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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $17.75 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
H. Res. 109. Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal (116th United States Congress, 2019); https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text
Carlock, G., Mangan, E. & McElwee, S. A Green New Deal: A Progressive Vision for Environmental Sustainability and Economic Stability (Data for Progress, 2018); https://www.dataforprogress.org/green-new-deal-report
Leiserowitz, A. et al. Politics & Global Warming, December 2018 (Yale Univ. and George Mason Univ., Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 2019); https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/NBJGS
Leiserowitz, A. et al. Energy in the American Mind, December 2018 (Yale Univ. and George Mason Univ., Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 2019); https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/BDQ25
Druckman, J. N., Peterson, E. & Slothuus, R. How elite partisan polarization affects public opinion formation. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 107, 57–79 (2013).
Taber, C. S. & Lodge, M. Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 50, 755–769 (2006).
Zaller, J. R. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992).
Levendusky, M. S. Why do partisan media polarize viewers? Am. J. Polit. Sci. 57, 611–623 (2013).
Druckman, J. N. & McGrath, M. C. The evidence for motivated reasoning in climate change preference formation. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 111–119 (2019).
Cohen, G. L. Party over policy: the dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 85, 808–822 (2003).
Van Boven, L., Ehret, P. J. & Sherman, D. K. Psychological barriers to bipartisan public support for climate policy. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 13, 492–507 (2018).
Abortion Trends by Party Identification (Gallup, 2019); https://news.gallup.com/poll/246278/abortion-trends-party.aspx
Friedman, L. What is the Green New Deal? A climate proposal, explained. The New York Times (21 February 2019); https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html
Friedman, L. Dianne Feinstein lectures children who want Green New Deal, portraying it as untenable. The New York Times (22 February 2019); https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/22/climate/feinstein-sunrise-green-new-deal.html
MacDonald, T. Fox News Dominated Prime-time Cable Coverage of the Green New Deal (Media Matters for America, 2019); https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2019/02/14/Fox-News-dominated-prime-time-cable-coverage-of-the-Green-New-Deal/222875
MacDonald, T. Fox News Discussed the Green New Deal More Often than CNN and MSNBC (Media Matters for America, 2019); https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2019/04/09/Fox-News-discussed-the-Green-New-Deal-more-often-than-CNN-and-MSNBC-combined/223383
Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2018 (US Census Bureau, 2019); https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-583.html
Bartels, L. M. Messages received: the political impact of media exposure. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 87, 267–285 (1993).
Iyengar, S. & Kinder, D. R. News That Matters: Television and American Opinion (Univ. Chicago, 1987).
Hindman, D. B. Mass media flow and differential distribution of politically disputed beliefs: the belief gap hypothesis. J. Mass Commun. Q. 86, 790–808 (2009).
Veenstra, A. S., Hossain, M. D. & Lyons, B. A. Partisan media and discussion as enhancers of the belief gap. Mass Commun. Soc. 17, 874–897 (2014).
Zaller, J. in Political Persuasion and Attitude Change (eds Mutz, D. et al.) 17–78 (Univ. Michigan Press, 1996).
Hart, P. S. Market influences on climate change frames in CNN and Fox News climate change broadcasts. In International Communication Association Annual Meeting “Communicating for Social Impact” (International Communication Association, 2008).
Feldman, L., Maibach, E. W., Roser-Renouf, C. & Leiserowitz, A. Climate on cable: the nature and impact of global warming coverage on fox news, CNN, and MSNBC. Int. J. Press Polit. 17, 3–31 (2012).
Krosnick, J. A. & MacInnis, B. Frequent Viewers of Fox News Are Less Likely to Accept Scientists’ Views of Global Warming (The Woods Institute for the Environment, 2010).
Paternoster, R., Brame, R., Mazerolle, P. & Piquero, A. Using the correct statistical test for the equality of regression coefficients. Criminology 36, 859–866 (1998).
Prior, M. The challenge of measuring media exposure: reply to Dilliplane, Goldman, and Mutz. Polit. Commun. 30, 620–634 (2013).
van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., Rosenthal, S. & Maibach, E. Inoculating the public against misinformation about climate change. Glob. Chall. 1, 1600008 (2017).
Levendusky, M. S. Americans, not partisans: can priming American national identity reduce affective polarization? J. Polit. 80, 59–70 (2018).
Benegal, S. D. & Scruggs, L. A. Correcting misinformation about Climate Change: the impact of partisanship in an experimental setting. Climatic Change 148, 61–80 (2018).
Mildenberger, M. & Tingley, D. Beliefs about climate beliefs: the importance of second-order opinions for climate politics. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 1279–1307 (2017).
Funding for this research was provided by the 11th Hour Project, the Endeavor Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Grantham Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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