Speaking of polls, Emerson Niou's recent paper, The China Factor in Taiwan Politics, flew across my desk this week. It was given at a conference in Japan and is still very much a work in progress, but it contains a rich array of data analysis bearing on the question of which voters pick what candidates and why. Niou is the principal investigator of the Taiwan National Security Survey for the NCCU Election Study Center, from which the data is drawn.
Niou argues, as many of us have observed, that the usual Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and similar polls seldom set down conditions for their questions -- they don't ask people questions like "would you support independence if Taiwan had US support? If China didn't threaten Taiwan?" The TNSS data contains such queries. Here are four items (pro-independence answers in Green):
Q1. If the act of declaring independence will cause Mainland China to attack Taiwan, do you favor or not favor Taiwan independence?I'd be curious to see how the terminology -- was 中國 or 大陸 used? -- affects the answer -- but that aside, question number 2 really shows how powerful support for independence is in Taiwan, and how important the China military threat is in creating support for the KMT and reducing support for independence, a conclusion Niou also indicates later in the paper. Question 4 is also interesting -- independence is about perceptions of shared identity, and even with economic and social conditions in China similar to those in Taiwan, most people still prefer independence.
Not Favor: 60.8%
Q2. If the act of declaring independence will not cause Mainland China to attack Taiwan, do you favor or not favor Taiwan independence?
Not Favor: 18.4%
Q3. If great political, economic, and social disparity exists between Mainland China and Taiwan, do you favor or not favor Taiwan unifying with China?
Not Favor: 76.5%
Favor: 16.4% NA:
Q4. If only small political, economic, and social disparity exists between Mainland China and Taiwan, do you favor or not favor Taiwan unifying with China?
Not Favor: 56.4%
Further questions were directed at the perception of the China threat and the perception of US support. Niou writes:
Tables 4a and 4b reveal that perceptions of China’s threat are to some degree a function of what people in Taiwan perceive the level of U.S. commitment to be and that Taiwanese support for independence varies according to the degree of worry about China’s threat. Those who perceive the U.S. commitment level as high are more likely to be less concerned about China’s threat and more likely to support independence. Conversely, those who worry about U.S. commitment to Taiwan tend to fear China’s threat more and are less willing to support independence.In other words, what Niou is pointing out here is that the current US policy of creating a perception of reduced US support for Taiwan helps the KMT. When the US handed out F-16 upgrades instead of new aircraft, it helped the KMT, handing Beijing a double victory: (1) a reward for its unswerving policy of transferring tension between Taiwan and China to the US-Taiwan relationship; and (2) aiding Beijing's ally in Taiwan, the KMT, to get re-elected.
Niou also explores the effects of demographics such as age, education, and ethnicity, on voting preferences. At one point he observes:
Second, perception matters when it comes to the intersection of politics and economics. Ma and the KMT, even while espousing a relatively pro-status-quo policy, are viewed with suspicion regarding their economic stance. Even the smallest increase in economic integration between Taiwan and the mainland is deemed favorable to the longterm interests of China. The DPP politicians, on the other hand, procure increased interdependence with fewer scruples from their supporters.This observation, that because DPP supporters trust the DPP's handling of cross-strait relations, meaning that they are more willing to tolerate increased integration with China, implies that in terms of its policy to integrate Taiwan with China so it can never declare independence, Beijing may well benefit from a DPP presidency. I doubt the CCP has enough imagination to embrace the possibilities, however. Niou also points out that the belief that China will not act in case of independence or the perception that the military threat is vapor also provides support for the KMT. He closes with a set of recommendations for the DPP and KMT.
This is an interesting paper with lots of numbers. Well worth checking out!
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