Looks like it’s up to you, Green Party

Dear Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand,

Labour seem so hopelessly inept and lost that I have basically lost hope in them winning the election. So now it’s up to you. Ideally Labour would be the centre-left pragmatists and you would be the principled left flank, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s now up to you to bring blue votes over to the left, since Labour seems neither willing nor able to do so. Here are a few suggestions. I did postgrad research on the specifically conservative appeal of green politics, so I am not a complete idiot on the subject.

1- You have a surprising amount of support. Build on it.
Here’s some of the findings of my research. All data comes from the New Zealand Election Study.
Firstly, 23.7% of people who are more conservative than the national mean care more about the environment than the economy. That’s some rich pickings.

Table 1: Conservatism and levels of environmentally concern.

Less conservative More conservative
Values environment>income

35.50%

23.70%

Values environment=income

28.00%

29.10%

Values environment<income

36.50%

47.20%

Total Percentage

100.00%

100.00%

You also have a lot of goodwill from supporters of other parties (except ACT and United Future)

Table 2. Support for the Greens from supporters of other parties.

Political Party Neutral ‘Like’ to ‘Strongly Like’ Total
National Party 24.6% 25.9% 50.5%
New Zealand First 19.2% 34.6% 53.8%
The Māori Party 33.3% 38.1% 71.4%
United Future 33.3% 8.3% 42.1%
Conservative Party 13.3% 21.1% 34.4%
ACT New Zealand 10.5% 10.5% 21.0%
Labour New Zealand 21.4% 53.1% 74.5%

2- Promote ‘valence’ issues
Great job on the 2011 election. You went with Jobs, Rivers and Kids as your campaign issues, and they worked a treat. Good call on going with ‘valence’ issues. For those that don’t know, valence issues are those issues that have overwhelming support, but when raised imply the other team opposes them. For example, no one is against jobs, rivers or kids. But by advancing them as an election issue, you suggested that National opposed them. Smart. Perhaps this year could be- ‘Cheaper and cleaner power. Oil-free beaches. A fair go for Kiwis. Keep New Zealand beautiful, party vote Green’.

3- Embrace your conservative streak
Green philosophy in general, and the Green Party specifically, have always had a conservative (conservationist?) streak. By that I mean ‘little c’ conservative, not ‘Conservatism’- although both share the same impulse to preserve.  This was really prominent back in 2005, when the Greens ran their anti-GE campaign, and we’re seeing it again with anti-offshore drilling and anti-climate change campaigns. While these issues are serious, a big part of their popular appeal stems from a ‘change is bad, things might go wrong, let’s stay the same’ attitude. This attitude is called ‘the conservative disposition’, and is at the heart of Conservatism. Admittedly, this disposition manifests in other arenas for the true conservative, but it exists nonetheless in Green thought. So make use of the fear of change! Climate change kills native birds! Changing our economy to dairy destroys rivers! Offshore drilling jeopardises family campgrounds! Change is bad, party vote Green.

4- ‘The Land’ has nationalist and conservative appeal
Did you know Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s most conservationist PM of the last 30 years? That’s because few things evoke patriotism more than ‘The Land’, and the national animals that dwell in it. Even Newt Gingrich, Colin Craig and Peter Dunne have a green streak when it comes to local conservation. But it must be local- the green-leaning conservative is not concerned with climate refugees and failed harvests in the Sahel. That’s why rivers were such a great call. Rivers are where you take your family camping, they are where your kids swim, they are where you catch your dinner. You’re doing well talking about beaches- they are also repositories of family values and have similarly conservative appeal. So focus on green issues that play out at the local level, especially near where people were able to go with their families, back in ‘the good old days’ (remember when kids were healthy and rivers were clean? At the coming election, party vote Green).

5- Dog whistle politics
Getting rid of Sue Bradford and Nandor Tanczos was smart when it comes to appealing to the centre. They made great changes (anti-smacking and clean slate), but were poison to middle New Zealand. While they may be gone, your base is still very firmly anchored to the left of Labour. This can be a problem when you’re trying to appeal to middle class trampers and anglers. So you can either gag your base (not ideal), or you can get better at dog-whistling. Dog whistling, for those who don’t know, is when you say something that means one thing to a general audience, and another to your target audience. I think ‘a fair go for kiwis’ is a good example of this- it sounds nice and patriotic to some, but the base knows that it means pro-poor policy.

Regardless of whether you choose to gag your base of get a dog whistle, keeping it nice and simple (or ‘high level’ if you prefer) is key. Explaining is losing, and easy comprehension is king. Your base is aware that solid progressive thinking underpins your policy, so why state it explicitly in national media? All middle New Zealand needs are nice clear valence issues- cheaper power, oil-free beaches, and a fair go for all kiwis. Cis-privilege and genderqueer issues can be discussed at branch meetings, or in the fine print on the website, which middle New Zealand won’t visit anyway.

That’s all for now. I’ll have more to say throughout the year.

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4 thoughts on “Looks like it’s up to you, Green Party

  1. I’ve always felt that there’s no point appealing to centre voters because that almost certainly means moving towards the centre. It’s best to persuade people round to your line of thinking. I understand there’s some give in the middle but ultimately you do have to favour either one or the other.

    There are plenty votes out there for a right wing Green Party but neo-liberal economics are fundamentally at odds with principles such as ecological wisdom which acknowledge that you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.
    Not to mention the commitment to social justice thing as well 😛

    • Good points, but I think it’s more about speaking to the centre than shifting to the centre. It’s about leaving the door open for them, rather than trying to pull them through it. I think the trick is to practice dog whistling and dual messaging.
      Speak loudly in mainstream media about concerns shared be the centre and the left, or issues with helpful ambiguity (like their ‘for a richer New Zealand’).
      Speak softly to the base about issues that alienate the centre, like social justice.
      It’s about which messages get prominence, and where. It also depends on the depth of involvement you’re seeking from the centre. Wanting one vote from them every three years is easier than actually integrating them and their values into your party.

  2. […] This is pretty easily refuted. You can either look at the NZES data that I’ve posted here, or go talk a few of the people I’ve identified here, or read some Roger Scruton. I can tell […]

  3. […] I’ve previously argued, I don’t think the Greens need to abandon progressive politics to pick up blue-green votes. Instead, they need to prioritise valence-issue messages when […]

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