Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 8 News List


Better Poll Questions Needed

Experts have long lamented the lack of accurate, impartial and useful polling data regarding the identity of the Taiwanese and the kind of cross-strait relationship they prefer. Even casual observers recognize that the limited polling information has been filtered through the ideological biases of the nation's myriad contending camps.

While many consumers of polling data are savvy enough to neutralize the ubiquitous spin, even many spin-free polling results lack explanatory power because poll questions have been poorly constructed. On the question of Taiwanese identity, pollsters typically ask, "Are you Taiwanese, Chinese or both?" And on the question of cross-strait ties, the pollsters ask, "Do you favor independence, unification, or the status quo."

Better questions would probably produce more complete and meaningful answers. On the question of identity, pollsters could ask a series of questions: Are you a hua ren? Are you a han zu? Are you a zhong guo ren? Are you a taiwan ren? Are you a yuan zhu min? If so from which tribe? Are you a hoklo or a hakka? Are you a wai sheng ren? If so, which sheng do you most identify with? Do your parents belong to more than one of these groups? If so, which ones?

On the question of cross-strait ties, pollsters could ask respondents to answer "yes," "no," or "maybe" to the following questions: Is Taiwan part of China? If not, should it be? Is Taiwan part of the Republic of China? If not, should it be? Is Taiwan part of the People's Republic of China? If not, should it be? Is Taiwan already independent? If not, should it be?

I suspect we would learn that most respondents view themselves as hua ren (culturally Chinese) or han zu (ethnic Chinese) but perhaps not as zhong guo ren (Chinese by nationality). We might also discover that most respondents see themselves as simultaneously Taiwan ren (Taiwanese) and also as yuan zhu min (indigenous folk), or hoklo or hakka or wai sheng ren, and that most respondents are descended from more than one of these last four "sub-ethnic" groups.

In addition, I suspect some respondents would say that Taiwan is part of China or the Republic of China, but virtually no one would say that Taiwan is or should be part of the People's Republic of China.

But what good is conjecture? To better understand the cultural, ethnic and political complexities of Taiwan, we need reliable, accurate, and illuminating data. We need better polling questions. How about this one: "Under what conditions would you ever freely consent to Taiwan's unification with the PRC?"

The answers to that one might raise an eyebrow or two in Washington and Beijing.

Jon Welch

Clifton, Virginia

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