Halfway through the campaign, the Green Party co-leaders are positive about their progress.
The party’s grassroots operation has knocked on more doors already than they reached in the entire 2020 campaign – which was itself the Greens’ largest campaign.
Marama Davidson and James Shaw credit part of their rise in the polls to that on-the-ground campaigning. On current numbers, the Greens would return to Parliament with a larger contingent than ever before. Newsroom’s polling average puts the party at 15 MPs, beating their previous record by one.
“I’m going to come in with a nerdy answer,” Shaw says, when asked about the state of play. “Our polling average is the highest it’s ever been. Obviously we’ve had individual polls that are higher, but we’ve never had a long-run average [that is]. And it’s ticking upwards.”
‘Basic, effective campaigning continues for us. Talking with people, particularly on doorsteps, but our approaches and putting our values right up front, that has been a bit of a change’ – Marama Davidson
Sure enough, a couple of hours after the co-leaders sat down with Newsroom, the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll put them at 14.2 percent. That would bring in 18 MPs and represents their highest Reid Research mark in nine years.
“In the history of MMP, no support party in government has ever seen their support go up, except for us. And now it’s happened twice,” Shaw says.
Alongside the grassroots campaigning which the Greens have always excelled at, they say some strategic changes are helping as well. One is the decision to release big policies earlier in the year, which ensured their announcements weren’t drowned out by campaign noise and familiarised people with the concepts of a wealth tax or free dental treatment.
“We’ve released seven big policy packages and we released them early and then we’ve spent the whole campaign talking about them. If I was to go back to 2011 or 2014, we would have done far more announcements, but the conventional wisdom was to keep your powder dry until quite close to the election,” Shaw says.
“Because some of what we’re talking about is big stuff, actually going early and then talking about it means that we’re able to have that conversation and explain it to people. It sounds a lot more reasonable when you actually take a number of opportunities to have that conversation.”
‘We follow the polls, we’re not one of those parties that pretends not to believe them. At the same time, in both of the last two elections, what we thought was going to happen on the night didn’t happen. Something else happened’ – James Shaw
Davidson jumps in to use the party’s free dental policy as an example. It’s not a new policy for the Greens, but it’s been better received this time around because people have had time to consider it before a volunteer knocks on their door.
“If there was something that is so great to door-knock with, it’s free dental. On the doorsteps around the country, it’s been a fantastic principle to campaign on. That is evolution over time, with the improvements in technology, social media, what have you.”
Another key has been the party’s tax calculator, which has been accessed more than a million times.
“It’s been massive,” Davidson says. “We keep creating opportunities for people to remember to have a go at it as well, which has been really helpful.”
“Again, if we held it until the last minute, that wouldn’t have had time to get out there,” Shaw points out.
Though the two big parties are running their campaigns differently this time around, with fewer public events which could be disrupted by protesters and a greater reliance on social media, that style of campaigning is not new for the Greens.
“Basic, effective campaigning continues for us. Talking with people, particularly on doorsteps, but our approaches and putting our values right up front, that has been a bit of a change,” Davidson says.
Shaw says security has been a greater factor, with the party liaising with local police around campaign stops, but the outside appearance of the campaign isn’t too different in terms of the tools used.
“We’ve never done the mall-walkabout stuff. And we’ve always led the pack when it comes to social media and so on and that seems to be as true now.”
On their hopes of rejoining government after October 14, Shaw declines to take too much from the polls.
“We follow the polls, we’re not one of those parties that pretends not to believe them. At the same time, in both of the last two elections, what we thought was going to happen on the night didn’t happen. Something else happened,” he says.
Davidson adds that voters don’t seem to be particularly inspired by the main choices.
“We know that that’s a space for us to give people to vote for. There’s a large group of people who haven’t made up their minds yet.”
If anything, Shaw interjects, that undecided vote is growing. “There’s something going on there which is that people do just seem to be holding their judgment.”
In the 1News-Verian poll released last week, 12 percent of respondents were undecided on party vote – up 2 percentage points from the week before. Though that’s within the margin of error, it fits with other trends showing a flattening out or slight increase in the number of undecided voters even as the election campaign dominates the headlines.
What do the next three weeks hold? Unlike Labour, the Greens aren’t planning any big change in their rhetoric or tactics. What they’re doing is clearly working for them.
On an operational level, from October 2 the campaign swings into a Get Out The Vote machine.
“All of the people that we’ve spoken to – a couple of hundred thousand people that we’ve spoken to so far – we intend to speak to all of them again. Not to persuade them which way to vote, but to say, ‘Have you voted yet?’ or ‘Do you know where to go?’” Shaw says.
Turnout will be high this year, he thinks. Though the Covid-19 response invigorated the nation in 2020 leading to the highest turnout in two decades, changes to the location of polling booths will help buoy what would otherwise be a falling voting population.
“That has a huge impact on turnout because it’s so convenient and because they run the whole two weeks. That’s great. I think they’re doing a terrific job,” he says.
It does also mean many people may vote out of convenience and make up their minds at the ballot box. Which brings it all back to the Greens’ early start to policy announcements. When people get into the booth, Davidson says, she wants them to look at the Greens logo and think “free dental”.
“The pathway to recall is consistent contact and so we’re doing our best to give people a scene to remember. That’s by maintaining consistent contact and so things like free dental, wealth tax, income guarantee, all of that sort of stuff is where our campaign has been focused.”