The more nuanced understanding to this, however, is that, while the higher voter turnout has benefited the DPP on the whole, there were some districts—especially those in Kaohsiung—where the higher voter turnout in a few districts helped flipped the situation in favor of the KMT’s Han, while the DPP also saw strong gains in some others. While the idea in some quarters is that Han’s populism had failed in Taiwan, the fact that Han was able to strengthen the KMT’s vote share in what is considered an overall DPP stronghold in Kaohsiung also showed how Han’s populist rhetoric did work in a targeted manner, but not only that, to polarize Kaohsiung voters, though a further analysis is required to understand how his rhetoric affected the population differently—whether it be by age, income or education, etc.
Finally, votes for the DPP do not necessarily mean identification with the DPP, as comparison with the NCCU data suggests, and it might seem that the lack of options could have forced voters to tend towards the DPP. Similarly, votes for the KMT do not necessarily mean alignment with the KMT, and in fact, Taiwanese who vote for KMT are not exclusively identifying themselves as Chinese, but as both Taiwanese and Chinese (basing on the comparison with the NCCU data), which suggests that there might be a disconnect between the KMT’s perceived alignment with China and the voters who are voting for the KMT, which again could be due to the lack of alternative choices for voters. It could also be an additional explanation as to why the voter turnout in the apparent KMT strongholds is also low – neither the DPP or KMT appealed to how voters identify themselves based on national identity. Moreover, there is also the question of whether NCCU’s survey needs to be more inclusive to cater for the indigenous populations who might not identify as Chinese, or who might not identify as Taiwanese the way it is popularly defined, or for those who might identify as both Taiwanese and indigenous.
Indeed, READr interviewed 1,414 Taiwanese at 21 presidential rallies last November and found that of Han’s supporters, their sense of national identities were split—21% saw themselves as Taiwanese, but 45.1% saw themselves as both Taiwanese first and Chinese as well, and 20% saw themselves as Chinese first and also Taiwanese. But for Tsai’s supporters, it was very clear-cut—94.8% saw themselves as Taiwanese.
This would also explain why votes for Tsai in the last two elections show a tight correlation with the Taiwanese national identity, while the correlation between votes for the KMT and national identity (or rather, a lack of consistency in national identity) are not as clear, because of the diversity in national identity among its supporters—which is also a challenge the KMT now faces in trying to redefine itself to supporters who have widely varied identifications, or who might simply be voting for the KMT in opposition to the DPP for other reasons other than identity.
Indeed, “this is the worst of times for the KMT,” lawmaker Johnny Chiang 江啟臣 declared while throwing his hat into the ring to run for the KMT’s chairpersonship. The KMT’s inability to make a breakthrough at this last presidential election is finally forcing it to reflect on its position, when it is clear that while trying to appeal to its older population base based on the sentimental value of the ROC, it is losing a large swath of the population who identify with Taiwan.
Hsiao Ching-yan 蕭敬嚴, director of the KMT’s Organizational Development Committee Youth Department, rightfully pointed out that the KMT’s loss was due to “the party’s stance toward China and its decaying image.” Allen Tien 田方倫, chairman of the KMT Youth League, also said mockingly that “the KMT is holding on hard to the ‘1992 consensus’ as if it were as precious as an ancestral tablet,” and that it needs to develop a cross-strait policy that is “in step with public opinion.”
It is apparent that while Taiwanese are moving ahead and newer parties are also evolving in their positions to respond to the demands of the electorate, the KMT has still not realized that its role as a political party is to listen to the electorate – the Taiwanese. It somehow believes that the CCP’s wishes are more important than the Taiwanese, when the CCP and Xi do not have a right to vote in Taiwan’s elections, no matter how much they claim Taiwan to be theirs—clearly, it is not. Perhaps it is better for the KMT to continue to be on their misguided path, so that they can be rendered into oblivion, and so that Taiwan can move ahead without the KMT trying to sabotage Taiwan’s attempts to forge its own road ahead. And perhaps it might do well for the CCP to recognize that the only way it can “unify” with Taiwan is if it becomes more like Taiwan.
The more interesting developments are the legislative election, however, as they will signal the way Taiwan’s politics will transform. First, younger voters have a preference for up and coming smaller parties. A study conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation found that 28.4% of Taiwanese youths aged 20 to 24 said they voted for the New Power Party (NPP), while 22.9% said they voted for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) set up by Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je 柯文哲. Notably, on the eastern coast of Taiwan’s mainland where voter turnout was low for the presidential election, the NPP and TPP were able to make relative inroads for the legislative election. And while the south is seen as a DPP stronghold, the Taiwan Statebuilding Party has made gains in Kaohsiung.
While the DPP has seen significant increases in its presidential votes in the north, Ko’s TPP has also gained influence while riding on the coattails of his mayorship, and both it and the NPP have also established themselves in Hsinchu City. It is believed that Ko might try for a run for president at 2024’s election, and NPP legislator Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌 might use the results to springboard his own political ambitions, perhaps by running for mayor of Taipei and eventually for the presidency. Taiwanese identification with both the DPP and KMT currently hovers around only 20% to 30% for each, and the younger generation in Taiwan seem more in favor of alternative parties growing to break the two-party dominance, and to move beyond the Taiwanese-Chinese dichotomy that has trapped Taiwan’s politics, at least at the presidency level—a mock vote held prior to this year’s election also showed this, where among 11,369 senior-high, vocational-high and university students, 26.86% of them voted for the NPP, while 25.78% voted for the DPP and 24.21% voted for the Statebuilding Party. The TPP got 11.87% of the votes, about similar to how Taiwanese as a whole voted at this year’s legislative election.
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