Did Fox News Quash Republican Support for the Green New Deal?

New research finds that the cable channel played an important role in shaping opinion about the GND.
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People protesting against Fox News outside the company's headquarters in New York City on March 13th, 2019. Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro have come under criticism in recent weeks for controversial comments and multiple advertisers have pulled away from their shows.

People protesting against Fox News outside the company's headquarters in New York City on March 13th, 2019.

Did Fox News quash Republican support for the Green New Deal? That's the intriguing implication of a new study.

Researchers report that, between December of 2018 and April of 2019, support for the wide-ranging pro-environment initiative rapidly devolved from bipartisan approval to a deep split along party lines.

Given that the GND is based around ideas associated with the political left, it's not surprising that Republicans might express less enthusiasm for the proposal than Democrats as they learned more about it.

Here's what's more intriguing though: The decline in support was far greater among Republicans who regularly watch Fox News than among those who do not.

"These shifting views of the Green New Deal are an example of how quickly partisan polarization can develop over a short period of time," writes a research team led by Abel Gustafson of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. The team also provided evidence that Fox News may play a huge role in that polarization.

The study, a joint effort by Yale and the Center for Climate Change Information at George Mason University, analyzed data from a representative online panel of 2,018 registered voters. They were surveyed between November 18th to December 11th, 2018, and again between March 29th and April 9th, 2019.

Participants were categorized as liberal Democrats, moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, or conservative Republicans. In both surveys, they were asked whether they had heard "nothing at all," "a little," or "a lot" about the Green New Deal, and whether they "strongly support," "somewhat support," "somewhat oppose," or "strongly oppose" it.

The December survey included a one-paragraph description of the proposal, which was still brand new (82 percent of participants knew nothing about it). It noted that the plan "would generate 100 percent of the nation's electricity from clean, renewable sources within the next 10 years, upgrade the nation's energy grid, buildings, and transportation infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, invest in 'green' technology research and development, and provide training for jobs in the new 'green' economy."

Participants were then asked how much they supported or opposed the idea. It sounded pretty good to most of them: Eighty-one percent said they were either strongly or somewhat supportive. That included 75 percent of moderate Republicans and 57 percent of conservative Republicans.

By April, however, Republican support had tanked to 64 percent among moderate Republicans and 32 percent among conservative Republicans. In contrast, Democratic support was steady, with 96 percent support among liberals and 88 percent among moderates—just a few percentage points different from where those numbers had been in December.

Importantly, in the April survey, the Republicans who reported they had heard the most about the initiative were also the least likely to support it. This "raises a key question, then, about where Republicans have learned about the Green New Deal, and how those sources of information affected their opinions."

The researchers note that the Green New Deal was heavily covered by conservative media. "In the week leading up to the March 26th Senate vote on the Green New Deal resolution, Fox News ran more prime-time segments about it than CNN and MSNBC combined," they report.

Not surprisingly, Republicans who watch, read, or listen to Fox News more than once a week were more likely to report hearing about it than Republicans who do not. And all that critical coverage appears to have influenced their opinions.

"In our April survey, of those Republicans who watch Fox News more than once per week, only 22 percent support the Green New Deal—a decrease of 32 points from December," the researchers report. Among the 65 percent of Republicans who do not regularly watch the channel, support also went down over those four months, but far less steeply, from 71 percent to 56 percent.

In other words, the proposal still had majority Republican support—if you exclude regular Fox News viewers.

The researchers concede that Fox News viewers may be more politically engaged than non-viewers, and thus may have been exposed to other sources of information about the Green New Deal. Nevertheless, these results provide more evidence that Rupert Murdoch's media empire continues to shape—and, more importantly, polarize—public opinion.

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