The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has traditional appeared to fare poorly among female voters, but that could change with the January legislative and presidential elections.
The main reason is DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who not only became the nation’s first female presidential candidate and party chairperson, but has also steered the party from the radical end of the political spectrum to the moderate middle.
Given that the DPP has usually trailed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in support among women, the transformation is seen as critical for the party.
Most DPP officials and academics agree that the party has been “stereotyped and stigmatized” as a radical party, which is not welcomed by female voters.
In its early years, when it was trying to oust the former authoritarian KMT regime, the party had to resort to massive street protests, which sometimes led to physical confrontation with law enforcement officials.
“It has been very difficult for us to change the image of the ‘party of violence.’ No matter what we did, female voters wouldn’t vote for us. That used to be very frustrating for me,” said Tsai’s campaign spokesperson, Hsu Chia-ching (徐佳青), who served as head of the party’s Department of Women’s Development in 2006.
Women, particularly housewives, stress stability over anything else and are not interested in cross-strait issues, Hsu said.
“And that was why they would not vote for the DPP even though the party has devoted its energy to women’s movement in Taiwan for almost three decades,” she said.
Under Tsai’s leadership, the DPP has tried to disconnect itself from anything that could be reminiscent of its violent image in the legislature as well as public events, said Chang Chia-ling (張嘉玲), the current head of the Department of Women’s Development, adding that it has also tried to emphasize policy formulation on issues related to people’s everyday lives.
Chang described women as “a complicated animal of a gentle and soft nature” in describing their voting behavior.
The DPP’s loss in the 2008 presidential election to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was a perfect example, Chang said.
The party’s violent and radical image, the fact that it has never had a female chairperson and Ma’s perceived good-looks — an underestimated factor in the election — all contributed to the embarrassing loss, she said.
Tsai has shown a different mindset and approach from previous DPP politicians, which has helped boosting the party’s support rate among female voters, Chang said. Citing a public opinion poll conducted by the DPP two months ago, she said Tsai only trailed Ma by 4 percent among women, the party’s best-ever performance.
More surprisingly, Tsai led Ma by 5 percent among female swing voters and held an advantage among female white-collar workers, she said.
Female voters can relate to Tsai’s policies and her presence as a national leader, Chang said, because they have either experienced hardship working their way up the male-dominated corporate ladder or experienced discrimination because they were women.
Tsai’s campaign wanted to take it one step further by turning the disadvantage into an advantage, because Tsai’s identity as a woman was something that her rival could not duplicate, Chang said.
Tsai has made “Taiwan’s first female president” the main slogan of the second phase of her campaign.
She also recently released her official campaign fragrance, “Pacific Wind,” while her campaign’s “corporate identity system” color scheme is based on pink and yellow, rather than the DPP’s traditional green.
More women have voiced support for Tsai and more have volunteered to campaign for her, especially college-aged women.
Men are traditionally more enthusiastic about politics than women, said Chen Chiao-chien (陳朝建), a political scientist at Ming Chuan University.
“Ironically, in a highly competitive election in which almost all male voters have been mobilized, the female electorate would likely be the deciding factor,” he said.
If the competition between Tsai and Ma continues to be neck-and-neck, female voters could be “game-changers,” he said, adding that it will be a challenge for Tsai to maximize women’s votes.
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