Youth and New Media: KMT Achilles Heel
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 5, 2014
Summary: The 2014 mayoral campaign has begun. The 2016 presidential election drumbeats have been sounded. Blue and green camp spokesperson appointments could lead to upsets in key campaigns. How will their spokespersons use young people and the new media? That will surely have a decisive influence on the outcome of the elections.
Full Text Below:
Over the past two years, the role of young people during blue camp election campaigns has gradually diminished. The blue camp has all but conceded the new media to its opponents. During the student movement, the Kuomintang virtually lost all touch with young people.
Ko Wen-je is the green camp's candidate for Mayor of Taipei. The search for a Ko campaign spokesperson has attracted much attention. Some think a pearl can be found in a sea of young people. Some think the search is merely a marketing gimmick. Before Ko Wen-je chooses a spokesperson, he should consult Ma Ying-jeou.
Most people think a spokesperson for a government official or political candidate is nothing more than a mouthpiece. This is only partly true. A spokesperson must also be a political leader's eyes and ears, even brains. A spokesperson must represent a political leader on the front lines. A spokesperson must express the political leader's views, while managing crises on the fly. A spokesperson must accurately gauge public opinion. When other political leaders express doubts, the spokesperson must immediately take control. The spokesperson must issue the proper response. The spokesperson must be like a musketeer under fire, as well as a sentry in the forest. An inept spokesperson could do more than undermine the political leader's defense. An inept spokesperson could leave the political leader blind and deaf.
The role of spokesperson is extremely important. One can see how the KMT and the DPP use people from their choice of spokespersons.
During the 2008 presidential election, Ma Ying-jeou appointed three primary spokespersons. Wang Yu-chi, Su Chun-ping, and Lo Chi-chiang. All three were new faces, young, without strong political backgrounds. They were dubbed the Three Musketeers. When the general election began, they shined. Later they enjoyed smooth sailing in their careers. During the Ma administration's second term, Wang Yu-chi became the youngest ever Mainland Affairs Council Chair. Su Chun-ping became head of the GIO. In 2012, he traveled south to run for legislator. He helped Ma Ying-jeou break new ground in a hostile district. Lo Chi-chiang became deputy campaign manager in 2012. He was then promoted to Deputy Secretary of the Office of the President, but resigned during the September political storm.
During the 2012 Presidential Election, President Ma's spokesperson appointments revealed clear preferences. The first group of candidates included Li Chia-fei, 36 years old, Yin Wei, 30 years old, and Ma Wei-kuo, 29 years old. The average age was 31.6 years old. All were new to the political scene.
Tsai Ing-wen was completely different. Her spokesperson candidates included Chen Chi-mai, 48 years old, Hsu Chia-ching, 44 years old, Hsiao Bi-khim, 42 years old, Cheng Li-chun, 43 years old. The average age was 44.5 years old, a full 13 years older than Ma Ying-jeou's spokesperson candidates. The gap bridges an entire generation. These four spokespersons may become elected officials for many years. They may serve as political appointees. All have achieved prominence.
Consider the political style of the two sides' spokespersons. Blue camp spokespersons value discipline and teamwork over individual performance. Green camp spokespersons value independence. They do not await orders before going into action. Blue camp spokespersons may be young, but the speak with restraint. They tend to go by the book. Green camp spokespersons are tough. They tend to favor guerrilla tactics.
Generally speaking, the DPP is more willing to give young people a chance. But for spokesperson appointments, the opposite is true. The DPP is more conservative. Paradoxically, the KMT, which is usually considered more conservative, has boldly appointed young spokespersons.
Consider electoral and political culture. Ma Ying-jeou's campaign spokesperson appointments were a plus. The spokespersons gave him a public face. They showed that the KMT attached importance to young people. They closed the gap with the younger generation. This is the Internet era. The new media is growing in importance. Young people are far more familiar with the Internet than their elders. Young political leaders faimilar with the new media helped during the 2012 presidential election. FaceBook was the most important new media battleground. Before the election, Ma Ying-jeou's presence on FaceBook was weak. Once the election campaign began, younger spokespersons used the new media and came up from behind. On election day, Ma Ying-jeou had over one million FaceBook "friends." Tsai Ing-wen had approximately 400,000. The gap between the two was nearly 600,000. This of course affected the two sides' exposure and support.
Politics is ever changing. In 2012 the green camp learned a lesson. Over two short years, the student movement dialogued with the younger generation. Young people expanded their influence by using the new media. Tsai Ing-wen once again became party chairperson. Her Internet Division Director wants to boldly appoint young people familiar with Internet technology. His plan was dropped due to controversy. But it clearly showed DPP tactics have changed. Once President Ma was re-elected, the Office of the President abandoned the new media battlefield. This surely bears some relation to his current disastrous approval rating.
Over the last two years, the role of young people in the blue camp has diminished. The blue camp has surrendered the new media to its opponents. During the student movement, the Kuomintang nearly lost touch with young people. Although the KMT has used young people as spokespersons, its thinking remains conservative. Young people are not useful merely as fronts. They contribute to collective change in the political culture.
The 2014 mayoral campaign has begun. The 2016 presidential election drumbeats have been sounded. Blue and green camp spokesperson appointments could lead to upsets in key campaigns. How will their spokespersons use young people and the new media? That will surely have a decisive influence on the outcome of the elections.