Inverted pyramid of political popularity

By Chin Heng-wei 金恆煒  / 

Wed, Sep 25, 2013 - Page 8

In the wake of the political ambush of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) earlier this month, TVBS conducted an opinion poll on the popularity of 12 senior politicians. Most media outlets have compared President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is trailing in the polls, with Wang, the darling of the pan-blue camp, whose ratings show the huge difference in people’s estimations of the two men.

While this is interesting, there are other important observations that have been made from the poll. The most significant of the observations was that the more powerful the politician is — or the higher their status — the lower their popularity and the less regard the public has for them. The power pyramid of Taiwanese politics has been turned on its head. The central government, which should be the foundation supporting the entire edifice, has become the weak spot, the fulcrum at the bottom causing the edifice to totter.

For example, Ma, as president, has the highest status, but polled with only 11 percent support, making him as the least popular politician. Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) ranks second in the group in terms of status and vested authority, yet polled only one point better than Ma. With a popularity rating of only 12 percent, he still bested the nation’s top-ranking politician. The third ranked in terms of vested power is Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺). He performed slightly better, but still only managed 17 percent.

The three worst performing politicians in terms of popularity are the three most powerful people in the government. In terms of unpopularity, the premier bested the vice president, who bested the president. Their subordinates, including Wang — whom Ma said was ill-suited to the job of legislative speaker — all did better in the poll.

TVBS conducted a similar poll on April 1. Compared with that one, the station’s polling center was a little more cautious in their choices of who to include. The April poll was of 10 politicians, but for this latest poll they omitted former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜). However, they retained former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), presumably so that Chen could keep Ma from ranking last.

This supposition is not made spuriously, as this time they also left out Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), despite including four other mayors. Is there any good reason for this choice, or is political bias built into the poll? Regardless, the much maligned and unjustly jailed Chen still managed to score higher than Ma, Wu or Jiang, and to a degree still significant even after accounting for any “house effect” polling bias.

This inverted power pyramid suggests that the “Golden Decade” that Ma has promised is going to turn to dirt. It also suggests that the tottering edifice of political power could come crashing down with a single blow by the public, burying Ma, Wu and Jiang and shaking up politics in this country.

Chin Heng-wei is a political commentator.

Translated by Paul Cooper