Return to the Library

The Embarrassment of Taiwanese “Public Opinion”: On the Disenchantment of “Public Opinion” in Taiwan’s Politics


An expert on Taiwan and cross-Strait relations delves deep into the concept of public opinion and its role in Taiwan’s political system. The author seeks to discredit public opinion trends in Taiwan through a variety of arguments, such as by suggesting they are manipulated through strategic question design and often purely a reflection of elite opinion.

Key takeaways
  • Chen Xing, an expert on Taiwan affiliated with several research centers, including Xiamen University Center for Taiwan Studies, analyzes the concept of public opinion in Taiwan.
  • Chen suggests that public opinion in Taiwan is not a true expression of the will of the electorate for a variety of reasons, including limited understanding of the issues; systematic manipulation of public opinion by political parties and politicians to serve their own policy interests; and what Chen frames as the widespread existence of a “patron-client” structure in Taiwanese society, in which opinions of the elite override those of the masses.
  • The author also suggests that public opinion as expressed through polling is “filtered” and corrupted by choices in the “production process,” such as strategic textual prompts, questionnaire design, and other polling techniques and methods. Along these lines, Chen argues that surveys about national identity in Taiwan deliberately instill an “either-or” line of thinking into society that enhances skepticism of China.
  • Chen also argues that elections are not a good weather vane for the demands of individuals. This is evident, Chen suggests, in the fact that many voters support “peaceful development” of cross-Strait relations but “still choose to support the DPP.”

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link
Original text
English text
See an error? Drop us a line at
View the translated and original text side-by-side

“Public opinion” is an important concept in Taiwan’s politics. In Taiwan’s society, politicians or political organizations always claim to “obey public opinion.” Political mobilization and political communication always seek to “enchant” public opinion and use it as a powerful talisman. However, in real politics, outside of specific occasions such as verbal political declarations and during election campaigns, public opinion is not only ignored, but also guided, shaped, and even manipulated as a tool used in vicious party struggles. In light of the above-mentioned contradictions are concerned, the “sacredness” of public opinion in Taiwan is more like a kind of “charm,” which not only involves the “legitimacy” of Taiwan’s political system, but also involves cross-Strait relations, including the construction of the “legitimacy” of “Taiwan independence” and “autonomy” in public opinion, the conflict of the “public opinion” on both sides of the Strait, and the use of the so-called “will of 23 million Taiwanese people” to confront the motherland and oppose national reunification. The enchanting appearance of Taiwan’s public opinion has cast a thick fog over Taiwan’s politics and cross-Strait relations. To deeply understand the essence of Taiwan’s politics and the interactive structure of cross-Strait public opinion, we must first start by disenchanting Taiwan’s public opinion.1

“民意” (public opinion) 是台湾政治中的重要概念。在台湾社会,政治人物或者政治组织言必称“顺从民意”,政治动员及政治传播不断为民意“赋魅”,终于将其推到了“神主牌”的位置上。不过在现实政治中,口头的政治宣示和公职选举等特定场合之外,民意不但被漠视,而且被引导、被塑造甚至被操控而成为政党恶斗的工具。就上述矛盾而言,台湾民意之“神圣性”更像是一种“魅惑”,不仅涉及台湾政治系统的“合法性”问题,更涉及两岸关系,包括“台独”和“主体性”在民意上的“合法性”建构、两岸“民意”冲突及以所谓“2,300万台湾人民的意志”对抗祖国大陆与国家统一等问题。台湾民意的魅惑表象给台湾政治与两岸关系蒙上了厚重的迷雾,深入认识台湾政治本质及两岸民意互动结构首先需要从台湾民意的祛魅开始。

In the study of Taiwan politics and cross-Strait relations, public opinion is an issue that receives much attention. At present, academic research on public opinion in Taiwan mainly focuses on a few specific dimensions, such as presenting the distribution of public opinion using polls as the basic tool, the impact of the development of new media on public opinion, the interaction between public policies and the views of the public, and how public views appear in the thinking of both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Most of this research focuses on presenting public opinion in the form of “views,” and rarely involves public opinion in its “conceptual” form. Professor Chen Kongli has made a conceptual distinction in Taiwanese public opinion from the perspectives of “general opinion” and “political attitudes,”2 and Ye Shiming conducted a structural analysis of public opinion in Taiwan from the perspective of the correlation and consistency between public opinion and specific issues.3 This type of research provides useful inspiration for further conceptual analysis of public opinion in Taiwan. In general, when analyzing the Taiwan issue, the academic community often takes the autonomous existence and “value-laden existence” of public opinion as a premise, but ignores the fact that public opinion is guided and shaped by elite groups, resulting in conflicts and contradictions between real political life and the findings of normative research. Since public opinion has the important function of providing “legitimacy” for Taiwan’s political system, it often carries the allure of so-called “democratic values.” In the process of political mobilization, Taiwan’s public opinion continues to be “enchanted,” which makes it more difficult to understand “public opinion.”


1. From public will to public views: The instrumental expression of “public opinion” in Taiwan


Although widely used, “public opinion” is a rather muddled concept. The words translated as “public opinion” (民意) in Chinese can signify different concepts in English, such as public opinion, popular will, and general will. General will is the core concept of Rousseau’s political thought and is generally translated into Chinese as gongyi [公意]. However, Rousseau’s description of the concept of general will is vague. He proposed a general will only to contrast it with the personal will of the monarch, and gave a broad description of the general will as the unified will of all the people, while turning a blind eye to the specific interests, skills, and legal expressions of various classes and groups in real-world societies.4 Popular will refers to a “collective will,” “public will,” or the “desires of the people” in an abstract sense. It is used more frequently within the binary distinction framework of “elitism vs. pluralism.” The key implication of this concept is how public opinion is collected and how it is reflected in policy making and implementation.5 In addition, in the context of this binary distinction, the popular will is given a stronger “class” connotation in some cases.6 Compared with the abstract “will,” current dissuasions of public opinion in the field of political theory focus more on the immediate and changeable characteristics of opinion, referring to publicly or privately expressed opinions of members of the public on social affairs, events, and issues of concern.7 Comparatively, public opinion certainly emphasizes the “public” aspect of public opinion, but it emphasizes the “viewpoint” characteristics of public opinion even more. This is because, in the actual political process, the presentation of collected views is the direct form by which public opinion influences the political system.

