Thu, Dec 02, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Ethnicity, class losing their appeal in elections

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

In Saturday’s special municipality elections, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) support in southern Taiwan increased from a slight edge to a massive 6:4 advantage over the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). In Greater Taichung and Sinbei City, the DPP turned its 4:6 disadvantage into an almost level position with the KMT, although it trailed by 12 percentage points in Taipei City. This situation is causing the DPP to worry that it will never be able to wrest the capital away from the KMT again.

To the KMT’s regret, it seems that no matter what it does, it is incapable of wooing voters in the south. It has claimed that this is because voters in the south — where the DPP has its deepest roots — are emotional, while those in the north are rational. This claim ignores two important factors that affect voters’ behavior: ethnicity and class

Over the years, ethnic Taiwanese have voted for both the KMT and the DPP, but the DPP has never received more than 3 percent of the Mainlander vote. Mainlanders make up almost one-third of Taipei City’s residents. Deducting those Mainlander votes from the 55 percent support that KMT Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) garnered shows that about almost half of his support came from ethnic Taiwanese. If we compare this to the voter support for the DPP’s Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), 44 percent, which consisted almost exclusively of support from ethnic Taiwanese, we can see that the distribution of ethnic Taiwanese support for the DPP and the KMT in Taipei is similar to southern Taiwan.

So does that mean that ethnicity will always control elections in Taiwan? Not necessarily.

Before 2000, ethnic Taiwanese workers gave their full support to the KMT, while the rural areas were even larger unassailable supporters of the pan-blues. The turn toward the DPP in the south began in the early 2000s as a backlash among farmers against the exodus of Taiwanese companies to China, changing support to 55-45 in favor of the DPP. This gap expanded to a 60-40 advantage for the DPP in recent elections, as the DPP attracted more middle-class support. The same phenomenon explains why ethnic Taiwanese voters in Taipei, a group consisting mainly of members of the middle class, have also turned to the DPP.

For historical reasons, most Mainlanders have always supported the KMT, regardless of which class they belong to. If this does not change, there is a risk that we will return to the past when biased KMT policies polarized ethnic Taiwanese and Mainlanders. Fortunately, the results in the recent elections imply that KMT support among Mainlanders in the lower middle class is beginning to crumble.

The greatest concentration of Mainlanders in Taipei can be found in the area around Youth Park. In the mayoral poll eight years ago, residents of Xinzhong Borough (新忠里) voted for the KMT and the DPP at a rate of 6.43:1. In last week’s poll, that ratio dropped to 4.06:1. In Xinhe Borough (新和里) the ratio also dropped from 5.03:1 eight years ago to 3.13:1 last week. While the KMT still holds a big lead, that lead has seen a drastic declne.

The same observation holds true in Sinbei City. Despite the concentration of Mainlanders, military personnel, civil servants and teachers in Yonghe City (永和) and Sindian City (新店), DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) hit the area like a whirlwind. If it hadn’t been for the election-eve shooting, her impact might have been greater still.

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