Stefan Hankin is the founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a research and polling firm in Washington, D.C.
The Delaware state legislature is back in session, and it’s been reported that lawmakers may consider legislation to speed the rapid deployment of electric vehicles in the state. With this in mind, I was hired by a group called Centrist Democrats of America to conduct a survey to determine how Delawareans feel about such vehicles.
The head of the group, Hank Naughton, is a former Massachusetts legislator, who, for nearly two decades, represented a rural, heavily working class district. Naughton and his organization are seeking to help all Democrats better communicate with centrist voters. The group wondered how people living in Delaware feel about EVs and a policy proposal that could outlaw the sale of new gas- and diesel-powered vehicles in Delaware 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 Delawareans 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 issues (among others).
Keep in mind, thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure legislation and the Inflation Reduction Act, two landmark achievements for President Joe Biden, there is a massive federal effort underway to build a national electric vehicle-charging platform and offer consumers who buy EVs even more generous tax credits. Not satisfied with this momentum, Delaware lawmakers are said to be considering adopting California’s electric vehicle policy, which is a full ban on the sale of any new gasoline and diesel vehicles throughout the state, starting in 2035.
We polled Delawareans on this matter and asked them if Delaware should follow California’s lead on a ban of non-EV sales or implement its own rules on electric vehicles. The results should be something Democrats in the state legislature consider:
A strong majority of voters in Delaware are concerned about the effect of climate change (80%), including a majority of Democrats (93%), independents (94%) and Republicans (54%). However, only 18% strongly or even somewhat support adopting California’s ban on sales of gas and diesel vehicles, while 73% strongly or somewhat support Delaware having its own policies in place. This view is certainly true among Republican voters (83% support Delaware writing its own rules) but also among independents (78%), and even a majority of Democratic voters agrees (65% feel Delaware should write its own rules, compared to 25% who feel the state should adopt the California rules).
The reasons that Delawareans 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 Delaware in general, as well as for the environment.
Overall, just 14% of Delawareans feel that the state should do whatever it can to get as many electric vehicles on the road as quickly as possible (just 21% of Democrats and 12% of independents agree with this position). The vast majority of voters (78%) 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, Delawareans 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 electric vehicles is at the bottom of the list of spending priorities (just 3% feel it is a top issue).
Our analysis is clear: Delawareans are worried about the cost of gasoline and protecting the environment. Democrats in Dover are smart to be in favor of EVs, but taking hard-line positions, like banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles and implementing California’s policies, are likely a step too far for a strong majority of Delawareans and create a real risk of alienating centrist voters and undermining environmental progress already being made.