With the presidential election behind us, nearly half the population of Taiwan will be unhappy with the outcome. Many factors surely affected the outcome, but political advertising was definitely one of the most important.
There was a lot of advertising by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and it was very varied. According to figures on the parties’ Web sites, the DPP produced 24 video and print ads — including TV spots and online posts — and the KMT 60, beating the record of 44 set during then-KMT chairman Lien Chan’s (連戰) 2000 campaign.
Many of these ads lacked focus, with a majority attempting to simultaneously set out policies, formulate an image, attack opponents and criticize their policies. It was initially difficult to discern any particular central theme in the DPP’s ads, while the KMT’s seemed to lose focus in the later stages of the campaign when it become evident the DPP was gaining ground. In this election we saw little of the overriding themes of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) 2000 campaign or President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign in 2008.
One of the problems with the KMT’s ads was the lack of new information. Ma’s advertising failed to tell the electorate anything about his vision for the nation, it merely told them what they already knew. Too many of the ads concentrated on corruption within the DPP, returning to a theme the KMT had been talking about for the past four years.
In addition, the KMT seemed to suffer from having too much cash, with four ads starring celebrities endorsing Ma. It was unclear who exactly these ads were supposed appeal to or what they were trying to say. Are young voters really going to vote for a candidate because of a celebrity endorsement?
Neither were the DPP’s ads perfect. First, the ads failed to attack the so-called “1992 consensus,” which is the DPP’s Achilles’ heel. Merely saying the “1992 consensus” does not exist or that a victory by its presidential candidate, Tsai Ying-wen (蔡英文), would not lead to a deterioration of cross-strait relations, fails to persuade most voters.
What the DPP should have done, in language ordinary people could understand, was to appeal to voters’ memories. For example, it could have asked “if there is ‘one China, with each side having its own interpretation,’ why did the police target people waving the Republic of China flag during the visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林)?” Or “why was it necessary to use the title ‘Mr’ for Ma rather than ‘president’ during Chen’s visit?”
The party’s second failing was not having the courage to broach the issue of class struggle. The burgeoning income gap, the poor getting poorer and the lack of opportunities for young people are area of vulnerability for the KMT. Yet the DPP held back. Its two ads on unemployment benefit and social housing trod very carefully around the issues.
If you enter a fight you have to be willing to land a decisive blow, otherwise how can you expect to win? The KMT was not shy in its attacks over the persimmon row, drawing blood with every cut. The “99 percent” struggle is natural territory for the DPP, but its hands were tied in this election because of the atypical approach it decided to take.
Many factors influenced the outcome of the election. For the wealthy and well-connected, vested interests were an important consideration, while for poor and disadvantaged, more immediate interests made them vulnerable to vote buying.