It has been more than 100 days since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office on May 20. In the past two weeks, several polls have been conducted by various organizations. While some backed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), some supported the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). This is why some polls show high approval ratings for Tsai, while other show low ratings.
A poll by the Taiwan Thinktank showed that Tsai has an approval rating of 48.5 percent, while a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation poll indicated that her approval rating is 52 percent. A poll by the Taiwan Generation Think Tank found that Tsai’s approval rating was 53 percent. The average is 51.2 percent, exceeding 50 percent.
In contrast, polls conducted by TVBS, the China Times and the United Daily News found Tsai’s approval rating to be 39 percent, 41.1 percent and 42 percent respectively, an average of 40.7 percent. The difference between polls conducted by the two sides is more than 10 percent, which suggests that there might have been other factors involved.
A look at the content and wording used in the polls shows the two sides have different outlooks on many issues.
Pro-DPP think tanks tend to ask more questions and cover a wider range of subjects in their polls. The result is a more informative sampling of public opinion on issues such as pension reform, labor rights, transitional justice and judicial reform. The language and wording also tend to be more in line with the standards of social sciences: neutral, objective and without leading questions.
In contrast, the two polls conducted by the pro-KMT newspapers had few questions, and many of them were both problematic and ambiguous, such as a question about whether respondents think the effects of the government’s policies are tangible or not.
Others were misleading, for example, one described Tsai’s foreign policy as being carried out in collaboration with the US and Japan to hold off China, while others were obvious and pointless, such as asking respondents if cross-strait relations have improved, worsened or stayed the same since Tsai took office.
Furthermore, data from pro-DPP organizations have highlighted the electorate’s confidence in the president and shed light on their views of her leadership. Overall, 60 percent of the electorate is confident in her ability to run the nation — even China Times’ poll found that 52 percent of its respondents have confidence in Tsai.
Data from pro-DPP organizations also offer insight into the public views of Tsai’s policy decisions. Surprisingly, her handling of international affairs has earned an approval rating of 66.5 percent, the highest of all areas polled, contradicting poll results for the same category conducted by pro-KMT organizations.
In terms of domestic policies, her work toward pension reform has received highly favorable ratings ranging between 56 and 60 percent. The findings are important, as they confirm that Taiwanese value whether the government is correctly representing the nation and safeguarding its interests, and that they care about domestic policies that promote pension reform and transitional justice, such as the handling of the KMT’s ill-gotten assets.
On the other hand, polls designed by pro-KMT organizations tend to focus on labor issues, which remain unresolved, and Tsai’s more controversial policies. In some cases, they insinuated that the efforts to return the KMT’s ill-gotten assets to their rightful owners might be based on political calculation, as the KMT has claimed.
The China Times poll includes approval ratings of four ministers singled out among Tsai’s Cabinet. The minister of national defense has the least favorable rating of all four, the minister of labor has the second lowest, while the minister of transportation and communications and the minister of economic affairs have higher approval ratings.
Their disapproval ratings are all above 50 percent. The results are a warning sign for the Tsai administration. It must consider the possibility that perhaps some ministers are too passive.
Regardless of who is conducting the polls, they show that the electorate has confidence in Tsai and has great expectations from her administration.
However, it is also impatient and cannot wait to see results. It appears people are easily frustrated by any sign of problems with the government’s policies. Due to this mindset, the public is not entirely satisfied with the Tsai administration’s performance.
It is important that the Tsai administration accepts criticism and carefully studies the poll results to better understand the public’s hopes and needs.
Polls conducted by pro-DPP organizations provide useful information on public attitudes toward the government’s policy goals and decisions. It must keep working on building the things that the public praises while reviewing those that it criticizes. It must also be wary of unnecessary political effects caused by pro-KMT polls.
While polls yield quantifiable data, political commentators can sometimes offer insight and advice that are just as good, if not better. Their opinions, although unquantifiable, also merit much attention.
Michael Hsiao is a researcher at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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