虽然被广泛使用,但“民意”却是一个相当含混的概念。汉语中翻译成“民意”者,在英语中就有public opinion、popular will、general will等不同概念。General will是卢梭政治思想的核心概念,一般称为“公意”,但卢梭对公意概念的描述却含混不清。他提出公意只是为了与君主的个人意志相对照,并笼统地把公意说成是全体人民的统一意志,而对于现实社会中各阶级、各集团的具体利益、意志及其法律表现反倒视而不见。Popular will指“集体意志”“公共意志”,或是抽象意义上的“民心”,一般在“精英主义vs 多元主义”的二元区分框架下使用较多。这一概念的关键意涵是民意如何被收集以及如何在政策制定与施行中被体现。此外,在这种二元区分语境下,popular will在有些情况下被赋予了比较强烈的“阶级”意涵。与抽象意义上的will相比,目前政治学理论对民意的讨论更加关注即时和多变特征的opinion,指涉公众对所关心的社会事务、事件和问题等所持的公开或非公开表达的意见。比较而言,public opinion固然强调民意的“公共性”,但更强调民意的“观点”特征,因为在具体的政治过程中,观点的集中呈现才是民意作用于政治系统的直接形式。

When Taiwanese society talks about minyi [民意], it generally refers to “public opinion.” The reason is that only when direct views are collected and presented through institutional intermediaries (such as the electoral system) and organizational intermediaries (such as political parties) can they have an impact on the political system. However, this is precisely the cause of the embarrassment of public opinion in Taiwan. On the one hand, the popular will, as the value foundation of modern politics, has acquired a certain “sacred” aura. This is especially true in Taiwanese society. Since its so-called “democratization,” the popular will has long held the position of a “talisman.” On the other hand, in real politics, the instrumental manipulation of the public will by political parties and politicians continues to weaken its sanctity. In political philosophy, the public will holds an unassailable position as the cornerstone of the political system and social governance value system. However, in reality, the expression of public will is often reduced to participation in the political process in the form of elections or social movements. The public will is thus simplified into a collection of views that people can and are willing to express, and the stable social psychological structure behind this is no longer emphasized.8 In an election-centered political context, public opinion is further reduced to a set of views on certain controversial issues held by certain important segments of the population.9 Therefore,  public will has undergone a transformation from a “value” to a “tool” in the process of political self-realization. However, in this transformation, political parties and politicians have also transferred the value halo of the public will to the instrumental process of presenting public opinion, giving political processes such as elections a certain “value” color.10

台湾社会谈及民意一般是指public opinion。究其原因,只有直接的观点富集起来,并经过制度中介(如选举制度)和组织中介(如政党)呈现出来才能对政治系统产生影响。但是,这正是台湾民意的尴尬之处。一方面,公共意志作为现代政治的价值基础,获得了某种“神圣”的光环。台湾社会更是如此,自所谓“民主化”以来,公共意志早已被送上了“神主牌”的位置。另一方面,现实政治中,政党和政客对公共意志的工具性操作却不断削弱其神圣性。在政治哲学中,公共意志作为政治制度与社会治理价值基石的地位牢不可破,但现实中公共意志表达往往被化约为以选举投票或社会运动等形式参与政治过程,公共意志因此被简化成能够并愿意表达出来的观点集合,其背后的稳定社会心理结构不再被强调。在以选举为中心的政治语境下,民意更被化约为由人口的某些重要部分所持有的对某些有争议问题的一系列看法。于是,公共意志在自我政治实现的过程中完成了由“价值”到“工具”的转换。不过在这种转换中,政党和政治人物把公共意志的价值光环也一并移接到民意呈现的工具性过程之上,赋予了选举等政治过程某种“价值”色彩。

In terms of values, the concept of the public will covers a very broad scope. The opinions or attitudes of the general public towards public affairs or specific phenomena can be called public opinion.11 The value dimension of the public will mainly refers to people’s concern for their own living conditions and their expectations for improved future circumstances, whereas politics is a specific way of reflecting these concerns and realizing these demands. In real politics, the value implications of the public will are obviously greatly compressed in the political process, and public will can hardly control the behavior of intermediaries, but is often controlled by them. Rousseau had already discovered this problem. He said: “Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is; the people are never corrupted, but they are often deceived, and only then do they seem to will what is bad.”12 Although Rousseau saw the problem, he had no solution. He proposed regular meetings and voting on proposals.13 This is obviously difficult to implement, and it is naturally impossible to save public will from the fate of its alienation in the political process. In the current political context in the Taiwan region, political parties and other intermediary organizations care most about the political views of the people because these views can be converted into specific political support during elections. This means that under the representative system, the instrumentalization of public opinion is an inevitable reality, providing intermediary organizations with a vast space for rent-seeking. Therefore, what Taiwan’s academic circles refer to as “public opinion” in most cases is “public opinion” in the instrumental dimension, which mainly refers to the views and attitudes of the Taiwanese people that have a direct impact on the political system. This concept is closer to what Rousseau called “general opinion” (众意). Public opinion is often translated into yulun[舆论], gongzhong yijian[公众意见], or gonggong yijian[公共意见]. 14 Therefore, the political realization of public will is transformed into a technical process of how to collect views of a certain type in order to achieve a reshuffle of the political power structure.

从价值角度来看,公共意志概念涵括的范围非常广泛,社会公众对公共事务或特定现象的意见或态度均可称为民意。公共意志的价值维度主要指涉民众对自身生存状态的关怀以及对未来际遇改善的期待,政治则是映射这些关怀、实现这些诉求的具体方式。现实政治中,公共意志在实现过程中其价值意涵很显然被大幅度压缩了,而且公共意志几乎不能控制中介的行为,在相当多的时候反倒为中介所控制。卢梭即已发现了这个问题,他说:“人民总是愿意自己幸福,但人民并不总是能看清楚幸福。人民是决不会被腐蚀,但人民往往会受欺骗,而且唯有在这时候,人民才好像会愿意要不好的东西。”卢梭虽然看到了问题所在,却无救世良方,他提出了定期集会与提案表决的办法,③这显然很难操作,在政治过程中自然无法使公共意志摆脱被异化的命运。在目前台湾地区的政治语境中,政党等中介组织最为在意者是民众的政治观点,因为这些观点在选举时可以转化为特定的政治支持。这意味着代议制下,民意的工具化取向是不可避免的现实,为中介组织提供了广阔的寻租空间。因此,台湾学界所谓的“民意”绝大多数情况下是指工具维度上的“民意”,即public opinion,主要指涉台湾民众意见与态度中对政治系统产生直接影响的观点。这个概念更接近卢梭所说的“众意”。Public opinion很多时候被翻译成舆论,或者公众意见、公共意见等。于是,公共意志的政治实现转化为如何富集某一类观点以实现政治权力格局重新洗牌的技术性过程。

