Fox News, The Green New Deal and Cows

By Kevin Reuning (@KevinReuning)

The conversation around the Green New Deal has evolved since we last looked into it six weeks ago. Since then, Jay Inslee entered the 2020 field as an explicit climate change candidate, and we’ve found clear support for a range of Green New Deal policies. At the same time, the right has been attempting to use the Green New Deal as a cudgel against everything but climate change. This led to one of the strangest speeches on the Senate floor in a while.

We have reason to expect then that voters might have new thoughts on the Green New Deal, so in a survey with YouGov Blue we asked voters to describe it in their own words. We asked before any of our GND questions, so we are isolating what respondents think about GND without ever being informed of what is in the Green New Deal. The results show a lot of consistency among Democrats, but that Republicans and Fox News viewers are beginning to pick up on the new right-wing party line that has been hammered home since the plan’s roll-out. Spoiler alert: there are lots of cows.

Starting first with just the words and terms that are used most frequently across all voters we see generally what we would expect. ‘Climate Change’ is by far the most common term used when describing the Green New Deal. There are also mentions of carbon, fossil fuels, jobs, and emissions. These are all generally things that we expect, and are likely good for the discussion. The country needs to be discussing climate change, and a central premise of the Green New Deal is to reimagine the economy as a whole in the context of avoiding climate catastrophe. But near the bottom of this list we see a new word: cow. In the days after the initial introduction of the Green New Deal resolution, cows -- specifically, the claim that the Green New Deal would ban them -- became a central talking point among the right. This talking point has stuck.


This is even more apparent when we look at which words were used at different rates among Republicans and Democrats. I used the same method as in this previous post. The words on the top are words that are more likely to be used by Democrats, while the words on the bottom are more likely to be used by Republicans. The x-axis shows how common the word was overall. Democrats were much more likely to talk directly about climate change, but also were more likely to mention jobs and technology. In contrast, Republicans mention some of the traditional conservative concerns we discussed in the previous post: tax and socialism. We also see some more specific ant-GND tropes like cars, getting rid, and, of course, cows.


To understand this further, we need to dive into media environments. Instead of looking at partisan divides, the next plot examines the divide among those who reported watching Fox News in the last week compared with everyone else. The top is fairly similar, mentions of climate change, jobs, green energy, etc. The bottom, though, is where all the anti-GND tropes emerge. There are mentions of bans, airplanes, cars, trillion dollars, and cows.


This shows that Fox News viewers have fully bought into the anti-GND tropes to the point at which they understand the policy on Fox’s terms. One of the important strategies for GND activists will be to keep pushing back against the narrative used by Fox News. This should not just be saying that Fox News is ridiculous but also talking about why supporters of the GND support it. Activists should push to keep employing the language of jobs, climate change, and justice.

Kevin Reuning (@KevinReuning) is an assistant professor of political science at Miami University.

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