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Why you still don’t understand the Green New Deal

“Tactical framing” is turning us all into cynics.

The Green New Deal is an ambitious proposal that outlines how the US might begin transitioning toward a green economy over the next 10 years. It includes steps like upgrading our power grid and renovating our transportation infrastructure.

So far, news coverage of the proposal has been defined by a focus on political questions: Will the proposal divide centrist and progressive Democrats? Will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi throw her support behind it? Does it give Republicans an opening to attack Democrats as radical in 2020?

Those questions represent “tactical framing” — an approach to news coverage that focuses on strategy and polling rather than a policy’s substantive benefits. And while the political viability of a policy proposal is important, research shows that a fixation on strategy can undermine people’s ability to make informed choices.

In their book Spiral of Cynicism, researchers Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph Cappella found that tactical framing in news coverage increases audiences’ cynicism, making it more likely that audiences will believe politicians won’t keep their promises or are only acting out of their own self-interest.

As a result, audiences exposed to tactical framing are less likely to remember basic details about the policies they hear about. Once their cynicism is activated, they mentally check out.

Those findings have major implications for the way news networks cover big policy ideas like the Green New Deal. The goal of political journalism should be to give people the information they need to be good voters. That means analyzing policy proposals on their merit and resisting the urge to treat all policy debates like a partisan game.

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