As a former member of the Australian Democrats, I have observed with interest the rise of the Australian Greens' vote since the late 1990s, when it was below 3%. The Tasmanian Greens polled 21% in the state election earlier this year, and are now in a Coalition government with the ALP. The Greens have polled 16% in the latest Newspoll, and have consistently polled over 10% for some time now.
If current polling trends continue, The Greens look set to break the Australian Democrats 1990 record for a minor party of 11.3% vote nationally in the House of Representatives, and could realistically end up electing senators in every state (I will discuss their senate chances in a separate post) as well as winning their first House of Representatives seats in Melbourne and possibly Sydney or Grayndler.
So far, modern minor parties (I'm excluding the Nationals as they have a long electoral history and a stable federal coalition with the Liberal party) have failed to win a seat in the House of Representatives. The closest minor party candidates have come to winning an HoR seat in a general election was in 1998, where John Schumann (Democrats) in Mayo received 48.26% of the Two Candidate Preferred (TCP) vote and Pauline Hanson (One Nation) in Blair received 46.60% of the TCP vote . Unlike independents, minor parties could try to pitch themselves as potential participants in federal government if they could only break into the House of Representatives by winning and retaining seats at a general election. A strong nationwide HoR vote also lends credibility to a minor party's political platform and campaign issues, as it demonstrates they have significant political support. The Greens came close to breaking into the House of Representatives in the 2007 Federal election, where Adam Bandt received 45.29% of the TCP vote in Melbourne.
The Greens have grown their vote over the last 12 years by engaging in grass roots activism and consistently targeting local and state government seats to build their core support, rather than grabbing transitory protest votes at specific elections, in contrast to the Australian Democrats who followed up their record 1990 Reps vote of 11.3% with an appalling 3.8%, before recovering somewhat to poll 6.8% in 1996. The history of the Democrats HoR vote since the party's founding in 1977 shows inconsistent results until 2004, when there was a catastrophic decline in the party's vote.
|Year||Democrats HoR % Vote||Greens HoR % Vote|
Results taken from Dr Adam Carr's excellent Psephos website.
It certainly seems that the Greens consistent grassroots activism and effective targeting of geographic regions where their support is potentially strong has built up a resilient base vote for them. This approach has been successfully used since the 1980s by the UK Liberal Democrats, and any minor or micro party looking to build their vote to the point where they can win seats in single member electorates where First Past the Post or preferential voting is used should seriously target local government and state lower house seats where they can have more impact with the ability to dedicate greater resources to a targeted campaign.
Tim Colebatch has written an excellent article about the rise of the Greens' vote and what impact it could have on federal politics, and former Australian Democrats leader and Greens' candidate for Brisbane, Andrew Bartlett, has written an insightful piece on the challenges the Greens will face in trying to turn their current success in the polls into votes (and seats) when it's election day later this year.
It will be interesting to see if the Greens continue to grow their HoR vote, and with a first-term ALP government that is dropping in popularity, they may finally break through and win a lower house seat.