Time for the Silent Majority to Be Heard
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 19, 2015
Executive Summary: DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen is her party's presidential candidate. She
is now on the campaign trail. The KMT is having a difficult time
choosing. Which party will rule the nation in 2016 has become a matter
of intense public concern. Every so often polls will publish voter
support figures for various presidential and vice presidential tickets.
Online data analysis, fortune-telling, and astrological predictions are
ubiquitous. But election results on Taiwan often surprise everyone. Only
when the ballots are counted early next year will the result be known.
Until then, nobody can say for certain. We have no intention of joining
the ranks of soothsayers. We merely wish to explore whether Taiwan has a
"Great Silent Majority” isolated from the media, including traditional
and new media, and how much influence these invisible voters will
exercise in next year's election.
Full Text Below:
DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen is her party's presidential candidate. She is now on the campaign trail. The KMT is having a difficult time choosing. Which party will rule the nation in 2016 has become a matter of intense public concern. Every so often polls will publish voter support figures for various presidential and vice presidential tickets. Online data analysis, fortune-telling, and astrological predictions are ubiquitous. But election results on Taiwan often surprise everyone. Only when the ballots are counted early next year will the result be known. Until then, nobody can say for certain. We have no intention of joining the ranks of soothsayers. We merely wish to explore whether Taiwan has a "Great Silent Majority” isolated from the media, including traditional and new media, and how much influence these invisible voters will exercise in next year's election.
Our curiosity was piqued by a recent poll conducted by an academic institution. The survey data was quite interesting. The questionnaire asked respondents "Do you support or oppose lowering the voting age from 20 to 18?" The poll results were: Strongly support 10.9%, Somewhat support 33.3%. Total 44.2%. Somewhat oppose 31.2%. Strongly oppose 15.9%. Total 47.1%. In other words, those opposed to reducing the voting age outnumbered those who support it. Furthermore, those who strongly oppose it outnumber those who strongly support it by five percentage points.
The survey data runs counter to current mainstream media wisdom. The Conventional Wisdom is that the opinions of the younger generation must be taken seriously, therefore the voting age should be lowered from 20 to 18, and that the public on Taiwan has already arrived at this conclusion. One finds little opposition to lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 in the mainstream media. In fact the poll shows more people oppose this move than support it, and that those who oppose lowering of the voting age represent mainstream public opinion.
This raises an interesting question – why has a view that is obviously in the majority nearly vanished from mainstream media mention? If those who oppose lowering the voting age constitute the majority, why are their voices going unheard? Why has a minority viewpoint overwritten a majority viewpoint? Frankly, had the survey not revealed the truth, many people would still assume that the mainstream favored lowering the voting age.
This is the "spiral of silence” theory elucidated by German scholar Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann during the last century. The theory is that in the marketplace of public opinion, a minority that aggressively airs its opinions can silence a majority, and gradually lead to minority opinion overwriting majority opinion. It can even create the illusion that it represents mainstream public opinion. In many societies extremist minority views can sometimes overwhelm moderate majority views. This is why.
Consider mainstream public opinion on a variety of issues. Is it possible that given the vocal expression of minority views, mainstream public opinion has chosen to remain silent the entire time? Given the above data, it is entirely possible. In other words, Taiwan has a large number of "invisible voters." They often object to those who shrilly air their views in pubic. But they may be too busy, or perhaps too afraid of the wrath of the radical minority. They are afraid of attracting trouble, so they choose to remain silent, and become invisible voters. The end result is that what was obviously minority opinion, ends up righteously depicting itself as mainstream public opinion.
Another issue is even more troublesome. The government agencies in charge of policy often dance to the tune of an extremist minority. Since March last year, the student movement established new media groups. They aired their views on the web and demanded that the government refer to them during policymaking. This evolved into the bizarre phenomenon of "governance by cyberarmy", with official oblivious to the fact that many of these opinions are extremist minority opinions. If policymakers were to take all these views seriously, policies would be riddled with internal contradictions. They would lack rational justification, and even violate basic laws. The government would eventually lose all credibility and cease all functioning.
Invisible voters can still play a key role. Often an extremist minority can monopolize the marketplace of public opinion. But on election day, invisible voters can teach them a lesson. Take the recent British election. Pollsters, experts, and netizens, all failed to guess the final result. Why? No one knew what percentage invisible voters accounted for. Isn't this true for Taiwan as well?
Most people are busy with their lives. They are politically apathetic, and easily manipulated by the media. Reunification vs. independence battles over the years have gradually led to a he loss of reason. Many people who disagree with the views expressed in the media, often play safe by remaining silent. This newspaper recently published an editorial by veteran reporter Yang Ai-li entitled "Invisible Supporters, Take a Stand in 2016". Yang warned about this phenomenon. She appealed to families busy with work or domestic obligations, and to politically apathetic swing voters, to stop allowing the cyberarmy to dictate Taiwan's future. These voters must stand up and voice their own views. If again and again they remain silent, or refrain from voting, they will hand the the right to dictate their futures over to others.