The Wild Card in Taiwan’s Election: Frustrated Young Voters

In the months leading up to a pivotal presidential election for Taiwan, candidates have focused on who can best handle the island democracy’s volatile relationship with China, with its worries about the risks of war. But at a recent forum in Taipei, younger voters instead peppered two of the candidates with questions about everyday issues like rent, telecom scams and the voting age.

It was a telling distillation of the race, the outcome of which will have far-reaching implications for Taiwan. The island is a potential flashpoint between the United States and China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and has signaled that it could escalate military threats if the Democratic Progressive Party wins.

But many Taiwanese voters, especially those in their 20s and 30s, say they are weary of geopolitics and yearn for a campaign more focused on their needs at home. In interviews, they spoke of rising housing costs, slow income growth and narrowing career prospects. A considerable number expressed disillusionment with Taiwan’s two dominant parties, the governing Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Nationalist Party.

That sentiment has helped propel the rise of a third: the Taiwan People’s Party, an upstart that has gained traction in the polls partly by tapping into frustration over bread-and-butter issues, especially among younger people. The two main parties have also issued policy packages promising to address these anxieties.

Whom young people ultimately vote for — and how many vote at all — could be a crucial in deciding the presidential election on Jan. 13. About 70 percent of Taiwanese in their 20s and 30s voted in the 2020 presidential election, a lower share than among middle-aged and older voters, according to official data. People ages 20 to 34 count for a fifth of Taiwan’s population, government estimates show.

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