My last post was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek open letter to the Greens asking them to steal votes from National. It got a lot of hits, but my point was misunderstood by a few people. So I thought I’d write two posts clarifying how I think the Greens can steal National votes without abandoning their principles or moving to the centre.
In this first post I’ll outline the overlaps between ‘blue’ and ‘green’ thinking, and outline some blue-green voter groups. By blue-green, I mean people concerned with the environment, but more at home on the right side of the political spectrum. In my next post I’ll delve into strategy and tactics for appealing to such voters. All of this assumes that Labour continue to lack the will or ability to try and take votes away from Jhhn Key.
Overlaps between Blue and Green thought
Firstly, however, it’s worth briefly outlining the ways green thought and right-wing thought can intersect.
Anti-change- Green thought and conservatism
The largest and most comprehensible overlap is between green thought and old school conservatism. By conservatism, I mean old school paternalist, tradition-loving, change-is-bad conservatism rather than free-market ‘new right’ conservatism. At heart, green thought and conservatism share a fundamental impulse to conserve, and even share the same root verb ‘conservare’, meaning ‘to keep watch’ or ‘maintain’.
While this impulse is largely restricted to environmental issues in green thought and social and political arenas in conservatism, a surprising amount of agreement exists between the two schools. Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton claims the two are “aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources”. An academic by the name of Pilbeam identified several, including the following:
- respect for natural limits,
- scepticism of the supremacy of industrialisation and unfettered capitalism,
- the belief that nature holds a moral value that can trump material values,
- preference for community over individualism,
- the belief that authority and regulation are necessary, and
- concern for (and obligation to) future generations.
Space doesn’t permit me going into detail, but more info can be found here.
The Land- Green thought and Nationalism
Another major intersection is between green thought and nationalism. It’s fairly intuitive and I’ve already briefly outlined this in the previous blog, so I won’t go into it in great depth here. But basically, ‘The Land’ has enormous nationalist appeal. Love of The Nation is love of The Land. National animals and iconic scenery explicitly link nationalist views with environmentalism.
Market Greens- Green thought and free markets
The third intersection is between green thought and free-market liberalism. In this case, it’s not so much shared views, but a belief that the tools in the capitalist toolbox are sufficient to address environmental problems.
People who hold this view believe environmental issues and open markets are not incompatible. On the contrary, they may believe the market is the best solution to climate change. I know that some of these people are already involved in the Greens, but there are also a lot within National, and are represented by their own (low profile) Blue-Green faction in the National party.
Way back when- Green thought and Pastoral theory
While Pastoralism isn’t a school of thought as such (or even necessarily right-wing), it is more strongly associated with the political right. Pastoralism, for those that don’t know, is a view that simple rural living is better. Like conservatism, it is basically a ‘change-is-bad’/’times-were-simpler-then’ view.
People who hold this view place great value on local conservation. Such local concerns are often tied to disappointment in the changes that have come with economic development, or a backward-looking idealising of how things were. Implicit in this is a hostility to high technology, like genetic engineering energy intensive/wasteful products. This is a strong overlap with the Greens, who have a deeply ambivalent relationship with technology and science- relying on science to support their claims and provide answers on the one hand, while often deploring its ‘anti-life’ ethic and central role in environmental harm.
Blue-green voter groups
In the course of my research and discussions with both Greens and Blue-Green types I have identified a few groups who ‘lean-green’. Below is a list of these, with a brief outline of each.
- NIMBYs- A powerful force for local conservation efforts, which can be used as a launching pad for national campaigns or party awareness raising. Frequently property owners, and do not fit any of the tropes associated with green thought. Powerful appeal to the centre.
- Remuera house-spouse- All material concerns have been met, now has the luxury of voting for things that they think are nice. Ronald Inglehart describes their concerns as ‘post-materialist’- they’re comfortable enough that they can vote for feel-good issues like scenery that they probably won’t visit.
- Weekend angler- The keen fisher-person. It’s one of New Zealand’s most popular pastimes, although concern is often highly localised (ie to ‘their’ river/beach). A particularly ripe target for ‘oil-free beaches’ campaigning.
- Hunterville hunter- If you think they only like killing, you’re wrong. The main reason most hunters go out is because they love the outdoors, albeit as a place for killing. More likely to be social conservative, located in small towns and rural areas.
- Old-school pastoralist- An older voter. As outlined above, romanticises rural life and the outdoors. Very locally concerned. This is more of a view held by older voters in general than a voter group.
- Young Christian- Devout, but socially liberal on issues that don’t contradict faith. Wants to make the world a better place, concerned for well-being of the meek, with a strong pro-life ethic. May not feel welcome in Labour. Like the Pope, doesn’t view free markets as moral.
The ability to pull members of these groups over to the Greens from the right will depend on their level of political knowledge and interest. In my experience, the lesser their knowledge and interest in politics, the greater the ability to draw them into voting Green. This is because apolitical people are less likely to have fully-formed views and commitments to a given party, and are more likely to swing on issues. Being less politically aware also means they are less likely to know of socially liberal Green policy that might alienate them.
As a rule, targeting these people requires simple, restricted messaging. If messages to them can’t be understood in a headline or a soundbite, then it will be harder to get the message through. But that takes me into strategy and tactics, and that’s the subject of the next post, in which I outline how the Greens can appeal to the centre by running a ‘two audiences’ communications strategy that focuses on fear, valence issues, wedge issues, and NIMBY issues, whilst using dog-whistles to the base. In essence, it is not about shifting to the centre, but about prioritising issues that matter to the centre when speaking in media frequented by the centre (such as newspapers, evening news).