A presidential election next year between Vice President William Lai (賴清德), New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) would be a tight contest, should they be chosen as the candidates of their respective parties — the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation poll released on Tuesday found.
However, how relevant are hypothetical polling figures a full year before the election?
It will be interesting to see what Ko does as TPP chairman now that he has been unleashed from Taipei City Hall. He remains politically significant, as the party he founded has quickly begun challenging the KMT in terms of voter support.
Hou has long been something of a Teflon politician. Even the media frenzy over his response to the death from COVID-19 of a toddler nicknamed En En (恩恩) in April last year was simply a case of the pan-green media targeting a popular opposition mayor. It is debatable how much effect those attacks had on his polling.
KMT elites have kept Hou at a distance when it comes to prospects for the big prize, and the party has a record of choosing candidates based on their popularity or ranking within the KMT hierarchy rather than on their ability to govern. The party has shied away from nominating benshengren (本省人), people who came to Taiwan before World War II, as it has not trusted their political instincts or loyalties. Hou is considered a benshengren.
In the poll, Lai, Hou and Ko received 34 percent, 31.4 percent and 22.3 percent support respectively. Hou’s polling numbers might make him a potential candidate who is difficult for the KMT to overlook, but they hide that he received 38.7 percent support in a similar poll last month, while Lai’s support increased 5 percentage points over that period.
Even a month is a long time in politics.
The poll also found that 36.7 percent backed Hou as the KMT’s presidential candidate, compared with 28.6 percent who supported Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and 7.9 percent who supported KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫).
Chu has been unpopular since he started his second stint as KMT chairman in September 2021. However, in the local elections in November last year he oversaw major strategic and political victories over the DPP, including winning back the mayoral seat in the capital with an unimpressive candidate, even though President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) waning popularity boosted the KMT. According to conventional political logic, Chu should be riding high in KMT support.
Tsai’s popularity has been declining gradually since May 2020, from a high of 71.2 percent that on first reading seems to represent a blip. It might be more accurate to start with the 56.7 percent support she received in a poll in January 2020, making the decline more gradual, to 43.8 percent in September last year, before dropping to 37.5 percent last month.
Those figures suggest that Chu has been doing something right. A longer-term analysis shows that Tsai has actually been riding the election cycle. Her popularity was about 70 percent in 2016, plummeting during her first term to below 24 percent in December 2018, with commentators calling for her to step aside and Lai to be the party’s presidential candidate in 2020.
However, her popularity soared to 68 percent by the time of that year’s election. In other words, the 71.2 percent was not a blip at all; it was part of the election cycle. This is also reflected in polling results for the popularity of the DPP, which tell an almost identical story.
This leads back to the original question: What does the latest poll say about the prospects for the next presidential election?
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