James Kanagasooriam

Chief Research Officer

Bi_Focal #14: Labour's Green Challenge

March 1, 2024

This week we’re back in the UK looking at another one of the minority parties -- the Green Party -- and the challenge posed to Labour's left flank. We find that the Greens are attracting a number of those who voted Labour in 2019 - particularly left-wingers disillusioned by Starmer’s move to the centre. But among other groups, there’s much less movement, and the Green Party still has a lot of work to do.

The 'Green Universe'

We ran a poll of 1,536 people from 8th to 14th November 2023. We looked beyond  actual Green voters, towards a much broader ‘Green-centred universe’ of people: not only those who have actually voted Green, but including everyone who is open to voting for the Green party. The criteria for inclusion were at least one of the following:

  • Voted Green in 2019
  • Plan to vote Green in the upcoming election
  • Consider Green as their second option
  • Rate the Green Party 6 or higher on a 0-10 warmth scale

This let us look not only at committed Greens, but also voters who they might hope to win. This is a broad group, more people than you might expect - we would put as much as 40% of the GB adult population in this group.

That reflects one of the surprising things about the Green party: their support doesn’t come close to matching how concerned the public is about the environment. Although Extinction Rebellion (and allied groups) have done a huge amount to raise the environment’s political relevance since they burst onto the scene in 2019, the Green Party’s support has only nudged marginally up from the mid-2010s. Green success and voting intention shape has a logarithmic relationship to concern over the environment.

Figure 1: Green Party Vote Share vs Environment as a Top Three Issue
Screenshot 2024-02-29 at 22.16.28
Source: YouGov Issues Tracker

Why is this? Although you might understandably think the Greens are something of a single-issue party, their supporters have a wide range of motivations. Not every Green voter is particularly concerned about the environment, and not every eco-warrior thinks the Greens are the best party to tackle climate change.

We took a closer look at who these Green-interested voters are, and identified five ‘Green Tribes’. Each come to the Green Party from their own political place. The best way to think about the “Green Universe” is it broadly maps onto two dimensions:

  • First, a left-right dimension shown on the horizontal axis below. There are left-wing green voters and right-wing voters. This should come as no surprise to readers who have followed the types of wards and areas the Greens have been doing well - not just green tinged urban centres like Bristol but deep blue areas.
  • The second dimension, shown on the vertical axis, is broadly a optimism+pragamtism+political connectivity axis. Voters are the top are broadly happier with their lives, more trusting of the political system and more engaged with it, and those at the bottom of the axis are more dislocated from our politics, more sceptical that things will ever get better, who believe the system is broken, and at the hardest edges more fringe-like in their views.
Figure 2: Attitudes PCA of 'Green Universe
Screenshot from 2024-03-01 12-26-51
Source: Focaldata polling, n = 1,536, of which 715 represent the 'Universe' of Green Tribes that follows. Fieldwork: 8 - 14 Nov 2024

The Five Green Tribes

Below we've come up with several portraits which describe each of the five Green 'tribes' we see in the universe of Green Party support. Each tribe is defined by different combinations of the two attitudinal dimensions above -- along with  differences in demographics that emerge too.  

Screenshot 2024-02-29 at 22.21.28

Those who prefer spatial representations can see the representation on the graph below (Fig. 3). We plotted the ‘Green universe’ on two axes representing our two dimensions: left wing (on the left) vs right wing, and engaged with politics (at the top) against those sceptical of the political system. Each of these groups are tempted by the Green party.

As you can see in the brick plot that follows afterwards (Fig. 4), only a small proportion of each respondent in the Green universe did actually vote Green in 2019. But together, they make up the different groups of the Green Party’s current support.

Figure 3: 'Green Universe' tribes plotted on attitudinal PCA plot
unnamed (19)
Figure 4: Who did the 'Green Universe' tribes vote for in 2019?
Screenshot from 2024-03-01 10-28-26

Who’s turning Green?

