Election campaigns are fiercely competitive marketing activities. They are also zero sum games in which participants either lose or win. To win an election, a clear campaign strategy with correct goals is required to appropriately distribute resources and create topical campaign activities.
There are two main forces that drive an election campaign.
There is the push that emanates outward and downward from the central party leadership in the form of candidates that are presented to the constituencies. The fundamental requirement for the push approach to work is that the party has a strong brand and that the candidates are electable. This election strategy, which focuses both on the party and its candidates, is the approach that he Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has relied on in past elections.
The other force is the pull that consists of nominating electable candidates based on voter preferences and constituency characteristics — in other words considering election strategy from the bottom up. The fundamental condition required for this to work for is that the candidates are sufficiently competitive. This approach, which focuses on the candidate’s campaign, is what the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has relied on.
Late this year, Taiwan will hold the seven-in-one local elections. Looking at the situation in the six special municipalities, voters in Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung are clearly focused on party over candidates. The KMT will not be able to propose any candidates that have a chance of winning based on a pull strategy. The party should be well aware that its prospects in these two cities do not look good.
In Greater Taichung, where voters focus on both party and candidates, the KMT’s situation is also precarious because, although the KMT and the DPP are running head-to-head, Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) of the KMT no longer possesses the pull he used to have, and no longer has the strength to follow through on good intentions. New Taipei City voters also consider both party and candidates. If Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) runs for re-election, he would probably have plenty of pull.
As for the DPP, opinion polls show that the party is not doing well.
In Taipei, the pan-blues are much stronger than the pan-greens. The reason the two camps are currently running neck-and-neck is that neither the KMT nor the DPP leadership and candidates have been able to effectively coordinate their forces, particularly the KMT, which has lost the advantage it once had. In Taoyuan, there is much stronger support for the pan-blues than the pan-greens. Voters there also look at both the party and candidates, so if the incumbent county commissioner, John Wu (吳志揚), decides to run in the first mayoral election for the new Taoyuan special municipality, he is almost certain of victory.
The inconsistency between candidates can be seen in the KMT’s candidates for Taipei, Sean Lien (連勝文) and Ting Shou-chung (丁守中), who could be characterized as offering a choice between a pro-Ma and an anti-Ma candidate.
The situation for the DPP is even more complicated, and the party does not know how to integrate internal and external support for Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). The ability to organize an opposition alliance will pose a great challenge to the party’s chairman.
The battle over Greater Taichung will be the most spectacular of all in the year-end elections. Opinion polls show DPP candidate Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) is doing well. Still, the elections are half a year away, and Lin cannot afford to be careless lest a small mistake gives Hu the upper hand.
Every party to a battle or a competition has different goals and interests and the decisions of every participant in a zero-sum game are affected by the decisions of the other participants. This is why game theory explores interactive behavior: My calculations must take your calculations into consideration, just as your calculations must do mine. This is the art of game theory. The KMT wants to preclude defeat by appointing its most electable candidates in the various constituencies. To do so, the party must find a way to make Lien the party’s candidate in Taipei, persuade Chu to run for reelection in New Taipei City, convince Wu to stand in Taoyuan and find a strong deputy to match up with Hu in Greater Taichung.
For the DPP, the same challenge consists of maintaining the advantage enjoyed by the party’s mayors in Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung, finding a way to nominate Ko in Taipei and replacing Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) as the candidate in New Taipei City, or finding a strong candidate to run as his deputy.
Based on this game theory analysis, the KMT is worse off than it was in the last round of special municipality elections. The question is whether the party chairman and the party leadership understand push and pull strategies and if they are willing to adjust their current election strategy.
If the party wants to be victorious in the six special municipalities in the year-end elections, it will have to excel in both its defensive and its attack game.
Kuo Chen-hero is an adjunct professor in the School of Business at Soochow University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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