The local elections in Taiwan were disappointing for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). They lost three major cities — Taoyuan City, Hsinchu City and Keelung City — two of which to the Kuomintang (KMT), and one to the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

The DPP retained power in four jurisdictions, but in two of them, Pingtung and Kaohsiung, its vote share fell. In Pingtung, the DPP vote share fell from 55.90% four years ago to 49.09%, and in Kaohsiung, its vote share fell from 70.03% in 2020’s by-election to 58.10%.

Of the 21 magisterial and mayoral seats up for election, the DPP only won five — its lowest since the party started contesting local elections in 1989.

Looking at the vote shares of the winning districts shows the strength of each party’s wins. Of the top 15 shares, the KMT accounted for 12, with the DPP only having the third and seventh highest shares — 62.85% in Chiayi County and 58.10% in Kaohsiung, respectively.

Among the bottom six, the DPP accounted for three, with KMT accounting for one.


The DPP was expecting to retain Taoyuan and Hsinchu. But the DPP’s vote share did not change much as compared with the last two local elections in 2014 and 2018, though the KMT saw their vote share increase gradually.


In terms of turnout, both the DPP and the KMT have seen their total vote count decline.


In comparison with presidential elections, however, the fortunes of the two parties have flipped. The DPP’s vote share at the presidential election has increased from 45.63% to 57.13% in the last three elections, while the KMT’s vote share declined from 51.60% to 38.61%.


Who are the people voting for the DPP?

In the chart below, we can see that the higher the average disposable household income of a city/county, the lower the vote share for the DPP.

Kaohsiung City, Tainan City, Chiayi City and Pingtung County tend to be more pro-DPP, and sit higher than the trendline. Taitung County, Hualien County and Miaoli County are more pro-KMT and are lower than the trendline.


In terms of education, the cities/counties with higher education attainment also tend to not vote for the DPP.

Just like with household income, the pro-DPP cities/counties tend to be higher than the trendline, and the pro-KMT tend to be lower, but still follow the slope of the trendline.


Cities/counties with a greater share of younger workers, those aged 25 to 44, have lower vote shares for the DPP.


Cities/counties with a higher share of older workers, those aged 45 to 64, tend to vote for the DPP.

Given that the cities/counties that have higher incomes are also those which are younger and higher-educated, these trends are not a surprise.


We can see in the chart below that since 2005, the DPP’s performance has remained relatively consistent.

In each of the local elections since 2005, the DPP has been less able to attract cities/counties with higher average disposable household income – notice that the green trendlines in the chart slope at the same tangent, where higher income cities/counties are less likely to vote for the DPP.

The exception however was in 2018 (see orange line in the chart), when DPP was able to attract a higher proportion of the wealthier cities/counties – the reason is because its incumbent mayors in the wealthier jurisdictions Taoyuan City, Hsinchu City and Keelung City held onto their seats.

For a while, it looked like fortunes would change for the DPP. However, at this year’s local election however, the DPP has lost its advantage, and has reverted to the same trend since 2005 (see the dark green line).

Another thing to note is that after the Sunflower movement, the DPP managed to garner its highest ever vote share at the 2014 local election (see the bright green trendline at the top of the chart).


The same pattern can be seen across the other demographic indicators.

Since the 2005 local election, the cities/counties with a younger labor force have tended to not vote for the DPP, with the exception of the 2018 election (orange line in the chart below), when DPP held on to the three wealthier cities of Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Keelung.

The DPP saw its highest vote share in 2014 after the Sunflower movement, though the slope of the trend line (in bright green) remained the same – cities/counties with younger voters still tended to shy away from the DPP.


Cities/counties with workers aged 45 to 64 years old have favored the DPP starting from the 2005 election, also with the exception of 2018.


It has not always been the case that the DPP is less able to attract the higher income and younger cities/counties. In the 1997 local election, the DPP was able to attract cities/counties with higher average disposable household incomes.


Just prior to the early-2000s, cities/counties with younger workers and higher incomes were more supportive of the DPP, as seen in the 1997 local election.


It may be that one of the reasons for the DPP’s greater appeal in the 1990s is that, unlike today, the DPP adopted a social welfare platform during the elections. In the early-1990s, the DPP decided to give social welfare more attention. During the 1992 Legislative Yuan election campaign, the DPP launched a welfare state platform. In the 1993 elections, one of its campaign slogans was to “promote welfare,” and in 1994, its slogan evolved to include a “big promotion of welfare.” In fact, reforms on the National Health Insurance and increasing pensions were initially proposed by the DPP before they were appropriated by the KMT as its campaign messages.

During this era, the KMT was more cautious on welfare spending, and was in fact against it and called for welfare restraint. In the 1990s, the KMT was the party that was seen as more economically right-leaning while DPP was seen as economically on the left. This gave the DPP the ability to maintain a lead and differentiate with social welfare as its core issue. For the DPP at that time, being pro-welfare and having a social welfare campaign was seen as a natural extension of what the DPP is because of its objectives for democratization and justice. As a result, voters saw the DPP as the pro-welfare party. As can be seen from the charts above, the DPP was attracting cities/counties with younger voters, like Taipei City, Taoyuan City and Hsinchu City.

