Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 8 News List

DPP should stick to its guns on primaries

By Lin Chia 林洽

On Jan. 31, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) wrote an opinion piece in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) that said that preventing pan-blue voters from participating in the DPP's legislative primary opinion poll shows a lack of ambition. Lin made two mistakes in his argument.

First, he discussed multi-member district elections and single-member district elections as if they were one and the same thing. Second, he expressed the opinion that pursuing and soliciting the support of centrist or even pan-blue voters would demonstrate greater ambition and self-confidence.

For the purposes of my argument, let's assume that Taiwan's voters can be divided into deep-green, light-green, moderate, light-blue and deep-blue camps, with each camp accounting for 20 percent of the vote. Let's also assume that five legislators will be chosen in any given electoral district, with the DPP nominating three candidates -- a deep green, a light green and a moderate -- and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) nominating a deep blue, a light blue and a moderate.

If these six candidates managed to successfully align their political views with the preferences of their target voters, then those targeting the deep-green, light-green, light-blue and deep-blue segments would all be elected. The two candidates that target moderate voters would have a 50-percent chance of winning the remaining seat.

If the parties want to win three seats in this district, they would have to meet the preferences of centrist voters who sometimes vote blue and sometimes green.

The situation with two political parties or two candidates competing in a single-member district election is, however, a very different proposition. Some people may feel prompted to cite the median voter theory proposed by Anthony Downs in 1957, which states that the only chance to win an election is to court median voters.

However, this is a misinterpretation. Downs' theory makes six fundamental assumptions. The first assumption is that there is a single political dimension extending from light to dark. Second, that voters' political preferences do not change. Third, political parties can win an election by adjusting their convictions. Fourth, voters vote for the party with the political convictions most similar to their own. Fifth, all voters vote. Sixth, there are no tangible or intangible opportunity costs involved in voting.

Based on these assumptions, Downs concluded that policy suggestions proposed by opposing political parties would converge toward the center and eventually become identical. Thus, selecting which party will emerge victorious in an election is difficult, although median voters are certain to be the winners.

Downs' theory has incurred a great amount of criticism. If his second, fifth or sixth assumptions do not prove true, the theory cannot accurately predict an election's outcome. If voters can choose to abstain from voting and have to sacrifice their personal time and money to vote, then the political opinions of median voters could have a very negative impact.

Furthermore, if a party moved toward the position of centrist voters, it could make its original supporters feel they were wasting their time by voting, which could lead to a large number of them deciding not to vote.

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