Taiwan Insight: The public’s view on same-sex marriage legalisation

To address perceptions of same-sex marriage legalisation and its implications for the 2020 election, we conducted a web survey through PollcracyLab at National Chengchi University’s (NCCU) Election Study Center in December of 2019, with five hundred and two people, asking two questions specifically about same-sex marriage. First, we asked respondents, on a five-point scale of strongly oppose to strongly support, which best described their opinion on same-sex marriage legalisation. Consistent with other survey work, we see little consensus, with 39.2 per cent in support, 33.5 per cent in opposition and over 27.3 per cent indifferent. Additional analysis unsurprisingly finds that age negatively corresponds with support, with divergent rates between those that support the DPP, where 56.9% supported legalisation, versus only 14.7% the Kuomintang (KMT) supporters.

Considering how same-sex marriage became increasingly politicised in Taiwan, especially after the election of Tsai, one could assume that views on the issue may have been more malleable than otherwise suggested. For example, our survey work prior to the 2018 local elections showed that support declined sharply when framed in terms of how opponents viewed same-sex marriage as a threat to traditional families, especially among DPP supporters, with little evidence of a boost when framed in terms of being a sign of Taiwan’s progressiveness.

To address the significant shift in public opinion over a relatively short timeframe, we asked: “Since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in May of 2019, has your opinion of legalisation changed?”. Here, nearly one in five (19.3 per cent) claimed their position changed. We also see that roughly a quarter of KMT and Han Kuo-yu supporters claimed their position had changed, compared to 15.7 per cent among DPP and Tsai supporters.

When disaggregated further, we see that not only were those that changed their views less likely to be indifferent, but that more than half moved to oppose or strongly oppose. Explained another way, of those who stated that they supported legalisation, 13.7 per cent said their position on the issue had changed since legalisation, compared to nearly a third of those in opposition that said their position had changed in the same time (31.5 per cent). Moreover, a majority of identifiers within both of the main parties that had changed their view on legalization become less supportive.

The results suggest that despite legalisation, proponents have failed to challenge misinformation or overcome traditional value concerns effectively. This may be a temporary pattern due to generational differences in support, but also contact. Consistent with the broader literature on contact theory, legalisation may generate an environment in which more Taiwanese have personal contact with Taiwanese LGBT, leading to the debunking of opponents claims. However, simply assuming that these issues will solve themselves over time cedes the ability to frame the narrative around legalisation to those that oppose it.

Panellists at the post-election conference hosted by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy commented that the DPP was apparently unhurt by same-sex marriage legalisation, and they even predicted that this might encourage DPP legislators to support more progressive policies as the party was able to absorb these losses in most places.

To measure this, we looked at district legislative races compared to 2016, finding that the average vote for DPP district candidates declined from 54.7% to 48.8% this year. Limiting the comparison only to districts where the DPP ran candidates in both elections shows a slightly smaller decline (55.4% vs 50.7%).

Views of same-sex marriage in Taiwan continue to evolve, as not only parties have politicised the issue, but also as Taiwanese become more aware of friends and family who are LGBT. Legalisation, however, does not necessarily equate to tolerance, as previous research shows continued concerns about accepting members of the LGBT community in the workplace and family.

While too early to assess whether the DPP charts a more progressive path in 2020, the party’s ability to minimise the electoral costs of supporting same-sex marriage is clear.

Full report with graphs and charts: