Campaign ads in Taiwan 2012

As voting day draws near, the candidates are making their most desperate push to mobilize voters. Inundated by campaign ads as we are in Taiwan, it’s important to examine the almost outlandish creativity and energy being dedicated by both the Kuomintang [KMT] and the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] to persuade voters.

Let us begin by taking a chronological look at Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign. The fact that Ma was born in Hong Kong makes him an immediate target of criticism. At the outset of the campaign, his opponents even challenged him on whether he was an authentic Taiwanese. His daughters, his opponents charged, all hold American citizenship and work and live in the United States. Being the father of American citizens is an issue for his opponents, as he’s running to president of Taiwan – not the United States.

Ma’s response to such charges has been a series of KMT campaign ads that stress his Taiwanese background. Entitled “I am a Taiwanese” (我是台灣人) and “Ethnic tolerance for people is part of the Taiwan character” (多元包容台灣情), the ads emphasize that he is the son of mainland parents. “He is a new immigrant to Taiwan”, and “He is running to be president of the Republic of China [not the People’s Republic of China]”.

As for the party of Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP has sought to sharpen and build upon its well-known image of being linked to the “local spirit”. Her ads repeatedly hammer home this traditionally DPP appeal, stressing that for people who are “real Taiwanese”, the only party is the DPP.

One of Tsai’s early ads states explicitly that she is Taiwan’s future. The ad demonstrates how, even while attending the London School of Economics, she has maintained a strong and deep Taiwan identity. That ad was followed by another call boosting the party’s identification with Taiwan: “Our country is great because of you” and emphasizing to voters that, “Our country lies under your feet. It needs you to love it and change it.”

Apart from emphasizing the DPP’s traditional “Taiwan-focus”, the party began unleashing attacks right at the outset of the campaign. Given the DPP’s strong support among farmers, the party has raised the issue that “0.6 kilos of persimmons is only worth 2 NT dollars” (一斤柿子只要兩元) to attack the Ma camp for failing to give farmers a good return on their labors during his four-year term.

Ma’s camp responded dexterously, creating ads to refute Tsai’s accusations.

Ma’s ads center on the inaccuracy of the statistics used by Tsai to tarnish him. The ads called: “Where can we go to find 0.6 kilos of persimmons for 2 NT dollars?” and “One can hurt others without a weapon [referring to Tsai and the DPP]” effectively challenged the DPP accusations. And the KMT’s response to these attacks has been very personal, using clips of Tsai to demonstrate that it is she that is responsible for these false accusations, and calling the DPP a “retrograde” party(退步黨).

With ballot casting fast approaching, the Ma campaign has redoubled its efforts. In a series that might be called “Re-introducing Ma Ying-jeou”(重新認識馬英九), we are shown Ma being endorsed by average people surrounding him and discussing his frugality. However, pan-blue people we spoke to appear to consider his frugality to be a problem. Because in Taiwan, frugality is not considered the virtue it once was and may in fact be off-putting to the masses of society today.

The DPP also lays into the Kuomintang for being a wealthy party, to counter the image of frugality the KMT is seeking to implant in the minds of voters.

Meanwhile, the Ma campaign hasn’t been shy about playing the “lady card”, using Taiwan’s first lady to appeal to voters. The DPP – not necessarily in a direct response – broadcasts to voters that there is already a “lady” in the campaign – and she should be the next president.

Time will tell whether these ads really succeed in mobilizing voters, but no one can doubt the Herculean efforts being put into making them.

In this ad, the DPP emphasizes that every vote counts

Julie Yu-Wen Chen is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Joey Ying Lee is a graduate student at the Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.