Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Income, Electoral Turnout, and Partisan Voting in Taiwan

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Income, Electoral Turnout, and Partisan Voting in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Using data drawn from the Taiwan Social Change Survey, I investigate how citizens' incomes affect turnout and partisan voting. In contrast to studies of other countries, I find that lower-income voters are not less likely to turn out in Taiwan. Moreover, although income does not have strong effects on patterns of partisan voting in Taiwan, there is some evidence that people with income levels just below the middle-income group are less likely to vote for the left-wing party. KEYWORDS: income, electoral turnout, partisan voting, Taiwan


RISING INCOME INEQUALITY OVER THE PAST DECADES IN MANY ADVANCED and newly industrialized democracies has led to many discussions about political participation across different income groups. Participation and patterns of partisan voting are critical for shaping redistribution and social policies. Along with the fast-paced development of globalization and the high-tech knowledge economy, increasing income inequality seems to result in the political failure to provide necessary social and welfare assistance to the poor. Despite theoretical arguments based on the median-voter model (Meltzer and Richard 1981) predicting a greater degree of redistribution, growing empirical evidence (Alesina and Glaeser 2004; Corneo and Gruner 2000) suggests that governments in more free-market countries tend to offer less redistribution. This leads to the importance of understanding the pattern of political participation across different income groups in reflecting their preferences for redistribution.

Previous studies suggest that higher levels of income inequality are strongly associated with lower electoral turnout and depression of the political engagements of the poor. For example, several cross-country studies using data from more than twenty countries, including the United States and European countries, show that greater economic inequality leads to greater political disparity between rich and poor (Bartels 2008; Brady 2004; Dahl 2006; Gilens 2005; Oliver and Ha 2007; Schattschneider 1960; Solt 2008, 2010). In contrast, a few studies on European, Asian, and Latin American democracies indicate that income inequality does not have a significant impact on voter turnout (Horn 2011; Stockemer and Scruggs 2012) and that there is no systematic difference in the effect of income inequality on electoral turnout between Western and non-Western countries (Stockemer and Scruggs 2012).

However, these results mostly take the overall rates of electoral turnout to reflect citizens' political participation in advanced industrialized democracies and little is known about how individuals' political participation and partisan voting vary with their economic positions. In particular, partisan voting (voting for left-wing or right-wing parties) across different income groups remains largely unexplored for East Asian newly industrialized democracies. It is possible that there are important societal differences between advanced Western democracies and contemporary East Asian democracies that shape political institutions and people's attitudes toward their democratic systems (Blais 2006). Thus, the socioeconomic structure and voters' political behaviors in an East Asian democracy may substantially differ from those in advanced industrialized democracies.

This study investigates electoral turnout and partisan voting across different income groups, with data drawn from the 2009 Taiwan Social Change Survey (TSCS). I further examine the structural relationship between political participation and citizens' economic positions as measured by their income levels relative to the median income. The results from this study provide further insights into political participation as well as partisan voting in regard to shaping the redistribution policies in a newly industrialized democracy when income inequality continues to rise sharply.

Related Literature

Previous studies have identified several factors for explaining the cross-country variations in electoral turnout, such as the designs of political institutions (Gallego, Rico, and Anduiza 2012; Iversen and Soskice 2006; Norris 2004; Powell 1986), mobilization of political parties and social groups (Gray and Caul 2000; Radcliff and Davis 2000), political efficacy and trust in government (Dalton 2004), and partisan effects (Citrin, Schickler, and Sides 2003; Pacek and Radcliff 1995). …

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