Turning the White House into a greenhouse? | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 18.07.2012
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Turning the White House into a greenhouse?

Theirs may be a lost cause in the US presidential election, but the Green Party was the first to officially decide on its candidate. The November election will see Jill Stein pitted against Obama and Romney.

Jill Stein is a 62-year-old doctor from the New England state of Massachusetts - and she knows what it's like to lose an election. Twice, in 2002 and 2010, she unsuccessfully ran for governor. In the 2002 race, she only won three percent of the vote, losing to Mitt Romney.

The upcoming US presidential election will likely again pitt Stein against Romney, who is set to win the Republican party's nomination at a national convention late in August, and incumbent Barack Obama, who will be officially nominated in early September. Stein secured her party's nomination at a convention held in Baltimore, winning 193 votes - 121 more than renowned comedian Roseanne Barr.

"We will create an unstoppable movement," Stein told delegates in her acceptance speech, "and we won't rest until we have turned the White House into a greenhouse."

'Breaking all expectations'

Delegates show their support at the Green Party presidential nominating convention in Baltimore, Maryland, (photo: Reuters)

Delegates at the national convention were excited about what's been achieved so far

So far, the Green Party has secured ballot access in 21 states, and expects to secure access in some 20 more. Each state writes its own rules for getting on the presidential ballot, and requirements can range from an affidavit of intent and a minor fee to tens of thousands of signatures in a candidate's favor.

The Green Party also for the first time in its 11-year history qualified for federal matching funds. These public funds match donations from individual contributors dollar by dollar, but are paid only to candidates who have proven their viability by raising a certain amount of individual donations, and in a certain number of states.

"We've been breaking all expectations ever since we started the campaign," Jill Stein told DW, "and that's including our own expectations."

For his part, Klaus Linsenmeier, Executive Director of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation's office in Washington, DC, is impressed with what Jill Stein and the Green Party have achieved. "This has been the most professional campaign the Green Party in the US has ever waged," Linsenmeier told DW. The Heinrich-Böll-Foundation is affiliated with the Green Party in Germany,

These apparent victories in terms of securing ballot access and matching funds notwithstanding, the Green Party will not significantly affect the outcome of the US presidential election, says Josef Janning of the European Policy Center in Brussels: "The party chooses to participate in the election in order to raise awareness for their issues, but it stands no chance of winning," Janning told DW.

Fault in the system

While green parties are represented in the parliaments of many European countries as well as in the European parliament in Strasburg, the Green Party in the US can boast no such success.

Barack Obama, left, and Mitt Romney, right

The system favors the candidates of the two big parties, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Many blame the US electoral system for that. "It's taking votes away from the voters," says Jill Stein. A feeling echoed David Cobb, Stein's predecessor as a Green candidate in the 2004 presidential race: "The only reason our numbers do not reflect our brothers' and sisters in Europe ... is because of an antiquated voting system," Cobb told AFP news agency.

They're referring to the so-called winner-takes-all system under which the candidate who gets the most votes wins the election, while all other votes are disregarded. This system favors two big parties, because smaller third parties are unlikely to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in any given election. By contrast, most Western European countries have a voting system called "proportional representation," in which the number of seats a party wins in an election is proportional to the amount of its support among voters. Under this system, a party that receives only a fraction of the vote will still be represented in parliament.

But even though the US electoral system may keep the Green party from becoming a big factor on the federal politcal stage, in a way it still ensures that green issues are successfully raised, says political scientist Josef Janning: "Because the environmental movements in the US are locally grounded, they seek to have an impact on their representative in Congress. And because these representatives have to be re-elected by a majority vote every two years, they tend to be responsive to those claims in their constituency that they believe to be relevant."

Same, same - but very different

Josef Janning, Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre

Sees little potential for the Green Party on a national level in the US: Josef Janning

For Janning, the fact that the Green Party in the US carries little weight on a federal level is also the reason why there is little international cooperation. "The Green Party in the US and the Green parties in Europe are in contact, because there is more and more networking among the environmental movements around the western world. But there is not much of an effective international cooperation because of the very different nature of the green movement in the US."

However, green presidential candidate Jill Stein says that while there may be organizational differences, "all Greens share a comprehensive politics that understands that we are all connected."

"There is of course an overlap, issues that bothe Green politicians in Germany and the US are concerned with," confirms Klaus Linsenmeier. That said, he thinks the Greens in the US are more concerned with civil rights and social activism than their counterparts in Germany. "When it comes to social issues in Germany, the Social Democrats have that pretty much covered," he says. And some of the US Green party's statements on international trade sounded much more protectionist and anti-free trade than anything a German green politician would say on the matter.

A long shot

US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (photo: Reuters)

Some may call her an optimist: Jill Stein says she doesn't rule out winning the presidency

Even in view of the successes other Green politicians can boast of, Stein knows that her candidacy is a long shot, but remains confident: "I'm not counting on winning the presidency," she told DW, "but I'm not ruling it out either."

The Green Party has secured ballot access in states like Florida and Ohio - states that count a lot in the election. With a population of almost 19 million people, the state of Florida has 29 votes in the electoral college. Stein's home state of Massachusetts, by comparison, has only 11 votes in that body.

In the 2000 election, it was the Green vote in Florida that according to many Democrats tipped the election in favor of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. They are convinced that if those who voted green in Florida back then had voted Democratic, Al Gore would have secured a majority in Florida, winning all the state's electoral college votes - and the presidency.

No female Ralph Nader

This time around, it's Jill Stein who could cost the other parties' candidates crucial votes - especially the Democrats, who cater to the same young, liberal, and ecologically-minded electorate.

Ralph Nader (photo: AP)

More than just green: Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate in 2000

But political scientist Josef Janning for one doesn't see Jill Stein pulling as much weight as Ralph Nader did 12 years ago. With Nader a prominent advocate of consumer rights as well as civil liberties, says Janning, "Nader's candidacy brought together a range of different movements, and so he could attract more votes than a purely green candidate ever could."

Stein herself declines to name a state in which she can see herself upsetting either of the two major parties' candidate. At the same time, she refuses to be put off by those who point to how negligible her chances of winning the presidency are. "However far we get," she says, "it's a great starting point."

Author: Andrea Rönsberg
Editor: Rob Mudge

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