Taipei, Nov. 26 (CNA) As the 2020 presidential and legislative elections approach, shifts in regional voter preferences around Taiwan will likely dictate of how ruling party and opposition candidates will fare, according to political observers.
Such shifts are likely to spring incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a relatively easy victory over main rival Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Kuomintang (KMT), in the Jan. 11, 2020 election.
She has held a consistent double-digit lead in the polls and could see a similar level of success as when she won the presidency in 2016 over Eric Chu (朱立倫) of the KMT by defeating him in 18 of Taiwan's 22 cities and counties.
What is less clear is how traditional voter bases will hold up in the legislative elections, in which the DPP is trying to hold on to its absolute majority in the 113-seat Legislative Yuan.
Among Taiwan's cities and counties in Taiwan, Taipei and Taoyuan in the north, Taichung and Changhua in the center, and Kaohsiung in the south will be the major indicators of whether voter preferences are shifting and in what direction, analysts said.
In general terms, the KMT-led blue camp has traditionally garnered more support in northern Taiwan while the DPP has dominated in the south. Central Taiwan has been the most likely region to swing between the two camps.
That conventional wisdom did not hold up in the 2016 president election or in nationwide elections for local government offices in November 2018.
Amid widespread dissatisfaction over Tsai's performance, the KMT won control of over two-thirds of the 22 cities and counties while the DPP won only six, down from 13 previously.
That result was expected to hurt Tsai's bid for re-election, but her constant criticism of China and rhetorical defense of Taiwan's sovereignty along with missteps by the KMT and Han have put her in the driver's seat in the presidential poll.
Whether the rebound will extend to the DPP's legislative candidates remains unclear.
Eric Yu (俞振華), an associate research fellow at National Chengchi University's Election Study Center, said the DPP's ability to seize more votes in constituencies lost to the KMT last year will be the decisive factor in its legislative campaign and even Tsai's re-election bid.
Taoyuan, once a KMT stronghold, may have already shifted to the DPP since Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) assumed office as Taoyuan mayor in 2014, Yu said.
Cheng's performance not only helped Tsai win comfortably over Chu in Taoyuan in the 2016 presidential race, but also made him one of the DPP's few incumbents to win re-election in the mayoral and county chief races late last year, Yu said.
The increase in young people who work in Taipei or New Taipei but live in Taoyuan where housing prices are cheaper may also be changing the voter structure there in a way that hurts the KMT, which has generally been less favored by the younger generation, he said.
Some believe the KMT may have a better chance of maintaining its traditional advantage in Taipei, but Yu expects the KMT's Han to also have a hard time there because of the reluctance of so-called "blue intellectual voters" to vote for him.
Han, who won the Kaohsiung mayoral race a year ago touting himself as an average Joe, is not favored by many "pan-blue" voters, according to Yu.
In central Taiwan, dominated by Taichung City and Changhua County, voters have gone both ways, supporting the DPP in local elections in 2014 and in the presidential and legislative elections in 2016, but voting resoundingly for the KMT in 2018's local polls.
Taichung is now Taiwan's second-largest city, behind only New Taipei, thanks to a continued inflow of new residents, and the changing population structure could result in considerable uncertainty, according to Yu.
In Kaohsiung, Han is likely to lose to Tsai in the city because people there are unhappy with him for seeking the presidency within months after winning the mayoral election.
Chang Yu-tzung (張佑宗), head of the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University (NTU), contended that many voters are also disappointed with Han's performance in his first year in office, which has hurt their confidence in him.
NTU political science professor Wang Yeh-lih (王業立) argued, however, that voters will hold the government accountable for its performance when voting for the next president.
The KMT's Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) overwhelmingly defeated the DPP's Frank Hsieh in 2008 after voters were disgruntled with a series of corruption scandals during the previous administration of the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
It was the same in 2016, when Tsai beat the KMT's Chu after Ma's lackluster performance during his time in office, Wang said.
The public's dissatisfaction with Tsai's performance over her nearly four years in office might give the KMT an advantage in the upcoming presidential race, Wang said.
The KMT's win in the 2018 local elections was also attributed to voter discontent with Tsai, he said, predicting that even if Tsai does win re-election, she will likely receive fewer votes and the DPP will likely win fewer legislative seats than four years ago.