First, apologies for taking off after the election. I've never taken time off after an election before; usually the analysis of election results is meat and drink to me. But I've gotten burned out from blogging, and as I told many of my friends before the election, it seemed like a good point to take a break irrespective of who won.
GRAND NARRATIVES AND CONVENTIONAL WISDOMS
Dan Lynch described why Ma won in a piece for (the notoriously anti-Taiwan) rag Foreign Affairs...
For their part, voters seem to have accepted Ma's contention that reducing cross-strait tensions improves the country's economic well-being.That, in a nutshell, is the conventional wisdom, found across the western media in its reporting on the election. According to this conventional wisdom, the public felt that Ma's cross-strait policy was better than Tsai's and were uncertain of what would happen if they elected Tsai. Ma, this narrative informs us, was the stability vote.
Grand narratives like this appeal to us on multiple fronts. For the KMT and its backers in Beijing, Washington, and Wall Street, they confirm that indeed the KMT had the best policies. For the DPP, they have a consoling effect -- there was just no way to overcome the advantages enjoyed by the KMT. Grand Narratives thus work to absolve the DPP and its politicians of their own incompetence as well.
But grand narratives appeal to us in another way. When we talk about Grand Narratives with Big Words like Stability and Economy, we flatter ourselves that we are Big Thinkers, Big Thinkers who Think about Big Stuff. Grand Narratives thus directly appeal to our egos -- they legitimate ourselves as thinkers who think strategically, and best of all, we don't have to think about numbers!
Let's step back and consider a few things.
First, recall that for much of the election Tsai was either neck and neck or at times ahead of Ma until December. In mid-October the Global Views polling arm was shut down, apparently after pressure from the KMT, since it was showing Tsai ahead 4-6 points.
Why was Tsai in the race until December? It wasn't because the populace was enamored of her cross-strait policies or enthralled by the DPP's brilliant election campaign. Rather, the KMT ran the most inept major political campaign since the DPP's 2008 disaster. President Ma reversed himself on subsidies for farmers, floated a ridiculous cross-strait peace plan, and handed the DPP its piggy bank theme through government blundering, among many such sillinesses. This culminated in the disastrous smear of Tsai over the TaiMed case that backfired on the KMT.
At the same time, the DPP had been running a tight ball control campaign. The issues that the KMT had invented, Veep candidate Su's illegal farmhouse, and the ridiculous misprint on a calendar, hardly affected the campaign. The DPP had opportunistically seized on the piggy banks to whip up support.
We all know what happened. Two events occurred simultaneously, each important. First, the KMT stopped screwing up. The Ma campaign got back on-message and did what it did best, going negative and garnering support from its allies in Washington, Beijing, Big Business and Big Finance. As my friend Drew observed, Ma ran a much better campaign when he stopped trying to win. There were no changes in Ma's announced policies; rather, the KMT's tactics changed.
Simultaneously, the DPP suddenly became brainless. The TaiMed smear practically begged the DPP to play the martyr card. Instead, the DPP raised a similar issue with Ma about an old bank merger, playing right into KMT hands. In the race to negative, the party with fewer scruples is bound to win. But worse, the week before the election Tsai said she would institute a coalition government if elected. A number of my friends around the island pointed to that announcement as a major negative for her. Not only did it raise the specter of the failed coalition era of Chen Shui-bian's first administration, but it was predictably short on details. It was ridiculed by the KMT and according to analysts hurt the DPP in its southern base.
The counterfactual is obvious: if Ma's team had flatpetered the election during the last few weeks the way it had during the previous couple of months, Ma might have lost (and what would the grand narrative be then?).
At the tactical level, several other factors need to be addressed. First, the CEC's decision to place the election on Jan 14. For many students the Jan 14 date, at the end of the semester for most schools, meant that they would have to return home to their families twice, once for the election and then once again the following week for Chinese New Year. Many students had neither time nor funds to be traveling during finals week. Further, since the 14th was a working day, many factories refused to give workers more than a couple of hours off to vote, meaning that they could not return to their home areas in the south. By moving the election up from its traditional March date, thousands of young voters could not vote since they were not old enough. Yet another effect was that the election occurred before the traditional DPP holy day of Feb 28, meaning that the DPP got no morale boost from that holiday. The CEC's date choice could not have been better for the KMT.
