YALE RESEARCH -- 81% OF AMERICAN VOTERS POLLED SUPPORT THE GREEN NEW DEAL

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27 february 2019


The Green New Deal has reignited the climate debate – and voters support it


Julian Brave NoiseCat, lThe Guardian

Yale researchers say 81% of voters they polled support a Green New Deal to create jobs and work toward renewable energy

For years, American democracy has been gripped by a conspiracy to undermine and deny the scientific truth of climate change. Fossil fuel corporations like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries have waged a decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the environmental costs of their business activities and co-opt the rightwing governing party. This week, senior White House officials told the Washington Post that the administration is forming a climate panel headed by William Happer, a physicist who once compared critical assessments of CO2 emissions to the “demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler”.

A blathering majority of Republican apparatchiks and Fox & Friends talking heads –including the president – continue to insist global warming is a hoax. And for years, cable news networks have provided a platform for these tinfoil hat people, giving airtime to oil-friendly propagandists who reduced the climate debate to a simple binary of belief and denial.

Until recently, Democratic leaders failed to lead, viewing climate as a low priority for voters and positioning themselves as true believers rather than an enlightened party with a real plan to take on a planetary calamity that will be measured in geological time.

There was once a day before the Tea Party, Twitter and Trump, when Republicans like President George HW Bush promised to fight the greenhouse effect with the “White House effect” and, not so long ago, the late senator John McCain advocated for free market approaches to climate action, like cap and trade. But those days are gone.

In the last Congress, Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican representative from Miami and co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced a carbon tax proposal. But his colleagues in the House of Representatives, beholden to Koch Industries and Americans for Tax Reform, pre-empted the marker bill with a resolution repudiating a carbon tax as “detrimental to the United States economy”. In November, Curbelo lost his seat to the blue wave, along with 22 Republican representatives in his climate caucus.

Today, a surprising number of beltway economists, lobbyists and even a former Fed Reserve chair still hold fast to the dream of bipartisan climate legislation. But there are few right-leaning partisans still wandering the halls of Congress who are willing to do their cross-aisle bidding. Meanwhile, the Republican party draws its strongest base of support from the south – ironically, the region most heavily affected by a changing climate. Denial is ascendant and bipartisanship is dead, but the conservative party has painted itself into a corner that, in the long term, will be economically, ecologically and politically untenable. Democrats have an unprecedented opportunity to own the issue and lead.

Enter the Green New Deal, the first Democratic policy built for the post-Recession age of climate crisis, polarization and wonky leftism.

This month, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a resolution outlining the vision, goals and projects of a Green New Deal. The resolution was sponsored by 68 representatives and 11 senators, including all seven Democratic presidential contenders in Congress: Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Many, including the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post, criticized the resolution for including flashy non-emissions policies like Medicare for All and a federal jobs guarantee. Writing in the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer caricatured the 14-page document as “a binder of climate policies duct-taped to an Easter basket of socialist goodies”. But the reasoning behind including a broad slate of programs in the proposal is sound: leverage the federal government to spur public and private investments and meet climate targets, create millions of green jobs while modernizing infrastructure and leveling the playing field so that everyone – particularly communities of color, women and working families – can participate in a new economy.

From this view, the resolution – which, judging by the many co-sponsors, has become canon for the rising progressive wing of the Democratic party – is a bold but strategic opening statement and bargaining position in a renewed climate debate. (Full disclosure: in my role at 350.org, I consulted with Ocasio-Cortez’s staff on the resolution.)

The polling shows the public is increasingly concerned about climate change and supportive of a Green New Deal. A recent survey conducted by the Yale program on climate change communication showed that 73% of Americans believe climate change is happening – up 10 points since March 2015 – while almost as many (69%) are worried about it. Remarkably, Yale researchers also found that 81% of registered voters support a Green New Deal to create jobs and accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. The same poll also found, however, that 82% of respondents hadn’t heard a thing about the Green New Deal. As the issue has entered the mainstream and politicized, understanding remains spotty and support may be wavering. A more recent Politico questionnaire showed a plurality of voters support the proposal, but with a large fraction – nearly a third – still in the dark. This must change.

Commentators have rightly pointed out that, to pass the Green New Deal, Democrats will need to win a governing trifecta in 2020 and reach a 60-vote Senate supermajority (improbable) or a 50-vote majority with a repeal of the filibuster (feasible). But the constituencies that really need to be educated, mobilized and organized are not politicians – they’re everyday people beyond the Beltway who could benefit from a Green New Deal.

And this is where the real political fight – on the nightly news, in the press, at the debate podiums, on social media and, most of all, out in local communities – must be waged.

This spring, youth leaders from the Sunrise Movement are launching a Green New Deal tour, making stops in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Michigan. Sunrise, perhaps more than any other group, has been a guiding voice of moral clarity and leadership in this emergent climate moment. Ahead of a Senate vote called by the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, the group is coordinating direct actions in the offices of noncommittal Democrats and Republican senators.

On Friday, an exchange between Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and school children affiliated with Sunrise, went viral, when the senator refused to support the resolution because she believed it to be too expensive and politically unachievable. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” the senator scolded the kids. “I know what I’m doing. Maybe people should listen a little bit.”

“It doesn’t matter, we are the ones who are going to be impacted,” one of the activists, a young girl, responded.

And on Monday, hundreds of Sunrise activists occupied the majority leader’s Capitol Hill office, chanting “which side are you on?” and bearing a banner that read “Mitch, look us in the eyes.” Forty-two were arrested during the protest.

The spirit, tenor and terms of the climate debate have changed.

And where momentum and zeitgeist shift are not enough, proponents of more Rooseveltian approaches to climate action must engage groups historically on the margins of environmental policy, like Indigenous nations, communities of color, immigrants, faith groups and labor unions. The data shows, for example, that Latinx communities are more concerned about global warming than other voters by a 22-point margin and are more likely to believe it should be a high priority for lawmakers.

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent, there may yet be unforeseen opportunities for Green New Dealers to make inroads beyond urban and coastal Democratic enclaves – perhaps even in Republican strongholds like the south and battlegrounds like the midwest andsun belt. There, the Green New Deal’s populist appeals to economic and social policy may help build a broader base of support.

It is too early to predict how this will play out. But, after years of bipartisan stagnation, free market dogma and denialist stalemate, the Green New Deal has breathed much needed oxygen back into the climate debate.

Julian Brave NoiseCat is as a policy analyst at 350.org and a freelance writer


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