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Cablegate: Polling for Effect: Eye Into Taiwan Politics And

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 002118

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/W

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TW
SUBJECT: POLLING FOR EFFECT: EYE INTO TAIWAN POLITICS AND
CROSS-STRAIT RELATIONS

REF: A. 2004 TAIPEI 0345
B. 2004 TAIPEI 3771
C. TAIPEI 2076

1. Summary. Lien Chan visited Mainland China April 26-May
2, and James Soong is currently visiting, both with near
unanimous endorsement from "Blue" (KMT and PFP) voters and
considerable support from neutral, and even a slice of
"Green" (DPP), voters. Support for Lien,s trip actually
increased over the course of his visit, reflecting widespread
support in Taiwan for engagement with Mainland China to
reduce cross-Strait tensions, even as Taiwan voters remain
peeved by Beijing,s Anti-Secession Law and threat to use
&non-peaceful means.8

2. Taiwan,s vibrant public opinion polling industry, which
closely tracks cross-Strait and virtally every other public
issue, is largely media-driven, with most surveys rush jobs
to create headlines or to persuade readers. Some, however,
are more comprehensive, fully cross-tabulated with ethnic and
party identity, and trace major political trends in Taiwan.
Among the trends identified in multi-year surveys have been
the long-term rise of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP);
emerging Taiwan identity, but without an accompanying rise in
pro-independence sentiment; long-term support for maintaining
the cross-Strait status quo; and growing support for
resolving cross-Strait tensions. End Summary.

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3. When Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan told Beijing
University students on April 29 that he represented the views
of &most people8 in Taiwan, Vice President Annette Lu
countered that &most Taiwanese8 viewed Lien as selling out
Taiwan to China. Both claims drew on particular public
opinion polls the two leaders had selected from the pro-Blue
and pro-Green press. Opinion polls play an important roll in
Taiwan politics, and politicians use them as often to create
as to understand public opinion. When he was asked about
President Chen,s views on Lien,s trip, Deputy Presidential
SecGen Ma Yung-cheng started his explanation with "according
to polls and other indications....8 Taiwan's plethora of
public opinion polls range from the balanced and
methodologically sound to the politically motivated intended
to convince. To the latter end, political parties have their
own in-house opinion polling operations, which churn out dual
sets of polls, one for internal use to guide party leaders
and one for publication to persuade and create political
momentum.

Lien Chan: "Journey of Peace" or "Taiwan Sell-Out"
--------------------------------------------- ------

4. In recent weeks, public opinion polling in Taiwan has
focused on the fast moving state of cross-Strait relations
and, particularly, KMT Chairman Lien Chan,s April 26-May 2
trip, and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong,s
May 5-14 trip, to Mainland China. The &Blue8 (pro-
unification) &United Daily News8 published a poll on May 2
showing 56 percent of respondents island-wide believed the
Lien-Hu talks improved cross-Strait peace and 51 percent
believed Lien did "an excellent job8 on his trip. A survey
in the centrist &China Times8 the same day showed 56
percent of respondents were pleased with Lien,s trip and 54
percent believed he did not betray Taiwan,s interests to
China. On the other hand, a poll by the "Green"
(pro-independence) Taiwan ThinkTank published in the
&Liberty Times8 April 26 proclaimed in headlines that 71%
of respondents opposed Lien Chan making any agreement with
Chinese leaders.

5. None of these published polls, however, explained
methodology used or released cross-tabulations that would
have enabled evaluation of the reports. Rather, readers were
left to accept or reject the poll results wholly on faith or
political allegiance. The Taiwan ThinkTank poll (para 4)
reported that 67% of respondents opposed Taiwan "accepting
one China and becoming a local government ruled by Communist
China,8 suggesting questions in that poll were leading and
politicized.

6. The Lien trip itself appears to have raised the public
assessment of Lien and the KMT. The centrist (some say
"light Blue") TVBS Poll Center conducted a poll on May 2,
immediately after Lien Chan returned to Taipei. Respondents
&satisfied8 with Lien,s trip and viewing it as
"successful" (46% and 53%) outnumbered those who were
"dissatisfied" and thought it &unsuccessful8 (25% and 21%).
As one of the few polling agencies in Taiwan to also publish
cross-tabulations (party affiliation, residence, age), the
TVBS survey revealed that, as might be expected, overwhelming
majorities of KMT and PFP Pan-Blue supporters were in the
"satisfied" and "successful" columns. The survey, however,
also showed that a surprisingly high 34% of ruling-DPP
supporters judged the Lien trip "successful." The poll
further showed a relatively high level of approval in heavily
"Green" south Taiwan, where approximately half of respondents
termed the Lien trip "successful." Similarly, an island-wide
poll by the centrist ERA (Niandai) Survey Research Center
found that respondents who believed the Lien visit was
"helpful" to cross-Strait peace had increased from 46% before
to 55% after the visit (though the absence of
cross-tabulations conceals the political identity of this
shift).

7. Recent DPP polls show a corresponding decline in the DPP
approval rating from 37% in mid-April to 24% in early May,
just after Lien,s return from Mainland China. Coming just
before the May 14 National Assembly vote, this finding has
stimulated considerable angst within the DPP, including
fingerpointing at the President and his conciliatory
statements about the KMT and PFP Mainland China trips (Ref
C).

