So, how is the public feeling about it?
An answer to that question can be glimpsed in a new poll, commissioned by the Green Advocacy Project (GAP), a nonprofit advocacy group seeking better understand how to advance climate policy. It was carried out by Change Research through an online survey March 4-6 of 1,384 likely 2020 voters in the US, corrected for representativeness, with a margin of error of approximately plus or minus 2.6 percent.
More than most energy polls, this one digs into the details of current energy debates, and one of the things it asked about was the GND — who has heard about it and who supports it.
The answers tell the tale of contemporary media and politics, in miniature.
Guess who’s heard the most about the Green New Deal? Not the left.
Here’s the striking thing the poll found about the Green New Deal: Republicans have heard much more about it than Democrats have.
Among Republicans, 69 percent have heard “a lot” about it, 27 percent “a little,” and 4 percent none.
Among Democrats, 36 percent have heard a lot, 59 percent a little, and 6 percent none.
We know what Republicans have been told about the GND — “It bans cows!” — so it’s no surprise to find that differential level of exposure reflected in the support numbers: 80 percent of Republicans strongly oppose the GND, while just 46 percent of Dems strongly support it.
It’s too much to say that the level of media exposure determines public opinion on a given topic, but we know it has a strong effect, and that effect is visible in these numbers.
So what might explain the difference? Why have Republicans heard so much more about the GND?
Here’s a hint: While 69 percent of Republicans have heard a lot about the GND, 81 percent of Fox viewers have; 80 percent of Republicans strongly oppose it, and 91 percent of Fox viewers do.
A recent Media Matters analysis found that Fox has discussed the GND more than CNN and MSNBC combined. Fox — or more broadly, right-wing media — has activated the conservative base against the GND, which is pulling the whole party right.
And on the “other side”? Among MSNBC viewers, just 32 percent have heard a lot about the GND and just 42 percent strongly support it.
Perhaps the most telling contrast of all: Among CNN viewers, 27 percent have no opinion about the GND. Among Fox viewers, only 1 percent have no opinion.
Committed right-wingers, most of the Fox audience, have heard about the GND, and they hate it. Committed progressives simply haven’t been told as much about it; they haven’t heard a clear signal to rally around it.
Incidentally, another recent poll confirmed this result. The progressive think tank Data For Progress did a follow-up poll on the GND, six weeks after its initial polling (which found strong support across demographics). It found that, in the time that’s elapsed since the GND was introduced, “Fox News viewers have fully bought into the anti-GND tropes to the point at which they understand the policy on Fox’s terms.”
Here is a word cloud, with words Fox viewers have heard associated with the GND in red and words everyone else has heard in black.
For Fox viewers, the GND is a disaster (“ridiculous!” “stupid!” “destroy!” “costly!”) that gets rid of some things and bans other things, including — yes, there it is at the bottom right — cows.
The result? Jumping back to the GAP poll: While total support for the GND (43 percent) is fairly close to total opposition (46 percent), support and opposition are not of the same intensity. Out of those who support the GND, 24 percent strongly support and 19 percent somewhat support it; among those who oppose it, 43 percent strongly oppose and 3 percent somewhat oppose.
Republicans are effectively unified in strong opposition. Support from Democrats is diffident and fragmented. And in politics, intensity wins.
The story of the GND is the story of current US media and politics in miniature
Here’s a familiar story in US politics: Democrats (or the left, broadly) find something, a candidate or a policy proposal, that sparks grassroots excitement and enthusiasm. The enormous right-wing media machine immediately smells blood and targets the person or policy with relentless negative coverage, ensuring that the right-wing base views the person or policy as almost comically evil.
There is no parallel left-wing media machine to swing around in support of the person or policy. Democrats have no such machine, and they couldn’t get their shit together to be unified enough to run one if they had one. There is only the mainstream press, which the right has conned everyone into thinking is the “other side.”
Mainstream political journalists have a 24-hour primal howl in one ear and a bunch of infighting, sporadic fact-checking, and white papers in the other, so naturally coverage starts to trend negative.
Lo and behold, the person or policy has become “polarizing” and “divisive.” Right on cue, moderate Democrats recoil from the person or policy.
Thus the right is able to manipulate the media environment and browbeat the left into failing to support its own base, its most engaged and passionate members. Right-wing intensity is taken for granted; left-wing intensity faces furious opposition from the other party and disdainful scolding from half its own.
The GND is one such story, but it is not unique. For virtually every policy proposed in the poll, the most intense opposition is found among Fox viewers and Trump voters (categories that likely substantially overlap, though the latter is over twice as large). From renewable energy to carbon taxes, opposition among Fox viewers is around 10 percent higher than among Republicans generally.
Fox is doing the same thing to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the GND’s sponsor. It did the same thing to Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus during the Great Recession, the Waxman-Markey climate bill, and everything Hillary Clinton ever did or said. It’s doing the same thing to Russia-Trump investigation special counsel Robert Mueller.
It will do the same thing to whoever or whatever Dems turn their gaze to next, whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg or Medicare-for-all or a carbon tax. Any Democrat who thinks there’s some person appealing enough or policy incremental enough that it can escape Sauron’s Eye is fooling themselves.
There is no parallel on the left, no integrated money/political/media machine to enforce message discipline, to bring everyone on the left swinging around in support of the GND (or anything else). Dems remain fractured, squabbling among themselves over who’s more moderate and grown up. The mainstream media remains terrified of criticism from the right in a way it never has been from the left.
So it is on climate policy, as it is on many other progressive priorities: The majority supports the idea, but the right has the ability to rally frenzied intensity against it at a moment’s notice. The left does not have the tools, will, or ability to rally commensurate intensity in support. (At least not yet.) So the same asymmetry of intensity is reflected in poll after poll, and in national politics generally.
Plenty of people in the broad center-left have their own issues with the GND and may not shed a tear if the right-wing media machine succeeds in making it radioactive. Perhaps they think a more “moderate” proposal, one that more perfectly reflects their policy preferences, will escape the same treatment, because of how sensible it is. Perhaps they think getting a small handful of Republican signatures will dissuade Sauron.
They will be wrong. Sooner or later they will have to grapple with the fact that they are not in a good-faith fight that turns on evidence and persuasion. All that matters for the moment is power. Instead of debating how many carbon policies can fit on the head of a pin, they should be thinking about how to activate their diverse majority the same way the right activates its shrinking, homogenous minority.
Intensity is what matters in politics. Democrats and climate hawks need to figure out how to generate some. If not around the Green New Deal, then what?