Merry Christmas! We’ll see you in the new year


Image by Bob Peace

That’s it from Ballots & Bullets for 2012. It’s been a great year here on the blog.

We had updates from a number of elections, including the Tawain elections, guest posts on the French elections from Prof Jocelyn Evans and Dr Gilles Ivaldi of 500 Signatures, and posts on the Russian elections.

We’ve had posts from Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart on rebellious MPs, including their Bumper Book of Coalition Rebellions.

And the Polling Observatory have been updating us with their monthly analysis of the political polls, which saw the appearance of UKIP for the first time: February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, November, December. They also brought us the latest on public opinion following the UKIP, Lib Dem, Labour, and Conservative conferences.

We’ll be back in January with more posts on the latest elections, world events and polls. We’ll see you then!

Daily Shorts Nov 18

Remember that Kane op-ed in NYT last week? The one that he’s been ridiculed for ever since? Turns out it was just an exercise in “Swiftian satire”. Just that no one found it very funny, except for Kane himself: “What is hilarious is that some academics in Taiwan and elsewhere stayed up late at night reading the piece literally and trying to build cases to refute its content, and castigating my logic and morals… Take your wife out to dinner!  Professor or Joe Blogger, it was time miss spent.” Its OK, Paul, I get paid to do this shiz (just not enough to take my wife out to the restaurants she likes).

Accusing Tsai of being a ‘fake Hakka’ because she doesn’t speak the language was crass and potentially damaging, especially given KMT language policies during the one-party era. So Ma quickly rolled out two ads, both apparently featuring language teachers exulting Ma’s serious attitude toward language acquisition. The ads are redolent of the ‘testimonies’ CSB used in 2000, in which school teachers, classmates etc. from the Tainan countryside (and a Nobel prize winner) testified to his good character, as part of the ‘CSB isn’t a madman who is going to declare independence’ cycle of ads. Ma needed a response, because this is the type of thing that could easily spiral out of control and mess up the campaign agenda (KMT peeps: remember the economy!). Tsai doesn’t want to initiate a big fight over identity, but something like this could be another gift horse (without the piggy-banks how much less buzz would Tsai have right now?). I’m not at all surprised that Ma wanted to nip it in the bud, but I predict that these ads won’t achieve that.

In these ads we’re asked to picture Ma as a great student–I don’t doubt he is–resonant in Taiwan where a substantial proportion of people spend a lot of time learning languages. We are shown the testimony of venerable teachers (Taiwanese respect teachers right?), who also happen to represent the ethnic groups Ma wants to appeal to (so, doubly effective right?). We’re told that learning the language is Ma’s way of showing respect, not just a tool for vote-getting (a charge that has been levelled at DPP candidates for many years re: Hakka voters). Personally, I look at these ads and think, ‘I can believe Ma is decent, earnest and a terrific student’. But, so what? You (not Ma personally, but his lieutenant) questioned someone’s identity (in a polity where identity is an ultra-sensitive issue and one on which the KMT is hugely disadvantaged) on the basis of something your party was largely responsible for. That doesn’t go away just because Ma looks like he gets straight A’s.

There is quite a bit of research in political communication on the effect of politicians’ looks, voice, body language etc. on voter attitudes. This latest piece just came out, and it supports what we already know: good looking people do better in politics. There’s also evidence, in a variety of contexts using experimental and real world designs, that men with deeper voices and more muscular frames do better, and that the effect of physical looks is more pronounced for women than men candidates (you guessed that last one, right?). I hadn’t considered this in the case of Taiwan2012, until I came across a recent SCMP article (sorry no link, but its “Tourism conquers the great divide” by Lawrence Chung, Oct 1 2011). The article itself is a bit of frippery about tourists from China marveling at Taiwanese freedoms, but it goes on to quote a Chinese student at NTU as saying: “Oh, Ma Ying-jeou is very handsome and very gentlemanly, while Tsai Ing-wen is very smart and sharp.” Personally I think this is an election for someone who is smart and sharp (handsome is an irrelevant quality when it comes to fixing the economy), and I think Ma will downplay the looks card. Attacking Ma for being an ineffective show pony has been a staple in DPP ads for years–I remember Li Ying-yuan in the 2002 Taipei Mayor race had a great line (from memory) “再怎麼帥,不能這麼草率” (no matter how handsome you are, you can’t be this slapdash). Didn’t help Li, but Tsai will use similar.

Finally, Sigrid Winkler, who posted here a couple weeks back, has a new piece out at Brookings on “The Challenge of Taiwan’s International Status”.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

Can Taiwan achieve something the US could not?

In the first half of the presidential campaign, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was bothered by one thing only: the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) seemed to be shadowing their every move.

The KMT sent King Pu-tsung, President Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign manager, on a US trip at almost the exact same time as DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s. King visited every city Tsai went to and delivered a speech at Harvard University, where Tsai also spoke, on the same day.

On the policy front, the DPP claimed that the KMT was being a “copycat” by plagiarizing Tsai’s platforms, including her policies on housing, tax reform, agricultural subsidies and labour.

The KMT denied the DPP’s claim.

The DPP went on to launch its slogan for the second part of the campaign – “Taiwan’s first female president,” a claim that the KMT can not duplicate for an obvious reason.

Her campaign adopted the slogan not because it is “trendy” or “fashionable,”, but because women are often more able to solve problems in a harmonious way through better communication than men, Tsai said, adding that women are usually more perseverant and persistent as well.

In constituencies of Hakka ethnicity, the DPP has been using “Hakka girl for president” as its main slogan to promote its candidate who shares the same characteristics – frugality and perseverance, among others – with Hakka women.

Tsai did try to run her campaign in a much “softer” way in comparison to previous DPP candidates. She made clear that she does not like “negative campaigning” nor fighting the rhetorical battle.

However, the slogan also has a strategic implication in securing more votes from women.

Seen as a progressive and confrontational party since its founding in the martial law era, the DPP has had a hard time to appeal to women voters, often trailing the KMT by more than 10 percentage points in elections.

Frank Hsieh’s loss to Ma, whose good-looking appearance is believed to be one of his advantages in vying for female voters, in the 2008 presidential election by more than two million votes marked the lowest point. An unofficial tally showed that more than 4.8 million of Ma’s 7.65 million votes, or 62.7 percent, came from women voters.

The party also cited various countries, including Iceland, Thailand and Germany, which are led by a female head of state, as examples, and said that it is time for Taiwan to have a female leader.

It would be crucial for Tsai to bridge the gap and vie for women’s support on the presumption of their preference for a female leader.

Results of various recent public opinion polls are mixed. A survey conducted by the Taiwan Brain Trust between Oct. 28 and 29 found that Tsai has cut her deficit in women’s support against Ma to 39.3%-35.7%, which the DPP said is the closest of any DPP presidential candidate, and has led Ma by 2.8 percent.

Another poll conducted by Taiwan Association of Pacific Ocean Development between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 found that Tsai still trailed Ma 38.6%-30.3% in terms of women support and she is behind Ma by 7.3 percentage points overall.

The appeal seemed to be received well in DPP rallies and Tsai’s presidential campaign visits everywhere. However, do Taiwanese women voters prefer a female leader? Are they ready to do something the Americans did not do? It remains unknown until election day.

Chris Wang is a political analyst, writer and editor at the Taipei Times. He writes here in a personal capacity.