Two recent events have had the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) jumping for joy. First, a public opinion poll conducted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for internal reference found that former DPP Taipei County commissioner Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who is a potential candidate for the same post in year-end elections, had a 36 percentage point lead in voter support over the KMT incumbent, Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋). Second, the DPP got a bigger share of the votes in the legislative by-election in Taipei City’s Da-an District than in previous elections. However, the DPP should not read too much into these glad tidings.
Popularity ratings for Su and Chou are largely based on how the public sees them as individuals, so they don’t necessarily mean that the DPP as a party now commands greater support than the KMT in Taipei County. As for the Da-an by-election, the result was influenced by the poor economic climate and the furor over inflammatory articles posted online by former diplomat Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) under the pseudonym “Fan Lan-chin” (范蘭欽). Both these factors may fade with time, so the Da-an by-election does not signify a big advance for the DPP in Taipei City.
In Taiwan, the most reliable basis for political power is a network of social connections. The KMT had a monopoly on government for decades, so it has a firm grip on local factions and its connections are deeply rooted. The DPP, for its part, has used political ideology to challenge the KMT. The ideological approach worked to the DPP’s advantage under the old system of big constituencies represented by multiple members in the legislature, but it does not work under the new small, single-member constituency system.
Under the rule of late KMT dictators Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), the main demand of the non-KMT opposition was democratization. Once democracy was established, the DPP shifted its policy focus to opposition to China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), seeking to fight the KMT by connecting it with the CCP in people’s minds.
Under martial law, the opposition’s vocal ideological stance was very effective. In those days, news was heavily censored and the public did not have access to true and balanced information. Elections gave the opposition a chance to hit the ruling KMT’s sore spots and overcome its advantage in terms of local connections.
Now, with a democratic system in place, news censorship is no longer an issue. The DPP and its pan-green allies keep pushing their ideology, oblivious to the fact that everyone else is tired of hearing about it. The DPP doesn’t seem to realize that this strategy is spent. The pan-green camp’s highly ideological approach has attracted all those who can be attracted, and those who can’t be attracted won’t be, no matter how loudly the pan-greens proclaim their ideals.
The idea that you can win elections on the basis of political ideology alone is absurdly unrealistic, but the DPP and its allies can’t shake off this delusion. More than seven out of 10 people in Taiwan see themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese, but these people will not necessarily vote for the DPP. The outcome of elections is decided not by political standpoint alone, but by many other factors, and the most important of them are the quality and connections of the parties and their candidates. In relying too much on ideology, the DPP has overlooked other factors that could help expand its support base.