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Greens are here to stay

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 11 July 2011


Bob Brown predicts that within 50 years the Greens will replace one of the major parties, but does this major minor party have the right stuff to become one half of the power duopoly in Australia?

Or will it follow the course of other major minors, holding a balance of power in the Senate for a while before being archived by history? Afterall, less than ten years ago the now defunct Australian Democrats also had nine senators.

I have deep data on the Greens because their supporters regularly constitute up to a third of our On Line Opinion qualitative polls – an over-representation which I have to adjust for. In our June poll 28% or 420 respondents were Greens voters. This is a large virtual focus group. Since the election of the Gillard government it has also over-taken the number of Labor respondents.

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What Green respondents tell me says the Greens are in a much better position than the Democrats were, but that their future growth is limited and they are vulnerable to a decline in the voting base.

The change in numbers of Labor and Greens respondents says Greens are motivated to engage while Labor voters are now much less enthusiastic about their party. So the energy from the left of the political spectrum is coming from the far-left, reflected in the way Bob Brown directs much of the government's agenda.

The Democrats were a centrist party from the beginning, formed by ex-Liberal Don Chipp. This made them vulnerable to being squeezed from both sides, which is what happened when they tore apart over the GST.

Their other vulnerability was that they had a competitor party in the Greens, ready to vacuum up left-leaning ex-Democrat voters.

The Greens don't have these vulnerabilities. They are tantamount to an outsourced faction of the ALP and sit on the very left of the political spectrum. Only the ALP could squeeze them out of existence, but as the ALP needs to appeal on the right as well, this isn't an option.

And there are no competing minor parties.

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The relationship with the ALP voter is close. From our sample only half of Greens voters claim to be "traditional" Greens voters, the other half are mostly traditional Labor voters (33%) and swinging voters (12%). So while Newspoll puts the Greens on around 12% of the national vote, probably only 6% of this is solid, meaning decline is possible, but obliteration unlikely.

It is also clear that many of these former ALP voters have different priorities to committed Greens. Leximancer analysis shows the likelihood of traditional Greens voters mentioning "climate change" and "carbon tax" is much higher than for former ALP voters, who prefer strategic issues like "leadership" and "parties".

Erstwhile Labor voters have moved to the Greens to get their former party to show some "leadership", rather than because they want to see the Greens prosper for their own sake.

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A version of this article was first published in The Weekend Australian on July 9, 2011



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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