The Prospects for Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential and Legislative Elections

The Prospects for Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential and Legislative Elections

Elections Masthead (1)
The Prospects for Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential and Legislative Elections

With precisely one month left before Taiwan’s 2024 presidential and legislative elections on January 13, there is now firm confirmation regarding the candidates from the three political parties who are vying for the power to govern the island democracy. The lead-up to the candidates’ November 24 official registration deadline for the offices of president and vice president was nothing short of dramatic. On election day, voters in Taiwan will have the chance to choose between three sets of candidates for president and vice president, as well as to elect their district representatives in the Legislative Yuan (立法院). This analysis will survey current public opinion polls, as well as data from recent presidential and legislative elections, in order to make preliminary assessments on the current trajectory of the races—as well as their implications for Taiwan’s political landscape post-January 2024.

The 2024 Presidential Race: Lai with Edge, Widening Margin

One of the defining features of the 2024 race for president has been the rampant speculation about whether the opposition parties, namely the Kuomintang (KMT, 國民黨) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP, 民眾黨), were going to form a unity ticket. The ticket’s unexpected materialization—in the form of a half-baked commitment to cooperate slapped together by former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)—was extremely short-lived, and also drowned out another important element of the presidential race that had hitherto gained little attention: the vice presidential candidates.

The DPP has had an early decider advantage in terms of voter expectations by announcing its presidential candidate early on in the race back in April, while the KMT did not announce its candidate—Hou You-yi (侯友宜)—until July, after a tense, competitive process. Similarly, for the vice presidential candidates, the DPP had the advantage of knowing early on that only a handful of candidates would likely be Lai’s running mate, whereas a number of factors generated uncertainty regarding the KMT’s vice presidential selection right up until the registration deadline. These included the back-and-forth over the sensational but spectacularly failed unity ticket, as well as the unexpected challenge posed by would-be KMT presidential contender Terry Gou’s (郭台銘) announcement in late August (two months after the KMT selected Hou) that he was going to run as an independent. (Gou subsequently declined to register as a candidate prior to the deadline.)

Indeed, just days before the official deadline for registration and before any of the other parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨) announced that current Vice President Lai Ching-te’s (賴清德) running mate would be Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), Taiwan’s former representative to the United States. Shortly thereafter, the KMT announced that media personality and one-time New Party (NP, 新黨) politician Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康)—often likened to be Taiwan’s version of Tucker Carlson, due to his populist appeal—would be Hou’s running mate. After much ado about a potential joint ticket with Foxconn (鴻海科技集團) founder Gou, the TPP’s Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced that Cynthia Wu (吳欣盈), a legislator and granddaughter of the tycoon of the financial conglomerate Shin Kong Group (新光集團), would be his running mate. [1]

With a little more than a month left before voters cast their ballots, the DPP’s ticket of Lai and Hsiao leads in five out of seven leading public opinion polls taken since the official registration of the candidates (see table below), with a margin ranging from 2 to 10 percent. Only one of the polls places the KMT ahead of the DPP—but with less than a 1 percent margin—while another positions the TPP’s candidate Ko Wen-je as slightly edging out Lai by around 2.7 percent.

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Figure 1: The results of seven public opinion polls taken in Taiwan following the official candidate registration deadline of November 20. (Source: United Daily News, TVBS)

While the polling numbers remain fluid and the cross-Strait situation dynamic, support for the Lai-Hsiao ticket appears to have an edge over its political opponents. It seems that after the sheen of the official tickets of the other two parties wore off (with some polls initially showing the KMT with the lead), most of the polling figures appear to have returned to earlier, pre-unity ticket fervor levels—with Lai in the lead, a position the candidate has enjoyed for most of the race.

