China factor key during elections

By Tung Chen-yuan (童振源) and Hung Yao-nan (洪耀南)  / 

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 - Page 8

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) defeated Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in this year’s presidential election with 51.6 percent of the vote to her 45.6 percent. From research conducted in early February, soon after the election, on the reasons people voted the way they did, 5.75 percent supported Ma because of cross-strait issues.

This was particularly true in terms of cross-strait economic issues, which were a factor in the swing towards Ma for 4.25 percent of voters.

From this we can see that cross-strait economic issues were not the whole story behind the election result, but were nevertheless a significant factor in Ma’s victory. Without this, Tsai could have won the election with close to half the total vote.

In the aftermath of the election, the DPP published a report on the defeat. It said that the influence of the China factor on elections in Taiwan had become increasingly economic in nature, and that the linking of cross-strait relations and economic development was one of the three main reasons contributing to the defeat.

Tsai also pointed out that in the final stages of the campaign there was no getting away from the fact that the economic intimidation card influenced the outcome of the election as a whole.

According to the results of a daily opinion poll carried out by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center (ESC) in the month leading up to the election, before the end of December, Ma led Tsai by approximately 15 percentage points, a lead which he had extended to 24 percentage points close to the election.

Although this poll is clearly inaccurate, exaggerating the size of Ma’s lead, we can discern a conspicuous change in the final two weeks of the campaign. In the last two weeks, Ma emphasized cross-strait relations, and several major business leaders came out in support of Ma’s cross-strait policies, and what he had achieved.

We can conclude, therefore, that cross-strait relations were a major factor influencing the outcome of the election.

Between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9, we conducted a telephone survey on the influence of cross-strait issues on the way people voted, using stratified proportion random sampling and obtaining a total of 4,000 valid samples.

We wanted to gauge to what extent the cross-strait issue had persuaded voters who, prior to the election, had been dissatisfied with how Ma was running the country, to vote for him; or to what extent those who were satisfied with his performance voted for him because of cross-strait issues.

Second, we wanted to ascertain the influence of cross-strait economic factors on the presidential election or, in other words, the proportion of the electorate who were concerned that a victory for Tsai would have a negative impact on Taiwan’s economy.

We divided the electorate into four major categories, in terms of how important a factor the cross-strait issue was.

First, those for whom the cross-strait issue was a pressing factor, who were dissatisfied with Ma’s performance and for whom the cross-strait issue was the primary reason for voting for him.

Next were those for whom the issue was a moderate factor, who were dissatisfied with Ma and for whom the issue was a secondary reason for voting for him, or who were satisfied with his performance and who cited the cross-strait issue as a primary reason for voting for him.

Then there were those for whom the issue was of general importance, who were satisfied with his performance, but for whom the issue was only a secondary factor in voting for him.

Finally there were those for whom cross-strait issues were a concern, but who were essentially green camp supporters, and who preferred not to vote because of the green camp’s stance on the cross-strait issues.

We found that the issue was a pressing factor for only 0.87 percent of the total number of people who voted; a significant factor for 3.83 percent of those who voted; and of some importance for 1.04 percent. We couldn’t find anyone in the final category.

As a proportion of the whole electorate, these four categories combined represent 773,000 people, or 5.75 percent of those who voted, very close to the percentage difference in votes between Ma and Tsai.

We also divided the electorate into four main categories according to the cross-strait economic issue.

The first was active economic voters, those for who the economy was a major factor, who supported Ma for his performance regarding cross-strait relations, who had benefited economically as a result of his policies, and who were worried a Tsai victory would be bad for Taiwan’s economy.

The second was those who were generally motivated by economic matters, whose support for Ma derived from his performance on cross-strait issues, who had not benefited from cross-strait economic matters, but who were concerned that a victory for Tsai would impact Taiwan’s economy.

Then there were the passive economic voters, who didn’t vote, who were unsatisfied with Ma’s performance, who did benefit from cross-strait trade, but who were concerned a Tsai victory would affect Taiwan’s economy.

Finally there were the quasi-economic voters, who voted for Tsai despite their concerns that her winning would affect the economy.

The percentage values for these categories were 0.81 percent; 3.43 percent, 0.01 percent and 2.80 percent, respectively. This gives a total of 7.05 percent.

Of these, 4.25 percent of those who voted supported Ma because of the cross-strait economic factor, and 0.01 percent decided not to vote — perhaps voting for Tsai instead — because of the economic factor.

As a result, even though 2.80 percent still voted for Tsai despite the economic factor, they might not vote for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in future elections.

Following the rapid deepening and expansion of cross-strait economic exchanges, cross-strait issues and economic issues have intersected, and the increasingly economic nature of the cross-strait issue has significantly changed the way in which the electorate perceives relations with China.

The number of people concerned exclusively with economic issues is now 73.9 percent of those purely concerned with cross-strait issues.

If we consider the impact on how economic voters will vote in future elections, economic voters represent 82.5 percent of voters concerned with cross-strait issues.

It is evident that the increasingly economic nature of cross-strait relations is a huge challenge that the DPP cannot afford to ignore.

That said, economic voters concerned about the cross-strait issue want the maintenance of stable ties and economic exchanges with China, but have not changed their national identification or the future they would choose for their country.

In terms of national identity, we can arrive at a Taiwanese identity index by subtracting the proportion of people identifying with China from those identifying with Taiwan.

According to the ESC, the Taiwan identity index increased from minus 7.9 percent in 1993 to 24.4 percent in 2000, and then again to 38.3 percent in 2007 and 48.3 percent last year. It has increased most rapidly during the four years Ma has been in office.

In terms of the people’s choices for the future of Taiwan, we can calculate a Taiwanese unification index by subtracting the proportion of Taiwanese who do not support the idea of eventual unification with China from those who do; and a Taiwanese independence index in a corresponding way.

According to the Global Views Survey Research Center, the Taiwanese unification index fell from minus 25.8 percent in 2006 to minus 53.9 percent last year, and the Taiwanese independence index rose from 4 percent to 14.6 percent in the same period.

The cumulative number of people who oppose unification with China and who support Taiwanese independence has increased more during Ma’s four years than it did during eight years under the DPP.

From these polls and the results of the presidential election we can see that the Taiwanese are not more prepared to sacrifice Taiwan’s sovereignty for the sake of the economic benefits of closer ties with China, and in fact their national identity and values have been further consolidated.

Following increased economic and social exchanges between China and Taiwan, many Taiwanese now hope for the maintenance of stable exchanges and relations with China.

Therefore, given that they are able to maintain Taiwan’s sovereignty and consolidate unity within the country, it will be the party that can deliver both continued inter-governmental communication and further social and economic exchanges that will be able to attract those voters concerned with cross-strait ties and economic relations with China.

Tung Chen-yuan is a professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Development Studies. Hung Yao-nan is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Institute of Chinese Studies in the Chinese Culture University.

Translated by Paul Cooper