The mayoral and city council elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung have entered the countdown stage. Because the results of the mayoral races could influence the internal power distribution of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and even the prospects of candidates for the presidential election in 2008, this year's elections have attracted particular attention.
Amid the heat of the campaign, every imaginable campaign topic and strategy has been brought up for debate. Voters have been bombarded with controversies ranging from turning the elections into referendums on the credibility of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and KMT Chairman and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to where Chen's grandchild should be born.
But beneath all the commotion, each candidate's camp has been very calculating in its actions. In mayoral elections where only one seat is being contested and a plurality of the vote is sufficient to win, "strategic voting" can be the biggest factor in determining the outcome. Strategic voting occurs when voters cast their ballots for their second choice in an election to prevent a less favorable party from winning.
Ever since strategic voting first became a campaign issue in the 1994 Taipei mayoral election, it has become an important weapon that political parties have used in almost every single-seat election with more than two candidates.
Sometimes the tactic works and sometimes it doesn't, and its effectiveness clearly does not depend solely on the unilateral strategies of a candidate and his camp alone. Many other subjective and objective elements must be factored into the equation.
The most important element influencing strategic voting is opinion polls. A candidate who consistently ranks third in opinion polls could easily be abandoned by the voters. But if the polls show three candidates have equal levels of support with more than 20 percent support each, then employing strategic voting becomes difficult.
In addition, in order for voters to abandon one candidate to boost another, the two must have a degree of "overlap." If they differ too much in their image, abilities or ideology, then it becomes more difficult for supporters to abandon their candidate.
The Taipei mayoral and city council elections in 1998 are classic examples of strategic voting. The New Party's city councilor candidates took a total of 18.6 percent of the votes during the election that year, while New Party mayoral candidate Wang Chien-shien only got 2.97 percent. If we suppose that many of those voters willing to vote for New Party city council candidates identified with the New Party, then a vast majority of that group didn't vote for the party's mayoral candidate, but instead answered calls for tactical voting and voted for Ma, the front-runner in the polls, to prevent Chen from being re-elected.
But in the 2000 presidential election both KMT candidate Lien Chan (
The Nantou County commissioner election last year was a similarly three-sided affair, with deep animosity between the two pan-green candidates, Lin Tsung-nan (
In this year's battle for the Taipei mayoral election, we can see the different approaches adopted by each camp to take advantage of strategic voting.
DPP candidate Frank Hsieh's (
KMT candidate Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) hopes to maintain his advantage in the polls by strengthening his base and putting a stop to the idea that in order to see the the pan-blue camp win, pan-blue voters should withdraw support for Hau and vote for Soong instead.
As for Kaohsiung, where the polls indicate a tight race between DPP mayoral candidate Chen Chu (
Therefore, as the election reaches the final stage, it's difficult for the three camps to avoid relying on strategic voting.
After all, the party that is able to wage the most effective strategic voting campaign could determine who wins and who loses.
In election systems in which there are more than two candidates vying for just one seat, and where a simple majority of the vote is sufficient to win office, there is always room for strategic voting. Within the restrictions of the election system, candidates will certainly try to manipulate strategic voting to win.
Will strategic voting be effective in determining the outcome of this year's elections? Voters in Taipei and Kaohsiung will make the final decision soon.
Wang Yeh-li is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Tunghai University.
Translated by Marc Langer
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