Congressional Support for a Green New Deal

By Colin McAuliffe (@ColinJMcAuliffe), Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) and Greg Carlock (@gregorytcarlock)

The most recent report from the IPCC states that we have about 12 years to halve greenhouse gas emissions to avoid devastating environmental and economic effects of the climate crisis. The IPCC’s conclusions suggest that we need an massive mobilization of resources to decarbonize our economy and build resilient communities, which is apparently considered more politically radical than the alternative of environmental destruction and large-scale human suffering.

Solutions such as a Green New Deal are gaining prominence however, and activists are leading the way. A Green New Deal is not necessarily a fixed set of policies (see our comprehensive policy blueprint), but in broad terms Green New Deal supporters hold the viewpoint that direct public investment in communities, infrastructure, and jobs programs should be the primary tool in the fight against climate change. A Green New Deal also must recognize that the costs of climate change will fall disproportionately on vulnerable communities and seek solutions that place the costs and benefits of decarbonization and resilience equitably.

Some market based proposals such as the one implemented by Macron in France, which does not address the regressive nature of carbon taxes and is coupled with massive tax cuts for the wealthy are objectively garbage. A Green New Deal would primarily be financed with public money, but does not contradict, and could complement revenue-raising measures and market pressures that penalize emissions such as a polluter fee--but design matters. The distinguishing feature of a Green New Deal a focus on direct public investment to create a fair, green, and prosperous economy.

The activists lead by the Sunrise Movement have been pushing members of congress to adopt a resolution put forth by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, which establishes a committee to explore a Green New Deal. Sunrise and AOC are following an insider-outsider strategy, where activists and politicians work in concert to achieve a shared goal. This has a rich history in U.S. politics and so far has been incredibly successful in winning support from elected officials in a short period of time. But who can we expect to be the next Congressmember to get on board?

Take a look at the vote shares won by Hillary Clinton in the districts of Democratic members of the 116th congress broken out by whether or not they support AOC’s resolution. On average, members who support the resolution come from districts where Clinton won about 10 percent higher vote share than the districts of non supporting members. However, this is far from the whole story, and support does not come from deep blue districts exclusively (see a full list of supporters below).


We can take a deeper look at the factors behind support for a Green New Deal using a regression model. Our model accounts for political and demographic factors (such as voting patterns, income, racial composition, and education), as well as whether or not the member is an incumbent or in their first year, and whether or not the member (or their predecessor) cosponsored either of these two renewable energy bills. We use this to identify representatives who we would expect to endorse AOC’s resolution based on their peers in similarly situated districts. Members with a high chance of expected support who have not yet endorsed could be prime targets for activist pressure.

The model is a useful tool, but we should note the limitations. First, we only judge members based on their peers, and who a member’s peers are is determined by the district level characteristics that we selected. That means the the model ultimately rests on the assumption that Democrats are generally responsive to their electorates (they are). It also means that the results are going to be sensitive to the district level characteristics that we chose to include. The relationships between district characteristics like partisanship and Green New Deal support are also not set in stone, and will change over time as more members give their endorsement. However, at any given moment in time, these district characteristics give us a useful yardstick that we can use to distinguish between supporters and non supporters. Lastly, since we don’t directly account for public opinion, we can’t use this model to tell us if there is a situation where the whole caucus is shifted to the right or to the left of public opinion, but we can use it to try to determine which members might be next to come out in favor of the Green New Deal.  


For easier viewing, the chart below shows only the top 20 Democrats predicted to support the Green New Deal select committee.


An early version of our model correctly predicted that Representative Jayapal would support a Green New Deal. Our model predicts that Chuy Garcia, Jerry Nadler and Jan Schakowsky are the most likely to imminently adopt a Green New Deal, given the characteristics of those who have already supported the policy. Between our first iteration of the model a few days ago and today, several new members have packed the select committee, so we expect more to embrace the policy in the coming days. Nothing less than the future of the planet is at stake.

Read the Data for Progress Green New Deal policy blueprint.

Green New Deal Select Committee Supporters (on the morning of December 11th):

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03),
Joe Neguse (CO-02), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Jose Serrano (NY-15), John Lewis (GA-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Ilhan Omar (MN-05). Ted Lieu (CA-33), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Mike Levin (CA-49), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), James McGovern (MA-02), Peter Welch (VT-AL), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (DC), Joe Kennedy (MA-04), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Mark Pocan (WI-02) and Mike Quigley (IL-05).

Colin McAuliffe (@ColinJMcAuliffe) is a co-founder of Data for Progress.

Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) is a co founder of Data for Progress.

Greg Carlock (@gregorytcarlock) is a senior adviser to Data for Progress. He holds a Masters in Environmental Policy and is a researcher in climate action and data based in Washington D.C. He specializes in greenhouse gas accounting, U.S. climate and energy policy, and online data platform development. Greg uses his brain for analysis and leaves the data science to the experts.

Note: Green New Deal support was measured on the morning of December 11th, 2018. As support for the legislation increases, supporters may change.

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