Yet another factor was the money advantage. As one wag put it in the best line of the elections: "These aren't free elections for the KMT; they have to pay a lot." Julian Baum and Gerrit van Der Wees noted in a piece in The Diplomat...
In addition, the KMT’s large holdings of financial assets, corporations, and media outlets give it an abundance of resources, allowing it unrivaled capacity to spread its message and influence voters with advantages not tolerated by more mature democracies. In the election campaign just passed, for instance, the KMT out-spent the DPP by more than 10:1. Drained of support from Taiwan’s business community by pressures from the KMT and especially from China, the DPP had to rely on numerous small donations from the grassroots.The far greater resources of the KMT, the result of 50 years of authoritarian rule, enabled it to mobilize many different sectors of society on its behalf. Such spending also equates to greater amounts of advertising, and any marketer will tell you that repetition is a key factor in getting public buy-in regardless of what the message is. People made much of big business support of the KMT, but just as important is the ghostly presence of people at polling stations across the land, quietly telling voters as they enter to vote KMT. Scary, especially to older voters.
This asymmetry in resources is troubling since electoral campaigns are now waged heavily through TV advertising, and to a lesser extent in buying votes for cash, especially in the 73 district legislative races. While vote-buying is a criminal offense, often prosecuted, there were numerous reports in this election that the practice continues.
Attention should also be paid to the widespread reports of election shenanigans. Claudia Jean has a long report on her blog. She argues that vote buying actually takes two forms. One is the simple giving of cash to mobilize votes. But another form shows the great resources of the KMT at work, if true.....
‘Vote buying’ also appeared to be widespread. The reason why we don’t hear much about it was probably the inaction of the law enforcement when it comes to the KMT. This may also be because the KMT changed their tactic – they paid potential green supporters NOT to go out and vote rather than asked them to vote for the KMT. The KMT workers either asked those people to hand over their ID cards and withhold them until after the election or directly threaten to do those people harm if their names appear in the register.This tactic of "renting IDs" first appeared a few election cycles ago. The government sent a strong signal about what the judicial system should be doing when it transferred a prosecutor in Kaohsiung who did pursue such cases (article).
There were numerous anecdotal reports of other types of shenanigans, including what appeared to be deliberate counting errors and similar. Echo Taiwan wrote that ballots were counted so rapidly no double checking was possible. In other stations, he stated, police blocked people from entering to observe the count for a few minutes. And so forth.
This doesn't even get into the reports of problems within the DPP, faction and personality infighting. Claudia Jean discussed that in a recent blog post (here). She's a Hsieh partisan, so take with grain of salt. Bruce Jacobs, the well known scholar of Taiwan and of Chiayi's faction politics, argued in a piece in the Taipei Times a few days after the election:
Tsai initially did not listen to advice. Thus, for example, her performance in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) debate with Ma was disastrous. After that, she improved her debating performance, but her key aides, who controlled access to her, remained limited to three young women. These aides were overworked and blocked access to Tsai herself. On several occasions her aides proved they weren’t up to the tasks facing them and the DPP.[In Jacob's favor is that this exact criticism of Tsai was made by DPP officials after her report to the party explaining her election failure (here).]Jacob's observation about DPP handling of the foreign press is particularly painful, since exactly the same thing happened in the 2008 election. Ma in fact made fun of the DPP's refusal to talk to the foreign press just before election day. You might argue that the foreign press is pro-KMT and pro-Beijing, especially the odious Financial Times, but it is the only game in town, and you have to play it.
One area that concerns many DPP members is dealings with the foreign media. A highly respected Washington Post correspondent requested an interview prior to Tsai’s visit to Washington in September. Because a key aide of Tsai perceived to reporter to be unfriendly, the DPP did not grant the interview. The Financial Times, which also asked for an interview, likewise did not gain access. Thus, Tsai was unable to counteract the negative feelings among Washington officials, such as the White House’s National Security Council.