The tendency to instrumentalize public opinion in Taiwan’s politics means that the value significance of the public will is reduced, but it also means that public opinion can be mobilized. Public opinion, when considered in terms of views (opinions), is inherently unstable. Some scholars have explained this characteristic of public opinion by looking at the concept of the “public.” “The public is a fluid group of people naturally united around a particular political or social problem. Therefore, as political and social issues change, the elements that bind the public together will also change. Public opinion, then, refers to the views of different members of the public on a particular issue at a given time.” 15 Under normal circumstances, there are too many factors that influence the formation of views of the public, such as level of education, occupation, age, gender, party identification, political expediency, and the context of discussing politics with others. All of these factors can influence the views of the public.16 It is precisely because of this that in Taiwan’s politics, public views often show different faces on different issues, and there is often a huge gap between the support for political parties and the support for individual candidates in elections for public office. If we ignore factors such as the deliberate guidance of political parties and other political forces, the views of the public are naturally fragmented. Without guidance and regulation, it is unlikely that relatively consistent opinions will be formed spontaneously. This is also the space where the so-called “public opinion mobilization” can gain a foothold.


The tension between the value dimension and the instrumental dimension of the public will is constant. In actual politics, the value-based demands of the people are dispersed, and unless society falls into a major crisis, it is generally difficult to form relatively unified value-based demands. However, when the instrumental expression is too strong, the value dimension of the public will rebound in “self-defense,” causing the tension between the two to increase, and even leading to fierce conflict when public opinion is presented. Judging from the results, however, the value-based demands of the public will are often no match for instrumental operations. If we also take into account the hostility to and suppression of value-based demands by political forces that use public opinion as a tool to seize power, very few value-based demands can ultimately be successfully presented. In order to pursue their own political interests, political parties and other political forces often strengthen the instrumental function of public opinion and eliminate its value-based demands by influencing public views. In Taiwan’s politics, methods such as inciting ethnic conflicts to suppress the concept of social reconciliation and inciting cross-Strait hatred to suppress the concept of peaceful development are common tactics used by the pan-Green forces to strengthen the instrumental function of public opinion.


2. The structure and characteristics of public opinion in Taiwan


In its instrumental dimension, public opinion is actually the collection and presentation of the views of the public on a certain issue.17 Therefore, the structural analysis of public opinion mainly involves the various levels of the process of the presentation of views and the relationships among these levels. Looking at Taiwan’s political reality, the structure of public opinion is mainly reflected in the contradictory movements of the following three pairs of relationships:


First, there is the process of transforming individual views into group views and their alienation. In some research, public opinion is actually regarded as simply the collection of individual opinions, which is expressed in externalized methods such as voting. George Horace Gallup even believed that public opinion was the average opinion, which could be obtained by adding up individual opinions to get the aggregate opinion. An election or “referendum” is the process of collecting individual opinions through procedural arrangements. It is through this process that public opinion establishes a close link between the masses and the elites they support.18 However, the group views are not simply the sum of individual views, nor do they necessarily faithfully reflect the demands of individuals. For example, many polls conducted by local institutions have shown that support for peaceful development is the mainstream view among the Taiwanese people, but in the election, many voters still choose to support the DPP. Even without considering external pressure, in the process of individual views converging into group views, individuals can often only choose views from a specific series of conflicts and these may not necessarily truly reflect their values. However, in most studies, this difference is often ignored. In terms of procedure, “decisions based on public opinion” are simply a matter of head counting, and “majority rule” has become the basic principle for determining who gets to have power. The corresponding process has also been given a “sacred” cloak due to the formalistic support of the “public opinion.”

第一,个体观点向群体观点的转化过程及其异化。在一些研究中,民意事实上被当成了个体观点的集合,并以投票等外化的方式表达出来。盖洛普(George Horace Gallup)甚至认为民意就是平均观点(average opinion),可以通过加总单个观点的方式得到集合观点(aggregate opinion)。选举或者“公投”就是通过程序性安排,将单个观点富集起来的过程,也正是通过这一过程,民意使大众与其所支持的精英建立了密切的联系。群体观点并不是个体观点的简单累加,更不一定忠实反映个体的诉求。例如,岛内机构做的许多民调都显示支持和平发展是台湾民众的主流观点,但在选举中许多选民仍会选择支持民进党。即使不考虑外在的压力,在个体观点向群体观点聚合的过程中,个体观点往往只能在一系列冲突中进行选择,并不一定能真实反映其价值观照。不过在大部分研究中,这种差异往往被忽略,“民意决定”从程序上变成了简单的数人头游戏,“多数决”成为决定权力归属的基本原则,相关过程也因为有“民意”形式上的加持而披上了“神圣”的外衣。

Second, there are contradictions and conflicts between elite and popular views. In Taiwanese society, most politicians or political parties regard themselves as “representatives” of public opinion. Generally speaking, the “public opinion” represented here must refer to public views, otherwise “representation” would be meaningless. This kind of representation is actually based on the stratification of public opinion, that is, it recognizes the existence of structural inequality within public opinion. Researchers pointed out this issue long ago, namely, public opinion is “the result of interactions and intersections among the majority of the general public, a minority of opinion leaders, and a very small number of political decisionmakers.” The opinions of the general public are rarely structured and systematic, and they cannot grasp problems or propose solutions. Opinion leaders can not only grasp onto the problems, but also propose solutions. They integrate the opinions of the public into systematic views and bring them into the political marketplace.19 The existence of a widespread “patron-client” structure in Taiwanese society clearly shows that the views of the elite override those of the masses. In this structure, theoretically, the views of the public, who accounts for the largest proportion, should play a decisive role, but most political transactions are often completed between opinion leaders and political decision-makers. The views of the public occupy a relatively marginal position, while political brokers and other similar actors are the piles that connect the superstructure to its foundation. They become the hub of the political system and play an important role in the political process.


