Poll Shows Marylanders Overwhelmingly Support Major Expansion of Renewable Power

Prospect of more clean-energy jobs is seen as moving voters and could impact the 2018 election for Gov. Hogan and Democrats. Seventy-one percent of voters support DOUBLING wind and solar power above current law

Health also seen as a key motivator. And Donald Trump’s fossil fuel agenda seen as pushing many Marylanders toward clean power

ANNAPOLIS, MD – A stunning seventy-one percent of Maryland voters support doubling the state’s commitment to wind and solar power, according to a poll released a week after the close of the 2017 legislative session in Annapolis. The poll suggests clean energy could be a major factor in the 2018 election cycle, with make-or-break consequences for Republican Governor Larry Hogan and other candidates of both parties.

The survey, conducted during the winter General Assembly session by the prominent Maryland polling firm OpinionWorks, highlights a growing trend in the state toward support for clean energy development instead of for fossil fuels. Even before the Maryland House and Senate agreed to ban fracking in March and adopt several bills in support of renewable power during the 2017 session, the poll shows that Marylanders have become increasingly convinced that more jobs result from clean energy with improved health consequences. The survey also suggests that President Trump’s support of fossil fuels actually increases many Marylanders’ support of clean energy.

“This poll identifies a shift in Maryland politics,” said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, based in Annapolis. “We’ve polled on energy in Maryland for years, and voters have never been this impatient to move the state from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. As a test of voter preference for candidates, clean energy now polls very strongly as a wedge issue. Candidates at all levels should take note.”

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and its sister organization CCAN Action Fund are nonprofit groups dedicated to building support for doubling wind and solar power in the state. Current Maryland law mandates that 25% of the state’s electricity come from renewable power by 2020. But Gov. Hogan vetoed that law and was overridden by the General Assembly earlier this year. Some advocates are now proposing a 50%-clean electricity standard by 2030. The idea would also include using several million dollars in polluter fees (from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative program) to directly invest in training workers and promoting clean energy job development in the economy.

In the OpinionWorks survey, 71% of registered voters supported a 50% clean electricity standard. Respondents were told that electricity prices would rise slightly under such a policy. Respondents were also told new jobs would likely result from the policy. A majority of registered voters supported the policy in both political parties in every region of the state.

The poll documents the potentially powerful political impact that voter sentiments could have on candidates in the 2018 elections based on clean-energy views. This impact is measured in the poll by comparing the so-called “generic ballot” with what happens when a candidate of one party supports the 50% clean electricity proposal while the candidate of the other party opposes it. Based on the poll responses from registered voters, candidates of either party benefit from supporting the proposal.

For example, if Governor Hogan supports the proposal to expand the state’s renewable energy requirement while his Democratic challenger opposes it, the Governor’s support grows to a whopping 62%. But if Hogan opposes a 50% clean energy standard and his Democratic opponent supports it, the Democrat surges to a 59%-22% percent lead among poll respondents.

A significant finding in the poll – related to job creation – seems to explain these dramatic shifts in candidate support. By a robust 4-to-1 margin, voters believe that moving away from fossil fuels and investing in clean energy will create more jobs in Maryland.

“The job market is a top concern here, and clean energy is increasingly seen as an economic boon in the state,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the CCAN Action Fund. “More Marylanders now work in the solar industry than in the crab industry. This poll confirms that people want more and more of that economic benefit.”

Interestingly, the poll found that efforts by the Trump Administration to promote the use of fossil fuels may be pushing people in the opposite direction in Maryland. Fifty percent (50%) of voters said they would be MORE likely to want Maryland to expand its own commitment to renewable power if they knew that “federal efforts under the Trump administration were focused on increasing fossil fuel use and reducing support for renewable power at the national level.”

Given falling wind and solar prices, some economic models predict that ramping up clean electricity to 50% in Maryland could actually have zero impact on ratepayers over time. The first question in the OpinionWorks poll did reference a possible price increase and, again, the support was 71%. But later in the poll, when respondents are informed of a possible zero-impact scenario, support soared to 84%.

The OpinionWorks poll was conducted in late January and timed for release at the close of the 2017 legislative session. The poll was commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and is being released by the group’s sister organization, CCAN Action Fund.