Lien Chan,s Trip and the KMT Chairmanship
-----------------------------------------

8. Lien,s highly publicized and -- in the view of most KMT
supporters -- &successful8 trip, however, encouraged
speculation that Lien might try to stay on as Chairman.
Lien Chan's announcement earlier this year that he would step
down as KMT Chairman in August stimulated a heated campaign
between Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou and LY Speaker Wang
Jin-pyng to succeed him and position themselves for the 2008
presidential race. PFP LY Caucus Convenor Chen Chi-pin told
AIT that he and other Pan-Blue LY members expect Lien to
reverse his decision to step down. Public opinion polls,
however, do not show positive popular response to Lien's trip
converting into support for Lien remaining as Chairman.
Rather, the May 2 TVBS survey showed KMT voters opposed to
Lien staying on increased from 43% in February to 48% after
the trip, compared to a smaller increase in those favoring
him staying on (36% to 39%). The poll found, moreover, that
KMT supporters continue to give top preference to Ma (57%) as
the next party Chairman, with Lien trailing at 22% and Wang
at 13%.

Polling Deficiencies
--------------------

9. Opinion survey organizations with which AIT spoke
typically conduct quick (3-6 hour) evening telephone random
surveys of approximately 1,000 people based on population
distribution. Most public opinion polls, however, report
only composite, island-wide figures and omit the
cross-tabulations essential to analyzing survey results.
ERA, the most prolific polling agency in Taiwan, publishes
only composite results. Center Director Tai Li-an would not
-- or could not -- provide AIT with copies of ERA poll cross
tabulations. For example, a question in an ERA poll last
week about the Lien and Soong China visits found 42% of the
896 respondents believed the visits would be "helpful" to
cross-Strait peace and 35% said no. However, the absence of
any cross-tabulations, particularly on party affiliation,
age, and residence, limited the usefulness of the survey for
understanding Taiwan public opinion on the two visits.

10. Chengchi University,s Election Study Center (ESC)
Director You Ching-hsin told AIT that ESC had found party
affiliation, ethnicity, and nationality to be the most
significant variables affecting political views in Taiwan.
TVBS Poll Center Director Wang Yeh-ding separately agreed,
emphasizing that party affiliation was the single most
important determinant of Taiwan public opinion.

Polling Trends
---------------

11. Several polling organizations have conducted periodic
surveys over many years to provide public opinion trends.
ESC, for example, has run a question packet through 26
surveys over 11 years, 1994-2005; TVBS through 13 polls over
five years, 2000-2005. Among the long-term Taiwan political
and social trends revealed by these ongoing surveys are:

(1) Ethnic Identity: The ESC poll series shows a steady
rise in Taiwan identity from 17% in 1992 to 44% in April
2004, compared to a decline in Chinese identity from 26% to
6% over the same period. The percentage of people claiming
to be both Taiwanese and Chinese, however, has remained
nearly constant at around 45%. According to ESC Director
You, the rise in Taiwanese identity has been largely a
phenomenon among younger people and has not been accompanied
by a similar rise in pro-independence sentiment. (Note: The
May 2 TVBS poll, however, showed substantially higher
negative attitudes toward the Lien visit among respondents
in the 20-29 age bracket than among any other age bracket.)

(2) National Identity (unification vs independence): TVBS
and ESC surveys show a high constant level of support for
maintaining the cross-Strait status quo. In the ESC poll
series, the "maintain status quo" preference averaged a
fairly constant 59% over the past five years. Polls
commissioned by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) show an
even higher level of support for the status quo, averaging
around 80%, similar to the level shown in ERA polls (both
include as status quo supporters of unification and
independence willing to wait). On the other hand, the ESC
series shows that support for unification has declined from
20% to 12% and support for independence has risen from 11% to
20% from 1994 to 2005.

(3) Political Parties: ESC opinion surveys show long-term
increase in Taiwan voters identifying themselves as DPP
(i.e., hardcore DPP supporters) from 3% in 1992 to 26%.
Support for the KMT, on the other hand has declined from 35%
to 22%. The swing factor in deciding legislative and
presidential elections has been the large body of voters who
classify themselves as "neutral," now around 40%.

12. TVBS Poll Director Wang also pointed out that his
surveys revealed a substantial decline in voter support for
the PFP. One year ago, he told AIT, PFP regularly polled
about 15%, which declined to around 10% at the time of the
December 2004 legislative elections, and now hovers around 5%
in the aftermath of the Chen-Soong meeting.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) The plethora of public opinion polls in Taiwan is
a mixed blessing. Well done, they are an invaluable tool for
understanding trends and projecting responses by the
electorate. Unfiltered and politicized, they are open to
abuse by politicians and politicized media, all too ready to
select polls that prove their point or to commission polls
with questions calibrated to provide desired results.
Nevertheless, there are a number of polling agencies,
including ESC and TVBS, that do make their cross-tabulations
available, often immediately and on the internet. While
ERA,s composite surveys were among the most accurate polling
in the 2004 presidential campaign (Ref A) and TVBS in the
December LY election (Ref B), only the latter regularly
provides the cross-tabs essential for trend analysis and
discerning the impact of public opinion polls on inter-party
politics. However, even the well-documented TVBS polling
service is viewed with deep suspicion by many after its March
2004 experimental exit poll produced results wildly different
from the final result.
PAAL

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