Public estimates of support for offshore wind energy: False consensus, pluralistic ignorance, and partisan effects

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Meeting future energy demands will require large-scale implementation of renewable energy projects. If one of these energy sources—offshore wind—becomes a common sight off coastlines, consideration of local public opinion and action will be critical. Previous research from the social sciences has lacked depth in examining the underlying factors that shape public opinion towards offshore wind development. The current research brings a new perspective to the literature by showing that how members of the public perceive support among others relates to their own opinions of offshore wind energy. We report results from two surveys. The first focused on opinion formation relating to offshore wind in general among New England residents, while the second focused on a specific offshore wind project in Rhode Island. We find evidence that both supporters and opponents of offshore wind underestimate levels of support among others, indicating a pluralistic ignorance effect and false consensus effect, respectively. We also find distinct patterns of perceived support among self-identified Republicans and Democrats. The findings hold important implications for policymakers and developers in understanding the nature of public support and opposition for offshore wind energy, particularly with respect to individuals’ willingness to publicly engage with offshore wind projects.

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Energy Policy