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.

Join the conversation! 27 Comments

  1. I think you’ve overlooked some issues to do with profiling swinging voters and how they make their decisions: http://bit.ly/Pndl1w

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  2. Reblogged this on Iain Hall's SANDPIT and commented:
    Well I certainly agree with the thrust of your argument here which you make most competently, Sadly for anyone with sympathy for the alp I think that the Gillard government has lost far too much credibility with the voting public for very many of those middle class voters to return to their fold at the next poll. All of the anti green rhetoric of recent days may help them save a few seats and when you are facing a decisive rout that is probably the best that you could possibly expect. I suspect that the next Labor PM is not yet out of high school or even a member of the party but if the only thing that the party gets out of its coming electoral disaster is a policy of placing the Greens last on every how to vote card the country will be better for it.
    Cheers Comrades

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    • Yes. I recall @mfarnsworth saying on Twitter last night that this can only be a long-term strategy for the ALP. I read that to mean it is about saving the furniture by driving voters back to the major parties. Even still, no Opposition Leader has won a federal election with such a high disapproval rating. This suggests to me that there are voters still prepared to be wooed away from the Libs.

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  3. The ALP is lucky there’s a single member electorate system, so that the 1.5 million Australians who vote Green get their votes shunted to the ALP before they can elect a Green. If those 1.5 million Australians were more geographically-concentrated, they’d have 17 of the 150 seats in the House of Reps, not one.

    The ALP might consider that smearing the Greens instead of competing by adopting similarly progressive policy is driving more people from the ALP left to the Greens. If it keeps it up, it might find itself little more than the NSW Right, fighting with the Liberals for conservatives who are more likely to vote Liberal anyway. The NSW Right just reminds progressives that the ALP aren’t progressive, don’t stand for anything progressive, and only want their votes so they can then ignore them.

    To repeat: the way for the ALP to win back progressives like me isn’t smearing the only party that’s bothering to try to represent progressives. It’s to adopt progressive policies. And the more it differentiates itself from the Greens like this, the more progressives will abandon it for the Greens.

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  4. Last para should be:

    To repeat: the way for the ALP to win back progressives like me isn’t smearing the only party that’s bothering to try to represent progressives. It’s to adopt progressive policies. And the more it differentiates itself from the Greens by calling progressive policies “extreme”, the more progressives will abandon it for the Greens.

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    • I can understand your wishful thinking Jeremy, but it is no more practical than wishing all those extra votes in super-safe Coalition or ALP seats could be shared with the marginal seats.

      That aside, I honestly believe the ALP has decided to forgo the truly progressive vote and compete with the Coalition for the middle. All their policies suggest that.

      And the fact that no votes have leaked from the ALP to the Greens since the election suggests that all the progressive votes that were going to leave have already gone. Importantly, Labor still got the most votes despite this loss.
      But the ALP has lost more votes since the election, to the Libs and the others. These are the votes they need to get back, and may be able to get back, if Abbott’s high disapproval rate means anything.

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      • Hi Dragonista,

        This is a good point — the lost ALP votes have gone to the Libs, not the Greens party. However, all the Green-bashing by Labor simply validates and legitimises the Greens Party, when Labor should only be talking about governing. (Incidentally, Jeremy is on the record saying that anti-Choice, hate-mail spreading conservative candidates are better than Labor candidates.)

        If there were multi-member electorates, there would be several left-of-Labor parties who would compete with the Greens party for those identity voters. The Greens Party probably would have remained a minority environmentalist party in order to keep its niche.

        Cheers
        A

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  5. Saddest of all is that the votes keep going back to the duopoly we have of same two parties that have as their mandate to take turns screwing this country up.

    (Please don’t read that as advocacy for voting Green.)

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  6. And since Brown stepped down the ideological fanatics of Milne and Hanson-Young (she of the crocodile tears) are showing the true face of the Greens. I suspect there will also be a drift away from the Greens over the period to the next election!

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    • I agree that voters will go back to the major parties at the next election. Theyare not happy with what they think the minority government has delivered (not not).

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  7. […] Drag0nista made a very interesting observation that those who seems to think that the ALP needs to win progressive voters back off the Greens to win, are mistaken. They need to win back disaffected Labor voters who are parked with the Libs or others/independents. […]

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  8. I think erswthile NSW Labor Right staffer Cassandra Wilkinson has given the game away in this morning’s Australian. It’s not just about lashing out at the Greens, it’s also about purging Labor of any semblence of social democratic and pro-environment ideas (and members) and adopting the sort of retro agenda advocated by grumpy old men such as Peter Walsh, Michael Thompson and The New City.
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/labor-called-and-it-wants-its-base-back/story-e6frgd0x-1226421978868

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  9. I agre that the ALP should try to capture the centre and should not adopt Green like policies. That does not mean putting Greens last though.

