Opposing Green New Deal Could Cost Popular Democratic Lawmaker Her Job, Poll Shows

New polling shows older, suburban women in Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice's Long Island district overwhelmingly support a Green New Deal.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.)
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.)
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

After easily winning a third term in November, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) spearheaded a revolt against likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), arguing that the California lawmaker’s ascent would “jeopardize this hard-fought majority that we finally got” of moderate women in suburban districts like hers.

Yet new polling suggests white, suburban women in Rice’s own southwestern Long Island district could turn on the Democrat if she refuses to back a Green New Deal, the umbrella term for the sweeping policy to combat climate change and overhaul the economy that Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has championed.

A survey of 300 likely Democratic primary voters in New York’s 4th Congressional District described a Green New Deal as a plan “to invest trillions of dollars into the development and distribution of green energy, creating millions of new high-wage jobs while preventing catastrophic climate change.” The survey then told participants that Rice “does not currently support a Green New Deal,” and asked, “How does this information impact your vote in the 2020 Democratic primary for Congress?”

The results suggest the overwhelming popularity of Green New Deal-style policies could propel upsets in districts beyond the diverse, left-leaning urban bastions that gave rise to socialist darlings like Ocasio-Cortez and others in her cohort. The findings also indicate potential challenges of selling moderate Democrats from more conservative districts on the populist branding of policies packaged in a Green New Deal.

Data for Progress

Forty-seven percent of survey respondents were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports a Green New Deal, while only 18 percent vowed to back someone who opposed the policy. Another 22 percent said support for a Green New Deal had no impact on their vote, and 13 percent were not sure.

The polling ― conducted between Dec. 17 and Dec. 27 by the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress and shared exclusively with HuffPost ― shows particularly strong support for a Green New Deal among women in the suburban portions of the Nassau County district abutting the New York City borough of Queens.

Forty-eight percent of women and 44 percent of men supported a pro-Green New Deal candidate. Yet 30 percent of men said they’d back a candidate who opposed a Green New Deal, compared to just 10 percent of women who said the same.

Forty-nine percent of suburban voters in the district supported a Green New Deal candidate, compared to just 31 percent of urban voters. By contrast, 14 percent of suburban voters said they’d support an anti-Green New Deal primary candidate, while 43 percent of urban voters said they’d do the same.

Older voters, whites and Asians made up the strongest base of support for a pro-Green New Deal Democrat. Such a hypothetical candidate garnered 57 percent support from voters over 65 and 55 percent among voters aged 55 to 64.

Seventy-five percent of Asian voters in the sample said they’d support a pro-Green New Deal candidate, followed by 51 percent of whites, 39 percent of blacks and 33 percent of Hispanics.

“The strongest margin of support are older suburban women,” said Evan Roth Smith, co-founder of the polling firm Slingshot Strategies, which conducted the poll. “That is the constituency for a Green New Deal in her district.”

Rice did not join a handful of other Democrats in the New York delegation in supporting Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution for a select committee on a Green New Deal. But in a statement to HuffPost, Rice said she supports “robust federal investment in energy-efficient infrastructure projects and training for green energy jobs” and said “members of Congress committed to this fight should no longer accept campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.”

“In my view, there is no plan too bold or too ambitious.”

- Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.)

“Fighting climate change isn’t about politics, it’s about protecting our homes and jobs and preserving our communities for future generations,” she said. “In my view, there is no plan too bold or too ambitious.”

The survey found Rice has a 70 percent approval rating ― higher than Pelosi’s, as The Washington Post first reported. Still, Nassau County activist Siela Bynoe said she is considering a primary challenge in 2020.

The polling is the first in a series surveying districts where incumbent Democrats could be vulnerable to a progressive primary challenge in 2020.

Rice, who has built a strong base of support over the last five years, has not faced a primary challenger since she made her inaugural bid in 2014. The former Nassau County prosecutor’s votes in favor of environmental legislation and against deregulatory efforts earned her a 100 percent score on the League of Conservation Voters’ 2017 ranking. Her lifetime score is 95 percent.

