The Greens’ federal election success saw votes from Liberal voters, as well as Labor
Before the 2016 elections, Peter Khalil was a nervous politician.
Despite being shortlisted for the traditionally safe Labor seat of Wills, he faced an almighty challenge from a rampaging Greens side.
“It was pretty fierce competition,” he said.
“A lot of money was poured into the Greens campaign at the time…as a new candidate I was not able to do as much fundraising.”
The Greens were desperate to increase their presence in the House of Representatives, or the lower house, and saw Wills and Cooper, voters in north Melbourne, as their best bet.
Khalil, a former foreign policy adviser to the Rudd government, is a shrewd political operator, but he was outmatched by a party targeting educated voters in trendy Brunswick.
“I don’t know what the estimate was, but I think they spent almost a million dollars trying to win that seat,” Khalil said.
Labor and Khalil held on and he has since increased his majority in the electorate, but the Greens have recalibrated their strategy.
They abandoned Melbourne’s so-called “Quinoa Belt”, which encompasses the socially progressive suburbs of central-north Melbourne, and searched across the country for winnable seats.
It worked. Next month the Greens will have a record 16 federal parliamentarians, including four lower house lawmakers – an increase from the one party leader Adam Bandt had before the election.
Their success has concerned Labor and Liberal insiders who have been impressed with their political strategy of targeting affluent inner-city voters in affluent east coast neighborhoods.
Analysis of the Greens’ vote work, seen by the ABC, shows that while Bandt’s party was successful in convincing some ALP voters to change, it was equally, if not more, successful with voters well-to-do who had previously voted Liberal.
A Liberal insider said most rusty Tories still couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the Greens, but it was clear the party had succeeded in targeting some Liberal voters and their well-to-do children.
“I think both sides should be concerned about their strategic maturity and [the Greens] knowing which issues will play well with voters.”
Bandt says the party hasn’t specifically targeted wealthy voters, and he attributes their electoral success to strong grassroots campaigns.
“This is the Greens’ best election result to date and we were very clear that we were going to campaign across the country… but are focusing our resources where we knew people wanted this climate action and wanted a economic alternative,” he said.
Change in preference leads to change in strategy
The Greens leader said part of the strategy to move away from safe Labor seats came from the Liberal Party’s decision after the 2016 election to stop favoring the Greens.
“We knew that in some inner city seats the Liberals and Labor worked together and the fact that the Liberals preferred Labor may have made it harder for us to win those seats,” Bandt said.
Strategic advice to the Greens after 2016 was to target seats that were genuine “three-horse races”, but he also received advice that blue-ribbon seats like Josh Frydenberg’s Kooyong seat were winnable.
But with so-called “teal” independents trying to unseat several Liberals in 2022, the Greens have focused their efforts on five seats; McNamara in Victoria, Richmond in New South Wales and the Queensland seats of Griffiths, Ryan and Brisbane – which they won.
The Liberals and Labor think the absence of ‘teals’ in Queensland opened the door to the Greens’ success in the Sunshine State, but analysis of the seats they lost has sparked just as much interest.
A survey of Richmond and McNamara shows their upward trajectory has followed soaring house prices and a migration of affluent voters.
At the Richmond headquarters, the Greens have performed best in places like the more expensive neighborhoods of Byron Bay, where house prices have jumped more than 93% since the last election.
The Greens are catching up with Labor and the Coalition
Where the Greens vote was strong, the Nationals vote capitulated.
The Greens have fared less well in areas further south, such as the Ballina electorate, where property prices are significantly lower. Instead, Labor’s vote was strong.
In McNamara, Labor believe the Greens stole Labor and Liberal votes and did particularly well with young voters in the seat.
But analysis shows that the Greens have gone home to the affluent parts of the electorate.
In and around Elwood cabins in central Melbourne, where the median personal income is almost double the Victorian average and property prices have jumped around 20% since the last election to reach around $2.2 million, the Green vote jumped about 7% in two large voting booths.
In comparison, the Liberal vote fell by about 5% in these regions.
But the Green vote fell in some of the electorate’s traditionally less affluent booths, including St Kilda Park where the party’s vote fell by around 1%.
Jill Sheppard, senior lecturer in politics at the Australian National University, said while the Greens have always courted wealthy young professionals, they have fared better in the last election.
“All parties, especially the Greens, have gotten better at using low-cost data and they’re digging deeper into election data, survey data, to understand who’s voting for them and that’s paying dividends.”
She said the Greens have a natural advantage when trying to target “little L” Liberal voters in the city center.
“What Liberals and Greens have in common is that they attract high-income voters, lots of women, lots of highly educated voters who don’t feel comfortable in the Liberal Party” , said Dr. Sheppard.
“Maybe they don’t like the kind of candidates that came up in the last election, so some of them went teal [independent] candidates but some of them went to the Greens.”