The Decline of the Green Party

New voter registration totals have come out. I submit the following report for the consideration of the Green Party in the belief that only through frank, fearless, and accurate appraisal of our current situation and the failings of the 2004 campaign can we begin the process of restoring the Green Party to the path of growth and national significance.

I am not trying to affix blame for these failings, because it was a difficult year and honest disagreements arose before and after the 2004 convention about the proper course for the Green Party. But I do hope to stem the flow of incorrect information still emanating from official Green Party and Cobb Campaign circles attesting to the campaign having succeeded on all stated fronts, because that is not honest. In fact it succeeded on none of them.

Before beginning I’d like to cite part of a GPUS press release from just after election day which was describing the various supposed successes of the campaign season.

“National Green Party voter registration now stands at an all time high of 311,350 in 22 States. This number doesn’t count Greens in states where the Green Party has not yet achieved ballot status or in states that don’t permit party registration. State-by-state totals: <>” This was from the press release of November 8th, 2004, and the information was incorrect.

The information found on the website listed clearly states that the totals were from mid-January of 2004, well before the onset of our primaries, our convention, or our campaign. In truth, by the fall of 2004 our registration in all enrollment states was only 295,128. New numbers reflecting the 295,000 figure were available at the time the press release was written, and I don’t know why the January 2004 figures were published at that time. As of now it is down to 290,118, and possibly less, because due to ballot losses numbers are no longer available from Arizona or Delaware, and many other states have not posted more recent totals Without specifics I’m counting those as having remained flat even though they have likely declined. Also, although there had briefly been a reported 775 in Rhode Island dating back over one year, Greg Gerritt subsequently reported in November of 2004 that he knows at least half of those were college students who had since left the state. Therefore I am not including Rhode Island in either the pre- or post-election totals, since this would have made the total decline even larger, and Rhode Island does not track Green enrollment. The point is, that in all cases I have erred in favor of the Green Party, and the declines are still dramatic.

Simply stated, in 2004 the Green Party contracted, our local candidates fared poorly, and most of our remaining ballot lines were lost.

If you measure known enrollment, which many find distasteful except for purposes of press releases but it is at least a constant as far as being a source for comparative statistics, the latest numbers are in and we declined by 5,000 enrollees, or 1.7% since the pre-election totals, and 23,000 or 7.5% since the January 2004 totals we last published. In addition, if New York, where Cobb was not on the ballot and where he provided no campaign support for local candidates or membership drives, had stayed flat in 2004 instead of growing by 6,000 members, the Green Party’s national totals would be in far worse shape. And Green enrollment as compared to the total registered voters in America dropped steeply, the first time it did not rise steeply in our party’s history.

Here are the numbers for Green enrollment by year leading up to 2004, plus current numbers. From before the 2000 campaign to January 2004, the Green Party was growing steadily at a nice 10-15% clip per year, until the Fall of 2004, when the trend reversed sharply and we contracted.

October 1998: 118,537
October 2000: 195,866 (+ 65%)
August 2001: 215,109 (+ 10%)
August 2002: 246, 742 (+ 14%)
August 2003: 281,356 (+14%)
January 2004: 313,586 (+ 11%)
Nov. 2004: 295,128 (- 6%)
Current total: 290,118 (- 1.7%)

During these same years total voter registration in America increased steadily, yet in each year the Green Party’s percentage of total registered voters increased dramatically, again, until 2004, when the trend sharply reversed. Known Green enrollment as a percentage of total registered voters over the same period is as follows:

1998: 0.08%
2000: 0.13% (+ 62%)
2002: 0.16% (+23%)
2003: 0.21% (+31%)
Now: 0.16% (-25%)

These changes cannot be written off as a consequence of negative publicity surrounding the “spoiling” of the 2000 race. Note that in all years since the raising of the “spoiler” issue in Nov. 2000 that the Green Party continued to grow strongly both in total registration and as a percentage of registered voters. Following the Cobb nomination, both measurements fell off a cliff.

If you measure by voting strength, the picture is far worse. Our total fell from 3 million to 120,000, or 4% of our 2000 strength. I know there will offered a thousand and two reasons for this, but the Libertarians grew by 3.3% in 2004 from 2000, and the Constitutionalists grew by a dramatic 46% even though their religious views closely parallel Bush’s and most Christian leaders were backing Bush. Both of these parties held views and drew voters that could have “spoiled” for Kerry, which would have been their worst fears realized, but both grew in 2004 from 2000. By contrast, Green votes fell by 96%, and we fell from first to fourth among alternative parties.

And what about local candidacies? They did pretty badly, too. You can’t measure by looking at the 2004 year as a whole. Greens in the local races that took place in the spring of 2004, before Cobb was nominated, did much better than those in fall races. 29 of the 70 Green victories in 2004 were pre-convention races.Without the pre-Cobb victories, 2004 would have been a very weak year for local Green elections. In Spring 2004 races we scored 29 victories in 74 races, an outstanding 40% victory rate. In the Fall of 2004 we were 41 for 356, a rate of just 11.5%, one quarter of the pre-convention rate.

There were 433 Green races in 2004, which was a 23% decline from 560 Green races in 2002. The number of victorious Greens fell from 81 to 74.

And how are we set locally for the immediate future? Pretty poorly as well. The loss of ballot status in two-thirds of the states where we used to have it means that Green candidates are going to have a much more difficult time even getting on the ballot, let alone performing well.

These are facts. The party as a whole had a very bad experience, and contrary to the oft-published party line, the presidential campaign delivered on none of its promises to “grow” the Green Party at any level. In fact, the word “disaster” comes to mind. Our enrollment declined, our enrollment as a percentage of total national registration declined even more, our spring candidates performed far better than our fall candidates, the number of local Green candidacies and the number of victories both declined, two-thirds of states with ballot lines lost them, and our national vote totals almost disappeared. These are not only indisputable facts, but it is also indisputable that the exact opposite was true for all other alternative parties. The failure of the Green Party in 2004 was as unique as it was spectacular. And on top of all that, we’re broke.

The only meaningful question before GPUS right now is what do we plan to do about it.

STEVE GREENFIELD lives in New Paltz, NY. He can be reached at: