Sat, Mar 03, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Election postmortems require facts

By James Wang 王景弘

Following its defeat in the Jan. 14 presidential election, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is engaged in an orgy of navel gazing, trying to work out what went wrong. Some members have dismissed calls to listen to what party elders have to say, preferring instead to write articles purportedly identifying the causes of the defeat.

We often see the principle of discretional evidence at work in political articles of this ilk. Authors scrape together a rag-tag bundle of peripheral facts, unconnected by any discernible cause-and-effect relationship, to demonstrate the authoritative nature of their conclusions. The process is a little like making Chinese medicine, where the pharmacist mixes together all kinds of herbs and bits of things, and still doesn’t get it right.

This kind of analysis of the particular type of democracy we have in Taiwan serves as a front for “struggle sessions” in which people confront and denounce each other. This confrontational approach may well have a certain cathartic effect for the people involved, but other than that it really fails to tell us anything of value.

You do not get election postmortems or public denunciations like this in the US version of democracy. In the US, political parties are election machines that churn out candidates through election primaries. It is a given that the party and the candidate take responsibility for an electoral defeat. All that is left is for the losers to concede and accept the choice of the electorate.

If you look at presidential elections in the US, success or failure depends on the personal qualities of the candidate, their policies, the mood of the electorate and their feelings and expectations in a wider context, and the direction in which those registered as independent voters — unaffiliated to any particular party — choose to go.

The degree to which these factors influence the election result is revealed in pre-election and post-election opinion polls, and can then be analyzed by comparing them to previous elections. Such analysis quickly reveals the reasons behind the election results.

In Taiwan, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has an overwhelming advantage in terms of money and organizational support. The election was not fair, and there were countless irregularities. The local electorate is not quite as direct, up-front or straight-talking as Americans when they respond to opinion polls, the results of which are often manipulated anyway. Nor do we have exit polls to find out how people actually voted on the day. Therefore, the arguments presented in commentators’ election discourses must be judged exclusively on the strength of their rhetoric because they have no empirical evidence to back them up, and because we do not conduct post-election polls, we do not have access to conclusive data as to when, and for what reason, voters decided to vote the way they did.

If such data did exist and we were able to correlate that information with the respondents’ age, education, occupation, gender, electoral district, income and past voting behavior, we would have a better grasp of the composition of support for both parties.

We need to have statistics if we are to understand how the electorate thinks. Only then can parties plan electoral strategies.

Hindsight is 20-20, but it tells a party nothing about its electoral prospects if it had adopted such-and-such a policy or approach. Writing such electoral post-mortems serves only to dwell on the past, it does not help parties move on.

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