In January 2020, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party was elected to a second term in office with 57% of the vote, defeating the Chinese Nationalist Party’s Han Kuo-yu in a snub to Beijing.
Amidst continually worsening cross-strait relations between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in Taiwan looks at how the public currently evaluates its Government and its own security situation with regard to both China and the United States.
Overall, 32% currently approve and 33% disapprove of President Tsai Ing-wen’s overall job performance to date, resulting in a -1% net approval rating. These figures mark a decline compared to last year: In December 2020, 35% approved and 27% disapproved of the President’s overall job performance—a +8% net approval rating.
Altogether, the Taiwanese Government’s net competency rating is now also marginally negative, standing at -3%. 28% of respondents polled view the Government as competent, compared to 31% who view it as incompetent. A similar proportion of 32% thinks the current Taiwanese Government is neither competent nor incompetent. In December 2020, by contrast, the Government still enjoyed a +9% net competency rating.
In terms of policy, the coronavirus crisis has dominated much of Tsai’s second term to date. With Taiwan having so far registered less than 16,600 coronavirus cases throughout the entire pandemic, public opinion on the Government’s handling of the situation is positive: 45% approve and 29% disapprove of Tsai Ing-wen’s performance on the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a +16% net approval rating. Indeed, 52% of respondents overall think the Taiwanese Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well, compared to 38% who do not think so.
Respondents’ views are also favourable on the related issue of healthcare, a policy area in which Tsai’s performance elicits a +8% net approval rating.
Regarding other domestic policy areas, however, Taiwanese respondents’ evaluations of their President’s job performance are less positive. On the economy, for instance, Tsai’s net approval rating stands at -8%. Other policy areas such as immigration (-8%), the environment (-9%), and tackling corruption (-9%) elicit similar net approval ratings.
At -26%, Tsai’s net approval rating is lowest regarding her performance on housing policy. While Tsai pledged in April last year to build 120,000 social housing units by 2024, the latest figures suggest voters do not view such promises as sufficient to address the island’s housing shortage.
When it comes to foreign relations, the Taiwanese public is divided. On foreign policy and defence, for instance, 33% approve and a nearly equal 35% disapprove of President Tsai’s job performance.
Meanwhile, President Tsai’s management of relations with the United States elicits a positive net approval rating of +16%, with approval particularly high among young respondents. 54% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 55% of 25-to-34-year-olds, for instance, approve of the President’s job performance in this respect.
When it comes to China, by contrast, Tsai’s net approval rating drops to -6%. This area is among those in which partisan differences become most apparent: Whereas 53% of 2020 Tsai Ing-wen voters approve of Tsai’s job performance, 77% of those who voted for Han Kuo-yu from the more Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party disapprove.
The same division is visible when it comes to who respondents think is most to blame for current cross-strait tensions between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. Whereas 60% of 2020 Tsai voters think Chinese President Xi Jinping is most to blame, 52% of 2020 Han voters think Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is most to blame. Among these two groups of voters, 19% and 32% respectively think both Xi and Tsai carry equal fault.
Overall, the Taiwanese public thus appears split in its views on President Tsai Ing-wen’s job performance to date. While the coronavirus pandemic and relations with the US stand out as policy areas in which Tsai garners significant approval, other domestic policy areas, as well as her management of relations with China, are viewed more critically overall.