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Feb 20, 2013

Greens try for rebranding in the face of a falling vote

The Greens are on track to underperform compared with the 2010 election. In which case, getting your competitor to differentiate you isn't such a bad strategy.


Christine Milne

The Greens’ declaration that their deal with Labor is at an end comes as the party faces a challenge to match its 2010 election performance in the Senate later this year and the likelihood it will struggle to hold onto Senate spots, according to new polling from Essential Research.

The numbers suggest the Greens will be relying heavily on Labor preferences to retain their balance of power position in the Senate, an ironic outcome given yesterday’s effort at “product differentiation” by Christine Milne.

The Greens’ strong performance at the 2010 election in securing the support of disenchanted Labor voters secured them a national swing of just over 4% in the Senate and just below 4% in the House of Representatives. It delivered the Greens the balance of power in the Senate and their first House of Representatives seat at a general election.

Essential’s polling data, compiled over four weeks to secure sufficiently large state-based samples, suggest the Greens will fall short of that performance (William Bowe has looked at the full implications of the results today as well).

There’s relatively good news for the Greens in NSW (sample size 1,282), where they’re on 10% in the Senate, just below their 2010 performance of 10.7%, when Lee Rhiannon was elected on preferences. But the party’s House of Representatives vote is down to 9% from 2010’s 10.2%, suggesting hopes of snatching inner-urban seats like Anthony Albanese’s Grayndler will remain a pipe dream.

In Victoria (974), the Greens’ strongest state and where they are confident of picking up a second Senate spot to accompany Richard Di Natale, the party is on 12% in the Senate, just shy of a quota; in 2010 Di Natale got a quota in his own right with 14.64%. The Greens are on 11% in the House of Reps, compared with12.7% in 2010, although Adam Bandt’s fate in Melbourne is still likely to depend on Liberal preferences.

In Queensland (744), the Greens are on 10% in the Senate, well down on the 12.8% that almost gave Larissa Waters a quota in her own right in 2010. The data for South Australia is a small sample size (307); Sarah Hanson-Young’s re-election has long been considered problematic within the Greens, and the party’s 11% is well short of its 13.3% in 2010, but even so that’s better than many within the party would have feared. The WA sample is also small — 352 — and has the Greens on 10% and the Liberals on an extraordinary 55%, which if replicated on polling day could result in them picking up four Senate spots and end Scott Ludlam’s career after one term. The Greens’ House of Reps vote is also lowest in WA, on 8%.

“… Milne’s announcement now frees up any previously reluctant Labor MPs to join figures like Joel Fitzgibbon in regularly savaging the Greens.”

Milne’s announcement yesterday — echoing the party’s withdrawal of support for Michael Field’s Labor government in Tasmania in 1990, on the basis that the Field government had walked away from forest protections — was quickly and accurately identified as an effort to dissociate the Greens from the most troubled brand in Australian politics at the moment.

It was also fairly clunky — the basis on which Milne declared Labor had breached the agreement was that it had shown it would no longer “work together to pursue” the  principles of “transparent and accountable government, improved process and integrity of parliament, policies which promote the public interest and policies which address climate change”. That begs the question of why the Greens waited until six months before an election, and after the commencement of the carbon pricing scheme and the Parliamentary Budget Office, to declare they’d been betrayed. And a commitment to stick with supporting Labor despite complaining that Labor had walked away from them isn’t exactly the best way to dissociate the Greens from the government.

But the Greens are locked in a complex relationship with Labor. What’s good for Labor is also, indirectly, good for the Greens — but the reverse doesn’t apply.

The Greens’ surge in 2010 was driven by disaffected Labor voters switching to the Greens in disgust after Labor dumped the carbon pollution reduction scheme, shifted to the right on asylum seekers and caved in to the mining companies. The Greens’ vote stayed solid through 2011 and into 2012, consistently reaching 11-12% in Essential’s polling, until Bob Brown retired. Thereafter, the Greens’ vote began a slow slide into single figures, occasionally dipping to 8%. Much of that lost vote initially seemed to shift to the government as Julia Gillard and Labor recovered in the last third of 2012; Labor’s primary vote picked up several points to 36-37%. If Labor’s primary vote subsides back to 2012 levels, the Greens won’t be the beneficiaries this time — more likely the Coalition will be.

The Greens also have a stake in a Labor recovery. As the WA figures suggest (and again bearing in mind that’s a small sample size), the more the election becomes a landslide, the worse for the minor parties, including the Greens. As the Queensland election result last year indicated, when voters are bent on throwing a government out, they pay less attention to smaller parties than they ordinarily might. A Labor recovery, even if it isn’t enough for Labor to be re-elected, might improve the Greens’ chances of holding onto spots like Scott Ludlam’s (the loss of whom would, party numbers aside, be a major blow to the average intelligence in the Senate).

