On Monday IpsosMORI released polling showing the Greens on 8% of the vote — their joint-best polling performance since the 2019 general election and about three times as high as their actual vote share in 2019. Inevitably, this led to widespread chatter about how worried Starmer should be about this Green surge:
NEW @IpsosMORI / Evening Standard. Tory lead at 4 points – Greens up to 8(!)
Con 42 (+1)
Lab 38 (-3)
Green 8 (+3)
Lib Dems 7 (+1)
Other 5 (-2)
1,056 GB adults interviewed by phone 29th Jan – 4th Feb, 2021. Changes from December. More to follow.
— Keiran Pedley (@keiranpedley) February 8, 2021
I would advise caution about over-interpreting this Green surge. Although 8% is a good polling result, we need to remember this is most likely, at least in part, statistical noise. A poll released the next day by Redfield and Wilton found the Green Party on 4%, just below their average of 5% in 2021. The Green Party has been largely absent from the debate on Coronavirus, they get minimal attention on the airwaves, and pretty much everyone across the political spectrum accepts the need for green policies in some form — even the Express newspaper.
But what about the broader point, made by some, that Labour should be more, or just as, worried about leaking votes to the Greens than the Liberal Democrats or Tories?
I find it an unconvincing argument, for a few reasons.
Firstly, Labour’s vote and the Green vote are only weakly-correlated — looking at every poll between 2020 and 2021 shows only a very weak negative correlation between Labour’s vote share and the Green’s vote share, and the relationship isn’t statistically significant. Furthermore, the Greens tend to over-perform in polls relative to their eventual performance (this is not just a first-past-the-post phenomenon either — it was also true in the 2016 Scottish and Welsh devolved elections, even in the proportional regional list half of the contest).
Secondly, in the 55 seats where Labour lost to the Conservatives, only 11 of those had a Green Party vote tally which was greater than the Conservative’s majority. The Liberal Democrats managed to do this in 21 of those 55 seats. Even the Brexit Party did better, in 19 seats winning more votes than Labour lost by. Labour needs to win votes from all three of these parties to win back these seats – there is nothing uniquely special about the Green vote.
Thirdly, it is likely that winning back Green Party voters necessitates a different strategy from Labour compared to winning back voters who switched to the Conservatives. Whilst a vote is a vote, regardless of whether it comes from a 2019 Conservative, Green, or non-voter, winning back a Tory is worth twice as much as winning back a Green. Consider James Daly’s Bury North seat — won on a majority of 105 over Labour, with the Greens polling 802 votes. Labour would need to win at least 106 voters from the Green Party to defeat Daly (all other things being equal), but would need to win over just 53 Conservative voters to deny Daly his majority and turn the seat Labour again.
Overall, any panic over a Green surge is misplaced — it’s just statistical noise at the moment. Besides, any strategy which sees Starmer pursue Green voters has a huge opportunity cost — it is only by winning back Tory voters that he can reach Number 10.