Conventional wisdom holds that voters hate negative campaigns. However, the negatives often work better than any other type of advertisement, so candidates keep using them, because winning is the ultimate goal.
Regretfully, such tactics tend to overpower rational discussions on policy and are deconstructive to the maturation of democracy.
Negative campaigning has a long history in the nation’s elections. In the past, the emphasis on the independence-unification dichotomy constituted one of the elements for political parties to sabotage their opponents.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has long accused the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of pushing for de jure independence, while the DPP has often portrayed the KMT as a crony association of so-called “black gold” politics.
In recent elections, negative advertisements have played a role in deciding the results. The upcoming nine-in-one elections will be no exception.
Take the Taipei mayoral election for example. The KMT, through its legislators, has launched a series of attacks on independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), accusing him of money-laundering and corruption in relation to National Taiwan University Hospital bank accounts.
Ko formerly led the hospital’s Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation division.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office has questioned Ko’s assistant. The timing and efficiency of this questioning was sensitive given Ko has been leading KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) for months. And the KMT cannot afford to lose the mayoral seat in the capital.
The accusations started with KMT Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) about a month ago. Lo accused Ko of violating the Tax Collection Act (稅捐稽徵法) and using an MG149 account for money-laundering purposes. So far, Lo has not been able to provide concrete evidence.
Ironically, after nearly a month-long negative news cycle, support for Ko and Lien remains unchanged, according to various polls. Ko is leading Lien by a comfortably double-digit number. The polls show that Lien did not score political points from the negative campaign. However, if the KMT extends its judicial influence to affect Ko’s camp, it might have a negative influence on the independent candidate’s popularity.
It is understandable why Lien’s camp resorts to such negative tactics, which have included advertisements against Ko. Throughout the history of mayoral elections in Taipei, the KMT has typically enjoyed a lead of at least 10 percent over opposition candidates. Nevertheless, due to the poor governance of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration and Lien’s own unpopularity, the KMT candidate has been trailing Ko for months.
So far, nearly 40 percent of voters are undecided or refuse to identify their vote preference. That explains Lien’s relatively low support rate. Lien’s team needs a new strategy to appeal to pan-blue voters in the remaining two months of campaigning.
Since Ko does not represent the main opposition party, the most effective way to sabotage Ko’s popularity is to play the “corruption” card, rather than focus on a pan-blue versus pan-green dichotomy, which should reduce the chances of support for Ko from pan-blue or independent voters.
The same campaign tactic used by the KMT in the Greater Kaohsiung mayoral election aims at lowering Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu’s (陳菊) popularity. Chen was summoned last week by the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office regarding the gas pipeline explosions in the city on July 31 and Aug. 1.