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Taiwan president rides high in polls despite COVID surge

Survey respondents dissatisfied with vaccine development but approve of China policies

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President Tsai Ing-wen speaks about the COVID pandemic on the 6th anniversary of her inauguration. (CNA, Taoyuan City Government photo)

President Tsai Ing-wen speaks about the COVID pandemic on the 6th anniversary of her inauguration. (CNA, Taoyuan City Government photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On the sixth anniversary of her first inauguration, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is still riding high in the polls despite the onslaught of a COVID-19 surge, the threat from China, and the uncertain economic impact of the war in Ukraine, reports said Friday (May 20).

Tsai started her first term on May 20, 2016, after eight years of Kuomintang (KMT) government. In 2020, she was re-elected comfortably for a second and final four-year term.

In Aug 2016, just three months into her first term, she received a rating of 61.28% in a survey by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF), The Storm Media reported. Less than one year later, in May 2017, her popularity had fallen to 52.41%, but she later recovered. According to the latest TPOF poll, Tsai received an approval rating of 61.55%, the highest level since she first took office.

However, the current COVID surge, with the single-day number of local infections reaching 90,000 and threatening to go higher, has been met with dissatisfaction from the public. Even 52% of the 25-34 demographic, usually steadfast supporters of the president, said her administration had not been well-prepared for the latest pandemic developments.

The trend might influence voters when they head for polling stations on Nov. 26 to elect mayors, county commissioners, and city and county councilors across Taiwan, the TPOF said.

The Tsai administration's development of domestic COVID vaccines was met with the highest negative rating, with 48.5% of the poll respondents expressing dissatisfaction, followed by the economy, with 44.8% disapproving of the government’s performance.

TPOF Chairman You Ying-lung (游盈隆) noted that because of her handling of relations with China, Tsai had reached a high approval rating of 71.5% in February 2020 before sliding to 44% in December 2021. He attributed a recent rise to almost 50% in response to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, China’s repeated military drills targeting Taiwan, and incursions of China's military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).