Refuting the “DPP smear campaign”

Yesterday I wrote that Ma’s campaign is a car wreck and suggested that to get it back on track, his team should get on message, and self-promote and attack on the economy. Instead, they have decided to fall back on a tactic that predates the first presidential election in 1996 and has been present ever since. Namely, invoking the “DPP smear campaign”.

In a troop-rallying speech in Tainan  Ma Ying-jeou “urged party members to be cautious about smear campaigns, while pledging to run a positive election campaign”. Ma argued that “we are facing a tough battle in both the presidential and legislative elections, and our opponents will launch more smear campaigns against us. We should take more cautious measures and prevent such negative campaigning from affecting the party’s performance in the elections”.

I have a paper coming out in January in The China Journal (which I can’t link to yet) in which Eliyahu V. Sapir and I attempt to explain the campaign behaviour of KMT and DPP candidates. I will write a proper post on the findings (which are highly relevant as we move forward in the campaign), but I just wanted to quickly refute the notion of DPP candidates as persistent smear artists.

Using empirical data derived from seven presidential and subnational campaigns between 1996 and 2008, our models provide a robust picture of campaign behaviour in Taiwan. Our findings simply do not support Ma’s (or many of his predecessors’) concerns about DPP skulduggery. In fact, our models show that after controlling for a range of covariates (incumbency, closeness of the race, time to election etc), there are no statistically significant differences between the two main parties in terms of their proclivity to ‘go negative’ or to engage in a certain type of negative campaigning.

There is, however, a statistically significant difference between the parties in terms of what we (euphemistically) call in the paper ‘negative strategic appeals’. This includes the type of claim that Ma made yesterday, and our models suggest this is true to form. Indeed, it is so spot on that I will simply excerpt the relevent paragraph from the paper’s conclusion:

“…use of negative strategic appeals often contain unsubstantiated claims that voting for an opponent will lead to dire consequences (multiple variations of the ‘fear card’), contributing little to the information environment and potentially propagating political mistrust. One of our strongest findings for the KMT is that their candidates’ negative tactics rely heavily on strategic appeals. In many cases (indeed in most of the campaigns analysed in this article) KMT candidates attempted to harness longstanding stereotypes about the DPP by associating vote choice and turnout levels with the purported risks of the DPP coming into positions of power. In addition, KMT candidates frequently associated their DPP opponents with campaign tricks and misleading voters. In our view, this type of claim contributes more to the atmosphere of political mistrust than attacks on the issues or even personal traits, both of which often contain legitimate information about the candidates. We suggest further that legislation is needed to improve this situation, in the same way that Article 48 of the President and Vice President Recall Act forced parties and candidates to ‘stand by their ads’…”

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