The development of partisan polarization over the Green New Deal

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Abstract

In early 2019, a US climate change and economic renewal policy proposal called the Green New Deal (GND)1 rose from obscurity to national prominence in just four months. This situation created a natural field experiment in which to study the emergence of partisan polarization. Here, we report findings from two nationally representative surveys of registered US voters that measured familiarity with and support for the GND shortly before and after the issue entered the national spotlight. Initially, there was low public awareness of the GND but majority support for it across party lines. Four months later, voters had become much more familiar with the GND and partisan polarization had increased significantly due to a sharp decrease in support among Republicans. In fact, Republicans who had heard the most about the GND were the least likely to support it. In contrast, support for the GND remained high among Democrats, and did not vary substantially across degrees of familiarity. We also identify a likely mechanism: a ‘Fox News effect’. That is, among Republicans, Fox News viewing was a significant predictor of both familiarity with the GND and opposition to it, even when controlling for alternative explanations.

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Fig. 1: Proportions of political segments who have heard about the GND.
Fig. 2: Changes in support for the GND, by political segments.
Fig. 3: Proportions of Democrats and Republicans who support the GND, by how much they have heard about it.
Fig. 4: Changes in awareness and support by partisan media exposure.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the 11th Hour Project, the Endeavor Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Grantham Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

Author information

A.G., S.A.R, M.T.B., M.H.G., P.B., J.E.K., E.W.M. and A.L. developed the study idea and designed the research. A.G. analysed the data, designed the visualizations and wrote the manuscript. S.A.R, M.T.B., M.H.G., P.B., J.E.K., E.W.M. and A.L. provided many valuable revisions.

Correspondence to Abel Gustafson.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Toby Bolsen, Benjamin Lyons and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Gustafson, A., Rosenthal, S.A., Ballew, M.T. et al. The development of partisan polarization over the Green New Deal. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 940–944 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0621-7

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