Puerto Rican Statehood Possibilities

Statehood is on the ballot this November.

A practical aspect of speculation about potentially adding Puerto Rico as the 51st state is that the issue will be an issue on the ballot this November. I have to admit, I did not realize this was the case until yesterday. As Ballotpedia reports:

A “yes” vote supports the position that Puerto Rico should seek statehood.

A “no” vote opposes the position that Puerto Rico should seek statehood.

This is, of course non-binding on Congress, and it cannot compel the admission of PR as a state, but:

Should the ballot measure be approved, the governor would appoint a seven-member commission to represent Puerto Rico in matters and negotiations related to achieving statehood. The commission would develop a transition plan, which the governor would approve or reject, and present the plan to Congress and the President.

According to Senate Bill 1467, which placed the referendum on the ballot, voting “No” on the referendum would mean that a seven-member commission would be appointed to negotiate with the federal government for the free association or independence of Puerto Rico.

Here are previous results:

YearCommonwealthStatehoodFree associationIndependenceNone of the above
196760.41%38.98%***0.60%***
199348.89%46.64%***4.47%***
19980.06%46.63%0.29%2.55%50.46%
2012[16]***61.16%33.34%5.49%***
2017[17]1.32%97.18%1.50%[18]***

A noteworthy difference between the pending vote and these past attempts: voters only have two options this year. The question will be “¿Debe Puerto Rico ser admitido inmediatamente dentro de la Unión como un Estado?” Which is, in English, “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?”

It is a yes or no question, unlike some previous referenda which had had two-step questions (like in 2012) or multiple options, like in many other years.

It should noted that in 2012, the first question was “Do you agree in maintaining the current political status of the territory?” 53.97% said no and, as per the table above, 66.16% supported statehood.

In 2017, with multiple options, 97.18% supported statehood (but it should be noted that the opposition boycotted that process).

Even going back further, there was plurality support for statehood with four options in 1998 and statehood barely lost in 1993 with three choices.

As such, it seems likely that there is majority support for statehood and at a time when it is at least possible that there will be Congressional support as well. Granted, a number of pieces of the puzzle have to fall into place, such as the Democrats winning the Senate.

In general, I am of the view that it is likely that the aftermath of Hurricane Maria will have enhanced Puerto Ricans’ interest in statehood. After all, they had a front row seat to what it looks like when the island needs the federal government, but no one in the federal government is electorally accountable to the over three million US citizens on the island.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Sorry to be a cynic

    In general, I am of the view that it is likely that the aftermath of Hurricane Maria will have enhanced Puerto Ricans’ interest in statehood. After all, they had a front row seat to what it looks like when the island needs the federal government, but no one in the federal government is electorally accountable to the over four million US citizens on the island.

    But, if it existed at the time of Maria, the State of PR would likely have been a Dem stronghold, so there would be nothing in it for Trump, therefore, he’d do nothing.

    When I saw the headline for the post, my first thought was, do Puerto Ricans want statehood, as that has been a question in the past, and you have the data and indeed they appear interested.

    First the Dems need to take the Senate, then crush the filibuster.

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  2. Mu Yixiao says:

    I’m 100% behind admitting Puerto Rico as a state. I’d go further and say that all US territories should be admitted as states (or given independence–based on their vote).

    In 2017, with multiple options, 97.18% supported statehood (but it should be noted that the opposition boycotted that process).

    Every time I hear “boycotted the vote in protest”, I just laugh. “We’ll boycott the vote and let the other side win by a landslide! That’ll show ’em!” “I believe in my cause so strongly that I’m going to sit down, shut up, and let my enemy do whatever they want!”

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  3. JohnMcC says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Well, if they had been admitted as a state and voted for the Democrat in ’16, they wouldn’t be dealing with Mr Trump. So perhaps some of the good folks of PR will reflect on that. And is they were a blue state ignored by this administration they could do what the rest of ‘blue state America’ is doing — work like hell to turn the bastard out ASAP.

    Just sayin’.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    As a simple matter of fairness Puerto Rico should be admitted. They pay every tax but federal income tax and have no representation. (I wonder if there’s a slogan in that?) It’s 2020, what are we doing with colonies? The same for the District, though that may be more complicated Constitutionally.

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  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Different strokes for different folks (was that a Yamaha motorcycle ad or a Sly Stone song first? I can’t remember). If you live in a state/area where you view is a pronounced minority (such as the state that I live in is for my views), your choice is more Hobsonian–“don’t vote and let them do what they want” or “vote and watch them do what they want anyway.”

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  6. @Sleeping Dog:

    But, if it existed at the time of Maria, the State of PR would likely have been a Dem stronghold, so there would be nothing in it for Trump, therefore, he’d do nothing.

    This is true, but there was also no one in the Congress to help, either.

    First the Dems need to take the Senate, then crush the filibuster.

    I think if the first happens, the second follows.

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  7. @Mu Yixiao: Agreed on all US citizens having full representation and also on the boycott strategy.

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  8. Gustopher says:

    In my ideal world we would remove the option of status quo. Statehood or independence, for all our territories.

    We’re a nation founded on a story of democracy and equality. We have been striving to live up to that story, and it’s long past time to stop having second-class citizens. It’s as much for us as it is for them.

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  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Additionally, it occurred to me that the way you pose the question is not a match. I don’t have any enemies politically. It’s not really my country, it belongs to a vast array of competing interests most of whom my opinion matters to in no way whatsoever. No enemies. No good guys. No bad guys. As the Dave Mason song goes, “… only you and me and we just disagree.”

    And frankly, I don’t think anybody even wants to fix that. Or could if they wanted to. Maybe the kids I see in high school now will be able to do better when they grow up and take over. I hope so.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    I would also be ok with adding Puerto Rico to another state. Perhaps South Dakota could be very south.