From the early-2000s, the DPP started de-emphasizing social welfare as a campaign issue. In addition, when the DPP President Chen Shui-bian attempted to introduce the DPP’s ‘333 Welfare Program’ in the early-2000s, this was blocked by the KMT which controlled the legislature at that time. This program was to have provided pensions of NT$3,000 a month, free healthcare for children aged three and below, and low-interest mortgage for first-time home buyers.

Comparing the Local and National Elections

When we compare the overall vote share of the cities/counties at the 2020 presidential election with average disposable household income, there doesn’t seem to be a trend (see the flat trendline in red).

However, Taitung County, Hualien County, Miaoli County and Nantou County fall far away from the other cities/counties. If we remove them from the comparison, we can see that there is a trend (green line) — cities/counties with higher incomes tend not to vote for the DPP, even during the presidential election. This also indicates that the voting patterns of these four districts differ somewhat from the other districts.


When we compare the vote share at the 2020 presidential election (omitting for the four counties) with this year’s local election, it is interesting to see that their trend lines slope at a similar tangent.

In other words, at the presidential election, the DPP is picking up the bulk of the swing voters who trusted the DPP over the KMT to protect Taiwan.


When we compare the 2016 presidential election (again omitting for the four counties) with that of the 2018 local election, we again see that their trend lines slope at the same angle – the DPP retains its core voters at the local election and attracts the swing voters at the presidential election.


It would seem that in the presidential elections, the DPP commands a 15% to 20% advantage over their typical performance at the local elections. At the national level, voters think that the DPP can be trusted to protect the country and are therefore willing to vote for the DPP in higher numbers.

But at the local level, voters do not seem to trust the DPP as much.

Local and national elections are fought on different issues. The DPP is seen as trustworthy on national security, but for a variety of reasons, fewer voters want to give their vote to the DPP at local elections.

Comparing the 2014 local election with the 2016 presidential election is interesting. While the election in 2014 was local, national security was prominent, as it was held in the same year as the protest against the KMT government for signing an agreement seen as threatening the sovereignty of Taiwan. At the 2014 local election, voters decided to punish the KMT, while fiercely asserting their national identity even though it was not a national election. This resulted in a similar trendline for both the 2014 and 2016 elections.


At this year’s local election, President Tsai was hoping to replicate the success of 2014’s local election, by framing the election as one about the need to protect Taiwan from China’s threat.

This strategy failed because voters assessed that the threat is not at the same level or character as that of 2014, when the KMT was in power, or they were less interested in how China’s threat should play out at this local election.

But is it true in general that the issue of Taiwan’s national security contributes a 15% to 20% advantage for the DPP during presidential elections?

There may be other factors that influence voting behavior.For one, the minimum wage was stagnant from 1997 to 2007 see the flat line in the middle of the chart below. Due to this wage stagnation, Taiwan has seen a period of lost wage growth, and it has still not caught up with the minimum wage that it could have grown to.


In a survey conducted in September this year ahead of the budget debate at the legislature, Taiwanese were asked about the top issues that they were most concerned about. The economy came up top, with 74.4% pointing to the high housing prices and 73.2% pointing to inflation as their top concerns under the category of the economy.

In second place was law and order, where 59.1% highlighted the social safety net as their second top concern in this category.

The third ranked concern was social welfare.

Among young people under the age of 40, their top priority are the high housing prices, with more than 80% being concerned about this issue.

Taiwan’s housing prices have increased dramatically over the last decade, especially over the last two years. Taiwan’s housing prices have also grown one of the fastest among the advanced countries to become one of the most expensive in the world today.


While President Tsai has raised the minimum wage faster than her two predecessors, consumer prices have continued to grow and average real wages actually declined this year.

As compared to the cost of living, Taiwan’s minimum wage is one of the most inadequate for its cost of living among advanced economies.


Taiwan’s GDP per capita is expected to surpass South Korea and Japan by the end of this year. The DPP government likes to boast about Taiwan’s GDP per capita growth, but Taiwan’s minimum wage and median wage comprise a much smaller fraction of its GDP per capita as compared to South Korea and Japan.

While Taiwan’s GDP per capita is expected to be on par with South Korea and Japan, Taiwan’s minimum wage will only grow to NT$26,400 next year, which is less than 60% that of South Korea and two-thirds that of Japan.


Taiwan’s minimum wage is only 28.77% that of its GDP per capita, while South Korea’s and Japan’s minimum wages are at a much higher 53.07% and 44.79% of their GDP per capita, respectively.

In fact, due to Taiwan’s minimum wage being stagnant, its minimum wage has declined from 51.90% of its GDP in 1988 to less than 30% today, while it increased from 18.96% to over 50% in South Korea, and from about 30% to 45% in Japan.

