Part 1: Taiwan’s Presidential Race down to the Wire: What will Mean the Difference?
Part II: Projecting Possible Outcomes for the 2012 8th Legislative Election
Thus far, attention to Taiwan’s legislative races has taken a backseat to the hotly contested presidential race. Clearly, the single most important political position in Taiwan is the head of state, but that head of state – whether it be Dr. Ma Ing-jeou or Dr. Tsai Ing-wen - must heavily rely on the legislative body to put into motion their respective party platforms. The 2008 landslide victory of the KMT created a single party government not seen since the pre- democracy days, and this has given President Ma the space to pursue his agenda with little parliamentary opposition. Coming out of the 2008 parliamentary ballot, the KMT won a super majority of seats (71.7%). Combined with allied parties, the blue camp controlled more than 75% of the seats, reducing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a mere opposition shadow at just under 24% of seats.
Since January 2008, there have been eleven legislative bi-elections to fill vacated seats. The DPP won seven of these races, six of which were against KMT incumbents. The KMT retained its control of three districts, while losing one incumbent seat to a KMT maverick in Miaoli County. In three of the eight bi-election defeats, KMT mavericks cost the KMT the margin of victory, a reminder that party unity continues to be key to KMT victory, while party splinters and mavericks create room for DPP victories. Many speculated that these defeats were a popular renunciation of either the size of the KMT majority and/or growing unease with President Ma’s handling of domestic crises and cross-strait relations. While the subsequent Big-5 elections resulted in a record overall percentage of votes for the DPP, the KMT won three of the five large municipality elections. Taken together, bi-elections and local elections demonstrated growing momentum for the DPP. Under the new winner-take-all legislative election rules, however, the KMT and blue party allies still enter 2012 with a disproportionate advantage in district races.
What are the conditions that may reshape the legislative balance of power in Taiwan’s parliament after January 14th? What are the incremental changes in vote share that could make a difference in this electoral outcome? I first look at the district races and then the national at- large list seats.
The simple answer is that a major political earthquake would be required for the KMT to lose its legislative majority, and the appeal of Dr. Tsai as the DPP chairwoman and presidential candidate would need to filter down to the legislative races to increase turn-out by green party supporters, as well as capture several percentage points of support from the moderate and/or undecided voters. This, combined with division within the blue camp brought on by the re- emergence of the People First Party and a handful of KMT mavericks, will certainly close the gap, but it is unlikely to change majority parties in the legislative yuan. One particular advantage of the DPP is that there is no other party competing for green votes at the district level. Thus unity in the green camp strengthens the DPP’s chances against the larger, but divided, block of blue supporters.
Since this is the first simultaneous presidential and legislative election, there is uncertainty about how this may influence both turn-out and voting decisions by Taiwan’s public. The 2008 legislative election turn-out was a low, 58.5% while three months later, the presidential election turn-out was 76.3%. Turn-out in January 2012 will again approach 76% plus, and the million dollar question is which party’s supporters will turn out in greater numbers than in the past. Based on the abysmal showing for the DPP in the 2008 elections as a renunciation of the Chen era, one could surmise that a larger percentage of green party supporters simply stayed home than the non-voting blue camp supporters. An influx of green voters will not only bolster Dr. Tsai’s chances in the presidential race, but also her party’s chances in the legislature.
In order to forecast possible results of the 2012 legislative election, I look at the legislative votes from 2004, 2008, and subsequent bi-elections to gauge past support for each party. For the 2004 results, I re-allocate votes under the old electoral system according to the rules of the current system. This process yielded an 88% success rate at predicting the party victors at the district level prior to the 2008 legislative election, revealing a KMT landslide victory months before the 2008 polls. I then calculate the victory margins in each district race. After identifying which parties are running candidates in each of the 73 district races, I determine which districts are most and least prone to a change in party representation given 5, 10, and greater than 10 percentage point change in support. Certainly, changes in party support will not be constant across all districts, but in order to keep the model simple and reduce errors introduced by “speculating” on each individual district, a single standard is applied with each test.
There are four crucial assumptions underlying this modeling that may very well prove to be false. The first assumption is that the DPP will hold onto all of its current seats. This is potentially problematic in Taitung County and Taoyuan County #3, where the DPP margin of victory in post-2008 bi-elections was extremely close in very blue districts. The second assumption is that the success of Dr. Tsai’s presidential campaign will spill over into similar rises in support for DPP legislative candidates. Recent reports from Taiwan indicate far more DPP candidates seeking to ride Dr. Tsai’s coattails than KMT candidates relying on those of President Ma. The third important assumption is that PFP candidates will siphon KMT votes on a larger scale than those from the DPP. A fourth assumption bars the last minute revelation of a major scandal or actions of an external party that would reshape popular sentiments at the “12th hour.”
