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The Wild Card of Youth Voters in the Taiwan Elections

The 2024 presidential election could change the trajectory of Taiwanese politics within its borders and shape Taiwan's future as a critical player in the geopolitics of East Asia and beyond. As Washington and Beijing pay close attention to the outcome, Taiwan’s younger voters will play a critical role in shaping its future.

The Rise of a Third Way

Young voters in Taiwan are increasingly frustrated with the two main political parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). They see both as establishment parties that are more focused on the past, and less on the future. They are also dissatisfied with the status quo and want more progressive policies. As a result, they are increasingly turning to third parties in search of a fresh perspective and a better representation of their interests. The appetite for change is apparent with the rapid rise of a third party to challenge the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT). The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) is a recent entrant in the presidential race, tracing its origins back to the era of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan under Chiang Wei-Shui. The party’s resurgence, led by presidential candidate Wen-Je Ke during his second mayoral term in Taipei City, gained traction among young and swing voters influenced by the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement. The TPP’s emergence reflects the desire of young Taiwanese voters to transcend the polarized political landscape marred by divisive tactics and lack of competition. However, the TPP lacks a definitive policy stance. Internationally seen as a relatively populist force, where precisely the TPP stands on Taiwan’s position in the world remains fluid.

The TPP’s domestic influence beyond Hsinchu City’s Mayor Kao Hung-An, its sole mayor/magistrate representative, is also unclear. An imbalanced gender ratio and skewed participation observed during the “716 Parade”, organized by Ko and the TPP, highlighting concerns about the underrepresentation of young female voters in particular, as Ko’s campaign predominantly resonated with young men. Ko’s frequent controversial statements, having closer ties with the PRC, anti-feminism, and comments targeting the cultural difference between Northern and Southern Taiwanese have drawn unnecessary opposition. The pivotal question for Taiwan and its youth is whether Ko’s ascendancy model is replicable and sustainable for the nation’s political evolution and to what extent the “Spectrum reformation” has been advanced through the TPP’s engagement.

Looking Beyond Taiwan’s Borders and Constraints

Taiwanese youth align with the global anti-totalitarian trend, advocating for distancing from China and collaborating with democratic allies, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. Given that the DPP underscores democratization, international engagement, and ties with the United States, it has been given new life through greater youth support. This emerging power seeks a Non-Green alliance for peace and would eschew the KMT’s policy to engage more with the PRC. Like the “Natural Independent” cohort, Taiwan’s young generation treats China as a contingency plan. More specifically, Taiwanese young people are hedging against US withdrawal/China winning invasion by learning English, getting international degrees, and building relationships with people from other countries. They also invest in Taiwan’s economy and develop their skills and talents, which best prepare them for a future where Taiwan may need to rely more on itself.

For Taiwan’s most promising younger generation, including those in the highly sought STEM field, the ability to work with democratic nations in the longer term is critical for their professional ambition for career growth. However, Taiwan’s demanding job market pushes them abroad. Despite close alliances and US support, many young Taiwanese consider staying locally the most practical development route. Although the work culture of long hours has been a palpable disadvantage, the recent proposal of “Three days off a week” on the Public Policy Online Network Platform, which had the potential to make Taiwan the first Asian country to do so, is considered the initiation of the workers’ “Squelch”. The Taiwanese government and STEM enterprises, which are often targeted regarding the issue of long working hours, are obligated to make the response to either process the proposal or increase or expand the overall welfare as the essential part of the quid pro quo.

Cultural shifts are evident, too. The younger, post-democratization generation, accustomed to a democratic environment, only knows Taiwan as a de facto independent entity. Born into a democratized era, they might lack full sovereignty awareness. Social media interaction between Taiwanese and Chinese youth influences interpretations of “Sovereignty” and political inclinations. Although some argue about social media’s limited cultural impact, the transition from the politically active “Natural Independence” generation to the apolitical new internet generation triggers ongoing shifts in political dynamics. This generation is also more likely to support a party allowing Taiwan to act as a country due to its high exposure to international news and information, and they are more likely to believe that Taiwan should be able to make its own decisions about its future. This new generation is also more likely to be dissatisfied with the status quo in Taiwan. They feel that the two main political parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT), are too focused on the past and not enough on the future. As a result, they are also more likely to want more progressive policies on the international end.

The 2024 presidential election in Taiwan carries profound geopolitical implications, shaping its relationship with the US and China. The emergence of the TPP as the third party reflects young voters’ desire for political transformation. Taiwanese youth, advocating against totalitarianism, seek collaboration with democratic allies. The election’s outcome will determine Taiwan’s path amidst the US/China conflict. Striking a balance between economic alliances and mitigating China’s risks is crucial. Economic diplomacy with the EU, Japan, and Southeast Asia reinforces Taiwan’s stance. Amid escalating tension, Taiwan’s commitment to democracy stands strong, while its efforts to safeguard prosperity remain resolute. The influence of young voters further underscores the nation’s future direction.

Will Hung was a summer 2023 intern with the Wilson Center’s Asia Program.

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The views expressed are the author's alone, and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government or the Wilson Center. Copyright 2020, Asia Program. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Will Hung

Program Intern, Asia Program

Indo-Pacific Program

The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more