A new trend is emerging in Taiwanese election campaigns. This trend has become almost ubiquitous, and has never been more in evidence than during this election. It is the practice of placing stickers on legislative candidates’ campaign billboards. There is a phenomenon behind this trend worth looking into.
In the past, trying to knock an opponent involved thinking hard about how best to link them with events the electorate tends to reacts strongly against — the basic idea being to increase voters’ sense of aversion to your opponent.
The reality is that this kind of behavior will not make voters think well of your preferred candidate either, for the simple reason that voting is not merely a process of changing your allegiance or voting plans just because a candidate has been associated with something contentious. A candidate will be preferred only if they actually give some account of themselves, their political vision, or of their past political performance.
Simply put, relying solely on dirty tricks or mudslinging would most likely just cause the electorate to become disillusioned with politics and to think that “politicians are all just as bad as each other, anyway,” thereby tarring all politicians with the same brush, irrespective of their political views. What this approach fails to do is induce voters to switch their allegiances — it just makes their distaste for all the political bickering more intense.
However, since this “a vote for so-and-so is a vote for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)” business started, the previous method of negative campaigning by writing or whispering unflattering comments about your opponent has evolved into another kind of political satire, that might be termed “sticker 2.0.”
Whether it is planting a sticker on a candidate’s billboard that represents the KMT party logo, or a sticker saying “a vote for so-and-so is a vote for Ma — or for KMT vice-presidential candidate Jennifer Wang (王如玄),” the point is that there is no attempt at making a fictitious or arbitrary link with a negative meme, and the action is merely intended to point out an objective fact that the candidate concerned might well have preferred not to broadcast.
That, coupled with the fact that political satire based on fact has about it a certain degree of humor, and the “stickered” candidate has nothing really to complain about, means they can only grin and bear it.
As a result, the voters’ reactions completely contrast from the “sticker 1.0” types of campaigns — and there is a conspicuously higher likelihood of voters changing the direction in which they vote. It might also get voters more interested in politics.
However, with political satire — as with humor — pale imitation is bereft of the impact or significance of the genuine article, and it loses its ability to inspire smiles. We are now seeing advertisements attacking Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), claiming that “a vote for Tsai is a vote for leanness-enhancing additives,” and New Power Party legislative candidate Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), claiming that “a vote for Huang is a vote for [MRT killer] Cheng Chieh (鄭捷).”
These ads are at odds with reality, they are entirely bereft of humor and just convey fear, hate, intimidation and ill-will. This strategy is stuck in the days of sticker 1.0, completely out of touch with the times. It shows a failure to understand that nowadays in Taiwan the the electorate expects a positive campaign pepped up with a bit of humor.
Put plainly, for those politicians who only know how to sling mud at their opponents, and have no idea how to move on, it is about time they are replaced, anyway.
Steve Wang has a doctorate in politics from Paris Descartes University.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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