At lower levels of change in voter choice, the outcomes are not very dramatic. If the DPP increases its vote share by at least 5% in all districts, this would result in the KMT losing seats in Changhua County #4, New Taipei City #4, and Kaohsiung City #7 and #8. The NPSU is likely to hold onto its three seats, although Kinmen and Penghu counties will be hotly contested with the possibility of a PFP victory in Kinmen. Other parties and independent candidates are most likely to again be shut out of 2012. So, with a 5% point shift in votes island-wide, the legislative balance would be slightly adjusted to the KMT with 47 district seats, DPP with 23 seats, NPSU holding onto 3 seats, and one PFP seat. The KMT could retain its two-thirds majority with incumbent victories in the aboriginal constituencies and 15 at-large seats.
The next scenario is one in which there is a shift of between 5 and 10 percentage points in favor of the DPP. This scenario introduces some interesting alternative outcomes. In addition to the potential losses above, the KMT would be in jeopardy of losing eight additional seats: Chiayi City #1, Nantou County #2, Hualien County, Taitung County #1, Taipei City #2, Taipei City #6, New Taipei City #5, Kaohsiung City #1, and Kaohsiung City #6. The results in Taipei City #6 will be a function of the presence and influence of a PFP candidate and blue mavericks that will reduce KMT support.
Should the KMT lose the four seats above and these eight seats, its district share of seats would drop to thirty-eight. This would require an additional nineteen seats from the at-large list and aboriginal constituencies to retain majority status. If the PFP and NPSU win four district seats, two aboriginal seats, and no at-large seats, this would require a minimum of 13 at-large seats or about 40% of the at-large party list vote. The KMT would most likely hold onto its single party majority, but at the extreme, a 5-10 percentage point shift away from the KMT nation- wide could result in no majority party in the legislature and force the KMT plurality to work in coalition with its blue party allies once again. With the acrimony generated by Mr. Soong’s campaign, it is not entirely clear how well the PFP would work within such a coalition.
Finally, there are a number of electoral districts in which a sufficient rise in DPP support, combined with a fragmented blue vote due to PFP candidates, could produce the most extreme, yet unlikely, outcomes. The true combined tests of Dr. Tsai’s coattails and Mr. Soong’s currency, come in some of the most hostile environments for the DPP: Nantou County #2, Taichung City #6 and #8, New Taipei City #2 and #7, and Kaohsiung City #3. If the DPP were to increase its vote share by 10 percentage points, while PFP candidates siphon as many as 7-9% points from the KMT, the DPP could pick up these districts as well. PFP candidates are running in four of these districts.
As stated above, the odds of DPP success are not very strong in this last group of districts, but these are likely the district races that will be the KMT’s last line of defense for holding its majority status. If the results modeled above bear out, the DPP would need to win three of these six very difficult races to obtain a 35 seat to 35 seat balance of power in the legislative yuan. This would require the KMT to obtain twenty-two additional seats from coalition partners, the at-large list and aboriginal constituencies. On the other hand, this would also require the DPP to obtain twenty-two additional seats from the at-large list (assuming it wins no aboriginal seats) and/or join in coalition with another party. For all practical purposes, it is currently improbable that the DPP would capture 65% of the at-large vote. Contemplating a DPP-PFP coalition strikes one as equally improbable. Barring the PFP simply returning once again to the KMT fold, the outcome of this extreme scenario would signal the collapse of the party system as we have known it in Taiwan and generate considerable uncertainty due to the new coalition politics.
Pulling the thread one last extreme time, should the DPP win in all six of these races, or compensate with surprise victories elsewhere, the district result would represent nearly as incredible a flip-flop as that of 2008. If the DPP wins in every (emphasis on “every”) district in which it stands the slightest of realistic chances, it could emerge from the election with as many as forty out of seventy-three district seats. This would require as few as seventeen at-large seats or 50% of the total list vote to capture a majority.
Which of the above scenarios is the most likely? For this author, the most likely scenario is also the safest with which to go “on record.” At the end of the day, the odds are in favor of the KMT pulling off victories in about forty-three district races, four aboriginal seats, and about fourteen at-large seats totaling in the neighborhood of 61 seats, just short of a two-thirds majority. The DPP is likely to win about twenty-six district races, no aboriginal seats, and as many as sixteen at-large seats totaling about forty-two seats (more than double its share in 2008). The NPSU and PFP are likely to share among four district seats and two aboriginal seats, with the PFP possibly winning as many as three or four at-large seats.
Based on its poor showing in 2008 and lackof district candidates, the prospects for the Taiwan Solidarity Union scoring the necessary 5% threshold in the at-large list are not good. This project was conducted with the gracious research assistance of Ms. Ching-Hsuan (Christine) Meng (孟慶萱).
Hans Stockton (史漢傑), PhD, is the director of the Center for International Studies and the Cullen Trust for Higher Education/Fayez Sarofim Endowed Chair in International Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. He has studied Taiwan’s politics for more than twenty years and has observed every national election on Taiwan since 1992. He will be a member of an international delegation of election observers in Taiwan for the upcoming election.
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