Poll Offers Preliminary Look at Taiwan’s 2020 Presidential Election
In the first public opinion poll released after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced that she will be seeking the ruling party’s nomination to run for Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election, the survey showed that the incumbent president is facing an uphill battle to maintain her position as head of the island-democracy. While any public opinion survey this early on in the race for the January 2020 presidential and legislative elections should be taken with many caveats, the poll provides a gauge of current public sentiments in Taiwan towards a growing field of candidates that could be the country’s next president.
The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily commissioned Shih Hsin University Public Opinion Center (世新大學民調中心)—a private university in Taipei—to conduct the survey. The survey was conducted through Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews between February 15 and February 16 (note that President Tsai announced her intent to run on February 19) with a sample size of 1,087 people. While far from being predictive, the survey reveals several telling signs about current public sentiments towards the upcoming 2020 elections.
The survey’s interactive results allow users to choose between a two-way or three-way race between two candidates from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and three from the opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT), with or without Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). The two candidates from the DPP are Tsai Ing-wen and former Premier William Lai (賴清德). The three candidates on the KMT side are former Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), former Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), and current Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
According to the Apple Daily poll, in a two-way race in which Mayor Ko does not run between President Tsai and each of the three KMT candidates, President Tsai trails all three KMT candidates: she trails Eric Chu by 16.6 percent with 33.6 percent, Wang Jin-pyng by 5 percent with 34.6 percent, with the widest margin being between her and the new mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, at 19.1 percent with 33.4 percent. In a two-way race in which Mayor Ko does not run between former Premier Lai and each of the three KMT candidates, Lai trails two KMT candidates: Eric Chu by 4.4 percent with 39.4 percent, and Han Kuo-yu by 12.5 percent with 36.9 percent—but beats Wang Jin-pyng by 10.4 percent with 44.5 percent.
According to the Apple Daily poll, in a three-way race in which Mayor Ko does run between President Tsai and each of the three KMT candidates, Mayor Ko wins both races against President Tsai and Eric Chu with 32.4 percent of the vote, and Wang Jin-pyng with 40.1 percent of the vote, but loses to Han Kuo-yu with 28.6 percent to Han’s 35.1 percent. In a three-way race between former Premier Lai and each of the three KMT candidates in which Mayor Ko does run, Mayor Ko beats Premier Lai and Eric Chu with 31.2 percent of the vote, and Wang Jin-pyng with 38.3 percent of the vote, but again loses to Han Kuo-yu with 24.3 percent to Han’s 37.7 percent.
Of the 12 different possible scenarios permitted by the poll’s limited field of candidates: the KMT would win seven, Mayor Ko would win four, and the DPP would only win one of the races. It is important to point out, however, that there are clear limits to the predictive value of this poll given so many unfactored variables like confirmed candidates, developments between now and election day, and the preference of independent voters, among others.
Perceptions of President Tsai’s seemingly lackluster performance in implementing many seemingly necessary but controversial reforms have been known contributing factors to her consistently-low favorability rating after assuming office. This may be affecting people’s perceptions of her political viability. Indeed, the same opinion poll asked respondents whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with President Tsai’s performance with 27.4 percent responding that they were either very satisfied (6.3 percent) or somewhat satisfied (21.1 percent), and 55.6 percent responding that they were either somewhat dissatisfied (30.8 percent) or very dissatisfied (24.8 percent). Seventeen percent provided no answer.
On the potential candidates’ electability, the survey asked respondents which candidate from each of the two major parties did they think would have a better chance of winning. For the DPP: 38.6 percent responded William Lai, 17.6 percent responded Tsai Ing-wen, 12.3 percent responded none would have a chance of winning, 5.1 percent responded that it was difficult to say, and 26.4 percent responded with no answer. For the KMT: 21.5 percent responded Han Kuo-yu, 19.1 percent responded Eric Chu, 13.3 percent responded Wu Den-yih, 12.1 percent responded Wang Jin-pyng, 5.2 percent responded that it was difficult to say, 3.6 percent responded Ma Ying-jeou, 3.5 percent responded none would have a chance of winning, and 21.7 percent responded with no answer.
In terms of party support, 32.2 percent of those surveyed identified as supporters of the DPP (25.6 percent) and pan-green coalition (6.6 percent), 33 percent identified as supporters of the KMT (31.9 percent) and pan-blue coalition (1.1 percent), and 13.4 percent identified as centrist voters, whereas 21.4 percent did not respond.
It is clear from the survey that President Tsai has a lot of work ahead of her in either a two-way or three-way race against the three opposition candidates from the KMT and the Taipei city mayor. The results of this survey appear consistent with the trend beginning with the November 2018 local elections that saw the KMT regain a majority of seats. Indeed, the Kaohsiung mayor’s popularity appears to be spilling over into 2020—yet, the non-establishment outsider persona adopted by the mayor of the southern metropolis could be a complicating factor for the opposition party. Interestingly, Han is by far considered the most electable opposition candidate with respondents favoring him to win by the widest margins against both possible DPP contenders, and he is also the most popular among the other more experienced and established candidates from even within his own party.