In another example, the DPP only translated into English the cross-strait section of the DPP’s 10-year plan. Some US-based professors had provided a full translation of the plan months ago. Despite there being no questions about the quality and value of the professors’ translation for the foreign press, a key aide to Tsai blocked its release.
Finally, the DPP's ground campaign failed to match the DPP's in many areas of conflict. My neighborhood was flooded with KMT propaganda materials; we got campaign literature from Tsai once. Superior KMT campaign intelligence and resources is anchored by the simple fact that the vast majority of key local officials -- neighborhood and precinct captains, school principals, township officials and so on, are KMT politicians. Whether due to lack of resources or strategic focus, the local level remains a KMT stronghold, and that is where elections are won and lost -- not to mention that KMT institutional control at the local level means that so often, vote counts are overseen by KMT officials.
The DPP's ground game also failed to educate its voters. In my extended family voters got together and madly determined how to split their votes between the DPP and the TSU to ensure that the latter got enough votes. In many areas it appeared some DPP voters opted for Tsai for president and then voted KMT for the legislature. Apparently a swatch of DPP voters thought it a good idea to hamstring their presidential selection by providing Dr Tsai with a legislature from the opposite party. Anecdotal evidence says lots of pro-Green voters weren't happy with Tsai's shift to the middle and didn't turn out -- weirdly, many southerners apparently thought they could get what they wanted by not voting. Clearly someone from the DPP needs to crack heads in the south.
In other words, anyone familiar with the ground offensives of both campaigns could easily construct a different narrative of the election, one in which the election was won because the DPP blew the campaign in the last few weeks, the KMT recovered from its inept opening campaign, the KMT's vast spending and resource advantage, and other issues on the ground enabled Ma to win. You might argue that the reports of election shenanigans are anecdotal; well then, so are the reports underpinning the conventional wisdom that people voted for Ma because of the stability issue. You can't reject one on the grounds that it is anecdotal but accept the other; that is merely an ideological position. Either you accept both or neither.
The nuts and bolts of campaigning are important because the actual number of votes at issue is small. The DPP's base in the presidential election is about 40%, as the 2000 (39%) and 2008 (41%) demonstrate -- the KMT's base is closer to 47-48%. In order to defeat the KMT the DPP has to collect nearly all of the tiny base of swing voters, just 8-12% of the electorate. Since a significant portion of this base is composed of light Blues who flatter themselves that they vote on merit instead of tribal identity and occasionally vote Green just to prove to themselves they are broad-minded, the DPP has its work cut out for it. At the same time it has to convince its mercurial base to come out (this election it did not, voter turnout in the south was depressed). The DPP reported in its post election report that after November its gains among independents began to erode....
In sum, the Grand Narrative is a macro level explanation with a nice ring to it, and makes both speakers and hearers feel they are participating in something important when it is put forward, but it doesn't account for Tsai's ability to take the lead at several points, and it fails to explain the victory of Ma (you mean his stability policy was so awesome he didn't even have to campaign?) while absolving the DPP of any blame for its incompetence and factional issues. No single factor, from the election date to electoral shenanigans to the KMT's money advantage to the KMT campaign's greater competence in the closing weeks, explains the KMT victory on its own. But taken together and in conjunction with the Grand Narrative, the KMT victory can be explained.
WHAT SHOULD THE DPP DO?
The worse thing about the Grand Narrative is not its status as a seductively incomplete explanation of what happened, but that it has become the basis for a whole class of pundits to make recommendations about what the DPP should do. For eexample, WantChinaTimes, the rabidly pro-China newspaper, gleefully ran such recommendations from ex-DPPers (here). DPP has to become more "centrist" in its China policy. It has to accept the 1992 Consensus. Such suggestions based on the Grand Narrative flooded both the Blue and Green media after the election.
Perhaps these are necessary, but what really needs to happen is fundamental changes in the way the DPP conducts elections. The DPP needs to pursue a Taiwan version of the 50 state strategy. Every local election, no matter how piddling, must have a DPP candidate; the KMT needs to be attacked at every level. The party should also hire professionals to conduct its campaigns. In the next Presidential election, the Chairman should not be the candidate, and a professional campaign manager should be hired, so that the Chairman can run the party, the manager can run the campaign, and the candidate can just run. Etc. No point in making changes to the China policy, even assuming they are wise, if the next campaign is run like this one was.
