New Jersey Democrats Should Avoid Pushing Bans of the Sale of New Gas-Powered Vehicles

With the state legislature in session, the Democratic Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, is taking steps to speed the rapid deployment of electric vehicles, or EVs, in the state. With this in mind, I was hired by a group called Centrist Democrats of America (CDA) to conduct a survey  to determine how New Jerseyans feel about EVs.

When the poll was commissioned, the head of the group was Hank Naughton, a former Massachusetts legislator who for nearly two decades represented a rural, heavily working-class district. Naughton – who recently left CDA to be a judge in Massachusetts – and the organization wanted to help all Democrats better communicate with centrist voters. CDA wondered how people living in New Jersey feel about EVs and if voters support the Governor’s plan to outlaw the sale of new gas- and diesel-powered vehicles in the state, over the next decade.

Undoubtedly, a fully electric vehicle fleet in the U.S. would reduce tailpipe emissions, end our dependence on petroleum, and could help fight the existential threat of climate change. But for Democrats, politically speaking, could they pay a price for pushing policies that would prevent New Jerseyans from purchasing cars and trucks that run on fossil fuels? This is important, because if Democrats lose the trust of voters on the issue of EVs, it could thwart their goals for advancements in environmental matters (among others).

Also, thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Deficit Reduction Act, two landmark achievements for President Joe Biden, there is a massive federal effort underway to build a national EV charging platform and offer consumers who buy EVs even more generous tax credits. With this in mind, we polled New Jerseyans and asked them if the Governor should be allowed to implement a ban on the sale of new gas-powered vehicles, or be required to get permission from the legislature. The results should be something Democrats in the state legislature consider:

A strong majority of voters in New Jersey are concerned about the effects of climate change (82%), including a majority of Democrats (93%), independents (82%), and Republicans (69%). However, voters do not support the Governor moving forward on his own. Indeed, only 12% support the Governor proceeding with a ban without the the support of the legislature. Alternatively, 69% support the Governor getting approval from the state legislature to move forward with the ban. This view is certainly true among Republican voters (76% support NJ Governor getting legislative approval), but also among independents (67%), and even a majority of Democratic voters agree (15% feel the Governor should act unilaterally compared to 67% who feel the Governor should get approval from state lawmakers).

The reasons that New Jerseyans seemingly have some hesitancy about the government banning the sale of new vehicles that use gas or diesel, or requiring people to purchase EVs, are based on two main factors. First, there is a strong belief that the automotive market is heading in a more electric direction already, and there is not a need for additional government intervention at this point. And second, that there are other priorities for New Jersey in general as well as for the environment.

Overall, just 17% of New Jerseyans feel that the state should do whatever it can to get as many EVs on the road as quickly as possible (just 21% of Democrats, and 18% of independents agree with this position). The vast majority of voters (84%) feel that the focus should be on other issues and the EV market should be left alone.

To further drive home the point on other priorities, according to our data, New Jerseyans view increasing the number of electric vehicles as one of the least important things the government should be financing. Instead, they’d prefer to see government spend more money on addressing childhood hunger, fixing the state’s infrastructure, building new schools, and providing more funding to law enforcement. Even among Democratic voters increasing the number of EVs is at the bottom of the list of spending priorities (just 5% feel it is a top issue).

Our analysis is clear, New Jerseyans are worried about the cost of gasoline and protecting the environment. Democrats in Trenton are smart to be in favor of EVs, but taking hardline positions like banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles and implementing California’s EV policies, are likely a step too far for a strong majority of New Jerseyans and create a real risk of alienating centrist voters and undermining environmental progress already being made.