The Hou-Jaw ticket was unexpected, in the sense that Jaw was never publicly seen as a viable vice-presidential contender. However, the selection of Jaw was also perhaps politically necessary to the extent that Hou needed to pull back traditional KMT voters siphoned off by the TPP and Terry Gou. Furthermore, after all the vetting and process of elimination that the KMT went through internally to arrive at Hou as its presidential candidate, Jaw may have been the only alternative capable of salvaging an otherwise unwinnable race as highlighted by a poll conducted by the Taiwan-based Broadcasting Corporation of China (中國廣播公司) and Gallup released in June 2023. Additionally, the unity ticket fiasco likely turned off voters between the two sides, with both the TPP and KMT potentially losing independent supporters—the extent to which those voters will turn to the DPP remains to be seen.

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Image: The results of a survey conducted by Jaw’s Broadcasting Corporation of China and Gallup in June 2023. Of note, the survey results indicated that 19.16 percent of Ko’s supporters identify as being affiliated with the KMT. (Image source: UDN)

The current polling data more closely resembles the normal variation observed before the volatility caused by Terry Gou’s run on an independent ticket, as well as the spectacular failure of the KMT-TPP unity ticket. To be sure, the collapse of the unity ticket reflects the inability of KMT and the TPP to reconcile their differences—particularly in terms of the personal animosities of Hou and Ko, which some observers have noted run deep. Moreover, both the KMT and the TPP were unwilling to play second fiddle; and, while there is broad support for change due to incumbent fatigue following eight years of DPP rule, the breakdown of the unity ticket has likely dampened public support for “change” to either of the opposition parties. [2]

The 2024 Legislative Race

As always, the composition of the Legislative Yuan will be key to an effective government. When Taiwan had its first peaceful transfer of political power in 2000, the new DPP administration was constantly faced with gridlock as it was new to governing and faced off with a legislature under opposition control. From 2000-2008, even though the DPP controlled more seats than the opposition parties, it never held a full majority. This allowed a coalition of opposition parties—excepting the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU, 台灣團結聯盟)—to command a majority and frequently caucus together to push back against many of the new government’s initiatives.

This challenge of persistent gridlock was overcome after constitutional amendments approved in 2005 reduced the number of seats from 225 to 113. In the 2008 legislative election, the first election held after the constitutional amendment, the KMT commanded an absolute majority, holding power in both the executive and legislative branches of the government.

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Figure 2: Numbers of seats held in the Legislative Yuan, 2000 – present. (Source: Compiled by the author) [3]

In addition to voting held for individual candidates in district seats, there is also another ballot for political parties, which is used to allocate quotas for at-large legislators in the Legislative Yuan. According to a poll conducted by the TVBS Poll Center (民意調查中心), among the major political parties, the KMT currently enjoys the highest support in this context (32 percent of voters), followed by the DPP (28 percent), the TPP (18 percent), and the New Power Party (NPP, 時代力量) (3 percent), while the remaining 18 percent expressed no opinion. Given the uncertainty as to whether the NPP—traditionally a DPP partner—will acquire any at-large seats, it is not clear whether the DPP will have a viable and reliable coalition partner.

Similarities and Differences from the 2020 to 2024 Presidential and Legislative Elections

In the 2020 election, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) received 57.1 percent of the total votes, whereas her main challenger, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), received only 38.6 percent. While Tsai’s victory was resounding, the path for the DPP has been far from smooth or guaranteed. Given the three-way race, it is very likely that the next president will not receive a majority of the votes.

Despite its modest victory in the local elections in 2022 under the leadership of Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫), the weakness of the opposition KMT has carried over to 2024. Even though the local elections are referred to by some observers as a bellwether for the country’s presidential and legislative elections, the predictive value of the local elections as to which party will win the presidential election is marginal at best. Over the past 22 years, there were only two local elections—2006 and 2014—in which the party that won in terms of total votes went on to win the presidential elections.

Another factor that contributed to Tsai’s electoral victory in 2020—and which will likely contribute to the 2024 results—will be the youth vote. According to one researcher from Academia Sinica, 72 percent of voters below the age of 40 cast their ballot for Tsai in 2020, while more than 60 percent of college graduates also chose to re-elect the president. However, polls have indicated that the youth vote is turning towards Ko Wen-je, which could cut considerably into the DPP’s winning 2020 coalition. Yet, the KMT’s continued inability to reform will likely offset the DPP’s disadvantage with that demographic.

