Six months on from the 2020 Taiwanese Presidential Election where DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen won 57% of the vote and KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu won 38%, Redfield & Wilton strategies have polled the Taiwanese public to find out more about their views on President Tsai’s government and her policies in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.
President Tsai won the largest number of votes a presidential candidate has ever seen in Taiwan since its transition to democracy. During a series of local elections in 2018, voters had turned against the DPP due to economic stagnation and failed labour reforms. Nevertheless, as the protests in Hong Kong began to directly challenge the argument in favour of ‘one country, two systems’, touted by President Xi as the way China would take back control of Taiwan, Tsai was able to portray herself as a President who would defend Taiwan’s de facto independence through categorically rejecting ‘one country, two systems.’ Moreover, on the domestic front, Tsai’s administration has established a successful incentive program to encourage Taiwanese businesses based in Mainland China to repatriate back to Taiwan, thus allowing Taiwanese companies to benefit from the ongoing US-China trade war.
At this stage, around two thirds (66%) of Taiwanese respondents have confidence in their Government. Only 22% of respondents say they do not have confidence. Current support for President Tsai’s government goes above and beyond those that voted for her in January this year: a plurality (47%) of 2020 Han voters have confidence in the government, which outweigh the proportion who do not (43%). Overall, voters across the political divide currently have confidence in President Tsai and her Government, which may be related to the recent imposition of the National Security law in Hong Kong by Beijing, a policy which has strengthened support for Tsai’s message of remaining alert against any Chinese moves to assert sovereignty over Taiwan.
Taiwan has been lauded internationally for its rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic with 455 confirmed cases and 7 deaths. Mask wearing and quarantine for incoming passengers were implemented faster than in much of the West, and the country’s borders remain closed to non-citizens. The country also implemented a phenomenally successful contact tracing system, meaning Taiwan avoided the lockdown experienced across the globe. Overall, Taiwan’s success in containing the virus has benefited all citizens, regardless of political stripes and must be considered a key factor for the Government’s broad support.
Indeed, an overwhelming majority of respondents (79%) believe the Taiwanese Government has handled the crisis well. Overall, the vast majority of the public appears highly satisfied with their Government’s handling of the defining issue of the present moment.
Although Tsai’s Government struggled to grapple with Taiwan’s economic issues during her first term, the public is firmly behind the government’s plan for greater economic self-sufficiency. Following Taiwan’s success in rapidly building domestic mask production capacity following the outbreak of coronavirus, President Tsai has sought to repeat this approach to foster other new industries within Taiwanese territory and generate greater self-sufficiency. Overall, 57% of respondents say they support President Tsai’s push to make Taiwan’s economy more self-sufficient, while only 13% say they are opposed, indicating that public support for the DPP Government transcends the narrow confines of its handling of the pandemic and also includes approval of President Tsai’s broader vision and policy aims.
Nevertheless, President Tsai’s personal approval ratings remain lower than those of her overall Government. A plurality of respondents (45%) approve of Tsai’s performance as leader, while less than a quarter (24%) disapprove. The President’s lower approval rating amongst the Taiwanese public is primarily due the perspective of KMT voters, a clear majority (57%) of whom express disapproval. Tsai’s long-standing involvement as a key figure in the DPP, including chairing the party for several years and representing the party in three successive Presidential elections, may be a key reason for Tsai’s limited support among opposition voters.
Overall, the Taiwanese Government and President Tsai continue to be supported by a Taiwanese public increasingly concerned by the threat of annexation by the Mainland. Support for the Government has also been bolstered by its successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic. However, as the DPP’s defeat in the 2018 local elections shows, a strong stance on China alone will not be enough to satisfy Taiwanese voters, and successful economic policies will be crucial to the Government and President sustaining public support.