Communication Networks and Changes in Electoral Choices: A Study of Taiwan's 2002 Mayoral Elections

By Liu, Cheng-shan | Journal of East Asian Studies, January-April 2006 | Go to article overview

Communication Networks and Changes in Electoral Choices: A Study of Taiwan's 2002 Mayoral Elections


Liu, Cheng-shan, Journal of East Asian Studies


Communication networks play an important role in the process of political socialization. This article, based on Taiwan's 2002 Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral election data, investigates the extent to which political discussion with family and close friends affects changes in vote choices. Using two definitions of changes in vote choice--vote switching and partisan defection--the empirical findings support Alan Zuckerman and his followers' structural theory and partially sustain Paul Beck's social support theory. First, partisan voters in both cities who perceive great heterogeneity in their communication networks are likely to switch their vote in two consecutive elections. Second, partisan voters in Kaohsiung who frequently discuss politics within communication networks are not likely to defect their party identification. The implications of the findings for the development of deliberative democracy are discussed.

KEYWORDS: partisan defection, vote switching, communication networks, voter preferences, political disagreement

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In the months leading up to the Taiwanese presidential election of 2004, election commentators were nearly unanimous in predicting the victory of the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party or KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) and their "dream team" of nominees Lien Chang and James Soong. To the surprise of the pundits, the KMT was defeated by the slate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which included the incumbents Chen Shui-bian and Annette Lu. KMT had dominated Taiwanese politics before 2000 and, even though the DPP won in 2000, more voters identified themselves as members of the KMT than any other party in the months leading up to the 2004 election. The DPP victory of 2000 had appeared to be a blip on the radar screen, which was expected to be washed away by the restoration of the KMT in 2004, but it was not to be.

A research team provides a sociological perspective to explain the microfoundations of vote changes, "no matter the importance of beliefs and understanding of citizens, political preferences respond to patterns of social interaction and to the social contexts of people's lives." (1) The sources of influence on voter preferences (e.g., the issues discussed in a campaign, the personalities of the candidates, and their historical records) enter the political awareness of individual voters through a variety of paths, but they are always mediated by social interaction within communication networks (i.e., family, friends, and/or colleagues with whom we discuss politics).

According to this perspective, the "blip" in 2000 scattered DPP voters throughout various social networks, increasing the support for its views in various contexts. Although it is possible for individuals in their social networks to resist change and to reinforce older lines of opinion, it is also possible for the reverse to happen. (2) The KMT's defeat in 2004 reflects the fact that the DPP was gaining support in both the south and the north. In social networks that were dominated by the KMT before 2000, a sprinkling of DPP supporters was sufficient to sow the seeds of further change. On the other hand, where the DPP was already established, its newly converted supporters were encouraged and supported by their newly like-minded neighbors.

In this article, I define changes in vote choices with two concepts: partisan defection (i.e., voting against one's current party identification) and vote switching (i.e., voting against one's choice in the last mayoral election). These two concepts or definitions are consistent with the two theories about vote changes I examine: a structural theory of vote choice and a social support theory of partisan defection.

Survey data gathered in the 2002 mayoral elections of Taipei and Kaohsiung offers support for a set of simple contentions about the process of social interaction and political change. A higher degree of political disagreement perceived within communication networks leads to partisan defection (i. …

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Communication Networks and Changes in Electoral Choices: A Study of Taiwan's 2002 Mayoral Elections
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