Don’t be surprised – Greens are not ALP’s natural ally

I’m not a psephologist, so I’m quite prepared for this to be blown apart by Mumble or Poll Bludger.

But I’m being driven crazy by the political ignorance displayed by those gnashing their teeth over the recent ratcheting-up of the ALP’s stance against the Greens. In short, the ingénues are saying “why fight with each other when the Libs are the enemy?”.

Such naïveté ignores the reality that each political party considers all others the enemy – even the Libs and Nats vigorously compete against each other for a seat previously held by a retiring Coalition MP (sometimes to their detriment, and sometimes not).

The mistake being made by political newbies and idealists on Twitter is that Labor and the Greens are natural allies against the Coalition. They forget that in the real world, it is each party for themselves with all others being considered the enemy.

Since the last federal election, primary votes for the two major parties and the Greens have taken this path (according to Essential Research, whose polls trend similarly to those of Newspoll and Nielsen):

  • Liberal/National 43.6% → 49%
  • ALP 38.0% → 33.0%
  • Greens 11.8% → 10%
  • Other/independent 6.6% → 8.0%

Note that the only significant changes in support are from the ALP to the Libs/Nats and other/independents.

According to what Australian voters are telling pollsters at the moment, some who voted for the ALP at the last election have now parked themselves with the Coalition or the other/independent category. No Labor voters have shifted to the Greens since the last federal election.

Those aghast by the ALP’s demonisation of the Greens seem to think the ALP needs to win progressive voters back off the Greens to win. But they don’t – they need to win back disaffected Labor voters who are parked with the Libs or others/independents.

Yes, the ALP will still need Green preferences in some seats, but most likely they’re taking those preferences for granted. Green voters are likely to give their preferences to the ALP anyway.

As Andrew Catsaras pointed out on Twitter in response to this post: Every vote the ALP gets from Greens is worth 0.2 of a TPP vote, whereas every vote the ALP pulls off the L-NP is a full TPP vote. This is because Greens voters preference the ALP at about 80%.

The ALP isn’t trying to win progressive votes from the Greens, they’re trying to win the middle class, middle income voters who are parked with the Libs but are uneasy about Abbott. They’re also trying to win progressive voters parked with the other/independent category who find the Greens too extreme.

If you look at Labor’s approach through that prism, what they are doing makes perfect sense. They’re saying both Abbott and the Greens are too extreme, and that the safe harbour is with the ALP.

The by-election for the state seat of Melbourne is the trial run for the ALP’s campaign. Without a Liberal candidate, they can gauge the extent to which non-Green voters are willing to come back to the fold, using an anti-Greens campaign.

They lose nothing from running hard against the Greens, because the Greens’ votes are not the votes they want – they want votes parked with the Libs.

Make no mistake, the next election will have nothing to do with the Greens. It will be about voters returning to the major parties. The only question that remains is which party will they return to?

Post script: Interesting responses and related reads from Andrew Elder, Bernard Keane and Victorian ALP.