Quick Take on Taiwan: Putting on a brave face, or is KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu’s team in denial?

2019-11-20 16.26.35

It is normal in elections, regardless of how bad the polls look, to put on a brave face and express confidence.  That certainly isn’t specific to Taiwan.  In spite of how the polls look, one would expect the Han camp to pooh-pooh how bad the situation is.

This quote in the Taipei Times is the kind of thing one would expect:

Commenting on a poll released yesterday by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the sister paper of the Taipei Times), which shows Han behind President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) by 37.65 percentage points, campaign office spokeswoman Anne Wang (王淺秋) said that polls are “highly manipulatable” and might be inaccurate.

But the Han campaign isn’t operating on normal, in frustration with the polls Mayor Han has asked his supporters to tell pollsters that they support his opponent, President Tsai (a call which hasn’t actually moved the needle that much).

The campaign office had expected the margin to widen after Han last month instructed his supporters to claim to support Tsai in polls, Wang told a news conference in Taipei, adding: “We had expected the margin to be greater.”

Han’s campaign office is confident about winning the election, as internal assessments made by the KMT last month before Han gave the directive found that the margin between Han’s and Tsai’s support rates was not big, she said.

Asked how the KMT assessed Han’s support rate without polls, Wang said that the party has been conducting surveys on Han’s policy plans and evaluating his popularity through his interaction with local people during his campaign tour.

Based on his interaction with voters, it is apparent that Han has many “hidden” supporters, she said.

The KMT has financial problems in the wake of the passage of the ill-gotten assets law and the apparent lack of significant action on the part of KMT Chair Wu Den-yih to raise significant sources of new income.  The party, used to being the so-called “richest political party in the world” was packed with plum patronage jobs.  According to one well-informed source, while people have been let go, they were often the professional types–like pollsters.  Using his colourful (and likely highly accurate) phrase, the “professional tea drinkers and cigarette smokers” are still on the payroll.

Notice in the quote above, apparently the KMT hasn’t even been conducting polls–only conducting “assessments” and “surveys”.  This is mindblowing.  This means either the Han campaign is entirely relying on the “highly manipulatable” (to use spox Anne Wang’s quote) polls to determine where they are weak and need to concentrate their resources…or they’re just making it up…or they aren’t even considering that at all.

And it’s not just Han and his spox:

Separately, Lee Chia-fen (李佳芬), Han’s wife and former Yunlin County councilor, yesterday told the New York-based Chinese-language World Journal that using the latest poll numbers to gauge support for Tsai is a “joke.”

Considering the extent to which Taiwan’s economy has deteriorated under Tsai, “if you think she would receive more votes this time, you must think people are stupid,” Lee said.

Noting that a certain poll predicted that Tsai would win the race by 30 percent, that would mean a margin of 4.5 million votes, Lee said.

“If you look at the statistics and think about it, you would find it laughable,” she added.

As a result, Han’s campaign office thought it might as well urge supporters to claim to support Tsai just to make the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) happy, Lee said.

Asked about Lee’s remarks, Tsai said that although Han’s camp claims not to believe in polls, it often cites them.

Well, good thing Mayor Han has ex-Premier Simon Chang as his VP pick and the man in charge of crafting his platform, right?  This “grown up in the room” has another metric besides polling to gauge the race, this from the official KMT website:

Chang San-cheng (張善政), KMT’s vice presidential candidate, stated that he believed that KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) would win the election. Chang indicated that prior to the time when Han called on his fans to answer pollsters’ questions by saying, “I support Tsai only,” making polling organizations producing unrealistic poll results, the gap in support ratings between Han and Tsai was within 5%, the margin of error, adding that, in fact, bookies were giving even money on Han and Tsai.

Right after Chang’s remarks were made public, the DPP legislative caucus called a press conference to denounce Chang, indicating that Chang knew book-making was illegal, but he still used bookies to save Han’s election prospects. Moreover, the caucus also called on Chang to phone the police to report the bookies as soon as possible if he knew how to contact them.

Former New Taipei Mayor and KMT Chair Eric Chu (朱立倫) only in the last week or two has taken over as head of Han’s campaign.  Chu is solid and knows what he is doing, if a bit dull and lackluster.  It doesn’t appear he’s managed to bring Han’s team under control, though he may be the one behind managing to bring current New Taipei Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) back into the fold and publicly supporting Han and appearing with him on stage at rallies–which it had only recently appeared neither intended to do.

Perhaps Eric Chu can bring some professionalism to the Han campaign, halt the slide in the polls and start turning things around.  However, with only four weeks left, I wouldn’t bet on it–though Simon Chang’s bookies think it might be.

Photo by the author.

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