Events in Germany have generated a few stories in the Austrian press in the last couple of days focusing on the position of the Greens in Austrian politics. The stimulus for these articles has been the election by the German Greens of two leaders, for next year’s federal elections, with a broad middle class appeal. The German Greens it seems are going after the CDU’s conservative voters rather than just seeking to secure left leaning support. (Reuters article)
This turn of events has lead to articles about the Austrian Greens and in particular this one caught my eye: Green: Vienna moves to the left, to the right Berlin. It an interesting idea, the Greens moving further to the left in Austrian politics and it might work for them, if that’s what they really intend.
The Austrian Greens, despite being the only party elected into the current Parliament that hasn’t faced one or more major scandals, have only increased their support to date by 4% and remain fourth in the polls. Last year they seemed to benefit from the decline in support for the conservative ÖVP but more recently their stronger poll ratings have coincided with a weakening of the SPÖ (Social Democrats). The latter are already in a longstanding battle with the far-Right FPÖ in their traditional working class areas and now face a further challenge from the new right-of-centre ‘Team Stronach’. With support dented by poorly handled scandal accusations and facing towards the challenge of Populists on the right, the SPÖ look vulnerable on their left flank. The temptation to push left and make real inroads may look highly tempting to the Greens in general and the more fundamentalist faction in particular.
But if the Greens did shift further to the left could they maintain their existing voter base while adding disillusioned traditional left-wing voters?
It is notable that the rise of the Green Party in general elections was mirrored by the decline of the LIF (Austrian Liberal Party). Many of these LIF voters switch to the Greens. I have already highlighted that the rise and fall in the opinion polls of the conservative ÖVP and the Greens last year often mirrored each other – liberal ÖVP voters switching. In short, the Greens are currently home to a mix of traditional Greens, left-Greens and social Liberal voters. A leftwards strategy that simply replaced these liberal & progressive voters with disillusioned leftists would be unlikely to reap dividends and I suspect would lead to a net loss of support.
Up until recently the Greens have had only the worry of losing liberal voters to the ‘not voting camp’. However, a new player has taken to the Austrian political field in the form of ‘Neos – the new Austria’. A party formed to provide a rallying point for homeless Liberals and other progressives, its founding members include former activists from the Greens, Liberals, and ÖVP. If it can overcome the challenges of not receiving the benefits of media access and state funding enjoyed by Parties already in the Parliament then Neos is likely to draw support away from the Greens – even more so if the latter really jumped further to the corporate left.
In an ideal world and looking at the alternatives on offer, seeing both the Greens and Neos well represented in the next Austrian parliament would creative a new dynamic to a system that many across the political spectrum think needs renewing.