Monday, November 1, 2010

When Swing Voters Become Swing Non-Voters

When Swing Voters Become Swing Non-Voters
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 1, 2010

The political atmosphere for the five cities elections is highly volatile. The two major parties each claim to be ahead in the polls. But the number of poll respondents who refused to be interviewed or reveal their political position remains high. This gray area remains impossible to decipher. Most observers believe that this year "swing voters" could become "swing non-voters."

It is undoubtedly true that without swing voters, the Republic of China could not have experienced its second change in ruling parties. This is incontrovertible fact. Roughly one to two million swing voters occupy the space between the Blue and Green Camps. They are the key to either a ruling or opposition party victory. Two years ago the Democratic Progressive Party once insisted that "Taiwan has no swing voters." But recently the DPP launched a public relations offensive directed at swing voters, arguing that "You've always been here." It boasted that it would bring home these votes. This was an interesting development indeed.

The DPP discovered that the swing voters who supported Ma during the 2008 presidential election recently showed signs of wavering. Therefore it launched a soft offensive, urging them to defect. Whether its move has been effective work will not be known until after the election. But it is worth noting that the previous wave of swing voters who supported the Blue Camp shows signs of weakening. Different polls show different results. Many of those polled refuse to declare their support for the Blue Camp. Even more refuse to be polled altogether. The Blue Camp has long held an absolute advantage in Taipei City and Taipei County (now Xinbei City). Lately it has had difficulty attracting votes. It may well be fighting for its life. This is probably the main reason.

Before speculating about voter trends, we should establish a profile of the typical swing voter. In terms of political attitude, swing voters are usually more rational, more aware, less vulnerable to populist appeals. In terms of political identity, they attach great importance to integrity, ability, and progress. They are unlike fundamentalist voters who blindly support their own camp. They are less concerned about ideological differences such as reunification and independence. As a result they are less likely to be disappointed. They are pragmatic regarding practical issues, and oppose extreme choices. They have higher expectations regarding reform, and oppose muddling through. They see themselves as political arbiters. They long to punish politicians who do wrong. Mediocre politicians are unlikely to be recipients of their praise.

From the above outline it is not hard to imagine the reason for the five cities elections stalemate. During the second change in ruling parties, voters expected a great deal from President Ma. Two and a half years later, despite considerable progress in cross-Strait relations, the sputtering economy has yet to significantly improve. The ruling and opposition parties' old pattern of confrontation persisted. Government agencies have done nothing to inspire hope. The nation remains mired in bickering over minutiae. Two and a half years ago, swing voters supported Ma. They may not feel discontent or anger at the lack of progress. But even they are going to feel depressed.

Swing voters are very different from Deep Blue and Deep Green fundamentalist voters. They hold independent political views. They are unwilling to be blind political followers. They are unwilling to be held hostage by any political party. Judging by the current elections, the DPP seems to have more clearly sensed the change. Therefore it has adopted a comprehensive tactic to appeal to swing voters. Current Green Camp PR has "eliminated its Green coloration" and even "turned pink." By contrast, the KMT still clinging to its traditional "safe" tactics. It is blindly downplaying the election. It is attempting to rely on the loyalty of its core supporters to win. This betrays not merely a lack of ambition, it also leaves voters disillusioned.

Nevertheless, the Green Camp will not necessarily win over the swing vote. After all, over the past eight years the Chen Shui-bian regime engaged in rampant corruption, stonewalling, and malfeasance. Voters are not about to forget their experience. Besides, the DPP has yet to engage in any self-reflection. How can it possibly win the hearts of most swing voters? Swing voters are reluctant to vote for the Blue Camp. On the other hand they have no incentive to vote for the Green Camp either. Under the circumstances the most likely scenario is that many voters will choose not to vote. They will become "swing non-voters." Political parties on Taiwan have hijacked the election system. They have forced voters to "vote with tears in their eyes," and to "choose between the lesser of two evils." Democracy has run into a brick wall. Many voters may choose to boycott the current election altogether.

Such is the odor in the current atmosphere. If one month before election day, Blue and Green Camp strategies remain unchanged, there will most likely be a large number of "swing non-voters." Large numbers of "swing non-voters" are likely to distort the election results. This resembles previous protest movements which deliberately cast invalid ballots. The loss of "swing voters" is bound to distort the results of the election. It is bound to make the election result deviate further from the center. But the ruling party has let them down. The opposition party is unable to gain their trust. So what choice do conflicted swing voters on Taiwan have?

【聯合報╱社論】 2010.11.01









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