    Ok, now I want Caribbean Dakota.

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  11. R. Dave says:

    In general, I am of the view that it is likely that the aftermath of Hurricane Maria will have enhanced Puerto Ricans’ interest in statehood. After all, they had a front row seat to what it looks like when the island needs the federal government, but no one in the federal government is electorally accountable to the over four million US citizens on the island.

    Just an anecdote, but my wife’s family is all still in PR, and they definitely shifted away from their “status quo is the right balance” position and closer to a reluctant “maybe statehood is necessary” position after Maria. PROMESA and the FCB had a pretty big impact on their attitude as well, which surprised me a bit because they’re not at all the kind of political junkies that would normally follow that kind of thing. They resent the hell out of it and feel like if PR isn’t going to be allowed to govern its own affairs under the current arrangement, they should either become independent – which is obviously a non-starter for all but a handful of nationalist cranks these days – or finally bite the bullet and become a State. My wife was apoplectic about the Supreme Court’s rulings in the Sanchez Valle and Aurelius cases back in 2016 and likewise came around to thinking statehood is the only real option at this point.

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  12. Teve says:

    @R. Dave:

    d.

    Just an anecdote, but my wife’s family is all still in PR, and they definitely shifted away from their “status quo is the right balance” position and closer to a reluctant “maybe statehood is necessary” position after Maria.

    So Republican government failure might cause them, in the end, to get statehood. That’s grimly funny.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    Historically, statehood for Puerto Rico has been the Republican Party’s preference, at least as stated it the platform. Indeed, much more unequivocably than the Democratic platforms.

    PR statehood strikes me as reasonable, given that it’s of state size. Indeed, it would rank 31st, between Utah and Iowa, with 3,193,694 residents.

    I honestly wish we had a fair representation option other than statehood for DC and the other territories. They’re just too small:

    Guam 168,485
    U.S. Virgin Islands 106,235
    Northern Mariana Islands 51,433
    American Samoa 49,437

    Maybe we could treat them as an archipelago and admit them all as a single entity (American Oceana or some such).

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  14. @James Joyner: Ideally, we would have a special category of representation, but that would require an amendment.

    And thanks for the correction of PR’s pop. I was conflating PR, DC, and the territories (which together is roughly 4 million).

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  15. Joe says:

    There is so much that plebiscite results table above does not say. Bottom line, if Statehood won with 97.18% in 2017, why is the pro-Statehood party spending millions in a bankrupt territory to ask the question again? Answer is simple: holding plebiscites is what ignites the motivation of their constituents to get out and vote in the gubernatorial elections. They need their vote so they can have a chance to stay in power and continue their corruption. It is with good reason Donald Trump called the Puerto Rican political class as bunch of corrupt people. This corrupt political class wants Statehood so much they rigged the plebsicitary ballots in 1998, 2012, 2017 and now the one for November 2020. The way they asked and will ask the questions in the ballots seek to exclude the favored options which is the Commonwealth. That’s why the Dept of Justice told Congress in July of this year to not take in consideration the results of this exclusionary fake referendum to be held in November, where the “NO” will win, and where it will not mean that PR wants independence. 98% of Puerto Ricans repudiate independence. The Pro-Statehood political class crafted the ballot question in a way where “NO” means independence in their quest to scare voters to vote against “NO”, and favor Statehood in a territory where 77% repudiate Statehood.

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  16. José R Oyola says:

    Puerto Rico will become a serious candidate for statehood when its students reach top results in PISA test. US leaders will want to copy our competitive excellence and results. Now we are #61.

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  17. José R Oyola says:

    Statehood is like tango; one must take the lead. In this case, Congress holds all the cards, so it must decide based on its own interests, not the electorate in PR. Congress will decide to keep the Caribbean Island based on strategic concerns, often overlooked by political analysts. What determines PR’s strategic value? Solar technology potential, drug & shipping routes control, medical research facilities, air control, water supply & its skilled people. Political analysts only look at short-term political advantage of two parties. This is interesting but irrelevant for granting statehood. Analysts forget that residents in PR are US citizens, and move easily back and forth to 50 states, hence they are a neutral factor for making the strategic decision of maintaining control of the Caribbean island forever.

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  18. James Joyner says:

    Test

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  19. Grewgills says:

    @James Joyner:
    That works for Guam and the Marianna Islands, as they are an archipelago, or a near archipelago. American Samoa is quite a ways off, but has some cultural ties and so might be able to have similar enough interests for a grouping. Grouping American Samoa with Hawai’i would make as much sense. The Virgin Islands is further away from any of those than almost any other US state and is culturally very different. The only real similarity there is that they are all islands.

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  20. Raoul says:

    @Joe: 77% repudiate statehood? That’s a lie. You should be banned. Statehood support has hovered near 50% and may well go past it this time around despite you demeaning the intelligence of Puertorricans who according to you do not know what they are voting for. Go post to RT or endi where they will let you post your nonsense.

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  21. I totally disagree with the premise the everyone should take for granted the Puerto Rico, as a State, would produce Democratic Congressmen and Senators. I believe, it might be totally the opposite. My name is Gerardo Ramirez, paralegal. gerardoramirez1958@gmail.com

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  22. Raoul says:

    @Gerardo Ramirez: You are 100% correct. Though the demographics and economic situation would make one think the Island would be Democratic, there is enough animosity among to the political classes that I see a Republican Party rising from the ashes of the Commonwealth Party, partly because that’s where a lot of the old money is. Couple that with other issues I would guess the GOP has a fifty percent chance of getting one senate seat.

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