Only a few members of each group may have voted Green in 2019 -- but now, many more of them are saying they will. This sankey diagram shows how voters in the ‘Green universe’ are intending to vote if an election were held tomorrow. There’s a lot of voter movement.

Figure 5: Green Universe voter journey from 2019 to current voting intention
Screenshot from 2024-03-01 10-34-12

We might expect as much four years on from the last election - not to mention three prime ministers later. Labour in particular are losing a good chunk of these Green-adjacent voters to other minor parties - and the largest number of those are going to the Green party. Labour’s gains from the Conservatives and others don’t quite make up the difference, suggesting that Starmer’s centrist strategy is not convincing many of these more environmentally conscious voters.

Figure 6: Shift in Green voting intention: 2019 to now
Screenshot from 2024-03-01 10-36-36

Which of the ‘Green Tribes’ are shifting? Despite the Greens' polling gains since 2019, most of the Green Tribes show very little movement. In fact, there’s only one group really moving towards the Green party - the Green Populists. These are people relatively left wing, but most of all disillusioned with politics as it is and looking for change (in many ways, they’re archetypal Corbyn supporters).

This group has shifted to the Greens in quite a big way. Keir Starmer’s electoral strategy has been to chase the centre ground, at the risk of alienating many more radical left wingers. That may well be a winning electoral strategy, but here we can see that many of those left wingers do, in fact, feel alienated. These environmentally conscious voters who feel disaffected with politics are switching away from the Labour party to the Greens. Most of this change happened some time ago - the Greens have polled at about 6% since late 2021 - but it’s worth remembering that this survey was carried out before Starmer and Reeves recently rowed back their flagship green investment policy.

We looked a little closer at these ‘Green Populists’, as well as the ‘Radical Red Greens’ who also seem to be shifting slightly green. Both these groups - but not the other tribes - share a particular kind of worldview: they view politics in very polarised terms. We asked people where they would place themselves relative to other political parties in terms of environmental action vs economic growth.

Figure 7: Green Populists and Radical Greens see polarised environmental politics
Screenshot from 2024-03-01 10-38-16-1

All groups came up with the same order. Conservatives are seen as prioritising growth, Greens the environment. Labour and the Lib Dems are seen as making a compromise - which is, interestingly, much closer to where ‘Green Universe’ respondents tended to see themselves.

But the real difference was in how far apart people perceived Greens and the Conservatives. The more moderate Green Tribes placed them relatively close, just 1 or 2 points apart on a 10 point scale. But the ‘Green Populists’ and ‘Radical Red Greens’ saw those two parties as polar opposites. For them, environmental politics is a sort of manichean confrontation between good and evil.

The Green's Challenge

As I outlined at the start, the Greens face something of a challenge. Concern about the environment is at historically high levels. But they’re unable to translate this into electoral support. They might be benefiting from Starmer’s perceived centrism, but from the perspective of the country as a whole, only a few voters are actually making the shift. The ‘Green Universe’ might be big, but only a small proportion of it is actually prepared to put the cross in the box.

Figure 8: Warm to Greens, but not enough....
What are the main reasons you don't vote Green, by current voting intention.
Screenshot from 2024-03-01 10-41-02

What’s holding others back? It depends which party they support. Those voting Labour (the largest group) are mostly convinced (rightly) that Labour has the best chance of winning a General Election. Even if they might like the Greens, they intend to do their best to help Labour over the line. Meanwhile those supporting the Conservatives think similarly, as well as being (self-identified) realists. They just don’t think the Greens are offering something that can really be done. Liberal Democrat voters have a much wider array of concerns, from a ‘protest vote’ to a lack of economic policies.

These are the hurdles the Greens need to overcome. Unlike Reform, they are not surging in the polls. But the political ground is fertile - concern over the environment and disillusion with the political process are high. Our ‘Green Populists’ show that that combination can pull people towards the Green Party. The question is, how many can they convince? My sense is that post-election the Greens will become a force to be reckoned with.


Focaldata online polling, n = 1,536, of which 715 represent the Green 'Universe'. Fieldwork: 8 - 14 Nov 2024.

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