Youth in Taiwan comprise a smaller percentage of the total population than in many Asian countries, yet young people are still a significant political force. Youth under the age of 30 constitute 15% of eligible voters in Taiwan, or approximately 3.5 million people, and 41% of the total population . According to a 2014 UNDP report on “Youth and Democratic Citizenship in East and South-East Asia”, between 2005 – 2012 youth participation in elections was lower than that of older age groups in all countries across Asia and declining over time in a majority of countries, including in Taiwan . However, since 2014 Taiwan has seen a significant increase in youth political participation, both in elections and through civic activism.
The student-led Sunflower Movement, which began in March 2014 when a group of student activists occupied Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan to protest a proposed trade deal with China, catalyzed widespread mobilization of youth in politics through large-scale demonstrations, teach-ins, and public forums. Numerous other student groups and civil society coalitions grew out of the movement and continue to provide platforms for youth to advocate for and engage with the public on various social and political issues. Salient issues of concern for Taiwanese youth include Taiwanese national identity, political and social inequality, and unemployment and rising costs of living. The increasing participation of youth in protest movements and civic activism over the past several years may suggest that many young people have lost faith in the capacity of their government to address their concerns, and/or feel excluded from formal political processes . At the same time, this trend may also suggest that youth feel increasingly empowered to affect change through political participation outside of formal politics, taking the success of the Sunflower Movement as an example.
In fact, the momentum created by the Sunflower Movement carried on into national elections in January 2016, in which the youth vote is considered to have been a significant factor in the victory of Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Nearly 75 percent of voters aged 20-29 turned out to vote in the parallel presidential and legislative elections. Compared with a youth turnout of 70 percent in local elections in November 2014 and 60 percent in the 2012 general elections, this suggests a trend of increasing youth electoral participation . Youth participation in the January 2016 elections also contributed to the rise of smaller parties alongside the KMT and DPP which have long dominated Taiwanese politics. New political parties like the New Power Party, which grew out of the Sunflower Movement, tapped into the energy of student-led social movements and sought to represent a “third force” of civil society focused on social justice and democratic values . The New Power Party won enough votes in the general elections to secure five seats in the Legislative Yuan.
However, despite a recent increase in political activism, Taiwanese youth still face some barriers to participation in the electoral process. Taiwan’s voting age, 20 years old, is among the highest in Asia and excludes some of the high school and college students who have been active participants in social movements. Taiwanese youth groups have called for the voting age to be lowered and there have been several proposals in the Taiwanese legislature to do so, although none have been successful so far. A poll by the NGO Taiwan Alliance for the Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare in 2014 found that 81% of respondents (youth between the ages of 16 and 20) supported lowering the voting age.
The lack of an absentee voting system in Taiwan, which means that all citizens must travel to the place of their household registration to vote in person on election day, also poses a barrier to more robust youth participation in elections. For many college students who attend school far from their hometowns it can be logistically difficult and/or prohibitively costly for them to return home to vote, particularly when elections are held close to final exam days as occurred during the recent January 16, 2016 general elections.
 Based on Republic of China National Statistics from latest census (2010).
 UNDP, “Youth and Democratic Citizenship in East and South-East Asia: Exploring political attitudes of East and South-East Asian youth through the Asian Barometer Survey” http://www.asia-pacific.undp.
 Channel News Asia, “Young, social media savvy voters set to make impact on Taiwan elections”http://www.
 The Diplomat, “The Rise of Taiwan’s Third Force” http://thediplomat.com/2016/