Max Hirsch has a great piece in Kyodo News this week, analyzing the election defeat of the DPP. Hirsch has a very sensible contrast to the well-known blog Peking Duck, where Raj has served a series of KMT talking points presented as a “centrist” analysis. Hirsch notes:

On the surface, the DPP’s huge loss is easily explainable: a string of corruption scandals surrounding Chen and other DPP officials; a lackluster economy; a gridlocked government; rocky relations with Washington and Beijing; and a loss of diplomatic allies and clout.

Behind the obvious, however, lies a baffling contradiction: Despite its ”worst-ever” showing at parliamentary polls since becoming the ruling party, the DPP on Saturday actually hit a historic high in terms of its overall share of votes cast in a general election.

That’s what I pointed out in the post below this one: the numbers won’t support the theory that Chen chased away voters. Hirsch goes on to say:

The DPP reaped some 33 percent of the vote in the general election in 2000, the same year it displaced the KMT as the ruling party after its more than 50 years of one-party rule. In the 2004 general election, the DPP garnered nearly 36 percent of the vote after Chen had won another four-year term as president. Ironically, the DPP’s performance Saturday in terms of vote share was its best yet, with its share climbing to somewhere between 37 and 38 percent, experts say. This rising trend points to electoral reform as a subtler and perhaps more important reason for the DPP’s shocking loss.

The key point in the DPP loss — which has hardly a landslide in raw voting — was that the electoral reform that reduced the number of seats and created a winner take all format, which favored the party with the most money (Hirsch notes that the KMT outspent the DPP by 5-1, citing Taiwan expert Dafydd Fell of the U of London). This, combined with gerrymandering by the KMT, meant that the DPP was at a massive disadvantage. As a Taipei Times analysis put it on Sunday:

The pan-blue camp won yesterday’s legislative election by a wide margin as its main rival, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), failed to come up with effective strategies that could have helped it overcome the disadvantages it faced under the new electoral system, political analysts said yesterday.

Except for certain districts in the south, the structure of most electoral districts favors the pan-blue camp by a 55 to 44 ratio, said Chen Chao-jian (陳朝建), an assistant professor of public affairs at Ming Chuan University.

In a political economy where political identity is the most outstanding single factor, the structure of the districts was the key to KMT dominance that gave it 80% of the seats with only 60% of the vote. Thus, the number one dumb DPP decision was not its party platform but its decision to go along with the legislative “reform” that produced a one-party legislature that is actually less democratic than the “unreformed” version.

As always, let’s look at the numbers. I have added the local elections held since 1998 to the list:

1998 County Magistrate/City Mayor elections
KMT 3.56 million + 0.22 million New Party
DPP 1.15 million

2001 Legislative election
Blue vote: 5,136,827
Green vote: 4,249,030

2002 County Magistrate/City Mayor elections
KMT 2.52 + 0.49 million PFP + 0.03 New Party
DPP 1.27 + 0.10 TSU

2004 Legislative election
Blue vote: 4,552,831
Green vote: 4,228,141

2005 County Magistrate/City Mayor elections
KMT 3.54 million + 0.35 PFP + 0.04 New Party
DPP 1.96 million + 0.20 TSU

2007 Legislative Election
KMT 5.0 million
DPP 3.6 million

You can see first of all that only in the highly anomalous 2004 legislative election has the total Green vote managed to reach near the total Blue. Indeed in that year the DPP vote exceeded the KMT vote 3.4 million to 3.1 million, with the PFP taking 1.3 million votes, and 600,000 Blue voters staying home. This made the DPP the single biggest party in the legislature. It is 2004, when all those Blue voters stayed home, not 2007, that cries out for explanation. In 2001 there were over 5 million Blue votes, just as there were in 2007 (however, the DPP exceeded the KMT 3.4 million to 2.9 million; the PFP took 1.9 million votes).

This suggests that another, hidden, absolutely vital component of KMT dominance was its ability to swallow the PFP (and the New Party) over the last couple of years and mobilize former PFP members, as well as its own people, to come out and vote for it. If the PFP were still a mighty force, the KMT might not have had a majority in many districts — in ‘01 and ‘04 the PFP poached over a million votes from the KMT. KMT/Blue voters are far more aware of themselves as a group and an identity than Greens, and many analysts noted the feeling that the party could not concede Taiwan to the DPP. Party discipline was excellent, and in many districts the party made sure voters had transportation and so forth. The KMT cut deals with former PFP members and the two marched in lockstep to victory as the KMT gathered the Blue vote all to itself. The DPP, by contrast, still had to contend with the TSU which obstinately refused to give in and form a Green coalition.

