What Do First Time Voters Really Want?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 25, 2011
The ruling and opposition presidential candidates are Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai Ing-wen. Both consider winning over first time voters essential to their election strategy. First time voters, as the name implies, are citizens who have just acquired the right to vote. This group of voters ranges from 20 to 24 in age, and comprise approximately 1.23 million people. It is large enough to decide the outcome of the election. More importantly, this group of young people, who will be going to the polls for the first time, have no strong political preferences or ideology. They are not burdened by historical grievances. In other words, they are true centrist voters. But do the two major parties really know what these young people want?
The two major political parties attach great importance to first time voters. They did not begin doing so this year. They began doing so when former president Chen Shui-bian was running for Mayor of Taipei. His campaign slogan, "dreams are beautiful, walk hand in hand with hope," was a classic case of youth oriented propaganda. Middle aged and older voters have experienced too many national and family tragedies. They have strong feelings about their experiences. In both the Blue and Green camps, they have fixed attitudes. The KMT has been in power a long time. It has gained the support of a large group of people who do not want too many political changes, They view changes in a nation's ruling party with concern, even anxiety. Enthusiastic young people who are relatively apathetic about politics running for elective office could change the political status quo.
Beginning with Chen Shui-bian, the DPP became more attractive to young people than the KMT. The DPP began making heavy use of young people. In both party positions and elective office, they gave young people more opportunities to advance themselves than the "old fogey" dominated KMT, The DPP subculture allows these young people to challenge the old fogies without guilt.
Chen Shui-bian's corruption dealt a major blow to the DPP. But for young people, the DPP's political rhetoric is still more appealing than the KMT's. Su Tseng-chang's party primary campaign literature quoted a first time voter in his own family, who said: I want a good job. I want to get married and have children. I want to be able to support my children. I do not want Taiwan to lose face.
Simply put, young people have a dream. But they are not overly ambitious. They know the pressures of real life. They do not want this pressure to crush their dreams. Su Tseng-chang cleverly invoked the language of these young people: I do not want Taiwan to lose face. But he avoided invoking the Democratic Progressive Party's long-held fears about sovereignty.
Most young people do not bother to distinguish between the "Republic of China" and "Taiwan." Taiwan is part of a sovereign and independent nation called the Republic of China. Young people do not want Taiwan to lose face. But they feel no particular attachment to Taiwan independence ideology. They cannot tolerate ruling and opposition party political leaders constantly treating national sovereignty as a political football. When the Democratic Progressive Party criticized the Ma administration for "pandering to [Mainland] China and selling out Taiwan," their reaction was: Boring! But although they might respond in this manner, it does not mean they are more inclined to vote for the KMT. Just as when they express hope that Taiwan will not lose face, it does not mean they will vote for the DPP.
Young people are more inclined to vote for the man himself than the party. What they value is a leader's approachability and ability to govern. When a current leader comes and goes, he needs hordes of bodyguards. This means he has limits to how approachable he can be with his constituents. He is even more hobbled when it comes to resolute governance. Taiwan's competitiveness jumped in the Lausanne International Institute for Management's latest report. But the government's efficiency rating fell. Even though this included the Legislative Yuan, and even though partisan politics exacts a cost, it is easy to oversimplify and say that the leader is not bold enough.
The incumbent must bear all sorts of burdens. He is subject to constant scrutiny. But when a challenger paints a picture of a better future, he must confront an important question. Can that better future he painted be achieved by means of his political platform? Many younger people have no party affiliation. They have no ideology. All they want is a genuine opportunity. All they want is a fighting chance. All they want is a more livable environment. They do not want Taiwan to become uninhabitable for their children. These are not problems to which debates over sovereignty or Closed Door cross-Strait policies can provide solutions.
Ma Ying-jeou has packaged his appeal to first time voters in the trappings of "generational justice." He says that sustainable development has three requirements: national rights (sovereignty), human rights, and environmental rights. He says this generation must consider the well-being of the next. Ma Ying-jeou has offered a blueprint for the future. But this world is not a utopia. One can reduce the gap between rich and poor, but one cannot make it disappear. One can establish a social safety net for widows and the orphans. But someone will always slip through the holes. One can reduce the unemployment rate. But one cannot reduce it to zero. One can ensure fair access to education. But one cannot change the fact that under a capitalist society some will inevitably be more competitive than others. One can provide everyone with a home. But one cannot ensure that everyone lives in luxury. One can be environmentally friendly. But one must also find alternative employment through industrial restructuring. Otherwise, sustainable development will become empty talk.
One never stops pursuing dreams. Younger people are never content with the status quo. This means they have more room to grow. This provides the impetus for national progress. This is the vision upon which ruling and opposition political leaders must draw. They must accept the criticism leveled against them by young people. More importantly, they must reclaim the passion that once led them to pursue their ideals.