Show me the Middle
Meanwhile, lets think about these numbers. Two elections in a row, the Greens get 386,000 votes. The KMT gets 361K followed by 378K, down from a peak of 383K in Kaohsiung. The so called "light blues" or "light greens" don't exist. There is no middle. There are no swing voters. There is no segment of the electorate that policy arguments have to impress -- on many policies, everyone already agrees. Why are politics in Taiwan so identity oriented? Because victory doesn't depend on moving toward the middle to grab the swing voters, the way it might in the US. Victory depends on the simple ability to mobilize one's own base. Thus, the question Bruce Jacobs asked in an excellent piece in today's Taipei Times is answered:I was reflecting on this in light of this old piece from the Straits Times of Singapore, 1998, after Ma won the Taipei mayoral election when a fellow Blue New Party candidate backed out and asked his supporters to vote for Ma. (Question: There are three Blue splinter parties that have cost the Blues a couple of major elections. Why do people keep admonishing the DPP for being split?). The reporter, the same Ching Cheong now wrongfully jailed in China, wrote:This being the case, why has Ma since then courted the far-right of conservative politics? Why has he tried to do deals with People First Party Chairman James Soong (
宋楚瑜) and gain the small minority of Mainlander votes rather than going for the localist Taiwanese center?
Why can't Ma move toward the middle? Because there is no middle. Where could Ma go that he wouldn't leave his Deep Blue base behind?
The success of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) in last Saturday’s three-in-one elections marks the end of ethnic politics in the island and the beginning of a New Taiwanese identity.
This was the consensus among politicians, observers and the media after KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou won a hard-fought battle to wrest the Taipei seat from incumbent mayor Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Yesterday, Mr Ma said his victory signified the end of an ethnic rift that has marked Taiwan’s politics over the past five decades.
The victory of Ma Ying-jeou is an important symbol and a new milestone of ethnic integration. I hope all ethnic issues will become a part of history and will not continue to haunt the people of Taipei,he told a press conference yesterday. He garnered 51.13 per cent of the vote as compared with the 25.89 per cent his party took in the last mayoral race in 1994.
Anyone remember where the New Taiwanese identity went? Into the same dustbin as the APROC plan, I think. The whole idea of a Taiwan centered identity carries with it the idea that people are going to vote for the party that will take the best care of Taiwan. Is this really the case? Let's check out those numbers....
..........Taipei Mayoral Elections
When you look at the last four elections, the Taipei mayor elections all show a similar pattern of Blues at 50-55% and Greens at 40-45%. The only exception was 2002, when turnout was somewhat below the usual 1.4 million figure. Where are the swing voters? Did Ma's popularity hinge on his brilliant guidance of Taipei, or the constant drumbeat of positive publicity the pro-Blue media hands him, as well as his good looks? I doubt anyone out there would argue that policy was the issue in the 2002 mayoral election.
On Dec 18 the Taipei Times hosted an excellent commentary on the Kaohsiung elections. In addition to hacking on the local media for their inane interpretations of the elections, the author submitted some very interesting statistics, arguing that Taiwan does have swing votes.
In the Kaohsiung city councilor elections, the total vote counts for the KMT, the People First Party and the New Party constituted 42.76 percent of total votes, a figure that shows that the pan-blue camp enjoys massive support in the city.
By contrast, the percentage of city councilor votes for DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union candidates only came up to 36.23 percent, a figure well below that of the pan-blue camp. It is worth noting that 21.01 percent of voters voted for independent city councilor candidates, which indicates that the Kaohsiung electorate is composed of a substantial proportion of undecided swing voters.
Does the election of "independent" candidates really imply the existence of swing voters as we know them in the US? I would argue that it does not.
First, "independents" in Taiwan tend to be pro-KMT in practice. Second, and more importantly, there is a major disconnect between how people vote at different levels of government. In our area there is a mix of DPP and KMT people at different levels -- our village chief is KMT, but our neighborhood chief is DPP. Why? Because people at the local level tend to vote by personal affiliations such as clan and business links -- how well do I know this guy, and how? Party loyalties are not so strong. I suppose one could argue that this is a "swing voter" but the "swing" does not occur because someone offers better policies or a better vision of the future.
Despite the Blue/Green divide over identity, I would argue that the parties are insufficiently differentiated from one another across a wide range of policy issues. No major party is out there arguing that the National Health Insurance system be abolished, for example. No major party is arguing for the fundamental changes in environmental policy that will be needed to clean the island up. No major party is arguing for change in the government-business relationship. No major party has a concrete plan to solve income inequality. No major party is fighting for organized labor. Both the KMT and DPP are center-right nationalist parties, one pro-China, the other pro-Taiwan.
Taiwan voters, I suspect, "swing" because they are following a crude version of the decision strategy known as "Take the Best." For example, in selecting a mate, if one values brains more than beauty, then if one has to choose between two potential mates, the smarter one will get the nod. If two candidates are equal in both brains and beauty, then choose randomly, because it doesn't matter.
Since in any election major opposing candidates offer little deviance from the parameters of public policy as established in Taiwan, voters have to fall back on their personal affiliations with the candidate. Essentially, they have to choose randomly since candidates are more or less the same. Naturally, for the higher offices where voters are unlikely to have interacted with a candidate, they go with their identity. At lower level offices, where voters might personally be connected to a candidate, they go with their personal connections.
Thus, I would argue, there are no 'swing' voters in Taiwan. What we are looking at is votes slowly finding an equilibrium over time -- across several elections -- and settling into predictable patterns at the national level, and unpredictable ones at the local level.
Note also another emerging pattern -- the smaller parties are getting creamed. The PFP lost 4 of 6 seats in Taipei, and 3 of 7 in Kaohsiung. The TSU took 2 seats in Taipei and only 1 in Kaohsiung. The conventional wisdom is that in 2007, when the Legislature shrinks to 113 seats, these parties will disappear at the national level. I see no reason not to believe that at the moment.
[Taiwan] [Ma Ying-jeou] [Chen Shui-bian][Kaohsiung] [Taipei] [DPP] [KMT] [PFP] [TSU]