Since the Prime Minister insisted that the Green Party be given a place on the TV debates, the small party’s support has exploded. Described as the Green Surge, the party’s membership soared past UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, and their national polling figures broke double digits.
This is an extraordinary jump for a party that has been sitting between 5-7% for this parliament, so where has this support come from? The ICM and Ashcroft polls this week showing a Green increase also showed a drop in Lib Dem support and no change in Labour support.
It’s too soon to tell if those figures reflect a direct transfer of support from the Liberal Democrats to the Greens, though the demographics do line up. Both parties’ average supporter has similar traits (according to YouGov’s excellent profiler algorithms): higher qualifications than average, more likely to be Southern, and younger than average. Both supporter sets are also likely to describe themselves as ‘ethical’ and read the Guardian.
The key demographic amongst this data is the relative youthfulness of the two parties’ support, which could explain the rapidity of support growth. A recent Demos study showed that 44% of 18-25-year-olds have yet to decide who they’re going to vote for, and 45% of them put the environment among their main concerns.
In 2010, voters saw the Liberal Democrats as a ‘fair’ party and one that would stand up for the interests of young voters. However, coalition has undone this reputation and a gap has opened up on the left for a new contender, fighting for fairness, to surge into.
Whilst many are hailing the Green Party as a new player in the General Election, an analysis of voter concerns and behavioural traits indicates that the party’s surge isn’t here to stay. Delving into the Demos research into young voters, it also found that their greatest concerns were the cost of living (69%); affordable housing (62%); and unemployment and NHS were tied on 58%.
The Liberal Democrats’ 2010 manifesto focused on resolving the challenges that had been created by the financial crisis in a ‘fair’ way, however, the Green Party’s ‘zero growth economy’ approach might not be enough to convince young voters that they’re the party who can address their greatest concerns.
The Green Party may be effective at pinpointing what voters are unhappy about, but they must also offer feasible solutions and alternatives. An analysis of electorate perceptions and election outcomes shows that being viewed as unable to resolve challenges can be fatal for a campaign; you don’t lose elections because you’re out of sync with people on issues, you lose because voters don’t think you’d be able to actually do anything about those issues.
Young well-educated voters present a double-edged sword to the Green Party. Being first time voters with a high awareness of which issues they care about, they are accessible votes for parties offering something new. However, rather than older ‘issueless’ voters who will always vote for the same party, young voters have a stronger self-examining impulse and they are much more likely to scrutinise a party’s offer and judge whether their vote is best used to support a certain candidate or party.
The Green Party’s economic objectives are ecological sustainability and social justice, and would measure economic progress through sustainability, equity and devolution. Its economic strategy also involves re-skilling people to create more environmentally-friendly production and giving priority to industries with minimum environmental impact. The party would also use tax to alter consumer behaviour and introduce various eco-taxes.
The Green Party’s philosophy is coherent but their priorities are not the priorities of swing voters. A significant reason for UKIP’s success is that their priorities (immigration and Europe) loom large on voters’ radar, whereas the environment just lacks draw as a grandstand issue with which to sweep up floating voters.
The Green Party is currently benefitting from a perfect storm of free publicity, weakened competition, and an undecided electorate which fits their demographic targets. However when the cards are down, they may find that, on Election Day, fewer voters than expected believe the grass is greener on the other side.