EPC Resource Library / Weekly Roundups

Environmental Polling Roundup – September 1, 2023


Washington Post + UMDAmericans underestimate the climate impacts of flying and consuming meat and dairy [Article, Topline]

[NJ] Monmouth University – Declining support for offshore wind in New Jersey shows the dangers of misinformation about renewable energy [Release, Report + Crosstabs]




Washington Post + UMDAmericans underestimate the climate impacts of flying and consuming meat and dairy [Article, Topline]

Recent polling by the Washington Post and University of Maryland (UMD) finds that Americans tend to believe that installing solar panels and recycling are the most significant personal actions that individuals can take to mitigate climate change, while they underrate the impacts of cutting down on flying and consuming meat or dairy.

Most Americans believe that installing solar panels (62%) and recycling (59%) would make at least “some” difference in reducing an individual’s impact on climate change.

About half say that driving an electric car (51%) and taking fewer plane trips (48%) would also have at least “some” impact.

Meanwhile, most don’t believe that the following personal actions would have a significant impact:

As the Washington Post article notes, these perceptions don’t line up with expert research on the most impactful climate actions that individuals can take. The article cites a University of Leeds study, for example, that “placed recycling second-to-last among more than 50 actions people can take to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Exaggerated beliefs about the climate benefits of recycling aren’t necessarily a problem for environmental advocates, of course, because recycling has plenty of other benefits for people and the planet in addition to climate mitigation.

The more useful takeaways for advocates here are in the actions that people underrate as ways to mitigate climate change. Per the article, “experts said flying less and cutting out meat and dairy are among the best steps people can take” from the list of actions included in the survey. However, these actions ranked among the lowest in the poll in terms of their perceived climate benefits.

The public could clearly benefit from more specific guidance about how they can most effectively help to mitigate climate change. Polling shows that the majority of Americans, like most citizens in other highly-developed economies, are willing to take actions in their own lives to help combat climate change. If people have better information about the actions that are most impactful, we could see much more significant benefits from the steps that individuals take to help mitigate climate change.

[NJ] Monmouth UniversityDeclining support for offshore wind in New Jersey shows the dangers of misinformation about renewable energy [Release, Report + Crosstabs]

New polling from Monmouth University in New Jersey finds that support for offshore wind is dropping among the state’s residents. While a slight majority continue to favor electricity-generating wind farms off of the coast of New Jersey (54% favor / 40% oppose), support for offshore wind has dropped sharply since Monmouth last asked New Jerseyans about the topic in 2019 (76% favor / 15% oppose). 

Meanwhile, support for nuclear energy and offshore drilling in the state has increased over the same time period. About two in five now say that they support building a nuclear power plant in New Jersey (41% favor / 52% oppose), up from about one-quarter in 2019 (26% favor / 67% oppose). Another two in five say that they support drilling for oil and gas off the coast of New Jersey (40% favor / 54% oppose), up from three in ten in 2019 (30% favor / 61% oppose).

It’s worth noting that, even with these recent shifts in attitudes, offshore wind remains more popular than offshore drilling or nuclear power in New Jersey. It’s the trends over time that are most worrying here. 

The poll provides some additional context that helps to explain the dip in support for offshore wind power. 

State residents believe that wind power will have a modestly positive effect on job opportunities in the state, with 22% saying that building wind farms will create “a lot of new jobs” in the state and an additional 55% saying that building wind farms will create “a few new jobs” in the state.

New Jerseyans anticipate that wind farms would have more of a negative impact on the state’s tourism industry, however, with 40% saying that wind farms off the New Jersey coast would hurt summer tourism. Just 9% say that offshore wind farms would have a positive impact on summer tourism, while 44% anticipate no impact on the tourism industry.

The potential impact of offshore wind on marine life is another point of concern, as New Jerseyans are divided on whether the development of offshore wind energy is contributing to the number of whales that have been washing ashore on New Jersey beaches recently. Equal percentages say that offshore wind is likely (45%) and not likely (45%) to be a factor in these recent whale strandings.

The poll also indicates that misinformation about wind power, like the recent anti-wind campaigns that have been backed by fossil fuel interests, is swaying certain partisan audiences more than others.

Since 2019, support for offshore wind in Monmouth’s New Jersey polling has declined by a stark 41-point margin among Republicans (from 69% to 28%) and also by a substantial margin among independents (from 77% to 52%). Support among Democrats, however, is only three points lower now (76%) than it was in 2019 (79%).

Pulling from the poll release: “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.

We’ve seen a broader polarization in clean energy attitudes since President Biden took office, which could help to explain some of the drop in support for offshore wind among more conservative New Jerseyans. However, offshore wind appears to be particularly vulnerable to this kind of politicization when compared to other sources of clean energy like solar. 

Polling at the national level confirms that wind power has become relatively more polarizing than solar power. Polling this year by Pew found that Republicans still continue to favor the expansion of both wind and solar power, but are 10 points more likely to support expanding solar power (70%) than expanding wind power (60%). Among Democrats, there is no notable difference in support between expanding wind (91%) and expanding solar (93%).

And in New Jersey, misinformation about offshore wind’s impacts on whales appears to be getting through to conservative audiences. The clear majority of Republicans in the Monmouth poll say that offshore wind development is likely contributing to recent whale beachings (63%), compared to just 26% of Democrats.

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