Concern over recent deaths of whales and dolphins along the New Jersey coast is reducing public support for offshore wind power development, with 35 percent of residents supporting the projects and 39 percent saying the projects should be halted, according to a Farleigh Dickinson University poll.

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is deeply committed to offshore wind for building the state’s future energy sources. But state officials are under heavy political pressure from offshore wind critics and Republican legislators who call for a moratorium on the projects.

“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 Farleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J., and director of the FDU Poll. “But the administration just hasn’t convinced the public that it’s a good idea.”

Since a series of whale and dolphin strandings started in December 2022, wind power critics argued there could be a link between the deaths and offshore survey work on energy lease areas. The Murphy administration and federal officials insist there is no proof of a link and rejected calls for a moratorium, but “such arguments seem to be effective,” according to an FDU Poll summary released May 11.

“In the survey, respondents were randomly assigned to be asked about the offshore wind farms in a question that included a mention of the whale and dolphin deaths, or a version without it,” the report states. “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 offshore wind.”

“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.”

The pace of marine mammal strandings slowed since late March, but months of reports appear to have had as deep affect. The poll of 817 respondents from April 28 to May 6 found support for wind power projects drop sharply when pollsters asked about whale and dolphin deaths.   

“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,” according to the FDU Poll findings.

“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 offshore wind by 24 points (from 65 percent to 41 percent); among Republicans, it reduces support by 12 points (from 27 percent to 15 percent).

Public opposition to wind projects has been loudest in Jersey Shore resort communities like Long Beach Island and Ocean City. But the poll found little significant difference of opinion between coastal and inland areas.

“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,” the poll summary states. “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.

The poll did find a clear partisan split on basic support for offshore wind projects.

“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,” the report says. “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 offshore wind farms doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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