Over the past year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has pursued diplomatic and cross-strait policies based on the “one China” principle, eventual unification and opposition to two Chinas and Taiwanese independence. But a recent poll by the Chinese-language magazine Global Views found the public and Ma are moving in a diametrically opposed directions.
As many as 82.8 percent of respondents said they considered China and Taiwan two separate countries — an increase of 9.1 percentage points since Ma took office and the largest increase ever within that much time. Those who favored eventual unification fell to 12 percent, while 69.9 percent said they opposed unification.
The poll results do not reflect well on Ma’s leadership, but neither are they helpful for the opposition.
In 2004, public support was evenly divided between those who supported unification and those who did not, at about 35 percent each. Support for the pan-blue and pan-green camps was also about the same, at slightly more than 30 percent each. Those who identified with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) exceeded those who identified with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), at about 25 percent for the DPP and 15 percent for the KMT.
Things changed in 2005. Identification with the KMT shot up to 35 percent, while identification with the DPP sank together with support for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to less than 20 percent, where it remains today.
Prior to 2005, most voters who opposed unification and supported Taiwanese independence identified with the DPP. Support for independence and for the DPP increased in tandem to more than 50 percent, allowing Chen to win re-election in 2004 with just above 50 percent of the vote.
Yet although the public largely considers an anti-unification and pro-independence stance equivalent to supporting the DPP, ever more people are disconnecting their support for independence from their support for the DPP and, in particular, for Chen.
Even as the DPP’s support decreased in 2005, opposition to unification shot up sharply to where it is today.
It is also strange that although opposition to unification shot up after 2005, and in spite of Chen’s diplomatic efforts in 2005 and 2006, Global Views polls indicate that support for independence slipped from 30 percent in 2004 to less than 20 percent while support for maintaining the status quo increased.
Not until Chen’s diplomatic efforts slowed in 2007 did support for independence recover. Today, opposition to unification and the view that China and Taiwan are two separate countries has reached new heights, while support for the DPP is at a low.
Ma’s low approval ratings show that most independence supporters are deeply suspicious of him. If, however, support for the two parties remains at today’s levels in 2012, a Taiwan where pro-independence has become the mainstream value would still elect a pro-China president.
The fact that support for the DPP is slipping while support for Taiwanese independence is increasing shows that while the public wants Taiwanese independence, it is displeased with the DPP’s approach.
To extract itself from these difficulties, the DPP must either find ways to persuade the public that its approach is the right one or come up with a new approach.
It doesn’t look like the DPP will act any time soon, but the party can no longer afford to put off addressing its troubles.