Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Strategies, Institutions, and Outcomes under SNTV in Taiwan, 1992-2004

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Strategies, Institutions, and Outcomes under SNTV in Taiwan, 1992-2004

Article excerpt

During the five democratic elections held in Taiwan from 1992 to 2004 inclusive, the formerly dominant Kuomintang Party (KMT) was temporarily supplanted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as the nation's largest political party. Most explanations for this have focused on party fragmentation and the changing patterns of electoral competition it helped create. These are important factors, but they have not been tested empirically at the level where candidates won and lost legislative seats, the level of the election district. This article offers such an empirical test, and it will show that these two factors had a direct impact on the ability of DPP and KMT candidates to obtain legislative seats. We also show that these factors carried indirect impacts by hurting the ability of the KMT and DPP to nominate in a way that they would obtain all the seats that their obtained vote shares would allow.

KEYWORDS: SNTV, electoral system, election districts, election outcomes, candidates, nomination errors, overnominations, undernominations, competition, Legislative Yuan


Taiwan serves as an interesting case of democratic politics, not only because it stands as an archetypal example of regime change by "transformation," but also because of the electoral outcomes that occurred once this transition was made. (1) Specifically, in the five democratic elections that were held between 1992 and 2004 inclusive, the KMT went from being Taiwan's dominant, governing party to a temporary opposition party that was second in support to its principal opponent, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This change did not occur immediately, as the KMT outpolled the DPP in the elections of 1992, 1995, and 1998. However, in the next election of 2001, the KMT's overall vote share dropped from 46.4 percent to 28.6 percent, allowing the DPP temporarily to become Taiwan's largest party. (2)

Such changes naturally raise the question of why the electoral fortunes of the KMT and DPP followed the patterns they did, and it is our purpose in this article to explain these changes. We begin this effort by noting that the electoral decline of the KMT and its temporary usurpation by the DPP were generally not expected. (3) The principal reason for this is simply that the KMT was Taiwan's governing party for so long, and, as such, it was able to develop a dominant electoral organization, cultivate grassroots support among local factions, and employ extensive material resources in its electoral efforts (e.g., see Cheng 1989). Perhaps a second reason that the decline of the KMT was not expected is the electoral system under which its and its opponents' candidates competed, that is, Taiwan's multimember district system with a single nontransferable vote (SNTV). While there is evidence that such rules can favor small parties, a fact that has been the topic of much debate, (4) the KMT's long experience as governing party should have provided it an advantage in its ability to nominate more efficiently than its principal opponent. (5)

In light of this, a complete explanation of why the electoral fortunes of Taiwan's two large parties changed in the way they did requires that both electoral and institutional factors be taken into consideration. Most work on this problem has focused on the former and identified shifts in voter support and defections from the KMT as the principal sources of its decline and the DPP's ascendance. That these factors have been extremely important is not in dispute, and we include them in an analysis that places them at the level where they directly affected the ability of candidates to win legislative seats: the level of the election district. In addition to this, we join another body of scholarship that examines the mechanics of electoral strategy--specifically, party nomination strategies within Taiwan's old SNTV system--and evaluate how nomination errors combined with party fragmentation and shifts in voter support to contribute to the KMT's and DPP's changing electoral fortunes. …

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