Ignorance About Puerto Rico a Continuing Problem

YouGov.com recently reported that there is widespread ignorance about Puerto Rico in the U.S. as a whole, based on a poll conducted by YouGov and The Economist.

Fewer than half of the people they surveyed knew that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States — and that included Hispanics as well as people of other ethnic backgrounds, and people from both political parties.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917 — nearly a century.

The fact that Americans as a whole don’t realize that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States is bound to have an effect on how the Island’s fellow citizens respond to news and issues about Puerto Rico.

Asked whether Puerto Rico should become an independent nation, continue as a territory, or become a state, respondents chose statehood most often:

  • statehood: 29%
  • independence: 20%
  • status quo: 25%

These numbers show a significant change since 1993, when ABC and the Washington Post asked people the same question. At that time, the answers fell out this way:

  • statehood: 24%
  • independence: 24%
  • status quo: 40%

In other words, status quo was clearly the most popular answer in 1993, but since then both independence and territorial status have lost ground and statehood has increased in popularity. This is the trend in Puerto Rico as well.

“Not sure” was actually the most popular answer in the recent YouGov poll — 26% of those surveyed chose not to take a position on the question. This makes sense, given that more than half of the respondents to the poll did not know that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. For these people, the question must have seemed comparable to a question like, “Should Finland become the 51st state?”

It’s equally understandable that most of the people who participated in the survey aren’t following Puerto Rico’s financial crisis very closely in the news — only 7% answered “yes” to that question, and more than half were not following the issue — and that they are up in the air on whether the U.S. should help Puerto Rico:

  • the U.S. should provide financial support: 34%
  • the U.S. should not provide financial support: 37%
  • Not sure: 34%
  • Congress should allow bankruptcy for Puerto Rico: 29%
  • Congress should not allow bankruptcy for Puerto Rico: 41%
  • Not sure: 21%

“Ignorance,” President Obama recently said in a commencement speech, “is not a virtue.” Since Puerto Rico does not have a voice in Congress apart from the non-voting Resident Commissioner, the people of Puerto Rico have to rely on the representatives of the States to do the right thing for Puerto Rico. Congressmen and Senators take positions based on the concerns of their constituents. With the majority of the people in the U.S. apparently unaware that Puerto Rico is populated by U.S. citizens, and only a minority of Americans following the subject in the news, Congress has little motivation to take action on Puerto Rico’s situation. Since Congress has the power in this situation, this widespread ignorance directly hinders Puerto Rico’s ability to cope with the crisis.

See the full data.

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