deeply unpopular Hung Hsiu-chu as the party’s presidential nominee, to the constant internal turf wars between the power players in the party, to the defection or disenchantment of the local factional politicians, to the dumping of Hung to put in Chu as the party’s nominee, to the choice of the very controversial Jenny Wang as the VP nominee. Along the way the party has managed to alienate not only the general public, but at one point or another every single group internally within the pan-blue ranks. The staggering display of incompetence in this political campaign suggests to the public that incompetence is not specific to the Ma administration, but is endemic to the party. This leads me to conclude that as a general rule of thumb, the KMT will perform even worse than in the nine-in-one elections, and worse by a decent margin. That would wipe out whole swathes of the country for the KMT in the district elections and would suggest that the KMT will only win in their really hardcore strongholds.
It gets worse for the KMT. Whereas the DPP has done a very good job for the most part of not splitting the pan-green vote by making a series of canny alliances, the KMT has done a terrible job at it. This has opened the door for the KMT to potentially lose even in what should be their safest districts, such as Kinmen and Keelung.
Surely the KMT will at least hold much of the north, especially Taipei, New Taipei and the Highway 3 Hakka belt? Not so fast. In Taipei the “Ko P” (Mayor Ko Wen-je, an independent) effect suggests that KMT support isn’t as strong as once thought. For a detailed look at the threat they face in Taipei and New Taipei, here is an article by the same Nathan Batto mentioned above. Taoyuan and Hsinchu went green in the last election. Some even think the DPP have a chance in Hualien. Some normally light blue voters might vote for the DPP out of self interest in the hopes that a legislator of the same party as the president and majority in the Legislative Yuan would bring home the bacon to their district.
The KMT doesn’t have the loyalty of a lot of groups it thinks it has. Traditionally, Taipei residents, Hakka and aborigines vote for the KMT, not out of loyalty to the KMT or its ideals, but simply because they didn’t trust the Hoklo-speaker-dominated DPP. Ko Wen-je’s win in Taipei and Chen Wei-ting leading in the polls in a Miaoli by-election before his scandal broke suggest that given an alternative to the KMT that they are comfortable with, they’ll seriously consider the option. With some or possibly many voters, distrust of the KMT is now outweighing distrust in the DPP, and DPP outreach efforts are by all accounts making some inroads.
Then there is the party list vote. Nathan has these numbers: DPP 46.0%, KMT 25.0%, PFP 6.50%, NPP 5.50%, New Party 3.50%, TSU 3.50%, MKT 2.50%, Green/SDP 2.50%, and it goes on to list a slew of more minor parties.
I think the KMT will do worse than projected here, and the third parties will do better, especially the NPP, PFP, New Party and the MKT. His numbers smell to me like they are heavily influenced by the final polls.
I think the KMT will do worse because I don’t think they will get many of the undecided voters after such a disastrous year. In a normal year I would assume half or more of this group would go to the KMT, but this year I think most will go to other parties.
Also, in normal years one would expect that the part of the population that will not vote for the DPP under any circumstances will choose the KMT as the logical alternative. This year it’s not necessarily the case — there are viable third parties that will poach off a lot of votes from the KMT.
There is also a lot of talk, and some open activity, that suggests that some KMT deep blues will sit this one out or protest vote for another pan-blue party such as the PFP, the New Party or the Republican Party (MKT). Many of the party’s core constituencies are furious with the party, for example military veterans, whose most popular leader Hau Po-tsun is openly supportive of the New Party. While the overall numbers that may decide not to come out to vote for the KMT may not be huge, they are disproportionately represented in many key districts around the island. Further adding to turnout woes is a big drop in returning China-based Taiwanese businesspeople. Religious voters will be wooed off by the MKT due to that party’s ties to a religious organization. The PFP will appeal to light blue voters, and even some older deep blue voters too, with leader James Soong’s repeated loyalty to ROC iconography and his role in government in the martial law era.
The pan-green side by contrast has motivation, energy and a will to finally sweep the KMT out of power, so turnout should be good in areas where there is any chance of the KMT winning the legislative district.
I also expect youth to turn out in greater numbers than they did even in the nine-in-one elections, precisely because the nine-in-one elections showed that sweeping changes are possible. This group has become increasingly political, highly motivated (it’s cool now!), and energetic. They are also surprising well organized. Their idealism and self identity propel them to support pan-green parties, and support for new parties — especially the New Power Party — is high with this group. In the US, and likely here, they are underrepresented in polling due to lack of land lines.
One other variable to watch for in the final days of an election is signs of panic and internal division. Politicians in the parties often know more than we do and have access to information we don’t. Nationally the KMT has started running increasingly bizarre ads, including one that essentially admits no one wants to be publicly associated with them. On the local level the meltdown of the Taipei 5 KMT candidate suggests something is clearly wrong there. The DPP meanwhile is now openly concerned that the NPP is going to poach party list votes from them, and has continued pounding on this theme. This suggests that the DPP internally thinks the NPP is going to do considerably better than polling suggests, and DPP big-shots trying to revive their relevance by slavishly courting the NPP in spite of Tsai’s admonitions doesn’t help the DPP.
Finally, in the last 10 days the polling goes dark — precisely when many voters will really be sitting down to make up their minds. With the widespread discontent with the Ma administration and the disastrous KMT campaign, I don’t see many new voters deciding to come to the KMT. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more leave. It’s worthwhile to note, too, that while the support for the KMT recently has plummeted, support for the DPP hasn’t soared in response.
There is a sea change going on in Taiwan’s politics and the country is looking for a new paradigm. I think a higher percentage of the population will opt for a new party over the two old, tired ones, than most people expect.
I expect, and deserve to be judged on my predictions. Post election, I’ll return and we can examine where I got it right, and where I got it wrong.
(Feature photo of Le penseur de la Porte de l’Enfer by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC-BY-2.0 from wikicommons)