Tuesday, January 15, 2019

October 2018 Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council Public Opinion Polling on Cross Strait Relations

This polling was completed in the second half of October 2018, before the DPP got waxed in the local elections, and also before the reboot of Tsai Ing-wen's cross strait policy at New Years'.

First up: an area graph showing popular attitudes towards unification, independence, or maintaining the status quo.

Popular attitudes on reunification, independence, or maintaining the status quo, area graph

Starting from the bottom:

Maintain status quo in perpetuity (navy blue): 22.3%
Maintain status quo, then see whether to go reunfication or independence (robin's egg blue): 31.1%
Maintain status quo, then go for reunification (yellow): 16%
Maintain status quo, then go for independence (purple): 14%
Immediate independence (green): 8.6%
Immediate reunification (red): 3.1%
Don't know (grey): 4.8%

All in all, 83.4% for the status quo in one form or another.

 Here's the historical trend line graph for that data with the  same color key.  At the end of the graph, one can see the uptick in the "maintain status quo, then go for reunification" (yellow line) response, exceeding for the first time the "maintain status quo, then go for independence" (purple).

I'm guessing this bewildering spike in enthusiasm for reunification provided the impetus for Xi Jinping's speech pushing reunification that Team China War rather desperately spun as the "OMG HE'S PREPARING TO INVADE" moment.

Popular attitudes on reunification, independence, or maintaining the status quo, line graph
As for Tsai Ing-wen's protestations that she represents "the status quo",here's the most dramatic shift in the polling over the last couple years: the respondents who think the pace of cross strait relations is too slow has doubled to a plurality of all respondents (the green line): 39.7%

Too slow (green line): 39.7%
Just right (red line): 30%
Too fast: 10%
No opinion: 17.2%

I take this as a repudiation of Tsai's spin that refusing to endorse the 1992 consensus (and thereby putting relations with the PRC in the deep freeze while tiptoeing toward independence) was the right way forward for Taiwan.
Attitudes toward speed of exchanges across the straits

Finally, does the PRC hate the people of Taiwan, or just the government?  63% believe the PRC doesn't like the government (blue line), 40% (red line) think the PRC doesn't like the people either.

Perception that the government on the mainland is unfriendly toward us

It can be seen that the "hate the people" line is pretty steady while the "hate the government" line has not unsurprisingly spiked during the Tsai administration.

With all the usual caveats about polling, this is the picture of a risk-averse electorate and the government is going to have a hard time moving the needle toward independence.

The CCP's best move, on the other hand, is not to overplay its hand (especially by playing footsie with the KMT) and let domestic politics play out to Tsai's disadvantage.

Combine the dispiriting polling on cross-strait relations with Tsai's less-than-thrilling approval numbers, and Tsai emerging from the 2020 presidential campaign without a mandate (or even losing to the KMT candidate) is a possibility.

That's not going to make Team China War very happy, since the Pentagon is thirsting to serve as the shield for the vigorous island democracy battling for de jure independence, not standing idly by as the Taiwan electorate muddles through its options for appeasement.

For anxious hawks, the remedy is clearly Escalation!  and trying to sell the story that Taiwan's existential threat is from a Chinese invasion and subversion, not from the CCP using its economic weight to abet Taiwan's Finlandization.

That's why you get special pleadings like the Open letter to democratic Taiwan which landed in Tsai Ing-wen's inbox as she worked to reboot her administration after the November elections:

Taiwan is at a crossroads as never before. It is under an existential threat by the People’s Republic of China. While we respect the reality that Taiwan, like all democratic polities, has a range of domestic issues that must be resolved, that democratic process should proceed in a manner that does not detract from the overall national unity in the face of the larger threat to Taiwan’s existence as a free and democratic nation.

Taiwan under threat! is the keystone of Randy Schriver's narrative for China containment.  But as of November, the numbers didn't show it.  If Tsai can't move those numbers on her own, what's the Pentagon gonna do?