Third, there is the distinction and transformation of value perspectives and emotional perspectives. Value-based views generally refer to the opinions formed after rational thinking on matters involving major interests of the group or society, while emotional views generally refer to the opinions formed after mobilization, and mostly refer to the views formed under the influence of specific situations. During occasions where public opinion is presented on a large scale such as elections for public office and referendums, the role of political mobilization is to guide the public to form emotional views. In order to win public support and mobilize public emotions, political parties on the island are constantly innovating and using new methods, especially the DPP. The “two bullets” operation during the 2004 election was a typical case of the DPP mobilizing public sentiment. When it comes to issues where there are differences in thinking, political parties will use emotional mobilization to suppress rational thinking, thereby obtaining the public opinion presentation results that the party wants. The “anti-nuclear” issue of the pan-Green forces provides a good example. “Anti-nuclear” is the basic demand of the DPP, and it is also the “talisman” that the DPP has always insisted on before they came to power. For the DPP, “anti-nuclear” is no longer an energy issue, but a political issue. The safety of nuclear power has long been proven, and Taiwan even passed the “Nuclear Power to Support Green Energy” referendum in 2018, but this did not affect the DPP’s continued promotion of the “non-nuclear” policy. In the so-called “four referendums” of 2021, the DPP used its ruling advantage to strengthen its mobilization efforts.20 It actually achieved a complete victory in the four referendums, including opposing the “restart of fourth nuclear power plant.” In Taiwan’s politics, emotional views are an important component of public opinion, and the struggle between emotional views and value-based views is an important contradictory relationship in the structure of Taiwanese public opinion.


These three pairs of relationships and their movements in the Taiwanese public opinion structure roughly determine the basic pattern of public opinion in Taiwan, and also give rise to two of its basic characteristics.


First, public views are relatively less rational. The public’s understanding of many issues is not very systematic. “Many issues are of little public interest even if they have a significant impact on the public, and those who hold strong or radical views may be those with the least ample or most inaccurate information. The public exists, but they certainly don’t have insights on all issues.”21 Therefore, when discussing the “public” feature of public opinion, it is often necessary to incorporate a series of assumptions. When discussing this issue, Yang Yijing presupposed three assumptions: There is a public of knowledgeable individuals with the ability to act and reflect and to connect and interact; there is a public forum (public domain) for open expression and debate; and the form of expression must reflect communicative rationality and critical analysis.22 The above three assumptions determine that the public nature (and relative rationality) of public opinion can only exist within a very small scope. Research shows that level of education and voting participation in Taiwan are negatively correlated.23 We find it difficult to assume that participants with lower education levels are more rational, so we can only conclude that their higher level of participation is the result of high-intensity mobilization.


Second, Taiwan’s public opinion has a strong elitist coloring. The low rationality and lack of self-organizing ability of Taiwan’s public opinion have provided politicians with a broad space for rent-seeking. It has become an open secret that public opinion is manipulated to gain political benefits. Although Taiwan’s politics have undergone drastic changes since the war, the system of political power brokers has remained firmly in place. Not only have political brokers failed to disappear, but they evolved new means of survival. For example, the grassroots factions on the island have completed the transformation from a “client structure” to a “semi-client structure.”24 In Taiwanese society, public opinion is not only unable to break free from the control of elites, but is becoming increasingly dependent on elitism.


Huang Tong-yi and others therefore hold that “public opinion” as the factor that formally determines the ownership of political power is an absurd concept. First, public opinion is the source of political legitimacy, but because the public lacks policy knowledge, the autonomy of public opinion is subject to many influences from specialists or politicians. Second, public opinion requires the possibility of obtaining information. In an information-closed environment, even if the public can make rational judgments, they are still constrained by insufficient information. Third, public opinion contains multiple values, but the design of the policy consensus-building system may make public opinion more prone to manipulation.25 In Taiwan’s politics, the fundamental problem with public opinion is that it is difficult for the people to improve their level of rationality, and public will is difficult to implement procedurally. Therefore, the public inevitably becomes the vassals and tools of political parties and politicians. The pattern of emotional views has a significant component of randomness, and the weather and individual moods can be important factors affecting emotional views. Judging from the drastic changes in public opinion in Taiwan, emotional views obviously account for a non-negligible proportion of public opinion. However, the emotional characteristics of such political views are often obscured by the assumption of “voter rationality.” The concept of the so-called “independent voter” [中间选民, literally “median voter”] in Taiwan’s election research is an example. If we look at the presentation of public opinion, independent voters can only refer to the swing group in voting, and the direction of their swing is more likely to be dominated by emotional views. Some argue that the so-called “independent voters” mainly refer to a group that is indifferent to politics or holds a negative or rejecting attitude towards political information. They sometimes go to vote, but often decide who to vote for based on the “instructions” of the “opinion leaders” around them in the last moments before they vote.26 If we presuppose the rationality of independent voters as a group when analyzing them, we will obviously go in the wrong direction.


3. The presentation, production, and flow of public opinion in Taiwan


For politics, only public opinion that can be presented or has the potential to be presented is meaningful. There is a big difference between the “presentation” of public opinion and the “expression” of public opinion. The former places more emphasis on the process and final format of a certain kind of public opinion presentation, including the intermediate links that influence the final format of public opinion. The latter places more emphasis on the fact that public opinion is expressed and does not overemphasize the results of the expression. At the same time, the concept of public opinion expression places more emphasis on the initiative of public opinion. The presentation of public opinion can be divided into two types: one is the “active” presentation of public opinion, which is mostly public opinion as expressed regularly through institutional arrangements, such as elections at all levels; the other is passive presentation, which is mostly public opinion as displayed by relevant organizers, such as various public polls. Of course, the boundary between “active” and “passive” here is not hard and fast. For example, from an institutional perspective, the people’s election voting tendencies can be said to be regularly and actively presented, but this is greatly influenced by the mobilization of political parties. Generally speaking, because the views of the public are discrete, the presentation of public opinion requires the support of specific institutional and organizational structures. It is a process of integration and construction, so the vast majority of presentations of public opinion are passive in nature.


Logically speaking, the passive presentation of public opinion is a controllable process because the public does not have much opportunity to speak out within the mechanisms of public opinion presentation. Among the many views held by the general public, which ones can be presented, which ones need to be ignored, and which ones need to be strongly suppressed? These are all tasks that mobilizers must complete before public opinion is presented. Therefore, the “public opinion” we see is already the result of selection and reconstruction. When discussing the “Taiwan Consensus,” Wang Shushen summarized the changes in the island’s perception of cross-Strait relations. Here, we can clearly see the features of this “public opinion presentation.” The “Taiwan independence” line was promoted during the Lee Teng-hui period, and the “de-Sinicization” movement was promoted during the Chen Shui-bian period, both of which were carried out under the banner of “public opinion.” In this process, public opinion around “Chinese identity” and the “unification concept” was suppressed and weakened, and the trend of public opinion on the island towards “away from China and towards Taiwan” and “away from unification and towards independence” gradually became clear.27 When it comes to “active” means of presenting public opinion, such as elections, political parties and politicians compete fiercely in this arena. They stir up the issues that most motivate the public, such as those related to emotions and interests, and strengthen their influence on voters’ emotional views in order to present public opinion results that are favorable to themselves. Because public opinion can be guided, voters are often influenced by public discourse to change their political views. Especially before an election, irrational and emotional factors often infiltrate their thinking, causing their original voting tendencies to loosen and even causing some voters to reverse their politics.28 This is roughly what Taiwan society means when it says “public opinion is like flowing water.”


