It has been suggested that Vice President William Lai (賴清德), the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate, is certain to win the presidency now that the “blue-white alliance” plan has fallen apart.
Lai had been polling in first place with a healthy margin separating him from the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), and Taiwan People’s Party Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). Expectations were that he would win handily unless his opponents pooled their resources.
Now that the three candidates are in their respective corners, the gloves are likely to come off. Lai needs to put up his guard and prepare to parry the inevitable blows.
A Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation poll released on Monday showed that Lai might already be in trouble, with Ko’s approval rating of 31.9 percent overtaking Lai’s 29.2 percent. Hou still trailed at 23.6 percent.
While this is the first time Ko has taken the lead, three things should be noted:
First, the foundation’s findings are contradicted by polls released by online news firm my-formosa.com, TVBS and a third by World United Formosans for Independence and the Taiwan National Security Association. They showed Lai in the lead, but the former two had Ko in third and the latter had him second, albeit only marginally ahead of Hou.
Second, the foundation’s poll was conducted before the alliance talks fell through, when it still appeared as if Ko was giving the establishment KMT a run for its money.
Third, the variable results of the four polls demonstrate just how unpredictable this campaign season is. The KMT and the TPP wasted time arguing about the prospective alliance, but now they will be turning their sights on their rivals.
Given the animosity between Ko and the KMT after the debacle of the alliance negotiations, it is possible that they will tear into each other. A wiser plan would be for them to rein in their mutual distaste and concentrate on criticizing the government’s record and leveraging voters’ fear of a potential military conflict.
Hou and the KMT need to worry about the foundation’s findings, which suggest that Ko’s support comes mostly from supporters of the KMT, not the DPP.
They also need to be concerned about tactical voting: An “anti-green coalition” might manifest in a way that the KMT and its chairman, Eric Chu (朱立倫), did not foresee.
It has long been apparent that the TPP has been eating the KMT’s lunch in terms of voter support, getting proportionately more of its support from the blue end of the spectrum. If KMT voters wanting a change of government see Ko pulling convincingly ahead of Hou, they might jump ship and go over to the TPP to improve their chances of ousting the DPP.
Of course, it could go the other way, with TPP supporters abandoning Ko in favor of Hou if the latter’s polling improves.
Given that most polls so far have placed Hou in third, Lai faces a difficult balancing act. He could take aim at Ko and the TPP, with the party having a distinct advantage over the DPP among voters who are young, educated, Hakka, elderly white-collar, grassroots white-collar, members of the military or civil servants, self-employed or owners of small or medium-sized enterprises, or students.
On the other hand, he does not want Ko to fall too far behind Hou, because he wants to avoid tactical voting among anti-green voters. It benefits him to keep this election a three-horse race.
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