March 11, 2019 Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over 80 percent of American voters support the Green New Deal (GND), or so claim its backers citing a recent survey by a group of academic pollsters. Furthermore, this public endorsement is supposedly bipartisan, with 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans indicating that they either strongly or somewhat support the Far Left package to reshape the entire American economy around “green energy” in the course of the next decade.

A very different story lurks beneath the surface of these impressive-looking statistics. Although the survey was conducted by a team of professors at George Mason University in Virginia and Yale University in Connecticut, it was essentially a “push poll” designed to bias respondents in favor of the proposition.

The trick behind the outcome may be seen in the question’s wording. Rather than asking voters directly about the GND, the pollsters first presented them with a glowing paragraph-length synopsis that touted the proposition’s fantastical claims:

Some members of Congress are proposing a “Green New Deal” for the U.S. They say that a Green New Deal will produce jobs and strengthen America’s economy by accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. The Deal would generate 100% 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.

Note that this paragraph intentionally leads the respondents toward a favorable view of the program.

It extols the GND promises of a “green energy” conversion on a scientifically impossible 10-year timeline as if it is a given. It promises an abundance of jobs and economic growth without revealing that these features depend upon the simultaneous adoption of an unprecedented federal jobs-guarantee program that would effectively place large swaths of the economy under direct federal government management.

It offers no indication that the same jobs-guarantee program would likely culminate in an unwieldy bureaucratic disaster of centralized economic planning. It makes no mention of the proposal’s extremist calls to phase out air travel in favor of trains, or to subject every building in America to costly renovation and reconstruction in order to meet new energy-efficiency rules. And it says not a word about the extreme price tag of the entire package, which certainly breaks into the tens of trillions of dollars and may reach as high as $93 trillion when all is said and done.

Instead, all of the pitfalls of the GND are conveniently brushed aside while all of its promised benefits, no matter how unrealistic or expensive, are presented to the survey’s respondents as if they were neutral and factual truths.

This combination of intentional omissions and leading questions exploited public ignorance to produce a skewed result. As a relatively new proposition, the details of the GND are still unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americans. The pollsters confirmed this finding in a separate question that showed 83 percent of respondents knew “nothing at all” about the program’s details. After supplying them with an overly rosy and biased synopsis of those details, they unsurprisingly found large majorities in favor.

Loaded opinion polling of this type is a commonly encountered dirty trick in partisan political campaigns, where marketing firms associated with a certain candidate or policy try to build the illusion of public support (or hostility to the opposing party’s candidate) by asking intentionally loaded survey questions and then reporting the results as if they contained an accurate measure of public opinion. Long controversial, these tactics violate standard practices in survey design and question construction.

Unfortunately, the pollsters in this case are not political campaign consultants — they’re university professors at research institutes specializing in “climate change communication.” Given the way that they skewed their poll results toward the GND with biased and loaded questioning, it’s reasonable to ask whether their research output crossed the ethical line separating scholarship from politically motivated advocacy.


Phillip W. Magness

Phil Magness

Phillip W. Magness works at the Independent Institute. He was formerly the Senior Research Faculty and F.A. Hayek Chair in Economics and Economic History at the American Institute for Economic Research. He holds a PhD and MPP from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, and a BA from the University of St. Thomas (Houston). Prior to joining AIER, Dr. Magness spent over a decade teaching public policy, economics, and international trade at institutions including American University, George Mason University, and Berry College. Magness’s work encompasses the economic history of the United States and Atlantic world, with specializations in the economic dimensions of slavery and racial discrimination, the history of taxation, and measurements of economic inequality over time. He also maintains an active research interest in higher education policy and the history of economic thought. His work has appeared in scholarly outlets including the Journal of Political Economy, the Economic Journal, Economic Inquiry, and the Journal of Business Ethics. In addition to his scholarship, Magness’s popular writings have appeared in numerous venues including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Newsweek, Politico, Reason, National Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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