Academic journal article China Perspectives

A New Generation of Taiwanese at the Ballot Box: Young Voters and the Presidential Election of January 2012

Academic journal article China Perspectives

A New Generation of Taiwanese at the Ballot Box: Young Voters and the Presidential Election of January 2012

Article excerpt

Whether in verbal or visual form, the discourse produced by the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during the campaign for the presidential and legislative elections, which were held jointly on 14 January 2012, show clearly the determination of both parties to win over voters in the centre. In this sense, these elections are a continuation of those in 2008. In parallel with a defence of its record and of the advantages of the rapprochement with the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Kuomintang once again put forward its identification with Taiwan and its commitment to the protection of the interests of the population. (1) Pride in being Taiwanese, the love of the island as "home," and the valuing of "unity in diversity" - all favourite DPP themes - were at the heart of the sym- bolic staging of campaign rallies and TV spots during the whole campaign. But the convergence of themes was not only the result of tactical choices by the KMT. Under the leadership of Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP also opted for an approach aimed at winning over undecided voters and those disen- chanted by Ma Ying-jeou's presidency. Aware of the impossibility of calling into question the liberalisation of trade with China, which is now considered by the majority of the population as essential to the maintenance of pros- perity,(2) the DPP centred its campaign on increasing social inequality and on how to resolve the economic problems of ordinary Taiwanese, rather than anti-Chinese and openly pro-independence rhetoric. Moreover, apart from the intense debates that followed Ma Ying-jeou's proposal to sign a peace agreement with China in the decade following his re-election, the theme of the Chinese military threat was significantly absent from the cam- paign.

All in all, both the KMT and the DPP pushed their long-term objectives into the background - unification for the former, and for the latter interna- tional recognition of an undisputable reality, the independence of Taiwan. Putting aside their pan-Chinese and Taiwanese nationalist rhetorics, both parties built their campaigns on modulated versions of the same themes: identification with Taiwan, the over-riding importance of protecting the eco- nomic interests and dignity of the Taiwanese population, ways of assuring the continuing prosperity of the island, and the definition of a modus vivendi with the PRC. However one must go beyond this convergence in order to identify the factors that led, on the one hand, to the re-election of MaYing- jeou, but with a much smaller lead (51.6 percent of the vote as opposed to 58.45 percent in 2008), and on the other to the relatively weak showing of Tsai Ing-wen, who received only 45.63 percent of the vote, when many ob- servers were predicting a narrow victory by one or the other of the candi- dates.(3)

With a view to contributing to the analysis of the results of these elec- tions, this article focuses particularly on the segment of the electorate aged between 20 and 29 at the time of the vote. They made up almost a fifth (19 percent) of the 18 million voters, and around 1.2 million of them had the opportunity to vote for the first time.(4) Perceived as one of the keys to victory by most observers because of their low party identification and their indecision, these young voters, and more especially the "first-time voters" (shoutouzu???), were the main target of the campaigns on both sides. This article will seek to explain why, having pinned their hopes on the can- didacy of Tsai Ing-wen right up to the last weeks, the majority of the 20-29 age group finally decided to vote for Ma Ying-jeou. It will therefore analyse the perception young voters had of the two parties and of their candidates, as well as their attitude to the themes of the campaign.

Research methods: Structuring tendencies and the following of the campaign

The analysis in this article is the result of a comparison of surveys carried out to identify the structural lines of the vote among voters who were aged between 20 and 29 at the time of the poll, and to follow opinion among this section of the electorate during the whole campaign. …

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