Unproven links to the deaths of whales and dolphins crater support among New Jersey residents for the continued development of offshore wind farms.
New Jersey residents narrowly oppose the continued development of offshore wind farms, with concerns about the recent deaths of whales and dolphins reducing support for the green energy project.
According to the latest results from the FDU Poll, 35 percent of New Jersey residents say that the state should continue the development of the wind farms off the coast, with 39 percent saying that development should be halted.
“If we’re going to meet the Murphy administration’s green energy goals, New Jersey needs to build a lot of wind farms, and fast,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the director of the poll. “But the administration just hasn’t convinced the public that it’s a good idea.”
While there is no evidence that the off-shore wind farms are linked with a recent spate of dolphin and whale deaths on the Jersey shore, opponents of the projects have argued that the development should be halted until a link can be ruled out.
Such arguments seem to be effective. In the survey, respondents were randomly assigned to be asked about the off-shore wind farms in a question that included a mention of the whale and dolphin deaths, or a version without it.
Even though the question noted that there was no known link between the deaths and the wind farms, it significantly reduced support for the development of off-shore wind.
When the question about wind farms doesn’t mention the deaths of whales and dolphins, 42 percent of New Jersey residents say that the state should continue development, with 33 percent saying that it should be stopped, a 9 point margin in favor of development. But in the version that does mention the deaths, only 28 percent say that development should continue, with 46 percent saying that it should be halted, a 16 point margin against. This difference is mostly driven by Democrats. Among Democrats, mentioning the whales and dolphins reduces support for continued development of off-shore wind by 24 points (from 65 percent to 41 percent); among Republicans, it reduces support by 12 points (from 27 percent to 15 percent).
“The argument that the wind farms are hurting cute, smart animals just craters support,” said Cassino. “People concerned about the environment want to have green energy, but put that up against dolphins, and the dolphins are going to win every time.”
Interestingly, people who live in coastal areas are no different in their views of the wind farms than New Jerseyans who live elsewhere in the state. In the coastal counties of Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth, and Ocean, 44 percent say that development should be halted, with 33 percent saying that it should continue. This is no different than the 41 percent who want to halt development from the northwest corner of the state, or the 46 percent in South Jersey. Support for the wind farms is highest in the urban core counties of Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, and Union Counties.
Across the two question wordings, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to support the continued development of the wind farms. A bare majority (53 percent) of Democrats say that development should be continued, with just 21 percent saying that it should be stopped. Among Republicans, this is almost entirely reversed, with 21 percent supporting the projects, and 62 percent saying that they should be stopped. Independents are almost exactly in the middle, with 47 percent saying that development should be halted.
“This isn’t a regional issue in New Jersey,” said Cassino. “Whether you’re actually going to see the off-shore wind farms doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”
More educated voters are more likely to support the development of off-shore wind, while there is no clear relationship between age and support for the projects. Despite the unfounded concerns about wildlife deaths, the New Jersey government has pressed ahead with the developments, inviting bids for more turbines as recently as the last few months.