While the Apple Daily poll points in a single direction for President Tsai, there are variables that militate against this eventuality. Although the KMT may feel confident that the road back to the presidency is within its reach, an increasingly crowded field with more candidates in the running for president may muddy the road for the opposition party and exacerbate lingering factional tensions.
There are also two wild cards: both the non-party affiliated Taipei mayor and Kaohsiung mayor have not yet announced whether they are running. Even if Han decides to run, it is questionable whether he has the political organization or experience to pull off a presidential campaign. Moreover, even if Ko decides to run, it is not clear whether his campaign would split voters from the DPP or the KMT. According to the poll, there is still a sizeable number of undecided voters with an average of 18.7 percent in a two-way race and 14.7 percent undecided in the three-way race.
For the DPP, there is no doubt that President Tsai is facing mounting pressure from the “deep green” elements from within her own party in addition to the KMT and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Nevertheless, it does not appear, at least at this point, that there is a viable challenger to President Tsai from within her party. The only realistic challenger, William Lai, has adopted a low profile since resigning as premier. A divisive primary will only hurt the prospects for the DPP to communicate to voters with one voice. While President Tsai’s low approval rating will certainly weigh on her prospects in 2020, there is still time before the January election for the increasingly fluid public sentiments of Taiwan voters to change.
The main point: A preliminary public opinion commissioned by the Apple Daily and conducted by a private university shows President Tsai trailing in both a two-way and three-way race with the main opposition party and Taipei city mayor (if he runs). Yet, a survey at this point is far from predictive as there are still many variables unaccounted for.
CCP “Princeling” who visited Taiwan Rises in Party Ranks
The son of the former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was recently elevated to the provincial standing committee and director of the organization department of the CCP in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian. Hu Haifeng (胡海峰, b. 1972)—the son of Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), who held the CCP’s top political post from 2002 to 2012—previously served as the party committee secretary of Lishui city (丽水) in neighboring Zhejiang province and also as the deputy party committee secretary and mayor of Jiaxing city (嘉興). Born in the 1970s and a latecomer to CCP politics, Hu is among the youngest members rising in the CCP ranks within the Chinese provinces.
Born in Ganxi, Anhui province, Hu Haifeng completed his undergraduate study at Northern Jiaotong University (now Beijing Jiaotong University) in computer science and technology. Hu was the first EMBA graduate of the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University. The young Hu worked for COFCO Group (中粮集团) and also served as the general manager of Nuctech (威视股份有限公司), a security inspection solution and service supplier in the transportation sector. Currently 47 years old, Hu has been a red-hatted businessman for most of his career. The “princeling” served as the party secretary of the Tsinghua Holdings Co., LTD. (清華控股有限公司), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tsinghua University, and as its deputy secretary-general. He also served as party-secretary to the Yangtze Delta Region Institute of Tsinghua University, Zhejiang (浙江清華長三角研究院)—co-founded by Zhejiang Provincial Government and Tsinghua University—among other positions, before formally entering politics when he was in his 40s. Hu only joined the CCP in 1995 when he was already in his mid-20s.
In 2005, Hu became a committee member of the All-China Youth Federation (中華全國青年聯合會). Hu junior began his real foray into CCP politics in the mid-2010s. In May 2013—after his father stepped down as China’s paramount leader—the young Hu began serving as deputy secretary of the Jiaxing municipal committee of Zhejiang province. In March 2014, he quickly moved up to be secretary of the political and legal committee in Jiaxing municipality and president of the Party School of the municipal party committee. In January 2016, he served as deputy mayor of Jiaxing and then as acting mayor. In April 2017, Hu was re-elected as mayor of Jiaxing and in July 2018 he became the secretary of the Lishui Municipal Party Committee. In February 2018, Hu was elevated to the provincial standing committee and director of the organization department of the CCP in Fujian province.
Perhaps most interestingly, in July 2010, Hu Haifeng reportedly made a “secret” visit to Taiwan. While there is no direct evidence that his visit was related to further his father’s cross-Strait policy, Taiwan media at the time reported that the purpose of Hu Haifeng’s trip was to improve cross-Strait relations. It is perhaps worth noting that in the same year of Hu junior’s purported visit, the former general secretary of the CCP gave his landmark speech commemorating the 30th anniversary of the message to the Taiwan compatriots that became known as Hu’s “Six Point Proposition” to Taiwan. Accompanied by some undisclosed senior officials, Hu Haifeng was reportedly invited by the Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies (亞太和平研究基金會) and met with experts on Taiwan. For instance, Hu, who was then deputy secretary-general of Tsinghua University and dean as well as party-secretary of the Yangtze Delta Region Institute of Tsinghua University, Zhejiang, purportedly met with Professor T.T. Tsay (蔡東纂) from Taiwan’s Zhongxing University and during that meeting they spoke about agricultural technology.
Hu Haifeng is part of a new generation of “princeling” cadres rising within the ranks of the CCP. While born into senior political families, many of them opted to stay out of politics, but for one reason or another may be now getting into politics. Due to their business dealings, some of them may have experiences with Taiwan.
The main point: The son of Hu Jintao, Hu Haifeng, was recently promoted to senior positions in the CCP in Fujian province. As a rising cadre in the CCP, his connection with Taiwan raises interesting questions about the future generations of CCP senior leaders and their views toward Taiwan.