A news report on the DPP's analysis of the election failure is here.
FOR THE FUTURE
In Taiwan the independence issue is one way that the north-south regional struggle for resources against the KMT colonial state plays out. Similarly, the issue of Taiwan economic involvement in China is going to increasingly play out as a 1% vs 99% issue* with Big Business following the standard corporate strategy of seeking handouts from the Taiwan government to pursue profits in China. There won't be any Golden Decade as Ma claimed in his campaign promises; instead we're going to get more of what we have now: increasing income stagnation, increasing income inequality, mediocre economic growth, and local governments continuing to live lives of quiet desperation. Other issues that affect income and resource distribution, such as the lack of meaningful and comprehensive land policies, the weakness of the environmental agencies, Taiwan's laughable climate and energy policies, or the continuing crisis in agriculture, will not be addressed in the next Ma Administration. One of the most important functions of Ma's China emphasis is that it draws attention from the rapacious policies of the Administration in other areas like land and the environment. I can't imagine what the East Coast is going to be like in 2016; better see it now.
The Taiwan identity issue is already settled and the locals are only going to get more Taiwanese as time goes by. Note that Taiwanese feel comfortable voting for the KMT because the KMT is incorporated as part their local identity. Hence this issue does not help the DPP as much as some might think. Far from making this sympathetic to the DPP's "Taiwan!" appeals, I suspect that DPP appeals to "Taiwan!" will sound increasingly obsolete, irrelevant, and offputting to the up and coming generation as time passes. This confidence in the Taiwan identity was pointed to by my friend Michael Fahey, who hollowed out the Grand Narrative of rational voters selecting the right policy, convinced by the KMT, when he observed that locals may have voted for Ma as a coldly pragmatic way of getting the benefits from China because they feel like they can take to the streets if he goes to far. In other words, they voted for Ma's China policy not because they believe his promises but because they have confidence in their ability to control him. Ma is just a tool.....
A FEW COMMENTS ON THE LEGISLATIVE ELECTION (WHY NOT? THIS POST IS SO LONG ALREADY)
By party, the KMT gained 7 seats but lost 13, the DPP gained 13 but lost 5, independents and others won 1 and lost 3. Thus, the DPP netted +8, the KMT -6. Not bad, all things considered. Just 21 seats changed out of the 79 possible, leaving the KMT still in possession of the legislature.
Looking more closely, the DPP only held two of six by-election seats won from the KMT (Yunlin 2, Taitung). The other four were lost to the Dark Side. Looking at the seats the KMT gained, a total of seven: four were won back after the DPP took them in the by-elections, one seat taken from the independent in Miaoli who won in the by-election, one from an independent/PFP in Kinmen, and of course there was Kaohsiung 9, a gift from Chen Chih-chung, son of Chen Shui-bian, who split the green vote in a safe DPP seat to hand it over to the KMT. Argh.
The presidential loss, in other words overshadowed some real DPP successes at the legislative level. The DPP even won a seat in Penghu.
Still, the legislature is set up so that it appears the KMT will always have the advantage. Consider: for a total of 79 seats, the KMT garnered 48.18% percent of votes but won 60% (48) of the seats. The legislative election framework is so skewed in favor of the KMT that it needs less than 50% of the vote to maintain its control of the legislature.
At the party level, for the at-large seats, the KMT had 5.86 million votes, the DPP 4.55 million, the TSU 1.17 million, and the PFP 0.72 million. Every one of those votes for the TSU was wasted. Time for Lee Teng-hui to fold that party up....
Apologies for the length, hope you found it useful in stimulating your own thinking..... see ya in 2016!
UPDATE: Excellent comments and critiques below
REF: For those interested the USC China Institute has a video of a seminar on the election: Video from the USC China Institute
CEC legislative numbers by party and candidate: http://web.cec.gov.tw/ezfiles/0/1000/attach/60/pta_13829_2375647_40514.doc
*I lettered to the TT on this here. Ignore my error of adding Italy. Argh. Brain glitch.
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