Even so, Milne’s announcement now frees up any previously reluctant Labor MPs to join figures like Joel Fitzgibbon in regularly savaging the Greens. And the Greens might be perfectly happy with that: if you want to differentiate your product, it’s much more authentic when your competitors do it for you.


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22 thoughts on “Greens try for rebranding in the face of a falling vote

  1. drovers cat

    yes, you said it: it’s a small sample size.
    Green voters will in the main never vote for Tony Abbott.

  2. AR

    The ten per cent of the electorate/public showing signs of sentience seems to be a galactic constant; it may vary a little, plus or minus, but always one in ten people will be vegetarian, teetotal, pacifist, spiritual, prosaic, banal, religious, sociopath,socialist,grasping capitalist,leaders (sadly, followers are grossly overabundant),inspiring, maddening, desirable, repellent..etc.
    The problem is the combinations thereof.
    The puzzling propensity of the majority of people to follow what they know to be an absurdity – religion and its evil offspring, politics being only the most baleful in the banality.

  3. Stephen

    Another point of view is that if she ever stood for anything at all (unlike the Prime Minister, who stands only for herself) why has it taken Milne so long to pull the plug, under so many layers of Labor double-dealing and hate-mail?

    What a wonderfully sardonic Australian touch, if we ask the Tarkine miners to clock up the devil roadkill.

  4. el tel

    A Labor/Greens split should be very good for the Comments thread on Crikey. Nothing like those sorts of sectarian stoushes.

  5. joanjett

    About time! What galls me is that the Labor govt has consistently taken the credit for Green policies. Dental cover in Medicare springs to mind. Yet they roll over and acquiesce to mining companies! Tony Burke is a liberal in everything but name. The Tarkin, CSG, fraking, the list goes on.

  6. JMNO

    Tony Burke has just made a decision not to protect the Tarkine and has approved (with conditions) coalseam gas projects in NSW which if they go ahead will threaten old growth forest and koala habitat not to mention prime farming land. Also the Greens asked the Government to consider overhauling the mining tax and they have refused.

    Whilst electoral considerations were no doubt paramount, these decisions could have precipitated the move by the Greens. I don’t think Labor should crow too loudly. Many disaffected Labor voters could well turn to the Greens.

  7. Christopher Nagle

    The main problem for the Greens is that the Green agenda has such enormous implications for the way our economy will have to work in order to be even vaguely sustainable. To garner the very substantial constituency necessary to support this extremely difficult and very broad industrial agenda is always going to be horrendously difficult. So why would you sabotage the possibility of getting it up by running a fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden social agenda?

    Why would you let the homosexual lobby hijack the most important economic agenda since the beginning of the industrial revolution, even if you agreed with it, which I don’t?

  8. Pedantic, Balwyn

    Many believe that there is a growing understanding that this will be an election with polar opposed objectives; for one group elect Abbott, for the other group vote for the party that has any chance of stopping him taking the reins of government.
    On that basis those who want to take us back in time will vote for Abbott, including some on the left; whilst all those who seek a better future including liberals, the realistic left and Greens will vote for Gillard.

    Voting for the Greens per se will not keep Abbott out of office.

  9. Hamis Hill

    Should the federation of Greens State Parties abandon all this Tasmanian leadershit in favour of the four decade-old international principle of grass-roots participatory democracy as per the Sydney Green Bans success of 1972,( incidentally, where the name of the international “Greens” movement came from) then their support will begin to grow out of the period of “Brown” stagnation.
    “The Greens are not a Senate Party”, quote.

  10. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Pedantic, no one gets to vote for the Greens without, at the same time, voting for all the other candidates on the ballot paper. If they put the Greens first (so they get the $2 funding) and every other non-major next down the list, they still have to decide at the very end whether to put Gillard’s party ahead or behind Abbott’s party. No one can avoid this choosing unless they want to waste their vote (and very few will be wasting their vote this time around). I would just love to have another hung parliament and watch Tony Abbott cross himself as he faces the dangerous cliff face of COMPROMISE. This election will be nothing like the Queensland debacle. There’s a whole lot of different dynamics out there – particularly as Tony Abbott is a much better known quantity than Campbell Newman and there’s much more confusion about whether Julia Gillard is a disaster or whether the problem for her has been the minority government. Abbott’s non-exposure is going to cause him trouble at some stage and when it does the polls will go haywire.

  11. fractious

    “differentiate your product”

    Ye gods I hate that expression. Nonetheless what’s happened has happened and – aside from guaranteeing support for supply bills – the marriage of convenience is annulled. Why it took this long I have no idea – perhaps there was a lingering hope in the Green Party that the ALP would at least attempt to honour those parts of the agreement that related to transparency and promoting the national interest, even if its stance on matters like religious interference in education and marraige equality left a lot to be desired.