Note that nary a peep was heard from KMT splittist James Soong, former Chairman of the People’s First Party (PFP), as his party basically disappeared into the KMT. The silence from Soong was absolutely deafening. By contrast TSU spiritual head former President Lee Teng-hui was still out there campaigning against the DPP and complaining about Chen Shui-bian. That was just plain stupid from the standpoint of the island’s long-term needs. Additionally, in some districts disgruntled DPP legislators ran against their own people. The DPP’s lack of party discipline and its inability to manage its relations with the TSU hurt it (Hirsch reports that Lee is set to endorse Hsieh for the presidency).

In sum, the KMT/Blues got 5 million votes, about the same as in 2001 (suggesting a natural ceiling for KMT legislative election votes), and the DPP actually increased its totals, both percentage-wise and absolutely, from about 3.4 million to 3.6 million (the Taipei Times has a nice chart of the vote totals). The voting trends are very similar to historical trends, and any explanation that relies on the conventional wisdom of Blame Chen! will have to confront the fact, as Hirsch noted, that the DPP actually increased its vote from 2004. There is no evidence in the voting patterns that voters switched to the KMT from the DPP, that the KMT was able to increase the Blue vote, or that the DPP was impacted by any of the negative publicity in recent months. Competent survey work might find such evidence; but at the moment, no such work exists and all evidence is anecdotal. In the final analysis, this was a perfectly normal legislative election by raw vote counts, completely typical. But with the new, gerrymandered, winner take all districts, conventional just wasn’t good enough.

The DPP’s failure was the same as we have seen in previous elections: it cannot compete with the KMT’s ability to mobilize Blue voters. For better or worse, even though the legislature is far more important than the ROC’s weak presidency, Green voters seem to be less interested in getting out there and voting for the DPP at the local level. The DPP is going to have to make some significant investments in the nitty-gritty of voter education and voter mobilization, because in the last three legislative elections it has received 3.4, 3.4, and 3.6 million votes — which suggests that there is a kind of structural ceiling built into the voting patterns that probably has very little to do with the ebb and flow of campaign rhetoric.

It would be nice if we could say that the modest rise in DPP voters meant something for the future, but to compete with the KMT, the DPP would have to be able to get 5 million people out there to vote for it at the local level. It has never even come close to such a figure in a local election. In the Presidential election of 2004 6.4 million people voted Green, and 6.4 million voted Blue. That probably represents the upper bound of people willing to come out and vote in Taiwan. If we replay the 2000 presidential election this year, as we have replayed the 2001 legislative elections, the Blues took 7.58 million votes, Chen Shui-bian, 4.97 million votes (source), for about 12.6 million votes cast, which suggests that the Presidential pool is about 12.6-8 million votes, meaning that in the next 70 days the DPP will have to mobilize 6.4 million voters, again. If the Blame Chen! theorists are right, maybe we’ll see a return to the 2000 voting levels as swing voters either stay home or switch to Blue. Your guess is as good as mine…..

Implications for the future? I observed a couple of weeks ago that the DPP strategy in making Chen Shui-bian chair of the DPP was probably to permit the egg from this defeat to stick to the lame-duck Chen, and not land on Hsieh or any up-and-coming politician. In that scenario Hsieh then rides in to become DPP Chairman, as indeed he has, and then the DPP presidential campaign gets a big boost as Hsieh rides in on a white horse to save it. Unfortunately the debacle was so great that any boost Hsieh could have gotten has been swamped by KMT trumpeting of landslide! Like everyone, I await the DPP’s strategy for climbing out of this hole — yet also, note that despite the negatives, the DPP was still able to increase its vote — whereas despite the negatives for the DPP, the KMT reached its previous ceiling. Does that auger well for the future? Perhaps….

Where the effects will be felt is at the local level. With the legislature to provide cover, local officials, who are 90% KMT, can now engage in election shenanigans with impunity — one of the first acts of the new legislature, I suspect, will be to formally or informally pull the teeth of the Ministry of Justice and the Central Election Commission’s investigative apparatus, which at the moment is looking at a historic high of 6,100 vote buying cases. Disclaimer: note that I am not saying that local officials WILL engage in shenanigans, I am only saying that they CAN. Of course, I would never assert, in a public forum, that anyone would actually engage in serious illegal election activity.

Apologies for the lack of blogging recently. It’s finals week here — one reason the student vote was apparently low — and I am swamped. Couldn’t the CEC have scheduled this election three weeks ago when people weren’t so busy?