Voting for the Legislature: Process and Perceptions

The prediction of election results is plagued with weak assumptions and missing information, yet these pitfalls seem to discourage few from making claims days if not months before the election date. Taiwan is no different. For the upcoming Legislative Yuan (LY) election, most predictions expect a closer balance in seats between the KMT and DPP, consistent with both changes in DPP nomination strategies as well as minor shifts in the general political climate.  Instead of delving into partisan distributions to anticipate election results, I wish to highlight an additional area of concern: public perceptions of the legislative electoral system.

Public perceptions of the LY in historically have been rather negative, yet this gives limited insight into perceptions of the electoral rules. As the second election under a two-vote mixed system, we expect that Taiwanese voters have a better understanding of the mechanical effects of the system. Simply put, those who were confused by the new rules the first time should have most of this confusion allayed after actually voting and viewing the election results. Yet, post election surveys in Taiwan showed around 60% of respondents claiming not to understand the system, with slightly lower rates among voters. This is despite efforts by parties and the Central Election Commission (CEC) to explain the new system. If accurate, this would cause for concern as to whether public preferences were being adequately translated into representation. Comparable surveys elsewhere are rare, but between a third and a half of voters in Japan, Korea, and New Zealand claim to not understanding their system, even as strategic voting follows patterns consistent with an understanding.

Further evidence from Taiwan shows that while respondents claim a lack of understanding, knowledge of the technical aspects of the system are high, suggesting that rather than an ignorance of the system there remains a disconnect in expectations. Considering the DPP’s poor showing in 2008, one shouldn’t be surprised that DPP supporters were more likely to claim to not understand the 2008 system, even after controlling for other demographic factors.

What does this mean for 2012? With many district races expected to be closer than before and greater parity in expected seat distribution, fewer claims of misunderstanding post-election should arise. Yet, if supporters of one party disproportionately claims to misunderstand the electoral system (especially if this party is in the opposition), this risks dismissing such results as unfair. Furthermore, with the People’s First Party (PFP) running a separate campaign, this opens greater opportunities for strategic voting within the pan-blue camp, and thus an additional means post-election to identify whether claims of misunderstanding are connected to cross-coalitional voting.

Timothy S. Rich is a Doctoral Candidate in Political Science at Indiana University.