offshore wind

Shifting Direction for Wind Energy Support?

A majority of New Jerseyans continue to favor the development of offshore wind energy, but the current level of support is far below the widespread backing it has received in polls over the prior 15 years. The recent Monmouth University Poll has found that 4 in 10 residents think wind farms could hurt the state’s summer tourism economy and just under half see a connection between wind energy development and the recent spate of whales washing up on New Jersey beaches. Few see wind energy leading to major job growth in the state.

Just over half of New Jersey residents (54%) favor placing electricity-generating wind farms off the state’s coast while 40% oppose this action. In 2019, wind energy support stood at a much higher 76%, with just 15% opposed. Prior to that, support for offshore wind farms was even higher, ranging between 80% and 84% in polls taken from 2008 to 2011.

The decline in wind energy support has been largely partisan. Republican backing has gone from 69% to 28% in the past four years and support among independents has dropped from 77% to 52%. Democratic support, however, has remained stable at 79% in 2019 and 76% now. Favorable views of wind energy among residents in New Jersey’s four coastal counties has dropped by a larger amount (from 75% to 43%) than it has inland (from 75% to 56%), although this is partly due to the fact the coastal region has a larger share of Republicans compared to the rest of the state.

“There was a time when wind energy was not really a political issue. It consistently received widespread bipartisan support for more than a decade. That is no longer the case,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

One factor that influences public opinion on offshore wind energy is its potential economic impact on the Jersey Shore. Four in 10 Garden State residents (40%) say placing wind farms off the coast will hurt summer tourism. There is no real difference of opinion between coastal county residents (43%) and other New Jerseyans (38%) on this, but there is a partisan difference. Specifically, 56% of Republicans say wind energy will hurt shore tourism, compared with 41% of independents and just 24% of Democrats who agree. Few New Jerseyans (9%) believe that offshore wind will help tourism, with 44% saying it will have no impact.

Furthermore, few New Jerseyans see wind energy development as a boon for the overall state economy. Just 22% say that this industry would create a lot of jobs for the state. Most (55%) say that a few new jobs would be created, while 15% expect the industry would not create any new jobs.

Another factor that has played into the debate around wind energy has been the number of whales washing up on New Jersey beaches recently. Just under half of the public feels that the development of offshore wind energy is either definitely (20%) or probably (25%) contributing to these strandings, while a similar number say wind energy is definitely not (10%) or probably not (35%) a factor. Republicans (63%) are much more likely than Democrats (26%) to believe that wind energy development is definitely or probably playing a role in these whale beachings.

Opinion on the beached whale phenomenon has a high correlation with support for wind energy. Among New Jerseyans who see a connection between the two, just 29% favor offshore wind energy development. Among those who feel these things are not related, 76% support wind energy.

Currently, 37% of residents say significantly increasing offshore wind energy should be a major priority for New Jersey over the next ten years. This is down from 48% who said the same in 2019. There has been a decline in seeing wind as a top priority among all partisan groups, including Democrats (55%, down from 66%), independents (35%, down from 43%), and Republicans (17%, down from 32%). Among all New Jerseyans, 30% say wind energy development should be a minor priority (similar to 34% in 2019), while 30% say it should not be a priority at all for the state (up from 11%).

Thinking about the potential impact on them personally, just 25% of Garden State residents would favor developing offshore wind if it caused their electricity rates to increase for the next few years. In 2019, a larger number (41%) backed wind energy development even with the possibility of short-term rate increases.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from Aug. 10-14 with 814 New Jersey adults. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 5.4 percentage points for the full sample. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

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