In our continuing study of the decline of third parties in the state of Minnesota, today Smart Politics examines the weakening of the state’s Green Party. Like the Independence Party, the Green Party experienced a significant downturn in public support in 2006 for almost all statewide and district races from the previous election cycle.

The growth of the Green Party in the late 1990s was in great measure a result of its drawing support from the disaffected far-left wing of the Democratic Party. The Greens received a boost in Minnesota when its endorsed candidate for President, Ralph Nader, received an impressive 5.2 percent of the vote in the Gopher State. While this showing temporarily increased the Party’s statewide profile, the Party was perhaps ultimately a victim of Nader’s success. Many people voted Green in 2000 because they were under the impression there was little difference between the candidacies of Al Gore and George W. Bush. The combination of the closeness of the Gore-Bush race, combined with what many liberals viewed to be Bush falling short of his “compassionate conservative” and “uniter not a divider” pledges, demonstrated to the ‘new Greens’ that there were indeed still some clear differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. As a result, many Greens flocked back to the Democratic Party in 2004, an election in which Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb received only 0.2 percent of the vote in Minnesota.

Green Party support in statewide races also largely peaked in 2002: support for Green candidates declined from 2002 to 2006 in races for Governor (2.3 to 0.5 percent), Secretary of State (3.1 percent to no candidate), and State Auditor (3.7 to 2.3 percent). Support for Green Party candidates in US Senate races remained the same in 2002 and 2006 (0.5 percent). The only positive news for the Minnesota Green Party in 2006 is that it fielded its first candidate for Attorney General (who received 1.9 percent of the vote).

The story is equally bleak in Minnesota district races. In US House elections, the Greens fielded 3 candidates in 2002, averaging 4.9 percent of the vote. In 2004 the Greens had 2 candidates on the ballot, averaging 4.2 percent of the vote. In 2006 the Green Party only managed to field one candidate. This candidate, Jay Pond in MN-05, received only 2.0 percent of the vote, a noticeable dip from the 5.7 percent he received in 2004.

In State Senate races, the Green Party fielded 8 candidates in 2002, and just 1 in 2006. The number of Greens on the ballot in State House races has fallen drastically from 17 candidates in 2002, to 7 candidates in 2004, to just 1 in 2006.

Will the Green Party be around in Minnesota in 2008? And, if so, how can it be an effective player on the political scene? A lot may depend on what Democrats do with their newfound legislative power both in Washington, D.C. and in St. Paul where they now control both legislative chambers.