    I vote ALP sometimes and Green sometimes both parties have things I like and things that I don’t, but if the ALP puts Greens last I will vote Green. I am sure there are many voters that will react similarly, they even risk some Green voters getting so angry that they will put ALP last.

    So yeah by all means do not chase Green policies but do not put them last on the ballot box!

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  10. I think the ALP are taking a huge risk by going as hard as they are against the Greens (e.g. by preferencing Family First and the DLP ahead of the Greens in the Melbourne by-election, which is taking it to a level beyond the sort of criticism of the Greens one could expect them to go for, and alienates people for no reason, as surely FF and DLP voters will be putting the Greens behind the ALP, anyway?). They risk a longer term alienation of soft left/progressive/social democrat voters, who have recently gone to the Greens, but may have been able to be enticed back. By painting the Greens as extremists largely because of their policies, they risk alienating what used to be a rock-solid part of their base, who support these policies, and who are already starting to identify with the Greens.
    I think the risk to the ALP is that these voters largely stay with the Greens (with a few more ceasing to identify with the ALP and switching over to the Greens), and form a concentrated block, which will regularly get senate quotas in some states, and also potentially hang onto the inner city lower house seats they have already taken. This will leave the ALP in a situation where they may need to go into future coalitions with the Greens in order to win government, or at the very least, they will need to negotiate with the Greens in the senate, after having positioned themselves with other voters as seeing the Greens as being beyond the pale.
    Maybe more skillful communicators could have targeted the Greens as a party without trashing the progressive policy platform so thoroughly, but I guess the current people running the ALP have already demonstrated how poor they are at political communication.
    It will be interesting to see what happens with the Greens vote at the next election. They polled quite strongly in some areas which have not been traditionally strong for them, and since they seem to be holding their vote in the polls, does this imply that their voter geographic distribution has remained the same, or is it concentrating in their more traditionally strong areas? If it’s the latter, then that potentially spells big trouble for the ALP, now that the Greens have broken through into the Reps. I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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  11. “Incidentally, Jeremy is on the record saying that anti-Choice, hate-mail spreading conservative candidates are better than Labor candidates.”

    Eff off Alex, you crank.

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  12. Mr Haggman, I agree with you completely.

    So D, Have you been Lurking on the #auspol hash again? It`s not good for your sanity. Don`t cha know, thats where facts go to die?

    The noise-polls are only good for scaring timid Politicians and giving the embedded media something to scribble about.

    Does everyone really discount,
    1. Team Joolyas ability to implode,
    2. Team Rabbits ability to implode,
    3. The 10-15% of unregistered voters,
    4. The Registered Non-voters,
    can`t, won`t change all/any of the noise poll numbers D has quoted? Between now and the 2013 National Poll?

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  13. […] Drag0nista*: Don’t be surprised, Greens are not Labor’s natural ally […]

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  14. Labor should have kicked the Greens’ bums the first time they heard “Juliar”.

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  15. “This is because Greens voters preference the ALP at about 80%”.

    This is becoming less and less true, depending on the electorate.

    In the recent Brisbane City Council elections, Green preferences in Central Ward (the inner city) went to the ALP at about 61%-39%. However in my ward, Moorooka, where the Greens candidate was a paper candidate only, Green preferences went to the ALP at about 85%-15%.

    My reading of this is that rusted-on Greens voters are still mostly vehemently anti-Coalition, while big chunks of newer Greens voters are willing to consider the Coalition. The Right of the Greens is assiduously cultivating small business owners at the moment, which seems relevant to this.

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  16. Heads up Mr Haggman and those who are not fans of the `Duopoly`. This one`s a ripper.
    http://newmatilda.com/2012/07/10/labors-spectacular-own-goal
    Labor’s Spectacular Own Goal By Jeff Sparrow ROFL

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  17. You say that Greens voters are likely to give the ALP their preferences anyhow. This ignores the fact that the ALP’s rabid denunciations of the only real progressive party in this country is more likely to drive ALP voters to the Greens. This is just plain dumb, and is without any doubt playing into the Conservative’s hands. This sort of stupidity at the Federal level is part of what handed Queensland to the Conservatives recently. Want to repeat that disaster at a national level?

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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