The Election Study Center at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University has released its annual survey results on political attitudes in Taiwan. They show a continuing trend of substantially more people in Taiwan identifying as Taiwanese than the next highest identification, “Both Taiwanese and Chinese.” At the same time, in terms of political relations with China, popular opinion is shown to remain locked around three variations on the status quo.
On the identity issue, the survey saw 60.8% of respondents identify as Taiwanese. This is slightly down on the previous year, where the figure sat at 62.3%, and down again from the 2020 peak of 64.3%. However, it remains well above the 32.9% of people identifying as both Taiwanese and Chinese, and the 2.7% identifying as Chinese. There is no significant challenge to the long-term trajectory of increasing identification as Taiwanese, which began in the early years of the Election Study Center’s polling (beginning in 1992) and has climbed particularly steadily since the introduction of full democratic elections in 1996.
On the question of relations with unification with China, maintaining the status quo was still shown to dominate thinking, but not as a solid block. The option of “Maintain status quo, decide at a later date” led with 28.7% of people, while “Maintain status quo indefinitely” came in second with 28.5%. The idea of maintaining the status quo indefinitely has risen slightly in recent years (25.8% in 2020 and 27.3% in 2021) but has remained steady for over a decade (since the rise from 18.4% in 2008 to 2010’s 26.2%.) “Maintain status quo, decide at a later date,” meanwhile, has been falling steadily since 2007, when it reached a high of 38.7% of respondents.
Of options that represent change, by far the most popular is the incremental “Maintain status quo, move toward independence” option, though its popularity has stabilized since its surge between 2018 (15.1%) and 2019 (25.5%). It now sits at 25.4% of respondents for 2022, compared to 2021’s 25.1%. At the same time, “Maintain status quo, move toward unification” sits at 5.2%. Support for “Independence as soon as possible” at 5.1% and “Unification as soon as possible” at 1.3% have both remained steady around those marks since the polling began.
Describing the significance of the polls, John Feng, a contributing editor of Newsweek, pointed out on Twitter that they’re useful for highlighting long-term trends, rather than “chas[ing] current affairs.” Feng noted, for instance, that “the strength of 2018’s ‘Han wave’ stands out” — referring to the popularity of Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) during the 2018 presidential election, in which he stood as a candidate for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which broadly advocates for closer ties to China. Han’s popularity correlated with a rise in support for “Maintain status quo, move toward unification,” which moved from 7.9% of respondents in 2014 to 12.8% in 2018 before falling back down to 7.5% in 2019.
The survey’s usefulness is contested on a number of grounds, including that it’s misleading to characterize the opinions as an open choice, when the threat of invasion hangs over any move toward independence. Other polling methodologies have also found far more support for independence.
The reason the area is so contested, however, is obvious. In two ways, these opinions are crucial. First, substantial legal and moral claims over Taiwan’s right to remain separate from China rest on the idea of Taiwan’s people having self-determination. Therefore, establishing in which direction they would like to “self-determine” is of crucial significance. And second, China’s own decision-making about how to act on Taiwan may rest on internal factors (such as its “demographic window”), but it could also rest on how likely or unlikely it believes Taiwan’s people are to accept or reject its demands.
Note: 12,173 people participated in this year’s Election Study Center survey. Details of the methodology can be found here. The survey targets the adult population of Taiwan over 20 years old, excluding the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu, and the sample is drawn from telephone books. Percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth.