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People Actually Like the Green New Deal

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, brought the Green New Deal to a vote in the Senate on Tuesday. He defeated consideration of the plan 57-0, winning over three Democratic senators and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats. The rest of the Democratic caucus voted “present,” in an attempt to confound Mr. McConnell’s strategy, which was to tie down the Democratic Party to an ambitious proposal from its progressive wing. In his mind, this would clearly hurt the Democrats.

President Trump thinks so too. “You look at this Green New Deal — it’s the most preposterous thing,” he told Fox Business last week “Now I don’t want to knock it too much right now because I really hope they keep going forward with it, frankly, because I think it’s going to be very easy to beat.”

But is the Green New Deal really that toxic? My research suggests it’s not.

To begin with, the idea of a Green New Deal did not come out of nowhere. For the past several years, environmental, labor and racial justice organizations have been working toward a new framework for climate policies aimed at ensuring that these policies address the needs of front-line communities, while ensuring that workers in fossil fuel industries still have economic opportunities. In Buffalo, local groups organized to keep the closure of a fossil fuel plant from harming the local economy. In California, groups pushed through SB 535, which dedicates funding from the state’s cap-and-trade program to low-income communities disproportionately affected by climate change. In New York, the Climate and Community Protection Act, a law that mandates emissions reductions and investments in affected communities is the product of a multiyear effort. These achievements all predate the Green New Deal, but they are rooted in a similar goal: to fight for clean air, clean water, decarbonization, racial justice and good jobs at the same time.

One advantage of the Green New Deal framework is that it combines immediate concerns about pollution with more abstract discussions about carbon emissions. There are immense political benefits to this approach. Consider West Virginia, where the Republican establishment ran ads criticizing the coal baron Don Blankenship for contaminating local water. Pause for a moment: Among the most conservative voters in one of the most conservative states in the country, the winning message was clean water.

My think tank, Data for Progress, commissioned a series of polls on the Green New Deal. Though Data for Progress is a liberal organization that is supportive of the Green New Deal, we don’t let that cloud our polling. We want accurate results, not convenient ones. (Our surveys show lower support for “Medicare for all” than those of most other organizations, for example.) We are also involved in the process: Last September, Data for Progress released a blueprint for the Green New Deal that has informed policy development.

To get accurate results, we deploy several techniques. First, in our latest polling with Civis Analytics, a data science firm founded by alumni of the Obama campaign, we informed respondents that the Green New Deal is a Democratic proposal. Voters were told that the Green New Deal would “phase out the use of fossil fuels, with the government providing clean energy jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector. All jobs would pay at least $15 an hour, include health care benefits and collective bargaining rights.” Many commentators have argued that the Green New Deal would become unpopular when voters were informed of the cost, so we added that the plan would “be paid for by raising taxes on incomes over $200,000 dollars a year by 15 percentage points.”

In addition, we provided arguments for and against the policy: “Democrats say this would improve the economy by giving people jobs, fight climate change and reduce pollution in the air and water. Republicans say this would cost many jobs in the energy sector, hurt the economy by raising taxes, and wouldn’t make much of a difference because of carbon emissions from China.” What we found suggests very little reason for Democrats to worry about backlash: Forty-six percent of likely voters supported the policy and 34 percent opposed it. (The rest were unsure.) Obama-Trump voters narrowly favored the policy (45 percent in support and 39 percent opposed), and moderates supported it 44 percent to 27 percent.

Civis Analytics modeled two-way (that is, they excluded “don’t knows”) support in states and found that vulnerable Republican senators have reason to fear Mr. McConnell’s antics: In Colorado, Cory Gardner’s state, 60 percent of likely voters supported the Green New Deal, and in North Carolina, Thom Tillis’s state, 56 percent did. In Maine, where Susan Collins is likely to face a tough re-election battle, 57 percent of likely voters supported the Green New Deal and in Iowa, a wind-heavy state where Democrats hope to pick up a Senate seat, 54 percent did.

We also asked YouGov Blue to survey the Green New Deal. Our YouGov survey asked, “Would you support or oppose a Green New Deal to end fossil fuel use in the United States and have the government create clean energy jobs? The plan would be paid for by raising taxes, including a tax on carbon emissions.” With this framing, 43 percent of registered voters expressed support, with 38 percent opposed and the rest unsure.

Not all parts of the Green New Deal are popular. In our polling with Civis, a full shift to electric cars by 2030 and the phasing out of all power plants by 2035 were both underwater. And there is no doubt that some additional parts will lose support after facing a right-wing onslaught. On the other hand, policies like green jobs, drinking water infrastructure and reforestation were wildly popular. Clean water had net support in every state in the country, and reforestation is underwater in Wyoming only. In other words, there is no part in the country where at least some aspects of the Green New Deal will not be winning issues.

New polling from 350 Action and Data for Progress conducted by YouGov Blue shows that rejecting fossil fuel money is popular (49 percent support their representatives refusing campaign contributions from fossil fuel PACs, with 19 percent opposed and the rest unsure). A “keep it in the ground” approach to energy policy that would phase out fossil fuel infrastructure in favor of renewable alternatives garnered even more support (56 percent in support, 26 percent opposed). “Climate policy might befuddle Democratic leadership, but the grass roots knows what’s up,” Julian Brave Noisecat, a policy analyst for 350 Action, told me.

The core challenge the Green New Deal faces is not so much on the merits of the concept or even its political feasibility; it is that many of its Democratic supporters have met an aggressive and one-sided onslaught from the right with very little by way of response. According to data shared with The Times from Navigator, a progressive polling project, 37 percent of Republican viewers of Fox News had heard “a lot” about the Green New Deal, compared with 14 percent of all registered voters. Only 6 percent of non-Republican, non-Fox viewers had heard “a lot” about the Green New Deal, and 40 percent had heard nothing at all (compared with 14 percent of Republican viewers of Fox News).

Across all registered voters who had heard about the Green New Deal, 32 percent reported seeing mostly negative coverage, 12 percent mostly positive, 42 percent a mix and the rest couldn’t recall. (Among Fox-viewing Republicans, it’s 68 percent, 4 percent, 24 percent and 4 percent.)

We’re seeing in real time the impact of right-wing attacks. When asked simply, “Based on what you know, do you support or oppose the Green New Deal?,” 22 percent of respondents are in support, 29 percent are opposed and 49 percent are not sure. But 74 percent of Fox-viewing Republicans oppose the Green New Deal (65 percent strongly), and only 21 percent have not formed an opinion. Among people who are not Republicans and not Fox viewers, 32 percent support the Green New Deal, 8 percent oppose it and a whopping 61 percent have not formed an opinion. (Navigator polling shows that Fox News viewers are also far more likely to deny climate change.)

Though many components of the Green New Deal are popular, the Republican propaganda machine has already reshaped the narrative, and it has done so with virtually no coordinated pushback from progressives, or certainly nowhere near enough, a worrying pattern. Tuesday’s Senate vote, where Democrats were urged by their leaders to take no stance at all and vote present, however expedient, is indicative of the broader trend — a defensive crouch from Democrats in response to an onslaught from the right.

The Green New Deal is the future of the Democratic Party: Among likely Democratic primary voters in our Civis polling, 71 percent supported the Green New Deal and 14 percent opposed it. Democrats should not be afraid to embrace it, and Republicans who mess with it — despite the temporary success of their aggressive tactics — will do so at their own risk.

Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) is one of the founder of Data for Progress.

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