The presentation of public opinion is a production process. The path of presenting public opinion through mechanisms such as opinion polls, which select, filter, shape, and express public opinion, is essentially to summarize the collective opinions of the general public on a certain issue or problem through so-called “scientific” public opinion polling methods. This collective opinion is the sum of the opinions people reported in response to the textual statements in the survey questions when they were interviewed. Different polling mechanisms construct different social realities (public opinions). From this perspective, the public opinion detected through opinion polls should be thought of as a “construction of views” and a “reproduction of public opinion.”29 This also provides one explanation for why there is so much divergence among public opinion polls in Taiwan. Even if we discount factors such as deliberate manipulation, the presentation of public opinion is always a process of mechanistic reproduction and construction. Whenever the mechanism is different, the results will be different.


The fluidity of public opinion in Taiwan is related to the process by which public opinion is produced. The fluidity of public opinion refers to the fact that public views on the same issue in different time periods or on different issues in the same time period present different patterns. Many issues would be difficult to explain without considering the influence of the production process. After research, Zheng Zhenqing and others found that, in terms of Taiwan’s overall economic expectations, the more people believe that Taiwan’s overall economy will be negatively affected after the deterioration of cross-Strait relations, the more they tend to support “reunification.” From a practical perspective, most Taiwanese people have deep concerns that Taiwan’s overall economy will be negatively affected due to the deterioration of cross-Strait relations.30 However, this widespread and deep concern has not translated into these people taking a stance against “Taiwan independence” and the DPP. Instead, for most of the time, the DPP’s support has been slowly rising, and the trend of “Blue decline and Green growth” in Taiwanese society has continued. It is clear that the DPP has been constantly “desensitizing” the public to the impact of cross-Strait relations during political mobilization, and has successfully used concepts such as “autonomy” and “localization” to suppress the concept of peaceful development, leading to conflicts and contradictions in the presentation of public opinion.


The fluidity of public opinion is not so much a formal manifestation of its autonomy as it is a reflection of the passivity in the presentation of public opinion. Many public opinion presentations in Taiwan are accompanied by high-intensity political mobilization, and the results of public opinion presentations depend on the mobilization capabilities of political parties. In addition, under the illusion that “public opinion is like flowing water,” the phenomenon of the solidification of public opinion is also quite obvious. The most typical example is the existence of “iron vote” groups of different forms. For political parties, the key to consolidating and expanding their public opinion base lies in strengthening the strength and effectiveness of their organization, and the critical means lies in cultivating “active voters” (influential voters) at different levels who have the ability to shape the emotional views of the people. This also means that, in the structure of public opinion, preferences are unequal. The preferences of some people are more important than others. As Liu Yu has stated, if some people are more willing and adept than others at using organizations, resources, discursive power, or discursive abilities to gain political influence, it will lead to uneven distribution of influence.31 Political parties and politicians pay special attention to active voters. “These are the people who matter on election day because they are the ones who get politicians into office and keep them there.” 32 In terms of public opinion presentation, this group of people plays a role in guiding and organizing public opinion and shaping the views of the public. They are de facto political brokers, an important force in maintaining the stability of the political views of specific groups, and an important node in Taiwan’s current public opinion presentation mechanism.


4. The issue of shaping public opinion from the perspective of elitism


Discussions about public opinion can never avoid the role of elites. Taiwan’s politics is still essentially elite politics. The idea that the modern Western political system is essentially a meritocracy is nothing new. According to Vilfredo Pareto’s definition, elites are composed of all the most capable people in every field of human activity. Subsequently, G. Mosca made a further distinction, arguing that “every society could be split between two social classes: the one who rules and the one which is ruled.”33 Traditional public opinion analysis emphasizes the influence of elite groups and the upper classes of society. Since the early 20th century, the rise of polling techniques has gradually come to dominate public opinion research.34 However, public opinion research that uses polling techniques as its main means only avoids the issue of the role of elites, but this does not mean that this issue disappears. The inevitability of elite politics and the public nature of public opinion are themselves an inherent contradiction. The presentation of public opinion requires procedural, institutional, and organizational components. Because the elites are better at seizing the right to discuss, interpret, and execute the public will, they can hold high the banner of “public opinion” and “public will” to suppress dissenting views and form a de facto arbitrary rule. Once it is necessary to “present” public opinion, elites will emerge to guide and control the subsequent process of public opinion presentation. Robert Michels gave three explanations for this phenomenon: the first is “technical and administrative” reasons. “Direct government” with a government composed of the people is “institutionally and technically impossible,” and leaders with specialized knowledge are necessary. At the same time, political party competition requires “strategic agility,” which empowers leaders. The second reason is psychological. Michels believes that the masses need leaders, people for whom they feel gratitude and even respect. Third, compared with the uneducated and incompetent masses, the leaders have superior intellectual aptitude.35 Although these conclusions seem very “anti-democratic,” they are a common phenomenon in Taiwan’s political practices, and even around the world. In modern politics, the presentation of public opinion is never a natural process, but rather public opinion needs to be “channeled” like water in order to form an overwhelming and devastating force. The presentation and production of public opinion have shifted from the dimension of political governance to the issue of guiding and shaping public opinion.

讨论民意总是绕不开精英作用的问题。台湾政治本质上还是精英政治。现代西方政治制度本质上是精英政治本来也不是什么新鲜观点。按照帕累托(Vilfredo Pareto)的定义,精英(elites)由每个人类活动领域中能力最强的所有人组成;后来莫斯卡(G. Mosca)又进行了进一步区分,认为在所有社会中“人民都表现为两个阶级———统治阶级与被统治阶级”。传统民意分析中比较强调精英群体及社会上层阶级的影响,20世纪初期以来民调技术兴起后逐渐主导了民意研究。不过以民调技术为主要手段的民意研究只是绕开了精英作用这一议题,并不意味着这一问题消失不见。精英政治的必然与民意的公共性本身就是一对内生性矛盾,公共意志的呈现需要程序性、制度性、组织性的构件,而精英更善于把握公共意志的话语权、阐释权和执行权,从而高举“民意”“公意”大旗压制异见,形成事实上的专断。一旦民意具有“呈现”的需求,精英就会应时而生,引导与控制随之而来的民意呈现过程。对于这一现象,米歇尔斯(Robert Michels)给出了三个方面的解释:一是“技术与行政”的理由。由民众所组成的“直接政府”在“机制上与技术上是不可能的”,学有专精的领袖是必需的。同时政党竞争需要“策略性敏捷”,因而赋予领袖权力。二是心理学的理由,米歇尔斯认为群众需要领袖,需要能让他们感激甚至是尊敬的人。三是与未受教育及无能的群众作比较,领袖的智训比较优越。虽然这些结论看起来非常“反民主”,但在台湾地区的政治实践甚至是世界范围内的政治实践中却是普遍现象。在现代政治中,民意呈现不可能是一个自然的过程,而是需要如水一样“导流”,才有可能形成摧枯拉朽的力量。民意的呈现与产制从政治治理的维度上转而成为民意的引导与塑造问题。

