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First-Time Voters Could Swing Taiwan’s Election

A supporter wears Taiwan national flags on his hat during an election campaign rally in Keelung on Jan. 4, 2024.
A supporter wears Taiwan national flags on his hat during an election campaign rally in Keelung on Jan. 4, 2024.

More than a million young Taiwanese who just turned 20 will vote for the first time in this month's presidential election.

According to Taiwan's Central Election Commission, there are nearly 1.03 million first-time voters aged 20 to 23 in this presidential election, accounting for almost 6% of the total voter population of 19.5 million.

With a voting rate of more than 70% among this age group in the 2020 polls, winning over young voters could be key to taking the election on January 13.

So, what issues do Taiwan’s young voters care most about?

VOA spoke to several first-time voters with different educational experiences and in different Taiwanese cities to hear their views. They were all concerned about the island territory’s low wages and the deterioration of cross-strait relations — neither a surprise amid economic struggles and Beijing’s ongoing saber-rattling.

Minimum wage, cost of living

Huang Shih Hsin, a junior at National Taipei University in New Taipei, worries that Taiwan's low minimum wage can't keep up with the high cost of living and inflation.

"With a minimum wage of less than NT$30,000 [$970 a month], my quality of life will definitely not be very good in the future," Huang told VOA. "Raising the minimum wage is discussed every election, but the minimum wage does not seem to have increased as a result."

Chiang Min-Hsien, a 23-year-old convenience store clerk in Taichung, works the night shift, which he says brings in about NT$26,000 ($840) a month, less than the legal minimum wage, forcing him to live paycheck to paycheck.

Chiang says it's not hard for young Taiwanese to find a job, but the annual adjustment of the minimum wage cannot keep up with soaring prices. He says almost none of his friends have any savings.


The economy and low wages are not the only focus of Taiwan’s young voters.

Chiang says everyone should defend Taiwan’s sovereignty amid saber-rattling from Beijing. "If there is really a war, we Taiwan cannot lose, and we will fight as long as we can," he told VOA. "I hope the president can protect our Taiwan. I don't want the Taiwan we were born in to disappear."

Dennis Chou, a photographer’s assistant in Taipei who has just completed his military service, says that as a reserve soldier he can’t imagine what it would be like to fight on the front line. He hopes both sides of the Taiwan Strait can communicate and avoid conflicts. But he also told VOA that he believes China's "liberation of Taiwan" is an attempt to exploit Taiwan in the name of protection. He says Taiwanese people will not sign unequal treaties or become Beijing’s subordinates.

"[It's like] the superpower is collecting protection fees from civilians as a gangster," Chou said. "We have to withstand this pressure." But he notes confrontation is not the best move. "Because [Taiwan's] military power, economy, and population are not comparable to China's, ideally, we should maintain the status quo."

University junior Huang says Taiwanese people have long felt numb to the fact that the Chinese fleet will come to "visit Taiwan several times" every election, and it does not affect their lives.

Marconi Lan, a graduate student at National Taipei University in New Taipei, says the election's result won't necessarily lead to the two extremes of "war and peace." He told VOA a ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) reelection won’t necessarily lead to war, while the Kuomintang (KMT) being in power would not be a guarantee of peace.

But Beijing’s stepped-up military moves around Taiwan ahead of the election don’t necessarily sway Taiwan’s youth toward the more independence-leaning and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or the nationalist party, Kuomintang (KMT), which is against declaring independence and favors closer ties with China.

Third-party candidate

Somewhat surprisingly, all the young voters VOA spoke to say they support the third-party candidate, the Taiwan People’s Party’s (TPP) Ko Wen-je over the DPP’s William Lai, a former vice president who has led most polls, and the KMT’s Hou Yu-ih, former mayor of New Taipei City.

The young interviewees say they would vote for Ko, a former surgeon and mayor of Taipei, because they were tired of the traditional fight for power between the two main parties.

Graduate student Lan says Ko has his vote because of his attitude. "He shows that he has always focused on getting things done well, regardless of any other factors."

Photographer assistant Chou has high expectations for Ko's new political direction because he thinks Taiwan's electoral culture is full of flashy and empty political ideas, making young people no longer trust the political parties that have long governed the island.

Jason Zhang, a senior at a junior college of medical care in Taoyuan, says the two major parties' political opinions haven't changed much in the past two presidencies, while "Ko has his own ideas, and his perspective is closer to what we the public see."

Wang Hong-zen, a political science professor at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, says Ko is winning first-time voters with his hip way of communicating. Wang says Ko abandons official language and simplifies concepts so that young people can easily grasp the key points.

Wang says Ko's campaign doesn't follow traditions, citing his creation of an online TV channel as a fresh and exciting way to gain popularity.

"Politicians need to add fresh approaches to their traditional publicity and discourse when discussing political opinions," he told VOA. "If you use the old methods, you may find they don't work anymore."

Whether Ko’s approach can win enough support for him to become president of Taiwan’s 23 million people will be known only after polls close on January 13.