2018 State of the Nation Survey
70 Percent Dissatisfied with President Tsai’s Performance
President Tsai Ing-wen is currently less popular than her premier, a rare phenomenon in Taiwanese politics. Areas in which the public is least happy with the Tsai administration range from government performance and the economy to air pollution and high housing prices.
70 Percent Dissatisfied with President Tsai’s PerformanceBy Rebecca Lin
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 639 )
Taiwan’s presidential and general elections in 2016 resulted in the third change of ruling parties. For the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), it constituted a formidable comeback after eight years in opposition. Not only did it reclaim the presidency, but it also won a parliamentary majority that allowed it to take full control of the government for the first time. With this third transition of power, Taiwan was widely regarded as having become a mature democracy.
How do voters grade the performance of the DPP and the Tsai administration in the nearly two years it has been in power? The latest CommonWealth State of the Nation Survey results show that the public is less than satisfied with Tsai’s performance. Asked “Are you satisfied with President Tsai’s performance?” as many as 67.7 percent were dissatisfied, clearly outnumbering the 23.8 percent who indicated satisfaction. By age group, younger people under 39 were least satisfied. Of these, people in the 30-39 age bracket were most dissatisfied, with 71.6 percent disapproving of Tsai’s performance. (Table 1)
“The dissatisfaction among younger people is higher than among the middle-aged and elderly. This is rarely seen for DPP politicians,” observes Yeh-lih Wang, professor at the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University and a longtime researcher of electoral politics and voting behavior.
He notes that the DPP, which used to enjoy strong support among young voters, might have to worry about the young vote in the future.
When asked, “Which areas do you feel the government should improve immediately?” all age groups unanimously point to “raising economic competitiveness” followed by “creating more employment opportunities.” The meek job situation most worries the age groups under 39. In third place was “raising the quality of education.” (Table 2)
Analyzing these results, Jason Yeh, associate professor at the Department of Finance of Chinese University of Hong Kong, points out that the two top-cited areas – the economy and the job market – affect people on a personal level. In contrast “reducing the rich-poor gap” and “improving cross-strait relations,” which came in in fourth and fifth place respectively, are related to overall policymaking and don’t hit that close to home.
Despite widespread dissatisfaction with the Tsai administration, Premier Lai enjoys a good measure of popularity.
The State of the Nation Survey was conducted between November 29 and December 2, 2017, just as Lai triggered anger and controversy for suggesting that people earning low wages or salaries should not complain but regard their work as “doing good deeds” for the common good. Nonetheless, 44.6 percent said they are “satisfied" with Lai’s performance while a smaller share, 38.9 percent, were dissatisfied with him. (Table 3)
In fact, in comparison with his predecessors, Lai enjoys quite a high satisfaction rating. His direct predecessor Lin Chuan had a satisfaction rating of 25.9 percent in the 2017 survey. Satisfaction with Premier Jiang Yi-huah stood at 16.4 percent in 2014, Premier Wu Den-yih's performance was rated satisfactory by 36.6 percent in 2010, and 27.9 percent were satisfied with Liu Chao-shiuan’s performance in 2009. At the time of the survey, Lai had been in office for just three months. In the 2010 survey, Wu had also just taken office in September, yet Lai's satisfaction rating is 8 percentage points higher than Wu’s at the time.
“Lai has been in office for just three months, so we don’t know what his actual achievements are yet,” remarks Tsai Hsiu-chuan, political science professor at Soochow University. Tsai believes Lai benefits from his image as a down-to-earth reformer and bold, calculated risk-taker. “However, the premier is appointed by the president. If the public evaluates them separately from each other and then there is such a big gap [in satisfaction], this also shows that our constitutional system is problematic.”
Eric Chen-hua Yu, associate research fellow with the Election Study Center and associate professor of political science at National Chengchi University, points out that experience shows that the president normally enjoys higher support ratings than the premier.
The fact that Lai is currently more popular than Tsai could be attributed to a honeymoon effect that deserves further observation. It remains to be seen how long this phenomenon will continue, notes Yu.
However, what deserves even more attention is the fact that, after the third transition of government power, the electorate has already lost its barely recovered confidence in the government. Asked “Are you confident in the government's ability to reduce the rich-poor gap?” only 14.2 percent said Yes while 75.1 percent replied No. This constitutes a clear increase over the 68.5 percent who lacked confidence in 2017.
Air Pollution, Housing Crisis Call for Urgent Solution
What does the electorate want as elections for city mayors and county magistrates, scheduled for late 2018, draw closer?
Without doubt, air pollution, an issue that affects everyone’s health, is where most people want to see an improvement. As for geographical differences, it should not come as a surprise that people in central and southern Taiwan attach top priority to air pollution given that air quality is often poor in the cities and counties from Miaoli County to Pingtung County on Taiwan’s west coast. In contrast, people living in Hsinchu County and the densely populated north regard unaffordable housing prices as the most pressing issue. (Tables 4 and 4-1)
“[The answers to] this question are in line with the current perception that the problem in northern Taiwan are the housing prices whereas in central and southern Taiwan it is air pollution,” observes Wang.
After a year of twists and turns, the Taiwanese people seem to lack consensus on many policy issues. But they seem unanimous in their expectation of where the country should be heading: The economy and employment are indicators of good governance and directly affect people’s personal lives, and these might also become the most important key performance indicator for national leaders.
Translated from the Chinese article by Susanne Ganz
This survey was conducted by the CommonWealth Magazine Survey Center from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, 2017 using a Taiwan telephone book as the main sampling frame. The stratified random sample method was used to select home telephone numbers at random, with the last two digits of the numbers randomly substituted. A total of 1,091 valid responses were obtained from people living in Taiwan aged 20 and over. The survey has a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.97 percentage points. All data was weighted and adjusted for gender, age, educational background and place of residence.