Public opinion in Taiwanese society is certainly not an autonomous entity, but the result of deliberate guidance and shaping by political elites. The “elites” here include both the traditional elites represented by the KMT and new elite groups that have gradually emerged in the political struggle. Judging from the history of post-war political changes in Taiwan, we can clearly see the general outlines of the guidance and reconstruction of public opinion. Non-KMT forces and later the DPP continuously worked to construct their own discourse system and instilled it into Taiwanese society through social movements, grassroots elections, and street clashes. First, there was the so-called “democratization” movement, followed by the expansion of “localization,” and then the strengthening of “autonomy discourse.” Other concepts such as “Taiwan dignity,” “Taiwan first,” and “Taiwan independence” also continued to penetrate into society in this process. Looking at the process of shaping public opinion in Taiwan, the general structure of this system is composed of several key elements such as topics and discourse, organizational promotion, and the creation of public opinion pressure. The proposals of topics and discussions focus on long-term ideological indoctrination and emphasize the value level so as to influence public will; organizational promotion focuses on both the value dimension and the emotional dimension of the public will; and public opinion pressure refers to political parties using the administrative resources at their disposal to attack dissenting ideas and forcibly instill their own ideological systems into society. In this process, the pan-Green elite group grasped the direction in which public opinion was moving and comprehensively reconstructed Taiwan’s public opinion in all aspects. Unfortunately, a common phenomenon in Taiwan’s real politics is that political elites, especially those in the pan-Green camp, mostly “flirt with and then abandon” public opinion (the people). Since the 1990s, after the DPP utilized public opinion to gain a certain political status, many idealists from the founding period of the party, such as Hsu Hsin-Liang and Shih Ming-Teh, were gradually squeezed out from the center of the political stage and replaced by technocrats centered around a group of lawyers. This group of people took the instrumental value of public opinion to the extreme. Through the promises of “democracy, integrity, and love for the homeland,” emotional slogans such as “local” and “dignity,” as well as their full involvement in social movements, such as inciting and organizing student movements, they won the support of many people. After the DPP came to power in 2000, official ethics were corrupted and dissenting voices were suppressed. After Tsai Ing-wen came to power, she moved even closer to the United States and Japan, quickly forgetting her campaign promises. The DPP has long been deeply involved in Taiwanese social movements, but after coming to power it betrayed the ideals of these social movements, suppressed their demands, and simultaneously recruited a large number of leaders away from these social movements, causing the movements to fall into silence. Even worse, the pan-Green camp has long attempted to guide and reshape the public will by reconstructing historical perspectives, reconstructing political discourse, strengthening control over the media, and tying the interests of others to their own. After decades of evolution, the DPP has become little more than a “brainwashing” and election machine, accustomed to monopolizing the right of interpretation and the right to lead the discussion in areas such as “security,” media, and ideology by any means necessary in order distort the thinking of the Taiwanese people. 36 In the DPP’s political value spectrum, public opinion actually holds a very marginal position apart from its instrumental value.


As we can see, shaping public opinion is actually a question of how to control the people. In political science, the connection between public opinion and public policy is the foundation of the study of political behavior, meaning that “ultimately, almost all research on public opinion involves the issue of popular control.”37 For politicians and political parties, the form of public opinion is important, as is how to use public opinion to achieve political goals. However, what public opinion actually is is not necessarily important. Most political behaviors need to be dressed up in the trappings of public opinion, and all require a balance between political goals and public opinion. Guiding public opinion and controlling the people become the core content of shaping public opinion. Controlling the public by shaping public opinion is a form of ideological control. In the ideal state, the audience fully accepts certain ideas and rejects other related but different ideas. Moreover, the people who shape public opinion are more attentive to ideas with a value dimension because of their stability. This is also the reason why the DPP and other Green camp forces attach so much importance to concepts such as “local” and “autonomy.” Once the people accept these ideas, they will form a stable base of support for the DPP. Of course, political parties and politicians cannot directly declare that they shape public opinion. Instead, they humbly claim that they “obey” and “represent” public opinion. Even measures that are forcibly implemented to shape public opinion must be disguised as being quite “reasonable” and acceptable to the public.


The island of Taiwan is the scene of fierce competition to shape public opinion. Areas such as education, media, and cross-Strait relations are all battlefields for shaping and guiding public opinion, and opinion polls that claim to be “scientific” are no exception. The use of public opinion polls to guide and shape public opinion in Taiwan has long been an open secret. In a 1997 study, Hsu Mei-Ling and others pointed out that public opinion polls of the general public dominated by administrative authorities and powerful business people are a form of social control from top to bottom rather than from bottom to top. 38 Poll questionnaires themselves have the function of guiding ideas, and the questionnaire design can have the added function of implicitly inducing a certain way of thinking. For example, in the identity surveys popular in Taiwanese society, people are given options such as “Chinese,” “Taiwanese,” and “both Chinese and Taiwanese.” Here, the meaning of “Taiwanese” in the “Taiwanese” alone option is different from the meaning of “Taiwanese” in the “both Chinese and Taiwanese” option. The former is given the connotation of a “nation.” Shao Zonghai believes that this option is chosen because “there are many people in Taiwan who do not support ‘Taiwan independence’ but cannot accept the People’s Republic of China for the time being.”39 However, judging from the logical structure of the questionnaire design itself, this survey clearly has the intention of continuously instilling an either-or thinking into society. The current conflict between “Chinese” and “Taiwanese” identities on the island is closely related to the guiding role of this questionnaire.


