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Why a teal deal wouldn't work
The idea of the Greens flirting with National pops up at almost every election. It's dumb.
Hello all! If this isn’t enough Henry Cooke for you I also have a recent piece in The Guardian about Chris Hipkins’ cynical but canny push to win.
It’s far more reliable than clockwork.
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Every election cycle - often several times - a commentator sparks a new discussion of The Problem With The Green Party.
This problem is that they refuse to sit in the centre of the political spectrum, negotiating with both National and Labour for power, thus giving them leverage over both. Reasonable people make this argument in good faith, and it has a certain brute logic: The Greens have no strategic ambiguity. Any Labour prime minister can rest easy knowing that they will huff and puff but never quite put a National Party prime minister in the ninth floor.
But away from game theory abstraction and in actual political reality, the argument is absurd. It’s as silly as attacking ACT for not threatening to work with Labour.
Here’s a quick rundown of why, with some help from my favourite post-election survey, last used to explore Labour’s lost voters.
Green voters are overwhelmingly left-wing
The Green Party’s current voters do not see themselves as centrist pragmatists committed to finding the best deal from the two main parties. If you ask them to rate themselves on a left-right scale, as the New Zealand Election Study1 did in 2020, 80.5% of those who party voted Green place themselves broadly on the left, compared to 7.2% who place themselves on the right.
This makes the Green Party voter base dramatically to the left of not just National Party voters (2.8% placed themselves on the left) but of Labour Party voters too (39.8% placed themselves on the left.) In other words, Labour voters and National voters are far closer ideologically than Green voters and National voters are.
Asked specifically who they would prefer to be in Government, Labour or National, 95.4% of Green Party voters say Labour, compared to 0.2% who say National.
In general, these voters don’t like the National Party. Just 4.5% said they found National “trustworthy”. Asked to rate how much they liked the National Party from 0-10, a fifth (19.8%) give them “0” and 79.3% give them a rating under 5.
Now, you could say - “but Henry, those were their voters in 2020, when it was clear they wouldn’t support National. If they positioned themselves to be more centrist things might look different.”
This ignores actual political reality however. The party is not going to do something that will make a super-majority of their voting base extremely upset in the hope of some voters they don’t currently have who are not just to the right of the Greens themselves but to the right of Labour. After all they can see what happened to the Māori Party after it allied itself with National.
The two parties have irreconcilable ideological differences
These voters are not stupid. The Green Party’s most right-wing policies are generally well to the left of National’s most left-wing policies, across both economic and environmental policy spaces. The parties’ fundamental ideologies are not just not aligned, they are often in direct opposition to each other. Much like ACT and Labour’s.
That is not because there are no Tory environmentalists, or Green Party capitalists. It’s because when you strip things back both parties are representatives of interest groups whose views rarely overlap. National generally represent business people all around the country and farmers in particular. This is nowhere near the limit of its vote - this is a major party - but these are the people who generally become National Party members or donate to them, and will stick with them even in a bad election year like 2020. The Green Party generally represents young urban professionals with strong left-wing views across the environment and economy.
The National Party base generally see Government intervention as a last resort to be avoided, while the Green Party base see it as essential to any kind of ecological or social justice. Now, National is a big tent party capable of reaching well outside of its base for big policies, but only to an extent. Even at the high water mark of John-Key-centrism-National was not keen to serious regulate either agricultural emissions or freshwater quality. The Green Party’s MPs and leadership were around for all that - they do not see them turning over some new leaf any time soon. And the Green Party itself has ideological rigidities that would mean even it did prop up a National Government it would face serious pressures to bring it down the moment that Government enacted almost any of its core economic policies. Both parties would face serious electoral consequences for bringing in such chaos.
The members would stop this before it even happened
Remember all that stuff I said about the Green Party’s voters hating National? The 7000 or so members of the Green Party make them look like libertarians. And in the Green Party the members have to okay any potential deal to go into Government. I’m not the first to say this, but the members would simply stop this from even getting started. They would punish even a bit of strategic ambiguity quite fiercely.
Does this mean this would never happen ever? No. After all, the original MMP country Germany sees its Green Party negotiate with its right-wing party. As the climate becomes a more and more important issue it will likely stop being so ideologically split, especially if carbon trade barriers really become a thing. But I think you can safely rule it out for another couple of election cycles.
This study of thousands of electors is the best dataset we have on voter behaviour. NZES 2020 is hosted by the ADA dataverse, I am using this data after requesting access to it, and am wholly responsible for the analysis set fourth here. The margin of error is around 2%.