More people in Taiwan prefer a Trump presidency, opinion polls find

In recent weeks, several opinion polls about how Taiwanese people view the U.S. presidential election have been published, showing more Taiwanese people support Trump to win the election. Experts think that one of the key factors to help create such results is the Taiwan policy that the Trump administration has been laying out over the last few years.

As the world counts down to one week until the U.S. presidential election, candidates from both parties are actively campaigning in several states. American voters are not the only ones that are paying close attention to this election. Several polling institutions have released opinion polls about how people in different countries view the upcoming election.

The British polling company YouGov released a survey of how people in eight different countries and places in Asia Pacific view the U.S. presidential election. The result shows that Taiwan is the only country in Asia to have more people supporting Trump than Biden.

The opinion poll shows that 42% of the respondents in Taiwan hope Trump to win the election, while 30% of Taiwanese respondents want Biden to be the winner. Additionally, 59% of Taiwanese respondents hold a “good” or “normal” impression towards Trump. Comparing to other countries, the Philippines and Taiwan are also the only two countries that have more people who think positively of Trump than Biden.

On top of that, 45% of the Taiwanese respondents think Trump’s victory can bring more positive influence to Taiwan. Contrary to that, only 26% of the Taiwanese respondents think a Biden administration can bring positive influence to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Global Views Monthly also conducted an opinion poll about how Taiwanese people think about the U.S. presidential election. The result shows that 49.1% of the respondents think Trump has a higher chance of winning the election, and 53% of the respondents think that if Trump was re-elected, it would be more beneficial to Taiwan.

On the other hand, only 16.4% of the respondents in the same opinion poll think Biden’s victory can be more beneficial to Taiwan.

Trump’s Taiwan policy is a key factor for his higher support in Taiwan

As several poll results show that more Taiwanese people support Trump, experts think it has a lot to do with the Taiwan policies that Trump has introduced over the past four years. Austin Wang, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Taiwanese people’s support for Trump and the Republican Party are responses to the pro-Taiwan legislations that the Republicans have introduced over the last few years.

“Additionally, the American Institute in Taiwan’s efforts in Taiwan have also been recognized over the last few years,” Wang said. “It includes initiatives like visit to offshore islands, organizing Zhongyuan pudu during the ghost month and use Taiwanese to introduce Kaohsiung. These initiatives further increased the connection between the United States and the Taiwanese people, and it has also further materialized Washington’s commitment to Taiwan.”

Wei-Ting Yen, an assistant professor in government at the Franklin and Marshall College in the U.S., also thinks that while Republicans are traditionally more friendly to Taiwan, the result of these opinion polls are more related to Trump’s Taiwan policies over the last four years.

“The visit of the two high level U.S. officials over the last few months send a very clear signal to the Taiwanese people,” Yen said. “Even though some Taiwanese people might not know these U.S. officials, since they were dubbed as the ‘highest level U.S. officials that have visited Taiwan over the last 40 years’ by Taiwanese media, their visits left strong impressions in Taiwanese people’s minds, especially for those who receive information about the United States through television news.”

Yen also pointed out that if results of the YouGov opinion polls are put in the context of international exchange, most countries in the survey will view Trump as a disruptor of international order. She believes that the reason why more Taiwanese people support Trump might be due to the fact that Taiwan has long been excluded from the international community. “When a foreign leader disrupts the international order, such behavior could earn more recognition from Taiwanese people,” Yen explained.

“Let’s look at how Trump handled the whole incident with the World Health Organization,” Yen said. “Many people in Taiwan think the WHO favors China, so when Trump announced that he was going to pull out of the WHO, many countries view his decision as a disruption. However, Taiwanese people may not hold the same view.”

Taiwanese people’s trust in Trump remains low

Even though many opinion polls show that more Taiwanese people hope Trump can win the U.S. presidential election, an opinion poll released by the Formosa e-newsletter revealed that 59.2% of Taiwanese respondents still don’t trust Trump. On the contrary, 25% of the respondents say they trust Trump.

Yen Weiting said that the change between poll results from the same question between 2017 and 2020 didn’t exceed the average error standard, which means that there weren’t major changes between Taiwanese people’s distrust and trust in Trump between 2017 and 2020.

“When people from any country try to evaluate other foreign leaders, the trusts or distrusts in these leaders are often based on impressions,” Yen said. “Trump’s leadership style is probably the main factor that creates the high level of distrust that Taiwanese people have in him. If we try to assess the percentage of trust that people have in Trump based on his leadership style, many people around the world probably don’t trust him.”

However, Yen also pointed out that since the median of the trusts that citizens from three countries have in Trump is 16%, the fact that 25% of the Taiwanese respondents said they trust Trump is a pretty good number. “I think Taiwanese people can separate the trusts they have in Trump from how they assess his Taiwan policies,” Yen said.

Austin Wang from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it’s hard to let Taiwanese people have a high level of trust in Trump based on his leadership style. “After all, Trump first had a phone call with Tsai Ing-wen then he immediately reaffirmed his commitment to the ‘One China Policy’ during a meeting with Xi Jinping,” Wang said.

Wang used the result of another opinion poll in Taiwan as a comparison. He said while many people in Taiwan trust Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, many people are still against importing American pork, which was proposed by her administration a few months ago. Comparing to this result, while many people in Taiwan don’t trust Trump, they are still willing to support him.

“The commonality between these two poll results is that Taiwanese people prioritize autonomy and under this context, any policies or decisions that are beneficial to Taiwan will gain Taiwanese people’s support,” Wang said.

Trump gains more support from Taiwanese people in the context of Sino-U.S. tension

Another key indicator that reflects the relatively high level of support that Trump receives from Taiwanese people is that 45% of Taiwanese people think a Trump presidency will bring positive impacts to Taiwan, according to the YouGov poll. In that poll, only around 26% of Taiwanese people think a Trump presidency can be negative to Taiwan.

Wang thinks that apart from Trump’s Taiwan policies over the last few years, the result should also be viewed in the context of the dispute between China and the U.S.

“Rather than assessing the results through the policies towards the U.S. from the two major parties in Taiwan, we should conclude that the efforts that Tsai Ing-wen has put into maintaining the relationship with Washington has given her more benefits in return,” Austin Wang said.

“Part of the reason why Tsai was able to get more in return is due to the growing tension between China and the U.S. The Republican Party released several pro-Taiwan legislations and approved several military sales to Taiwan. Adding these initiatives to the fact that more people in Taiwan trust Tsai Ing-wen, it amplifies the positive feeling that Taiwanese people have towards what the U.S. has done for Taiwan over the last few years.”

Yen Wei-Ting also pointed out that the ruling party has highlighted a lot of the efforts that they have put into maintaining the relationship between Taiwan and the U.S., which gives Taiwanese people a more positive impression about the state of the bilateral relationship.

“When the ruling party puts extra emphasis on their efforts to maintain the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, it will affect the level of support that Taiwanese people give to policies related to Taiwan and the U.S,” Yen explained.

This piece first appeared in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.