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Even this conservative poll’s misrepresentation of Green New Deal is popular

Even as the right wing demonizes the Green New Deal, the actual climate policies remain popular.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) during a House hearing in Rayburn Building titled "The Need for Leadership to Combat Climate Change and Protect National Security," on April 9, 2019. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) during a House hearing in Rayburn Building titled "The Need for Leadership to Combat Climate Change and Protect National Security," on April 9, 2019. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images.

The right wing media, led by Fox News, has been working overtime to misrepresent and demonize the Green New Deal and one of its chief proponents, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

But while this attack has certainly helped turn Republicans against the term “Green New Deal,” support for the underlying policies of the proposal — a rapid transition to a 100 percent clean energy grid and a carbon-free economy — remains very strong.

A recent poll by a longtime opponent of climate action, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tried to misrepresent the Green New Deal and thereby argue it wasn’t popular. But the poll’s results actually revealed that a majority of Americans support the strongest version of climate action imaginable.

Based on its survey of 1,000 likely 2020 voters, the Chamber touted the deceptive claim that “73 percent of voters support a ‘cleaner, stronger’ energy agenda that uses more American energy and continues environmental progress, compared to 21 percent of voters who support the Green New Deal.”

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But that survey is bunk for a number of reasons. The “cleaner, stronger” agenda was defined this way (emphasis added): “America focusing on using its resources responsibly and safely by implementing a ‘cleaner, stronger’ energy agenda that prioritizes investments in innovation and advanced technology to reduce emissions.”

The words “cleaner” and “responsibly” are not defined, so this survey choice can literally mean whatever the respondent thinks it should mean.

Even worse, the “Green New Deal” is misrepresented as “America focusing on requiring a transition to the Green New Deal’s proposal to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. economy in 10 years, regardless of cost.”

But that’s not what the Green New Deal calls for. According to the resolution introduced in February, the Green New Deal calls for a 10-year mobilization whose ultimate goal is eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions from the economy.

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The actual target date for getting to net zero is not one decade, but three (by the year 2050), as ThinkProgress has reported.

Yet, in a remarkable twist, even this extreme misstatement — saying that all the goals laid out in the resolution on a Green New Deal must be achieved within 10 years — is popular, according to the same poll.

The Chamber survey found that 55% of likely voters support that more ambitious target, and 49% say it is “feasible.” Just imagine how popular an accurate description of the Green New Deal would be.

Another recent poll by the National Green Advocacy Project Polling underscores this divergence between the Green New Deal “brand” — which has been tarnished by right-wing attacks and misrepresentations as a socialist plot that will take away Americans’ cars and hamburgers — and the underlying policies.

This survey of 1,384 people found that 65% of voters — including 41% of Republicans — agreed with the statement: “In the future, we should produce electricity using 100% clean energy sources, such as solar and wind, nuclear, and carbon recapture from fossil fuels.”

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In contrast, only 22% agreed with the statement “Moving toward 100% clean energy sources like solar and wind, nuclear, and carbon recapture from fossil fuels is costly and unnecessary.” And 14% were “not sure.”

But while you might think that such overwhelming support — nearly 3 to 1 — in favor of a core Green New Deal goal would translate into strong support for the ambitious climate plan, it did not.

When those same likely voters were asked “From what you know, do you support or oppose the Green New Deal,” total opposition (46%) actually exceeded total support (43%).

Even worse, the intensity of the opposition was considerably stronger than the intensity of the support, as Dave Roberts at Vox sharply pointed out. It is both remarkable and depressing that only 24% strongly support the Green New Deal, while 43% strongly oppose it.

Intensity of Green New Deal support and opposition by party.
Intensity of Green New Deal support and opposition by party.

As Roberts notes, this outcome is a microcosm of politics today. First Democrats and the left “find something, a candidate or a policy proposal, that sparks grassroots excitement and enthusiasm.” But then 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.”

The result for the mainstream media, centrists, and moderate Democrats, is that this issue or candidate becomes “divisive” and “polarizing.”

Certainly both the Green New Deal and Ocasio-Cortez have been the subject of non-stop lies and demonization.

As Media Matters recently reported, “in the last week of March, Fox News aired more than twice as many primetime segments discussing the Green New Deal as MSNBC and CNN combined” — and that coverage “was riddled with misinformation, mockery, and climate change skepticism.”

The result is that Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents tell pollsters they are highly informed about the Green New Deal and strongly opposed to it. But at the same time, large numbers of both groups actually support a rapid transition to a 100 percent carbon-free grid and zero-emissions economy.

Clearly, if the country is ever going to adopt policies strong enough to avert catastrophic warming, climate activists will have to figure out a communications strategy that is at least as effective as that of climate action opponents. Otherwise, we will continue to see the appearance of a strong divide on an issue most people actually agree on.