The surge in Green Party membership has been a big political news story recently, especially given its relevance to the ongoing debate about whether the party’s leader, Natalie Bennett, should be invited to participate in one of the proposed televised leaders’ debates.
Questions around whether the Greens are a major party are predicated, to an extent, on questions about who their members are and whether their increased membership will translate into increased vote share. There is also, of course, a legitimate question to be raised about the trustworthiness of their membership figures, though this can be said of any political party.
Broadly speaking, the Greens have two main groups within their membership, which we can call the green and red wings. The former tend to be the older members who have a long history commitment to conservation and green campaigning but are not necessarily left-leaning. The latter group tend to be the younger members and are also committed environmentalists but combine this with a broader left-wing political philosophy. The importance of the latter group can be seen in the leadership’s emphasis on issues of equality and fairness alongside historic green principles.
Our polling at YouGov suggests that the new members of the party are likely to be coming from amongst younger people as we have seen a steady increase in support for the Greens amongst this group. This has put them on a level of support (22% say they would vote for them) alongside the Conservatives (second only to Labour) amongst 18-24 year-olds. Support for the Party also comes disproportionately from amongst the middle class and those with higher levels of education. What is clear from the figures is that those who support the Greens are more likely to take the step of joining the party. This is shown by the fact that whilst the percentage of those saying they would vote Green at the general election has stayed around 8% their party membership has been steadily increasing. So, they’re getting more members from a smaller group of supporters than are UKIP.
This last point suggests that increased party membership does not necessarily translate into increased support at the polls. This is in part because party members tend to be an unrepresentative bunch; there is a very small number of people in the population who care enough about their party to join it. In fact, the context for the rise in membership for the Greens is an overall historic decline in party membership over the last fifty years.
There is one way in which increased party membership may help the Greens at the general election, which is having more ‘boots on the ground’. Whilst it is by no means the whole story, a well-run grass-roots campaign can make a difference on polling day. Assuming such an impact, having a big leap in people who are willing to door-knock, distribute flyers, and talk to the public on behalf of the party can only help. It also means that the party has a larger group of supporters who are willing to be vocal on issues such as the inclusion of Natalie Bennett in the leaders’ debates.
So, increasing membership for the Greens is good news for the party as it gives them a big group of committed, young, and educated campaigners to get the party’s messages out there. There is, though, no guarantee that this will translate into an increase in support on the 7th of May.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.
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