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Reason for Tsai Ing-wen’s loss: the campaign team?


It’s good if the DPP’s internal post-election review can be evidence based rather than just another competition of ‘who shouts the loudest’. One area that hasn’t been widely discussed or acknowledged is the conduct and decision making of the campaign team. However, in the draft review, the DPP acknowledged ‘the KMT had run a more “technically successful” campaign in terms of crisis management and campaign tactics, as well as communications’, as reported in Taipei Times.

Who ran Tsai’s campaign?

Tsai’s chief campaign manager was Wu Nai-jen. The chair of the campaign committee was Su Tseng-chang, who was supposed to incorporate local party offices into campaign and election workforce. Frank Hsieh was given the responsibility of mobilising supporters and organising those local groups around the country. On 28th December 2011, Former DPP legislator, Tuan Yi-kang emphasised that Hsieh was not part of any key decision-making for the presidential campaign. The campaign strategies were dominated by Wu and Lin Hsi-yao (senior aide, former Taipei County deputy chief when Su was the chief). Well-resourced departments such as the PR were all controlled by the New Tide faction, which Wu, Lin and Tuan all belong to, and Su Tseng-chang’s associates. Hsieh’s associates seemed to be placed in organisation and networking – very exhausting and not very well-resourced positions. According to media reports, there were a number of key errors during the campaign:

Misreading of polling data

It was revealed after the election that Wu ignored crucial polling data and warning signs during the campaign. For example, before the election, DPP’s internal polling result once showed that Tsai would lose by 6 to 8%. When presented to Wu, he used the results from an unsourced poll to argue that Tsai had a 1-2% lead. Those close to Wu argued that the DPP polling might be ‘contaminated’ because respondents did not seem to be forthcoming or truthful. Frank Hsieh himself commissioned/funded separate and independent polls during the election and approximately a month before the election, he found that Ma’s satisfaction rating had steadily risen from 40% to 43% and then 50%. Hsieh immediately passed the polling results onto Wu and asked the team to respond but no action was taken.

Poor crisis management

During the campaign, the PR department made a calendar for distribution, with different fruits and their unit prices printed. The purpose was to tell the public about the local produce and highlight how the farmers’ profits were squeezed by the poor agricultural policies. However, they got the photo of water persimmon wrong and put a photo of sweet persimmon instead. As sweet persimmon was more expensive than water persimmon, the KMT, troubled by Ma’s private meeting with a bookie, quickly took advantage of this mistake and the media attacked the DPP for hurting the sweet persimmon farmers.

According to a report, Frank Hsieh was of the opinion that the PR personnel should have acted swiftly, apologising for the editorial oversight and then the campaign could move on. However, the key players let it escalate to the point that it hurt their polling number. Lin defended the PR team and insisted that there was no impact on the support level. In the end, it was so bad that Tsai had to make a public apology herself.

There were other crises during campaign. Regardless of whether they really affected the support level, the speed and the ways of responses from the campaign team were all quite incompetent. Another example would be how they dealt with the media attacks on Su Jya-chuan’s house. No clear response or effective refute was made for a few days, which allowed this non-issue to escalate.

It has also been observed that the campaign lacked a strong and clear theme and I don’t remember them clearly highlighting any issue to define the campaign. The ‘piggy bank’ success happened by pure chance. Even though Tsai was taking on a sitting president, the campaign did not really question Ma’s performance, his acceptance of 92 consensus or refute some serious allegations about DPP’s stance.

Who are taking responsibilities?

Tsai said that she would take all the responsibilities. Indeed, all the key players in the campaign have escaped intense public scrutiny and criticisms. I am not saying that those criticisms should be let out in the open but it is ironic that former DPP legislator, Kuo Cheng-liang, TAPOD chairman, Yiu Ying-lung and the Liberty Times (all Su Tseng-chang’s supporters) publicly urged Tsai to look into her own part. Perhaps Tsai should do so but I wonder why they don’t publicly ask Su to look into his failure as the campaign committee chair and the responsibilities of other members in the campaign team. For example, the poor ballot counting practices could have been reduced by better supervision and inspection on the DPP’s part and one of Su’s responsibilities was about that. There were actually more witness accounts that I haven’t had time to translate. The DPP claimed that they had sent inspectors/supervisors to 98% of the ballot counting stations. Even if they did, those who went were not well trained. Hsieh might have spotted a problem there and was trying to get supporters to observe the counting but this could never be as effective as party coordinated effort.

Right after the election, a news article said that Frank Hsieh had been the only one that worked with Tsai while the other heavyweights (including Su Tseng-chang) were working for their own end. I guess the reason why Hsieh was not given greater responsibilities in the campaign (like actually running it) and working more closely with Tsai was to avoid upsetting Su. Quite a few party committee members are in Su’s camp and Tsai would not want to give the outside world the impression that the DPP was divided again.