    Perhaps the Tarkine decision by Tony Burke, the Minister for Mining Environment, really was the last straw – it would have affected Milne personally and probably affected the Green Senate vote (at least in Tasmania). At the very least it would have been a lightning rod for all the recent approvals by the ALP for further mining exploration in NSW and Queensland, not to mention its silence on asylum seekers and Assange.

    Whatever. The problem the ALP has is not differentiation from the Greens, but from the Coalition. In my view one principal reason support for the ALP is in the doldrums is because, left to its own devices, it is merely a slightly less unhinged version of the LNP. It is as much a lackey to Big Business and the “Growth Is Good” credo as the LNP, the only difference being it dresses up its neoliberal tendencies in slightly less alarming terms.

  12. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    That’s always my issue with looking at small samples like the greens in a wider context, in NSW, population of 7.2 million, sample of 1282 gives 128 greens voters – find 10 more in your sample, and that hits your 10.7%.

    It would be like polling for KAP support in SE brissy, the results would jump around so much I wouldn’t bother reading them. My own bugbear, but that’s statistics for you!

  13. Scott

    Speaking for myself, a liberal, I would rather a majority labor government for another three years than the rubbish situation we have experienced recently; with the two major parties deadlocked and the cross benches stacked with independents and minor parties, full of their own importance.
    Bring back the duopoly in politics!

  14. Joel

    Pedantic: Australia has preferential voting. So it may directly, effectively, in the senate, and, hey, you can preference the lesser of two evils otherwise.

  15. Andybob

    Tired of the gentler, kinder polity Scott ?

  16. yeah, eh

    perhaps there was a lingering hope in the Green Party that “the ALP would at least attempt to honour those parts of the agreement that related to transparency and promoting the national interest,
    Whatever. The problem the ALP has is not differentiation from the Greens, but from the Coalition. In my view one principal reason support for the ALP is in the doldrums is because, left to its own devices, it is merely a slightly less unhinged version of the LNP”
    …. Wouldn’t have anything to do with Rupert n Gina controlling our media, would it?
    As far as I can see, JG’s government has been open to scrutiny by all and sundry. And I don’t believe that the work that this government has done puts them into the doldrums.
    I’m disappointed that Christine Milne gave the excuse that she did for cutting ties with the government. Disingenuous.
    I don’t blame her for doing it in the party’s best interest as she sees it, but to give that piss weak excuse…..

  17. yeah, eh

    and another thing. Just because a party helps another party to gain government doesn’t mean that your party can expect to get all their hopes and dreams across the line in one fell swoop. Big picture.
    (for the record, I voted green last few times. This time JG gets my vote).

  18. fractious

    @yea eh
    Well of *course* the MSM’s concerted efforts have had (and are having) an effect, when did I say otherwise? Don’t forget Limited News openly declared they were out to “destroy” the Greens. I suspect the continued attacks on this ALP-Green-Indies minority govt are at least partly driven by that irrational hatred of the Greens, and I also suspect certain other big business interests loathe the minority govt because they can’t control it as easily as they could a government with a parliamentary majority. Re your lecture on minority parties not getting everything they want when part of an alliance – you mean it’s all about compromise? Gosh, who knew? Your voting intentions are your own business – I tend to place my vote with the party whose policies and principles most align with mine, more or less regardless of their leader.

  19. el tel

    Christine Milne’s whole “The Labor Party made us do this” tone speaks volumes for her own preparedness to acknowledge her own party’s political decisions over the last two years. At some point after 2013, The Greens will have to consider what it means to be a “10 per cent” party that can only ever hope to have influence on one of the major parties, which is in turn vulnerable to the accusation of being overly influenced by that minor party. In the absence of a shift to proportional representation, this is going to be an endemic dilemma for The Greens

  20. Ian

    The Greens’ parting company with Labor may be overdue but it is nonetheless only a tactical decision. The real reason to vote Greens, as I do, is to do with values and sustainability. The Greens are a party that believes in social justice, environmental sustainability and the right of people in their own lives to do as they see fit (as long as it does not harm others). It is also a party that prefers peace to war and does not condemn others for merely being different.

    Little difference remains between Labor and the LNP and what difference there is has to do with the character of their leadership and the history of the party. One party may at any one time be even more mean-spirited than the other and may have a greater tendency to privatize every thing in sight than the other but so what?

    Our elections are almost as much about who you put first on the ballot list as who you put last. In my mind Abbott certainly deserves to fill the latter spot.

  21. Liamj

    @ fractious – agree completely except that News Corpse hated of the Greens isn’t irrational, it is entirely rational selfinterest, as Greens peace and sustainability policies are kryptonite to News Corpse promotion of war and hyperconsumption.

  22. Dirk Baltsly

    This is precisely the sort of political coverage that I turn to Crikey to *avoid*. Keane covers this like a horse race, “explaining” the motivations of politicians as merely moves to differentiate their “product”. This both debases the value of politics and provides nothing that I couldn’t get in the lame-stream media. Disappointing.


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