Essential Report

Green-baiting and the art of product differentiation

Apr 12, 2011

First published on The Drum: 12/04/2011

The Prime Minister has been dedicating a significant slice of stump time in recent weeks to explaining the differences between the ALP and the Greens, how one emerges from real-world struggles and the other is a group of out-of-touch extremists.

A similar debate has been being waged within the Greens following their underwhelming NSW state election performance, where a local candidate’s intervention in the Middle East peace provided the platform to portray the party as a collective of bat-faced ideologues.

But as the debate about the Greens’ orientation gains pertinence as they move to assume the balance of power in the Senate a more basic fact is being missed: Labor voters and Green voters agree on just about everything.

A review of findings to Essential Research questions over the past few months finds that on nearly every big debate the similarities between Greens voters and Labor voters far outweigh their differences.

Climate Change – A majority of Labor and Green voters both believe climate change is real, Green voters are more likely to rate it a top level issue (Green 87 per cent to Labor 73 per cent), but they are united in their belief that Tony Abbott is opposed to any action on climate change (Labor 47 per cent to Green 48 per cent).

Carbon Tax: Labor voters support the current model of a price with compensation by 63 per cent 23 per cent. This is slightly stronger than Greens voters (56 per cent to 24 per cent), in stark contrast to Coalition voters who almost reject the proposition outright (14 per cent support to 80 per cent opposition). Neither Labor voters (16/72) not Green voters (17/69) want to see an early election over the carbon tax.

Mining Tax: Both Labor voters and Greens voters like the idea of higher taxes on profits of large mining companies, the Greens slightly more so (83 per cent to 75 per cent). Coalition voters hate the idea – 36 per cent to 49 per cent.

NBN: On the big infrastructure project for the term, there is overwhelming support for the National Broadband Network from both Labor (65 per cent) and Greens (71 per cent) voters, compared to 55 per cent hostility from Coalition voters.

Economy: Labor and Greens voters agree that the Australian economy is performing well compared to other developed countries (Labor 82/2), Greens (75/1). Indeed, on this even Coalition voters agree.

Afghanistan: A majority of both Labor and Greens voters want to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan. Greens voters are a little stronger (74 per cent to 62 per cent), although not a world away.

Libya: More surprisingly, when it comes to the Libya no-fly zone, the traditionally pacifist Greens constituency is almost as likely as Labor voters to approve of the current action. (Labor 64 per cent, Green 53 per cent)

Nuclear power – Greens voters have always been strong opponents of nuclear energy (78 against v 18 for); although since the Japan tragedy Labor voters are catching up (58 oppose 29 support)

Same-sex Marriage – maybe the exception that proves the rule: Greens voters support (78-16), ALP support but not nearly as enthusiastically (54-36)

The point of this trawling exercise is that if you sat the average Greens voter and the average Labor voter in the room, they would agree on just about everything. Sure, there may be discussion about how fast or how hard you would push, but in broad outlook there would be very little dissension.

Which makes it tough for the two political parties competing for support of these voters.

For the Greens the challenge is not only to convince voters that they can get more of what they want (commitment to climate change, social justice issues), but that their vote will not be wasted if they support them.

As Labor is much more of a known quantity, its challenge is to hold on to its base by convincing them the Greens are political outliers whose extreme views should not be trusted, even though they agree on just about everything.

So which argument is resonating with the public? This week’s Network Ten question shows that the majority of voters (many of whom, remember, agree with Greens voters) believe the party is extreme and does not share the values of average Australians.

Do you agree or disagree that – the Greens are an extreme political party that does not share the values of average Australians?

Total Vote Labor Vote Lib/Nat Vote Greens Men Women Age 18-34 Aged 35-54 Aged 55+
Total agree 52% 44% 74% 7% 60% 44% 41% 51% 65%
Total disagree 30% 41% 14% 87% 30% 30% 34% 31% 24%
Strongly agree 23% 12% 39% 29% 17% 16% 21% 34%
Agree 29% 32% 35% 7% 31% 27% 25% 31% 31%
Disagree 21% 32% 13% 29% 22% 20% 21% 23% 18%
Strongly disagree 9% 7% 1% 58% 8% 10% 13% 8% 6%
Don’t know 18% 17% 12% 7% 9% 27% 25% 18% 11%

These findings explain a lot of things: why the Prime Minister is using the language she is; why the Bob Brown is taking on his Left flank and why Tony Abbott is so desperate to wed Labor to the Greens.

The success of the Greens in gaining the balance of power has changed Australian politics; using that power to shift the perception of extremism shown here will be the real prize for the fledgling party.

– Peter Lewis: Director, EMC


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