In light of these struggles, forming an opposition coalition could be critical for the party’s prospects.


Despite the current lead that the Lai-Hsiao ticket enjoys in the polls, the road to the presidential office and legislative control is far from certain. The most recent polling conducted by My Formosa (美麗島電子報) showed that while a plurality (33.4 percent) of respondents believe that the DPP should continue to control the presidency, 43.4 percent think that another political party should provide the next president. However, neither opposition party is the favorite alternative: 28.9 percent believe that the Kuomintang should occupy the presidency, while only 14.5 percent think the president should come from the Taiwan People’s Party, and 23.2 percent did not answer clearly.

The aforementioned poll reflects a continuation of a strong trend in Taiwan in favor of the transfer of political power for this election, though voters do not see a clear alternative. This should serve as a warning sign that the public will not be as forgiving as might have been the case in prior elections, and that whichever party becomes the ruling party, it will be under considerably more scrutiny right out of the gate. Moreover, to what extent this desire for change will play out in the vote for the presidential office or the legislative body remains to be seen.

Whoever wins the next presidential election, it will likely be a much weaker presidency and government than the one in power from 2016-2024 (or from 2008-2016 under the KMT). The most likely prospect appears to be a return to a divided minority government, as was seen from 2000-2008. However, it should be noted that the parties are very different now. For one, the DPP has more governing experience than it did in 2000; and the KMT is less powerful and organized. In such a case, the gridlock of the early 2000s could likely be avoided. In any case, as the strongest third political power, the TPP could emerge as the decisive swing party and be critical for governance in any new administration. To this end, the bad blood generated by the failed coalition partnership could make the TPP more willing to work with the DPP, whether they are in the ruling or opposition coalition.

China has a vote as well, and could likely interfere more easily in the political process overseen by a divided, minority government, in which the power is split among three political parties following the 2024 elections. As Taiwan’s election quickly approaches, Beijing is actively trying to influence voters  through a combination of measures such as through economic coercion and other forms of political warfare. After effectively sidelining Gou, Beijing is likely seeking to undercut support for Ko in favor of the Hou-Jaw ticket. Indeed, researchers in Taiwan have already discovered an amplification of online attacks against Ko on social media following the collapse of the unity ticket, although it remains to be determined whether Beijing is behind this campaign. Additionally, national security officials in Taiwan have recently revealed that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders have directed the government to influence public opinion in Taiwan through more “effective and discreet” manner in the lead up to the elections.

While the results are far from certain, one thing is for sure: the political landscape after the 2024 presidential and legislative elections will be very different from that of 2020.

The main point: Taiwan’s election dynamics have evolved considerably from the circumstances seen in the last national election cycle in 2020. Although most polls show DPP presidential candidate William Lai holding a plurality of support, the dynamics of a three-way race—in both the presidential and legislative races—make the outcomes difficult to predict. However, the most likely scenario for the next four years could well be one of divided government.

[1] Terry Gou’s consideration of a last-minute independent run was apparently sidelined after the PRC announced that it was investigating his business assets. Beijing will also want to further deter Gou from supporting either the KMT or the TPP, as his doing so could tilt the balance in favor of one of the candidates. See: Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard, “Taiwan’s Foxconn Faces China Tax Probe, Seen as Politically Motivated—Sources,” Reuters, October 23, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/technology/foxconn-shares-drop-after-chinese-report-tax-audit-land-use-probe-2023-10-23/.

[2] The failure of the unity ticket also reflects the marginalization of KMT Chairman Chu, and the lack of authority that KMT chairmen following Ma Ying-jeou have had. As the establishment candidate representing the moderate wing of the party, it is unclear how Chu’s political future will affect future reform efforts within the party.

[3] Note that in some cases numbers are initial figures, and may not reflect the exact number of seats controlled by the party in question at every point in time during the term, as the numbers of seats held may change over the course of the four-year term due to run-offs and other factors. The “Other” category includes smaller parties such as the New Party, New Power Party, People’s First Party, and Taiwan Solidarity Union, among others.