Can Han win the election?
There is a spreadsheet circulating online about next year’s presidential election that shows voter support levels and likely turnout rates for President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate.
The current polling numbers show 52 percent support for Tsai to Han’s 39 percent. Combining this with the projected turnout rate for Tsai’s supporters at 70 percent to Han’s at 95 percent, the spreadsheet formula suggests that Han would win the election with 50.44 percent of the vote to Tsai’s 49.56 percent.
Is it really the case that 39 percent can beat 52 percent in the election? Allow me to shine a statistical light on this question.
First, from a statistical point of view, the high turnout rate of a given group is what we would call an “outlier,” referring to either an especially large or especially low number.
Outliers can have a very large impact on statistical averages, the size of which can be determined in terms of the standard deviation.
In competitions such as diving or dancing, in which the judgement is very much subjective, the outliers are disregarded to ensure the fairness of the competition.
General elections involve multiple samples, with each age range and number of supporters of the two camps, green or blue, having their own corresponding numbers.
The high turnout rate of voters over the age of 60 will form an outlier that will affect the outcome of the election, as will the willingness to vote of the more than 95 percent of diehard Han fans, but to simply apply multiplication to arrive at a support rate is not the same as an election.
At its most basic, voting is a very fair system: The candidate that gleans the most votes wins the election.
However, to arrive at a conclusion while ignoring the opinion polls is to delude oneself.
One must not forget how all opinion polls prior to July showed Han in the lead. Han did not question the results, or suggest that the polls had been manipulated then.
However, when his own limitations started to become apparent, and his exaggerations and behavior precipitated his fall in the polls, he started talking about the passion of the voters that he was seeing on the campaign trail.
Verbal gymnastics is a Han trait, but they are not going to help him overcome rejection by more than half of the electorate.
Are there really more than 6 million diehard Han fans out there? They probably only account for about 20 percent of the electorate, or more than 2 million. Even if 100 percent of his diehard fans were to vote, that means that only 2 million or so ballots would be cast, certainly not enough to win the presidential election.
This is why many people are questioning whether Han is limiting himself to his own corner of the stratosphere, and missing out on the chance to attract swing voters and light-blue or light-green voters.
Another thing is that Han’s support also comes from traditional KMT voters, but to regard all of his supporters as diehard Han fans — and from here apply the high turnout rate of more than 95 percent across the board to all of his supporters — is to commit a fundamental sampling error.
And where is the rest of his vote going to come from? Should we assume that all of the voters yet to declare a preference for either candidate would fight back their tears as they tick Han’s box on the ballot paper to secure his victory?
Generally, the spread along a distribution curve of undeclared voters will be essentially similar to that of the voters who have already declared their support.
It is nice to have a dream, but in the cold light of statistics, this sleight of mathematics is shown to be more than a little naive.
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