On November 24th, Taiwan elections saw a resurgence of KMT (Kuomingtang, 國民黨) backed candidates, after a few years of nearly total control by the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party, 民進黨).
On November 24th, Taiwan elections saw a resurgence of KMT (Kuomintang, 國民黨) backed candidates, after a few years of nearly total control by the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party, 民進黨). The results came as a surprise to many people, even those who already expected this election to be a rebuke to president Tsai Ing-Wen's (蔡英文) two years in power. On the ballot were the mayors for all cities in Taiwan, thousands of councillors, local representatives, and ten referendum questions.
The shift in power back toward the KMT was not the only thing that indicated a mobilization of more conservative voters. Every single referendum question that progressives rallied behind was voted down, including questions supporting marriage equality and a participation in the Olympics as Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei.
Now that the election has happened, let's dive into the data to get a better picture of what actually happened and what this means for Taiwan and the world.
To begin, let's start by taking a look at the mayoral elections across the country. Taiwan's mayoral elections are closely watched as they are considered to be similar in importance to a gubernatorial election in the US.
(Hover over a district to explore. Blue districts indicate a KMT mayoral victory, green districts indicate a DPP mayoral victory, and grey districts indicate a third party mayoral victory. Striped districts indicate a change in party from the 2014 election.)
The first thing that is made apparent in this map is how much blue there is. But as is with any election map, geographical space is an inaccurate representation of population. That is to say that much of the central and eastern areas of Taiwan are sparsely populated.
However, closer inspection of the map reveals a few interesting points. First, there are far more blue striped districts than green striped districts, indicating that while many districts in Taichung (台中) and Kaohsiung (高雄) flipped blue, some districts in Taoyuan (桃園) actually flipped green. Hualien (花蓮) county is striped because it went from an independent county mayor to a KMT one. That Taichung flipped back to blue is no surprised, as Taichung is historically more blue than green.
Perhaps the most closely watched mayoral election of the night was that of the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city. In all of Taiwan's history as a two party democracy, Kaohsiung has consistently and reliably been under control of the DPP, making this year's KMT victory for Han Kuo-Yu (韓國瑜) a major surprise.
By all counts, Han Kuo-Yu was a candidate that came out of relative obscurity into the public spotlight as he campaigned to become Kaohsiung's mayor. He is a second-generation "mainlander" (a group that arrived in Taiwan during China's civil war) from New Taipei City (新北市) on the north end of Taiwan.
As we can see in this map, Han Kuo-Yu successfully flipped a large majority of the districts in Kaohsiung, giving him the nickname "han wave" (寒流, or maybe 韓流).
Taipei was another closely watched election for a separate reason. Similar to Han Kuo-Yu's victory in Kaohsiung, Ko Wen-Jie (柯文哲) shocked the nation when he won the mayor's election in Taipei in 2014. Despite the apparent similarities between Ko Wen-Jie and Han Kuo-Yu, Ko is notable additionally for being the first to win an election as Taipei's mayor as an independent.
In this year's election, Ko was reelected by less than 3,000 votes, leaving the election much closer than most people expected. A likely explanation for this is that in 2014 Ko received endorsement from the DPP, who did not put a candidate into the race. But in 2018, unhappy with Ko in his first term, the DPP ran Pasuya Yao (姚文智) as a protest against Ko, likely cannibalizing his votes.
On the ballot this year were also ten referendum questions. The current manifestation of referendum system was created legislatively in December of 2017 by the DPP, making the barrier of entry to citizens directly running referendums much easier by lowering the threshold for submitting. Interestingly, the decreased barrier of entry to running a referendum likely backfired politically on the DPP, with all of the positions supported by conservatives passing, while none of the positions supported by progressives passed.
(Hover over each map to see the question and the voting results. Yellow districts indicate a majority "yes" vote and red districts indicate a majority "no" vote)
Looking at the data, it's apparent that most referendum questions went nearly unanimously yes or no, with question number 13 regarding the olympics causing the closest vote.
Do you agree to the use of “Taiwan” when participating in all international sport competitions, including the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
If we take a closer look at the way that people voted on this question, you'll notice that the "yes" votes seem to cluster around Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Yilan. Despite the fact that large amounts of the electorate in Kaohsiung turned out in support of the KMT candidate Han Kuo-Yu, it appears that many of them still voted for referendum question 13. One way to interpret this may not be that perspectives in Kaohsiung are becoming more favorable of KMT causes, but that Han Kuo-Yu's populist approach successfully motivated the city.
Another very interesting factor to consider is how people turned out. There are many similarities between the 2014 local election and the recent 2018 local election. Just as the results of the 2018 election are seen as a backlash to Tsai Ing-Wen, the results of 2014 election can similarly be considered a backlash to the previous president Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九). Although the overall voter turnout in this election was higher than 2014, it is apparent that different districts turned out differently.
(Purple districts indicate an increase in voter turnout compared to 2014, and red districts indicate a decrease in voter turnout. Voter turnout in this section is calculated by votes for mayor in 2014 and 2018)
We can look at this graph as an indication of who turned out in each election. Across the board, turnout was lower in Taipei, Tainan, and Taichung, while higher in Kaohsiung. As discussed above, we saw an increase in turnout in Kaohsiung likely because of Han Kuo-Yu.
Overall, 12,507,779 people voted in 2018 compared to 12,261,784 people in 2014. The increased turnout was most apparent in Kaohsiung and New Taipei City. Here's another way to look at this data.
Despite voter turnout being higher in aggregate, we notice that voter turnout decreased in the capital city of Taipei. One explanation of lower turnout in Taipei was that this year's ballot took longer to fill out and Taipei precincts were flooded with voters, the majority of whom waited hours in order to vote. The increased waiting time was likely a deterrent for individuals who were unable to wait that long.
Returning to the referendum results, it's also plausible that the way districts turned out caused the referendum questions to lean more conservative. The fact that many of the urban cores (except for Kaohsiung) saw a decrease in turnout likely contributes to this result.
There's no doubt that Taiwan is a vibrant, dynamic, and messy democracy. Under the looming threat of Chinese annexation, Taiwan remains fervently committed to its democracy in stark contrast to its authoritarian neighbor across the strait. Just like democracies anywhere in the world, electorates are never a monolith. There are nuances within nuances of individual politics, and explorations like these only begin to scratch the surface.
Voting results data fetched from the Central Election Committee. The data was fetched on 18:00 local time on November 24. Any changes to the official vote count after this date may not be reflected in these results.
Map information from twgeojson.