Twofish's Blog

November 29, 2006

Interesting poll numbers from Taiwan

Filed under: china, taiwan — twofish @ 4:31 pm

Here is an interesting set of poll numbers.

This poll gives

Yu added that the percentage of respondents who considered themselves “Taiwanese” had increased from 56 percent to 60 percent, while the percentage of respondents who considered themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese had dropped one percentage point to 34 percent.

However, the same organization asks the same question in a tracking poll….

And then get equal number of respondents saying that they are both Taiwanese and Chinese or Taiwanese only.

It’s interesting. There are two explanations I can think of for the change. One is that the exact question might be different. The second was that the first poll was paired with a question “should Taiwan be independent even if Beijing does not allow it” and that might have provoked a nationalistic reaction. I’m personally more interested in the tracking poll because that gives you a time series in which biases cancel out.

One interesting note is that reading the Chinese version of the question “should Taiwan be independent even if China objects” gives you a different flavor. One change is that the term “be independent” and “declare independence” is very different. The other thing is that Chinese uses ying-gai which has a very subtle difference in meaning. I should exercise even though I’m not going to do it.  If I wasn’t familar with the organization running the poll I’d question that but the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University does good work, so I trust there are no basic methodological problems.

The difference between the polls gives you a flavor for the two different uses of polls. The first is to justify a position. HA!! HA!!! 60% of Taiwanese say they are Taiwanese, and so shut up all this talk about unification. In this situation you want to simplify the poll questions and results. The second is to figure out what is going on. In this situation you want to ask multiple questions in different ways and realize that you are simplifying a complex situation. Something that has been mentioned about these polls is that increasingly when people are asked this question, they question the question. What do you mean when you mean Chinese?

When I’m in a internet debate, I tend to use the the first mode, but I only bring this up when I try to rebut someone that is oversimplifying things, and I try not to get into “see everyone agrees with me” mode when I’m arguing (because most of the time people don’t agree with me). I’m more interested in the second use of polls because that tells you want people’s moods are, and what is politically possible and what is not. Personally, I’d like to push things toward Chinese unification, and if I get an accurate account of what people believe (and people believe some very complex things) this makes it more effective to move things in that direction. What I’m really interested is something that is hard to capture in a poll which is not what you believe, but what are you *willing* to believe and what will make you change your mind. Product marketing. I sell ideas like other people sell soap.

The key result is that things are not hopeless, and barring some extremely stupid move by Beijing that will get everyone in trouble, it’s unlikely that things will become hopeless. The key result is that most Taiwanese are in the “status quo now, decide later” point of view. My main hope right now is that nothing will happen that will force people to make a decision now, and fortunately since neither the PRC or the US want to get into a war, that’s unlikely to the point that I only lose occasional sleep rather than spend entire nights worrying about this.

To connect this with the personal. On February 13, 1991, I made a decision that had far reaching impact on my life and was essentially a bet on the future of world geopolitics. Between 2001 and 2005, I was very concerned that this decision turned out to be an extremely stupid one which would doom me for life. I was lucky. Things could have turned out very badly for me (if the pan-greens had won the 2004 legislative election and then pushed for a referendenum and Iraq had gone slightly less badly which would have increased the power of the hard nationalists in Washington). They didn’t. They still could. It’s all luck and chance, and things could happen so that in 2010, my decision that evening would look really stupid. I can’t control world events. I can influence them, but they work in unpredictable ways.

W hat I can do, is to play the hand that I’m dealt with honor, dignity, and with a deep commitment to do the right thing. Part of playing the hand is to fight when you can, and keep hope up with there is a reasonable chance that things will get better. The polls say that people think I’m crazy, but things aren’t hopeless, and that’s good enough for me.


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