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The Impact of Han Kuo-yu’s Populist Rhetoric in the 2018 Kaohsiung Mayoral Election
How did Han Kuo-yu shoot from political obscurity to become the mayor of Kaohsiung and then the KMT presidential candidate? This paper argues that Han's rise was grounded in his populist appeal. Han told voters that things should have been better for ordinary people except that establishment politicians had consistently failed to represent their interests. This paper examines Han's populist rhetoric with an in-depth look at Han's statements in the 2017 KMT party chair election and 2018 Kaohsiung mayoral campaign. It then looks at public opinion data from the 2018 Kaohsiung mayoral election to see whether voters absorbed that rhetoric. There are, in fact, clear echoes of Han's populist rhetoric in the survey data. Acceptance of Han's rhetoric was associated with a vote for Han, even among voters who were not traditional KMT constituents. That is, Han's populist rhetoric played a central role in expanding his appeal and enabling him to secure an unlikely victory in Kaohsiung.