In 2015, she crusaded against plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of Jones Beach. In 2017, she co-sponsored legislation to mandate 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Rice proposed legislation last year to prohibit members of Congress from serving on public companies’ boards, and fought for more aid to victims still struggling to recover from 2012′s Hurricane Sandy.

But Rice has long wooed Republicans. In the four years leading up to 2013, she accepted donations from Donald Trump totaling $53,000. Her father, a contractor who became the building commissioner of New York’s Archdiocese, registered as a Republican after moving to once deep-red Nassau County. Because New York’s primaries are closed to nonpartisans, he registered as a Democrat only when his daughter ran in a primary for district attorney, according to a New York Times profile from March 2014.

Rice won endorsements from a handful of GOP officials in her district in 2016. Since 2016, she’s voted in favor of legislation Trump pushed just over 30 percent of the time, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis, which predicted, based on Trump’s support in her district, that figure would be closer to 48 percent.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined a protest led by the climate justice group Sunrise Movement in November, helping to propel a Green New Deal into the mainstream political debate.
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined a protest led by the climate justice group Sunrise Movement in November, helping to propel a Green New Deal into the mainstream political debate.
Sunrise Movement

Her vulnerability to a challenge could speak to the changing nature of the Democratic electorate. Support for a Green New Deal unites disparate primary voters from the 2016 election. Among New York 4th Congressional District voters who picked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016, 55 percent said they would support a pro-Green New Deal candidate, compared to 8 percent who wouldn’t. Among voters who picked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary, support for a Green New Deal proponent hit 46 percent, compared to 19 percent who don’t.

The results mirror support for Ocasio-Cortez, whose surprise primary victory over the summer skyrocketed the 29-year-old to national fame. In Rice’s district, 52 percent of those polls viewed Ocasio-Cortez favorably, of which 56 percent said they’d support a Green New Deal proponent in a 2020 primary.

“Ocasio-Cortez has clearly broken through,” Sean McElwee, the co-founder of Data for Progress, said by phone. “People like Ocasio-Cortez are more than willing to primary a Democrat for not supporting a Green New Deal.”

But reaching a point where there’s enough “organic buzz” around a Green New Deal that it’s a “topic of discussion beyond the direct actions of a primary opponent,” will require a lot of work, said Jeff Hauser, a veteran progressive strategist.

The policy stormed into mainstream political debate over the past two months after activists staged sit-ins in Pelosi’s office and Ocasio-Cortez proposed a resolution to establish a select committee charged with drafting a Green New Deal. Eighty-two percent of Americans said they had heard “nothing at all” about a Green New Deal, yet 81 percent of registered voters said they supported the policies outlined under early proposals, according to a survey released last month by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University.

Ninety-two percent of Democrats supported the Green New Deal, including 93 percent of liberal Democrats and 90 percent of moderate-to-conservative Democrats. But, more surprisingly, 64 percent of Republicans backed the policy, including 75 percent of moderate-to-liberal Republicans and 57 percent of conservative Republicans.

The poll found that as the policy becomes more associated with leftist politicians like Ocasio-Cortez, support among conservatives is likely to wane.

Most of the Democrats likely to run for president in 2020 are now giving their support to a Green New Deal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who this week announced an exploratory committee for a potential bid, became the latest on Tuesday when she told Axios she supports the “idea” of a Green New Deal.

But convincing voters that punishing a Democrat like Rice who opposes the policy is “a boon to a Green New Deal’s chances of implementation” is another challenge altogether, Hauser said.

“It is seems more than plausible to me but rather very likely that if made salient to voters, opposition to a Green New Deal would be deeply dangerous for the primary chances of any incumbent Democrat,” Hauser said by email. “However the work of making it salient is no small task.”

This story was updated to include earlier polling that showed Rice’s favorability rating.

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