Following the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) victory in the recent legislative by-elections in Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung, hope was restored that the party would return to power. Then last week, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced her bid for the DPP’s presidential nomination. With next year’s presidential election not long off and given Taiwan’s polarized political landscape, pitting the pan-blue camp against the pan-green camp, the role of median voters — also known as swing or floating voters — is once again receiving considerable attention.
Some people question the importance of median voters, while others try to organize them to create a third force. Based on the experiences of France and Taiwan, I believe median voters will continue to decide whether the pan-blues or the pan-greens win — more so as the gap between the two camps shrinks.
Like France, Taiwanese politics has long been polarized. For the past 50 years, since Charles de Gaulle took advantage of the Algerian crisis from 1958 to 1962 to create an image of himself as being the “people’s president,” French politics has been characterized by the standoff between the left and right, with both sides convinced that neither can persuade the other to change.
The situation is the same in Taiwan and this polarization will set the stage for Taiwanese politics for some time to come.
The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) loss in the legislative by-elections did not come as a surprise, nor did the fact that swing voters increased the margin by which the KMT lost. Median voters are strongly independent and will vote for different parties at different times. As party identification among voters is stabilizing, the proportion of swing voters, at about 7 percent, is not far from that in advanced economies. In 2000, they decided Taiwan’s first transfer of political power, and in 2008, they increased the margin by which the DPP lost.
Judging from the strength of the pan-greens and pan-blues and the inclination of median voters to give out “punishing votes,” it will be impossible for leaders of either camp to rely solely on their traditional support bases to win.
From France we can see that while median voters are important, there is limited space for more neutral or centrist political parties. Only once during the 50 years of the current French Fifth Republic did a more centrist political party win a presidential election, with Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who stayed in power for seven years. The rest of the time, presidential elections have either been won by the major left-wing, or, more often, the right-wing party.
Also worthy of attention is the fact that when two major political parties start to affiliate themselves with median voters, more centrist political parties face the risk of being wiped out. This is the awkward situation in which France’s MoDem and its leader Francois Bayrou have found themselves in since 2007. In comparison, the far left-wing French Communist Party and the far right-wing National Front have been able to maintain quite a strong presence. The situation is similar in Taiwan, where support for small and medium-sized parties is still basically measured in relation to the two big parties.
This polarization and the voting habits of median voters offer both challenges and opportunities to politicians from both camps. If the KMT and the DPP continue to ignore the power of median voters, not only will their parties face a constant risk of internal divisions, they will also find it hard to keep their position as the major political parties. The battle for the presidential election is about to start and it will be very interesting to see what happens.
Hu Tsu-ching is an associate professor at Tunghai University’s political science department.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if