Guiding and shaping public opinion is a long process, and its effectiveness is related to factors such as the guider’s ability to arouse emotions and create issues. The key factor is the organizational strength brought to bear during the implementation of public opinion guidance. In Taiwan’s party politics ecosystem, the DPP’s organizational strength and mobilization capabilities clearly exceed those of the KMT. After the KMT gradually lost ground in schools and the media, the DPP comprehensively infiltrated these areas and used peripheral organizations to continuously strengthen its influence in these areas. On the one hand, the DPP’s peripheral organizations co-opt grassroots elites and spread its ideas. On the other hand, they seize the right to set the agenda through social movements, street clashes, and other means, thereby controlling the direction of the agenda and constricting the space for the opposing camp’s discourse. In Taiwan’s party politics, using this method to guide and shape public opinion has become a common means of playing politics.


5. Conceptual cocoon, alienation of public opinion, and the illusory “awakening of public opinion”


The guidance and shaping of public opinion is the root cause of the alienation of Taiwan’s public will, and the conceptual cocoon is an important fulcrum for the guidance and shaping of public opinion in Taiwanese society. In this article, we borrow the concept of “information cocoon” from the American scholar Cass R. Sunstein and argue that the concept of “conceptual cocoon” can more accurately describe the phenomenon of idea construction and guidance in Taiwanese public opinion. The conceptual cocoon refers to a “conceptual community” constructed around specific ideas (such as “autonomy”) under the deliberate management of political elites. Internally, this community stubbornly adheres to specific ideas, absorbs similar ideas from the outside, and suppresses and attacks different ideas. Information cocoon is a widely used concept to describe the phenomenon where, during information dissemination, people only pay attention to the information they select and provide themselves with information that is comforting or pleasing to them. People in information cocoons share similar ideas. They are like “silkworms trapped in their own cocoons,” locking themselves in “echo chambers” of their own design. This fosters radical errors, overconfidence, and unreasonable extremism.40

民意的引导与塑造是台湾公共意志异化的根源,观念茧房则是台湾社会民意引导与塑造的重要支点。本文借用美国学者桑斯坦(Cass R Sunstein)“信息茧房”概念,认为“观念茧房”概念更能确当描述台湾民意中的观念建构与引导现象。观念茧房系指在政治精英的刻意经营下,围绕特定观念(诸如“主体性”之类)建构而成的“观念共同体”。这一共同体对内顽固坚守特定观念,对外吸附同类观念,压迫和攻击异类观念。信息茧房是被广泛使用的概念,用来描述信息传播中只关注自己选择并使自己能得到安慰和愉悦信息的现象。信息茧房中的人具有相似的想法,他们如“作茧自缚的蚕”,把自己封闭在自己设计的“回音室”(echo chambers)中,制造偏激的错误、过度的自信和没道理的极端主义。

The concept of “information cocoon” is rarely used in Taiwan. Most people use the concept of “same-temperature layers” [同温层, usually used to mean “stratosphere”] to describe this phenomenon, emphasizing the tendency of groups with similar views to stick together for warmth and comfort. Relatively speaking, the concept of “same-temperature layers” emphasizes the grouping together of people with similar views and the resulting sense of belonging. The information cocoon emphasizes the closed-off characteristic of a “cocoon.” However, both the information cocoon and the “same-temperature layers” concepts have a less aggressive connotation. The “ideological cocoon” is the result of ideological guidance and is more aggressive. The phenomenon of “those who believe will always believe, and those who don’t believe will never believe” as regards specific issues in Taiwanese public opinion reflects the characteristics of information cocoons and “same-temperature layers,” while the conceptual divisions and discursive suppression often used by the pan-Green camp are better represented by the aggressive characteristic of conceptual cocoons.


A conceptual cocoon is constructed based on social divisions and the mobilization of ideas around those social divisions. Social divisions mean that the differences in a society are large enough to naturally give rise to different political expressions. Many social divisions exist naturally. Generally speaking, the views of the public that are generally recognized throughout society will not generate the “public opinion” required by party politics. Only social divisions that are overlaid with political divisions and confrontations can be successfully used to guide and shape public opinion. In this sense, the process of constructing social divisions is actually a process of competing for control over public opinion. Generally speaking, this process unfolds according to the logic of “Constructing divisions → Constructing information cocoons → Forming conceptual cocoons.” Of course, the path to achieving this process in real politics may be more complicated. For example, the emergence of opposing ideas based on social divisions may be forced by the authority of certain people, or it may be generated by some complex prejudices or psychological accumulation.41 The conceptual cocoon is an advanced form of the information cocoon. It is actively constructed by political elites and a powerful weapon used by political parties to compete for political power.


Since conceptual cocoons are constructed on the basis of separation and opposition, they can only present a clear outline and realize their structural function in the context of opposition. Juang Wen-Jong’s research on the so-called “civic consciousness” after the second party rotation in Taiwan showed that the public had the highest degree of approval for the right to express personal opinions, but the lowest degree of trust in politicians and departments exercising public power. Anti-authoritarian consciousness and identification with democratic values were two dimensions with a high degree of approval and stability in the two surveys before and after the second party rotation, while political trust and political efficacy were the dimensions with the greatest changes.42 It is conceivable that the right to express personal opinions is approved of in Taiwanese society, and this is a view that is easier to gain mass psychological recognition. However, once it comes to political stance, party preference, political trust, and sense of efficacy, the conceptual cocoon based on ethnic confrontation and “authoritarianism vs. democracy” will immediately activate self-protection and active attack mechanisms, and Taiwan’s public opinion will immediately show a highly confrontational trend. This can also explain the phenomenon that ethnic conflicts are not obvious in Taiwan’s social life but are still prevalent in political mobilization. This is because people do not often touch the boundaries of the above-mentioned conceptual cocoon in their daily activities.


The expansion and hardening of conceptual cocoons have caused Taiwanese society to gradually lose its “ability to reflect rationally.” On the one hand, people in ideological cocoons are often more willing to accept similar views to strengthen their own positions, and increasingly reject opposing opinions. This forms a “group think” situation, which means the discussion of political issues lacks multiple perspectives so objective analysis is not possible. Some people will even actively block out comments that differ from their own thinking.43 On the other hand, the conceptual cocoon has become an important tool for guiding and shaping public opinion, and this guidance and shaping behavior is coercive and aggressive. The so-called “Sunflower Student Movement” in 2014 was a landmark event in the process of shaping public opinion in Taiwan. It signified that the pan-Green forces’ shaping of public opinion has completed the process of systematization and organization. The conceptual cocoons of “anti-cross-Strait exchanges” and “anti-KMT” have dominated the direction of public opinion in Taiwan to a large extent. The paradoxical situation in Taiwanese public opinion where the people “want peaceful development but do not support rapid reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait” and “want to make money in the mainland but have a negative attitude towards cross-Strait cooperation” is the result of this kind of cocoon. In this case, the ability to reflect rationally will naturally be lost. Rational thinkers have to withstand both the emotional pressure from their ideological cocoons and the policy-based suppression from the pan-Green ruling party. Therefore, many people choose not to express their opinions, while even more choose to conform to their ideological cocoons.