Further thoughts…

Su Tseng-chang now seems very eager to take over from Tsai as the party leader. He himself has not announced anything but the press and his associates are showing support, attacking potential competitors and paving the way for him to come forward. I am not optimistic about the DPP’s future with him being the leader. Other issues aside for now, look at his major campaign record:

In the 2000 presidential election, Su coordinated the campaign effort in Taipei County where he was the chief. Chen Shui-bian got only 36.73% of votes whereas James Soong got 40.26%. However, in Kaohsiung City, where Frank Hsieh was in charge, Chen got 45.79% of votes, which was 16.1% more than what Soong won.

In the 2004 presidential election, Su coordinated in Taipei County again. Chen got only 46.94% when Lien Chan received 53.06% of votes. However, In Kaohsiung city, Chen won 55.65% of the total votes whereas Lien got only 44.35%.

One might argue that Kaohsuing was a ‘green’ city and therefore Chen would have naturally won. This would be incorrect because the pre-Hsieh Kaohsiung was an ironclad ‘blue’ area. In fact, when Hsieh first got elected as the mayor in 1998, there were only eight DPP councillors in the Kaohsiung City Council. Hsieh not only renovated the city but changed the political culture there.

In the 2010 Taipei City mayoral election, despite all the hypes about Su and the DPP on the rise, he got only 43% of the votes – only 1% more than what Hsieh managed in 2006 when the DPP was about to fall apart.

When Su was the party leader in 2005, people had high hopes in his performance. However, the DPP suffered a huge defeat in the 3-in-1 election the same year. The total number of DPP county chiefs went from 10 to 6 and the number of council seats also dropped. As he used to be the Taipei County chief (supposedly successful and well-connected there), people expected a good outcome there at least but it was just unimpressive – the DPP county chief candidate lost by 200,000 votes.

When Hsieh was the party leader from 2000 to 2002, he worked with the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) strategically rather than competed with them. Hsieh moved the DPP towards the middle and the TSU went for the ‘dark green’. The outcome was that it became the first time the DPP had more parliamentary seats (n=87) than other parties in history. If the TSU seats were also considered (n=13), the pan-green coalition reached its peak then.

Su Tseng-chang actually has not got much to show for in the campaign department. If one examines the statistics about all the campaigns Su has run or been heavily involved in, they’d realise that none of those campaigns was stunningly successful. In fact, most of them were unimpressive. Some people believe that he is a good campaigner probably because he’s a good public speaker but I think his campaign ability has just been over hyped by the media.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 16/02/2012 19:33


    According to a report, Frank Hsieh was of the opinion that the PR personnel should have acted swiftly, apologising for the editorial oversight and then the campaign could move on. However, the key players let it escalate to the point that it hurt their polling number. Lin defended the PR team and insisted that there was no impact on the support level. In the end, it was so bad that Tsai had to make a public apology herself.





    蘇貞昌用盡手段就能當黨主席嗎?拿阿扁的話說「阿婆生子」,支持蔡英文的鐵票609萬人並不是蘇貞昌的支持者,他的腦筋還停留在2004-2008 年,他的近臣也是2008年的敗兵敗卒,並沒有趕上時代。

    • Claudia Jean permalink*
      16/02/2012 23:03

      Thanks for pointing out Lin’s position as deputy chief before.

      I completely disagree that Hsieh should have publicly pushed them to apologise because no good could come of him highlighting that the DPP was divided. It would have been seen as immature and impulsive. The blue friendly media could have made a huge deal of it for days or weeks, which would get green supporters angry and disappointed and get blue supporters have more doubts about the DPP as a cohesive ruling party.

      Also, you forgot that Tsai might not want him to do it. To avoid public confrontation and media manipulation, she was willing to go as far as accepting Su Tseng-chang as committee chair, allowing Hsieh to be marginalised. I really don’t think she’d want Hsieh to make a huge scene during the campaign.

      • 17/02/2012 00:53





      • Claudia Jean permalink*
        17/02/2012 14:27

        Thanks for your comments. Since the 2010 mayoral elections, there have been signs that Tsai was trying to avoid upsetting Su or giving the impression that there were frictions between them. However, at this moment, I can’t guess whether Tsai’s acceptance of Wu and the New Tide crowd was her own choosing or a necessary compromise yet because she or those on the inside have not said much about it. As Tsai has not been an active player for long, it’s difficult to draw on her past behaviour and history when one speculates her real intention. I’d rather leave it for now than making premature assumptions.

  2. 17/02/2012 06:59

    “The Political Brain” should be required reading for all DPP campaign leaders and DPP politicians. It deals with each mistake you outline here, which mirrors the issues that the Democrats have had in the U.S. winning elections.

    • Claudia Jean permalink*
      17/02/2012 14:15

      Thanks for your comment and sharing the information :)

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