In a paper that examines how the public views democracy in Taiwan and compares local public opinion to those of other democracies over a certain period of time, a visiting academic from Australia yesterday said the process of democratic consolidation in Taiwan is almost close to completion.
Ian McAllister, a professor at Australian National University’s School of Politics and International Relations, released his study, titled “Taiwan’s Maturing Democracy in Global Perspective,” as he delivered a keynote speech at a forum in Taipei.
His study examined the process of democratic consolidation in Taiwan from 1996 to this year, and compares the country’s progress with that of other East Asian democracies, new “third wave” democracies and established democracies.
A wide range of survey data used in the study were drawn from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project, a collaborative program of cross-national electoral research conducted in more than 50 countries since 1996, and the Taiwan Election and Democratization Study, a local ongoing research survey project sponsored by the National Science Council.
In the first of the three indicators used to assess democratic consolidation — how citizens view their regime — questions were posed to measure how satisfied respondents are with democracy and political efficacy. The results showed the Taiwanese public was relatively stable in its attitude toward government, McAllister said.
McAllister found that satisfaction with democracy was higher in Taiwan than in other East Asian democracies — with the exception of the most recent timepoint — and also consistently higher than in the new “third wave” democracies.
In comparison with older democracies, where satisfaction is generally higher, McAllister said it was notable that the most recent survey result for Taiwan is only three points lower than the average estimate for established democracies between 2006 and last year.
When measuring political efficacy, which reflects how easily citizens feel they can influence the political system, McAllister’s study found Taiwanese attitudes stable.
The second indicator the study examined was the extent to which citizens identify with political parties to measure the health of parties and the party system as a whole.
McAllister found that levels of party identification in Taiwan have been increasing incrementally since 1996, from one in three citizens saying that they felt close to a party in 1996, to 55 percent this year, which goes against international trends.
This gradual, but consistent, rise suggests that party identification is increasing by an average of about 5 percent in each inter-election period, McAllister said.
Over the period that the CSES studies were conducted, partisanship in established democracies declined by about 4 percentage points, while increasing by more than 20 percentage points in Taiwan, a higher level than in new democracies, he said.
The study found partisanship in Taiwan in 1996 was 10 percentage points lower than in new democracies and 20 percentage points below that of established democracies, but by this year Taiwanese partisanship was higher than in either new or established democracies.
The third indicator of democratic consolidation McAllister measured was the degree of party polarization. For this indicator, he studied where people place themselves in the left-to-right political spectrum, where they stand on the issue of unification with China and Taiwanese independence, and looked at parties’ likes and dislikes.
His study found that polarization in Taiwan has been consistent over the period of the survey, varying only marginally. While the country is heading in the direction of increased polarization, the incremental increase is small, he said.
Overall, the level of party polarization in Taiwan is lower than in other democracies, McAllister said.