From this perspective, the so-called “awakening of public opinion” claimed by the Taiwanese media may just be an illusion. From a historical perspective, since the war, Taiwan’s public opinion has never been the main entity of decision-making. Looking at the actual reality, the development of modern information technology has further weakened the ability of the people to compete with the elite groups. The openness of the information dissemination system has not produced a corresponding increase in social rationality, but has instead strengthened the conceptual cocoon. An increasingly clear trend in Taiwan’s politics over the past decade or so is that, once an issue emerges, it will spread quickly within a specific group and can quickly form social behavior and drive social trends. The emergence of new media has certainly facilitated the transmission of information, but it has also provided a platform for political elites to strengthen their influence. This trend emerged long before the Internet communication method became widely popular. In an era of highly developed media, the general public is less resistant to guidance from elite groups. Faced with the oppression of ideological cocoons, the opinions held by the weak are neglected and discriminated against. In most cases, it is only possible to rely on the opinions of the strong. In other words, in an era of highly fluid information, the general public has lost the ability to compete with elite groups for the commanding heights of discourse and ideas, and people are more likely to seek a sense of belonging in an ideological cocoon.


The pan-Green forces have basically taken control of the guidance and shaping of public opinion on the island by manipulating the media and monopolizing online platforms, and their ability to guide societal thinking and views of the public is constantly increasing. The DPP started to build up a large cyber army following the 2018 “nine-in-one” elections. This cyber army was in the hands of Tsai Ing-wen and became a powerful weapon used to attack her political opponents. During the DPP’s 2019 internal primary election, the attacks by the cyber army were more than Lai Ching-te could bear, and he publicly begged for mercy, asking Tsai Ing-wen to restrain the cyber army. This shows the strength of the cyber army’s offensive capabilities.44 The evolution of online communication channels has enhanced the efficiency of guiding and shaping public opinion. The “Taiwan independence” forces have combined the Western democratic system with the so-called “autonomy” of the “separatist” ideology to construct a priori values, demonize those with different opinions,45 completely suppress the rational discussion space in Taiwanese society, and allow extreme views to gradually occupy the mainstream. At the same time, the binary nature of the digital world negates complex and detailed political arguments and turns political participation into a game of choosing one of two extremes. Simplistic result-oriented approaches prevail and there is no place for rationality and thinking. 46 In this context, it is obviously unrealistic to hope that the Taiwanese people will “awaken.” In fact, the political and social movements that have long been carried out under the banner of the so-called “awakening of public opinion” are, without exception, the result of top-down political mobilization by political elites. They represent nothing more than the exploitation of public opinion time and time again.


6. Conclusion


Since the war, the repeated cycles of mobilizing, exploiting, and then abandoning Taiwanese public opinion have set the general background for the history of political changes in Taiwan. Over the past few decades, so-called “social movements” launched in the name of public opinion have surged up, but to date, Taiwan’s environmental issues, energy issues, democracy issues, and the issue of the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations have not been properly handled, but have instead worsened. After decades of social movements, the most direct result is that the DPP has been placed in the highest seat of power in the region. Taiwan’s political parties and politicians continue to strengthen their claims to “represent public opinion” in order to enhance their own legitimacy, constantly increasing the seductive charm of public opinion. Under the seductive aura of public opinion, the conceptual cocoon composed from ideas of separation and confrontation has gone unchecked. In essence, the value-based concerns in Taiwan’s public will have long been eroded, and in most cases, public opinion is little more than a fig leaf to cover up vicious power struggles.


Logically speaking, there are three main ways to break out of the conceptual cocoon of Taiwanese society: First, when ordinary people in the conceptual cocoon experience major changes in their own circumstances have the potential (potential only, it is not a sufficient condition) to promote changes in their views, thereby breaking down the barriers of the cocoon. Second, the internal divisions in the elite group and the widening of internal ideological differences cause the collapse of the cocoon. Third, external forces forcibly intervene to change the political structure at the physical level, thereby promoting the reconstruction of the conceptual system in Taiwanese society, whereby the cocoon will naturally cease to exist. Among these three methods, the first two take a longer time, while the latter is more a matter of chance. At a time when the pan-Green camp controls vast administrative resources, monopolizes the media, and holds the dominant position in guiding and shaping public opinion, the ideological cocoon is likely to continue to grow until it causes serious consequences, at which point a backlash may start. However, even if this process is completed, it does not mean that the conceptual cocoon will disappear. Under the current model of guiding and shaping public opinion, the existence of conceptual cocoons has become the norm in Taiwan’s public opinion structure. From this perspective, Taiwan’s so-called “awakening of public opinion” can also be considered a process of resetting the conceptual cocoon based on the widening ideological divisions among political elites. The collapse of one conceptual cocoon generally occurs simultaneously with the construction of another.


After disenchantment, we see that the essence of Taiwan’s public opinion is, simply put, the immediate presentation of political views following political mobilization, while influencing and guiding “public opinion” has become a technical issue. Reflecting on the situation in which Taiwan’s public opinion has become more instrumental and less value-based, we are at the very least led to two logical conclusions: (1) Manipulated public opinion is increasingly losing its status as a source of legitimacy for the political system. The rhetoric of “respecting public opinion” and “taking public opinion as our refuge” long proclaimed by Taiwan’s politicians is no longer convincing. (2) In the context of cross-Strait relations, a more detailed distinction should be made between the concepts of “public sentiment” and “public opinion” in Taiwan. Public sentiment mainly involves the value dimension of Taiwan’s public will, including value-based demands such as pursuing a good life and supporting common prosperity across the Taiwan Strait. Public opinion refers to the political views presented after political mobilization. Winning the hearts of the Taiwanese people has more to do with value issues, while influencing Taiwanese public opinion has more to do with mobilization techniques. In exchanges and cooperation with Taiwan, making a stricter distinction between these two concepts will be beneficial to more effectively promoting the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. This is also the significance of our disenchantment and analysis of Taiwan’s public opinion.


To top

Cite This Page

陈星 (Chen Xing). "The Embarrassment of Taiwanese “Public Opinion”: On the Disenchantment of “Public Opinion” in Taiwan’s Politics [尴尬的台湾"民意”———论台湾政治中"民意”的祛魅]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Taiwan Research Journal [台湾研究集刊], April 20, 2024

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link