If Taiwan is to be on par with South Korea and Japan today, then its minimum wage should be around NT$40,000 to NT$45,000. But as it is, half of Taiwan’s workers do not even earn this amount.

While South Korea and Japan are returning more of the country’s economic growth to workers, Taiwan is returning less, while most of the country’s economic growth goes instead into the profits of business.


Because Taiwan’s minimum wage is growing too slowly, Taiwan’s median wage is also unable to grow faster. Taiwan’s median wage actually follows closely to the growth of the minimum wage, and because the minimum wage is depressed, other workers are also having difficulty seeing raises to their salaries.

In the chart below, you can see that from 2012 to 2020, Taiwan’s minimum wage grew from NT$18,780 to NT$23,800, while the median wage grew from NT$37,833 to NT$41,750.

The gap between the minimum and median wage has remained at about NT$18,000 to NT$18,500 in the last decade or so, signifying that median wage growth is dependent on how fast the minimum wage is adjusted.


Some of Taiwan’s consumer goods, like groceries and milk, rank among the most expensive in the world, which further reduces the value of Taiwan’s wages.


Taiwan’s domestic household income and consumption has also stagnated in the last few decades due to depressed wages.


When compared with South Korea, the stagnation of Taiwan’s domestic consumption is even more glaring. While Taiwan’s household consumption used to be higher than that of South Korea, it has since fallen back due to stagnant wages.

In the chart below, we can see that when compared with South Korea, Taiwan’s household consumption expenditure in clothing and footwear has collapsed since minimum wage started stagnating in 1997.


Making things worse, profits in some sectors have also stagnated due to the slowdown in consumption, which leads to the domestic economy slowing down as well.

In the chart below, it can be seen that the profits in the wholesale retail trade sector have also collapsed due to stagnant domestic consumption.


Due to stagnant wages, domestic consumption, and profit growth, Taiwan’s economy has grown the slowest in the last few decades among other advanced economies at a similar level of growth.


If growing the economy is the DPP’s concern, depressed wages are where they should start.

Taiwanese, especially young people, are most concerned about the high housing prices and inflation, coupled with the wage stagnation. It is no wonder why many have become disillusioned with the DPP.

After helping the DPP into government at the 2016 presidential election, voters expect more. They still voted for the DPP into presidency in the 2020 election out of national security concerns, but the 2018 and 2022 local elections show that Taiwanese voters do not have uncritical faith in the DPP to promote social welfare.

Unfulfilled Promises

President Tsai promised in 2016 to address the high housing costs by adding 200,000 social housing units in eight years. But to date, Taiwan has 23,252 social housing units built or under construction.

President Tsai promised to “elevate” the salaries of young people, and has said her ideal minimum wage is NT$30,000, but later brushed aside then-Vice Premier Shih Jun-ji when he proposed increasing the monthly minimum wage to NT$30,000 by 2024.

Taiwanese Voters Gave the DPP A Chance, But Feel Betrayed

The DPP once had ambitions to usher in a new era, not only politically, but also economically. Voters thought that their lives would dramatically improve, that they would no longer need to migrate overseas to look for high-paying good jobs. But a few years into Tsai’s presidency, people have realized that the DPP was more of the same; it wasn’t different from the KMT. Word on the street is that the DPP is just like the KMT, that it also cared more for business than for the workers. The “one mandatory day off and one flexible rest day” policy was the betrayal of the voters.

13.6% of Taiwanese who have no savings at all, and 18.8% who have less than NT$100,000 in the bank. In other words, a third of Taiwanese households are living in poverty. Talk of national security means little when you are just trying to make it to the end of the month, or end of the day. When Taiwanese called for housing justice and for housing prices to be reduced, the DPP instead allowed housing prices to increase unbridled over the last two years.

What alternative to this status quo did the DPP propose?

A New Vision for Taiwan

Here it may be useful to recall former KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu. His supporters are dismissed in polite discourse in Taiwan. But he was playing on people’s legitimate fears and worries about the economy, which was why his slogan about wanting Kaohsiung to “get rich” worked. Han Kuo-yu is pro-China, but voters in deep-green Kaohsiung thought that if he could improve their economic livelihoods, they were willing to give him a chance. If the DPP offers no credible economic alternative, they will remain vulnerable to challengers who make gestures toward addressing the economic issues that matter to many Taiwanese voters.

The DPP needs to revive the social welfare platform that it had campaigned on in the 1990s, and return to the roots of its democratic struggle, to bring about worker justice, and achieve fairer wealth distribution for Taiwan’s workers. While the DPP faced roadblocks ensuring social welfare during the Chen Shui-bian presidency, its control of the legislature today should empower it to push through social welfare policies that will protect Taiwan’s workers.

READ NEXT: Taiwan’s Economic Slowdown (Part 1): Taiwan’s Wages Are Growing Too Slowly to Allow Profits Grow

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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