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Are Green Parties More Common In High-Income Democracies?

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"This is the chance of a lifetime for us to move towards a more just, a more inclusive society. We believe it can be done. The choice is yours. If we want different outcomes, then we need to make different choices."

- Annamie Paul, Canadian Green Party Leader

The 2021 German federal elections were transformative for a number of reasons. Angela Merkel opted to retire after her impressive sixteen year tenure as Chancellor, and polling suggested that the race to be her successor was very tight between the Christian Democratic Union’s Armin Laschet and the Social Democratic Party’s Scholz. The Social Democrats narrowly got a higher percentage of the vote, but still fell considerably short of a legislative majority on their own. However, the Green Party, once a marginal protest party, put up its best showing in history, winning 14.8% of the national vote and an unprecedented 118 seats in the Bundestag. Ultimately the Greens played the role of kingmaker, and supported Scholz for Chancellor in exchange for several ministerial positions. This example underscores a broader trend in Europe and abroad: green parties, which were once seen as an afterthought in electoral politics, are becoming increasingly popular. Their electoral popularity translates into concrete policy progress on climate issues, and gives voters concerned about global warming an institutional outlet to express their desire for reform.
However, this renaissance of green politics is not being felt evenly across the world. Of the thirty one countries that had green party representation in their national legislatures, all but seven were OECD member states, and only eight were located outside of Europe.[1][2] Why might these high-income predominantly western countries be more predisposed to have successful green parties? Robert Inglehart’s classical work on value change posits that, in economically successful societies, young adults’ political socialization takes place in an environment of relative stability. Because these people can take economic stability and other ‘material’ concerns for granted, they adopt a set of “post-bourgeois” political values that prioritize political rights and other higher-order concerns over economic issues.[3] This raises the question of whether economic prosperity helped propagate the political values that led to green parties’ recent success.

In this case study you will evaluate datasets from the DemCap Analytics tool to determine whether a country’s material wealth contributes to green party formation and electoral success. Additionally, you will consider what aspects of a high-income democracy might make green parties appealing, what responsibilities high and low-income democracies have in combating climate change, and whether democratic decision-making leads to the best climate policies. Collectively, these questions will give you a better understanding about how political values and ideology are constructed in a capitalist democratic society.

Green Parties: History and Definition

Green parties developed organically out of grassroots climate activism in the late 1960s. Industrial societies around the world were experiencing unprecedented social upheaval as the so-called “New Left” fought for a radical reimagining of global economics that existed in harmony with nature.[4] However, at first these groups were external interest groups or disparate networks of activists. They would lobby governments to enact policy changes, though they were not actively contesting elections as candidates. That changed in 1972, after the first ecologically-oriented parties were formed in New Zealand (Values Party), Australia (United Tasmania Group), and the United Kingdom (PEOPLE Party).[5] Initially regarded as protest parties, Greens have since cemented themselves as a political force. As of May 5, 2022, green parties have representation in the national legislatures of thirty one countries, and are part of the governing coalitions in seven.[6]

Green parties have evolved dramatically over time, from groups of loosely organized environmental activists into an international network of political actors unified behind a set of established principles. But what exactly are these principles? Though green parties are principally concerned with environmental issues, most green parties are not single-issue parties, and can bring a number of oft-ignored political issues such as “pacifism, human rights, and radical democracy” into policy debates.[7] A German Green Party conference after the 1979 election codified the so-called “four pillars” of green politics that serve as a common party platform: ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice, and nonviolence.[8] So Greens generally pursue policies that expand social equity and political participation while promoting a more sustainable human-environment relationship.

Materialist and Postmaterialist Values: How Economic Security Affects Values

Ronald Inglehart posits that long-term economic security could lead to an intergenerational change in values and political priorities to emphasize autonomy, self-expression, and individual rights over material security. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Inglehart argues that after basic “physiological and physical needs” are met that people can shift their attention to “higher-order intellectual, social, and ascetic needs.”[9] If during their formative years someone experiences prolonged periods of war, famine, or economic turmoil, then they would likely prioritize material stability over other values because they want to stay alive. However, if someone is raised in an environment without material scarcity or any existential challenges to their survival, then they will concern themselves with post-material political issues, namely “the environment, women’s rights, civil rights, sexuality, anti-nuclear energy and Green politics.”

For example, the cohort born in post-WWII America was socialized in an environment of unprecedented economic prosperity, so all of their material needs like shelter, food, and security could be taken for granted. Without any immediate economic needs, their policy priorities deemphasized so-called kitchen table issues in favor of zero-growth,environmental, and anti-nuclear causes.[10] This helps explain the emergence of America’s activist “New Left” in the 1960s and 1970s, as the baby boomers’ life of relative economic comfort allowed them to focus their concern on other issues. Importantly, there is a time lag associated with this value change. Conditions in one’s preadult years are integral in shaping their values, while subsequent events have a more muted effect on one’s political priorities.


  1. Navigate to the Where Green Parties Hold Power map. Are there any countries with a successful green party that surprise you? Any countries without a successful green party that you expected to have one?
  2. Use the Data Analytics tool to look at the GDP per capita and Income per capita for the seven countries with Greens in a governing coalition. There are many ways to measure a country’s material wealth, but given the value change theory relies on a cohort’s lived experience of economic security, these indicators give us a good sense of the average economic situation in these countries. Compare these countries’ statistics to the average for both indicators. What do you notice? Do these countries appear comparatively wealthy?
  3. What are some alternative explanations that might explain the prevalence of green parties in high-income predominantly European countries? Perhaps the electoral systems? Maybe something about their political institutions? Offer a suggestion and draw on a dataset from the tool to justify your proposed relationship.
  4. After considering Inglehart’s explanation and your proposed alternatives, do you believe that postmaterialist values are the primary cause of green party electoral success in high-income countries?


[1] “List of OECD Member Countries – Ratification of the Convention on the OECD.” List of OECD Member countries – Ratification of the Convention on the OECD. Accessed March 17, 2023. https://www.oecd.org/about/document/ratification-oecd-convention.htm.

[2] “How Green-Party Success Is Reshaping Global Politics,” Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations), accessed March 17, 2023, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-green-party-success-reshaping-global-politics.

[3] Inglehart, Ronald. “The silent revolution in Europe: Intergenerational change in post-industrial societies.” American political science review 65, no. 4 (1971): 991.

[4] Tranter, Bruce, and Mark Western. “The influence of Green parties on postmaterialist values.” The British journal of sociology 60, no. 1 (2009): 146.

[5] Inglehart, Ronald. “Post-Materialism in an Environment of Insecurity.” The American Political Science Review 75, no. 4 (1981): 880–900. https://doi.org/10.2307/1962290.

[6] “How Green-Party Success Is Reshaping Global Politics,” Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations), accessed March 17, 2023, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-green-party-success-reshaping-global-politics.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Van Haute, Emilie, ed. Green parties in Europe. London: Routledge, (2016): 316.

[10] Voigt, Wolfgang. “Gründungsparteitag Der Grünen 1980 in Karlsruhe: ‘Das War Eine Ziemlich Schwere Geburt.’” Badische Neueste Nachrichten, July 24, 2020. https://bnn.de/karlsruhe/gruendungsparteitag-der-gruenen-1980-in-karlsruhe-das-war-eine-ziemlich-schwere-geburt.