Politicians Attempting To Capture The Youth Vote After The Sunflower Movement

Politicians Attempting To Capture The Youth Vote After The Sunflower Movement

Following the Sunflower Movement, young people captured the attention of the Taiwanese public, leading to Taiwanese politicians seeking to attract the youth vote

Following the Sunflower Movement, young people, previously viewed as the lazy “strawberry generation,” captured the attention of the Taiwanese public. The notion of young people actively participating in politics was a new one, seeing as young people had previously been seen as indifferent to politics.

“Go! Youth!” campaign ad part of Ko Wen-Je’s successful campaign for Taipei mayor

Taipei (台北) mayor Ko Wen-Je (柯文哲) pioneered the inclusion of young people in his electoral campaign, subsequently, in winning in his bid for Taipei mayor despite running as an independent candidate who was of neither of the pan-Green nor pan-Blue political camps and as a first-time political candidate. Ko, the head of the department of traumatology at National Taiwan University (國立臺灣大學), received the endorsement by the pan-Green camp after defeating the DPP candidate in a run-off, but as with the Sunflower Movement’s criticisms of both the DPP or KMT, Ko was not a DPP candidate. Ko also constructed an image for himself in his campaigning as an “everyday person participating in politics”  (素人參加政治) much as the Sunflower Movement had opened up the path to regular people participating in politics.

In efforts to win over young people, Ko brought a large number of young people who had participated in the Sunflower Movement into his campaign. Ko’s campaign also featured a modern design aesthetic akin to that seen in youth movements and many of his attempts at outreach featured Ko participating in activities young people liked to do, such as visiting live houses for indie music, playing independent board games, trying his hand at tattooing, or exploring 3D printing. Ko’s electoral victory therefore demonstrated how incorporating young people into a mayoral campaign could be highly successful. Indeed, Ko’s campaign slogan was “Go! Youth!”, taken from the indie band “Sorry Youth” (拍謝少年) which frequently performed at demonstrations.

Campaign ad by Tsai Ing-Wen released during 2016 presidential elections visually citing a large number of youth activist issues

Subsequently, Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文) of the DPP’s bid for president also took efforts to bring young people into her team and generate campaign advertising which would appeal to young people. Aaron Nieh, the designer of the Democracy at 4 AM ad in the New York Times and one of Taiwan’s most famous young designers, was brought into Tsai’s campaign team to guide the aesthetic for her campaign as whole. Campaign ads by Tsai also visually cited many of the hotbed issues which had concerned Taiwanese youth activists, including abandoned animals, forced housing evictions in Dapu, Miaoli, the campaign to remove Chiang Kai-Shek statues from high school and college campuses, “new immigrants” (新移民) from Southeast Asia, and marriage equality, as well as films and music which were popular which social activists.

A large part of Tsai’s victory is therefore attributed to young people jumping onboard with her campaign and supporting and, in turn, this attracting the support of members of society who had been in support of the Sunflower Movement.

Carnival-like New Power Party campaign rally during 2016 legislative elections. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

As a more direct form of participation in electoral politics, the new political parties of the “Third Force” also were directly formed from youth activists who decided to run for legislature themselves. An early sign of youth activists seeking to enter politics came from Chen Wei-Ting (陳為廷) seeking to run in a by-election for the Miaoli county legislative in late 2014, although he later withdrew because of a past sexual harassment scandal, but new political parties including the New Power Party, Social Democratic Party-Green Party Alliance, and Free Taiwan Party were all post-Sunflower movement developments, involving youth activists and key figures of the Sunflower Movement themselves running for office.

Only the New Power Party, which consisted of much of the central leadership of the Sunflower Movement and was led by chair Huang Kuo-Chang (黃國昌), managed to enter into the legislature, but key figures of the Sunflower Movement were involved in all of these parties, which came to be known as the “Third Force.” Zeng Po-Yu (曾柏瑜) joined the Green Party and ran as one of its candidates and Wei Yang (魏揚) of the Black Island Youth Front joined the Social Democratic Party after some time in the New Power Party, for example. Many of these parties continued tendencies seen in the Sunflower Movement. All of the “Third Force” (第三勢力) parties featured a fresh campaign aesthetic and relied heavily on the Internet to campaign. As part of the aspiration towards a digital “radical democracy”, the New Power Party also used online voting to determine nominations for its candidates and its policy platforms.

Notably, the DPP endorsed Third Force parties, noticeably going out of its way to leave open possible electoral districts for Huang Kuo-Chang to run in and sharing offices with Hung Tzu-Yung (洪慈庸) of the New Power Party. The DPP also conducted a youth training plan, which brought in many post-Sunflower Movement activists into the DPP as grassroots staff. This was primarily an initiative of Tsai Ing-Wen, however, later leading to criticism of her from within her own party that she had gone too much out of her way to try and win the youth vote even when this might be grooming future potential enemies of the DPP.


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Photo credit: Tsai Ing-Wen 2016 Campaign