Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 8 News List

The battle to secure the median vote is crucial

By Wang Yeh-lih 王業立

An interesting phenomenon in this presidential election is the frequent mention of "median voters." According to persistent reporting in the media, median voters will seemingly play a decisive role in whether the pan-blue or pan-green camp wins the election since the two camps have already secured their basic voter bases and appear to have equal support. However, who are median voters? What percentage are they of the total voters? Are they really that influential? There is no unanimous answer to these questions and everyone has their own differing interpretation.

As a matter of fact, the median voters referred to in the news are different from those defined in Anthony Downs' renowned median voter theorem. The median voters mentioned in the media are probably closer to the "undecided voters" categorized in opinion polls. But some view "independent voters," those who do not identify with any specific party, as median voters. Still, in some others' imagination, median voters are a group of highly independent and rational voters, who are less ideological, emotional, or blindly obedient and who vote on the basis of political platforms or performance. They are mostly middle-class people with a relatively high education. They can think rationally and judge discreetly.

The percentage of median voters varies with different definitions. If median voters are those undecided voters, they account for 20 to 30 percent of the total voters, according to the polls. These undecided voters, however, are by no means homogenous. They are a complicated make-up of various voters. Some of them may have already made their decisions but prefer not to reveal their preferences. Some probably do not care about politics so they have not decided yet. Others are those voters who are waiting to be "mobilized" by the vote captains (樁腳). Still some others probably will not vote at all. Therefore, the real median voters are those left after we deduct these voters.

According to the polls, a majority of the undecided voters are independent voters who do not identify with any party. Very few would identify with some party and have not made up their mind yet. Besides, the undecided voters tend to be older in age, have lower educational qualifications and reside in the agricultural provinces of central and southern Taiwan instead of the metropolitan north. These features are quite different from what most people imagine about median voters. Those living in the cities and with higher eduction may only account for an extremely small percentage of the undecided voters.

Generally speaking, most of the middle-class voters who have higher education are widely exposed to political information in everyday life. They usually have established their political preference during the socialization process of politics. It is only a question of whether they want to make their decisions known or not. There should be few people who do not care about election news until just before the presidential election. In addition, the presidential candidates nominated by the two camps are all old faces. Most of the voters have long had a good understanding or even likes or dislikes about them. Therefore, in order to fight for the 20 to 30 percent of undecided voters, the two camps, based on rational calculation, are most likely to devote their campaigns to central and southern Taiwan where mobilization is more effective. They believe that it is more realistic to influence those undecided voters they can reach by seeking and defending the support of local vote captains than to fight with political appeals for those highly independent, rational voters.

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