Written by Timothy S. Rich and Hannah Neeper.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Taiwanese presidential election campaign has been the nomination and later replacement of Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hung Hsiu-Chiu. Partly due to the declining popularity of the party and several presumptive candidates opting not to run, Hung easily cleared the 30% threshold in three KMT primary polls in June and formally accepted the nomination in July. This set up a first for Taiwan and a rarity in presidential democracies as the two main candidates were both female.

Nearly from the moment she passed the threshold Hung faced backlash within her own party, seen as an extremist in part due to her views on cross-strait relations. That Hung might have difficulty appealing to the median KMT supporter, much less the median voter, should not have been a surprise as she never had to appeal to a wide base to be elected as a legislator, having been elected either under the previous single nontransferable vote (SNTV) system or placed on the party list. One poll found her support dropping eleven points between her nomination and her claims of “One China, same interpretation” which conflicted with her party’s position of “One China, different interpretations”. Furthermore, public opinion polls consistently found her trailing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Tsai Ing-wen by twenty points. Tsai’s and Hung’s positions provide stark contrasts, with the former not supporting the One China Principle which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) sees as prerequisite for improving cross-strait relations. Hsu’s divisiveness likely encouraged People First Party (PFP) founder James Soong to enter the race again, despite having only managed 2.77% of the vote in his 2012 president bid.

Intra-party tensions and poor polling results resulted in the party replacing Hung in October, with the KMT president Eric Chu ultimately chosen as the replacement. On the heels of this change (October 17) we conducted a web survey through PollcracyLab October 20-21 asking people to evaluate two statements on a five-point scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).

  1. The Kuomintang’s replacement of Hung Hsiu-Chiu as their presidential candidate is excusable.
  2. The Kuomintang’s replacement of Hung Hsiu-Chiu as their presidential candidate benefits the KMT.

On the first question, only 25.63% agreed (4 or 5 on the measure) with the statement, compared to 55.22% disagreeing (1 or 2 on the measure), with average score 2.44. On the second question, only 34.58% agreed with the statement, with 22.29 disagreeing (average score 2.80). As expected, a clear partisan divide emerges on both questions, consistent with DPP legislator opposition to Hung’s removal and intraparty disputes in the KMT. In regards to the first, DPP identifiers were largely negative, averaging a 1.96, compared to a 3.22 among KMT identifiers. On the second, DPP identifiers averaged a 2.67 compared to 3.25 among KMT supporters.

Figure 1: Summary Responses

Excusable to Replace Hung and Replacement Benefits the KMT

1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strong Agree)

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 09.25.05

We wondered if a gender divide would also be evident in the evaluations of Hung, especially among female KMT identifiers. In terms of excusing her, we found a clear distinction. KMT men averaged a 3.34 compared to a 3.04 among KMT women. Ironically, DPP men were more likely to disagree with Hung’s removal than DPP women (1.85 and 2.16 averages respectively). Regarding whether Hung’s replacement aided the KMT, less of a distinction emerged on gender (KMT males vs. females: 3.32 vs. 3.16; DPP males vs. females: 2.72 vs. 2.57).  Further statistical tests find that even after controlling for age, Mainlander ethnicity and those that support unification, that partisanship and gender influenced perceptions regarding Hung’s replacement. Specifically, women and KMT supporters positively correlated with approval for replacing Hung, although KMT women were consistently less supportive than their male counterparts. This distinction suggests that female KMT supporters may view the removal of Hung as influenced by her gender and not simply due to policy.

What does this mean for the election?  Our polling results suggest at best tepid support for replacing Hung even within the KMT, suggesting that the media attention to this switch will do little to improve the image of the party among non-identifiers. Reports that the KMT offered Hung financial incentives to withdrawal, rumors Hung vehemently denies, further fuels distrust of the KMT among those on the fence. While the replacement of Hung may marginally improve the KMT’s poll numbers in the presidential election, the change appears too late to change the party’s fortunes as Eric Chu remains considerably behind Tsai (see examples here and here).

Furthermore, it remains unclear to what extent Hung’s supporters will turn out. Hung had argued that her removal threatened the legitimacy of the KMT’s democratic rules, with her supporters leading up to her removal making similar statements. While our survey did not directly address this, indirect evidence of tension within the party was still president. For example, of KMT identifiers, only 58.2% stated they planned to vote for Eric Chu, with 31.97% undecided. Among KMT identifiers that found replacing Hung excusable, 77.59% planned to vote for Chu, whereas only 28.21% of party supporters who disagreed with her replacement planned to vote for Chu. In contrast 91.29% of DPP identifiers planned to vote for Tsai.

Timothy S. Rich is an assistant professor in political science at Western Kentucky University. His research focuses on electoral politics in East Asia (Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan). Hannah Neeper is a junior at Western Kentucky University majoring in English and Chinese with a minor in Political Science. She is currently researching gender perceptions in Taiwan through an internal research grant (FUSE).