(CN) – Public opinion can be fickle, but cable news commentary is as strong as ever. When it comes to climate change, most people agree that the shift to renewable energy is important for the planet, but that concept falls apart depending on who you ask and whether they watch CNN or Fox News.
According to a study published Monday, the Green New Deal had bipartisan support when it was first proposed in 2018, but that steadily eroded as partisan polarization crept in and the cacophony swayed public opinion to different ends of the political spectrum. The study, published in the journal Nature, highlights a phenomenon known as the “Fox News effect” on Republicans and how that soured their support for the Green New Deal in just a few months.
Fox News ran more coverage of the Green New Deal leading up to the Senate vote this year than CNN and MSNBC combined. Conservative commentators with Fox News lobbed outright fabrications about the Green New Deal, claiming it would eliminate airplanes, nuclear energy and steak.
The policies carried under the Green New Deal have been around for years. But the packaging that was first proposed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey can be traced back to the last several months.
A group of researchers from Yale University and George Mason University in Virginia tracked support for the Green New Deal before and after U.S. voters became aware of the topic.
First, researchers surveyed about 1,000 registered U.S. voters in early December 2018 to gauge familiarity and support for the Green New Deal. The survey was repeated in April 2019 with a new group of about 1,100 registered voters.
Between the two surveys, the Green New Deal resolution was first introduced in February 2019 by a Democrat and eventually blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
During the first survey, 81% of voters – including 92% Democrats and 64% Republicans – said they somewhat or strongly supported the Green New Deal.
The week after the resolution was first introduced, cable news programs aired a combined total of 45 primetime segments. Forty-one primetime segments aired the week before the Senate vote, according to the study.
Over the four months between the first and second survey, approximately 63 million more registered voters would have become aware of the Green New Deal. But Fox News did a lot of the heavy lifting in that arena.
According to the study authors, more conservative Republicans became aware of the Green New Deal than liberal Democrats with 38% to 17% respectively who said they knew “a lot” about the Green New Deal. Support from Republicans from the first to second survey dropped 25 percentage points.
Many Republicans, both liberal/moderates to conservatives, support the goals of the Green New Deal, but rejected the actual policy.
“Compared with other national cable news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC, Fox News’ media coverage of climate change is more critical and dismissive of the science and the solutions,” write the study authors.
“Increased Fox News consumption predicts disagreement with scientists about global warming, even when controlling for demographics, ideological views and frequency of general news exposure.”
Fox News is a sort of shorthand for this phenomenon, say the study authors. For example, there could be other variables or news sources that swayed public opinion, like a Republican’s view of socialist policies.
What’s clear is the political polarization on the topic of the Green New Deal grew exponentially from December 2018 to April 2019 all thanks to partisan media. Future research could investigate how the message of climate change policies are delivered and highlighting the shared U.S. identity or even using Republican spokespeople.