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Do Americans Want to Support Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico, just like Texas and Florida, needs support following the destruction caused by this year’s hurricane season. In news, on the internet, and in conversations around the country, you can find calls for donations, plans to help, and compassion for the problems both states are facing, and for the troubles Puerto Rico is facing, too.

One thing you can hear about Puerto Rico that you won’t hear in conversations about the states, though, is a conversation about whether the U.S. government should provide help for the territory.

Comments in social media like, “Why are we helping #PuertoRico at all? We should focus on problems in the US.” make it clear that some Americans don’t realize Puerto Rico is part of the United States.We never see comments like, “Why should we help Texas? Put America first!”.

Americans want to help fellow citizens.

Some do realize that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. and people born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States. These people, according to new research, are more willing to help Puerto Rico than those who aren’t aware of these facts.

538’s Poll of the Week  reported on Morning Consult’s survey in which they asked people in the states whether they approved of providing disaster relief to Puerto Rico.

  • Among those who knew that residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, 80% favored the aid.
  • Among those who thought Puerto Rico was a foreign country, only 40% favored disaster relief.

80% is the number of people who approved of aid for Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, so it is clear that understanding Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States makes a difference.

In fact, according to 538, supporters of President Trump were initially unlikely to support disaster relief for Puerto Rico (only 57% said yes) but when they were informed that people born in Puerto Rico are citizens, that percentage jumped to 67%.

Morning Consult also discovered in their survey that a mere 54% of Americans in the survey knew that Puerto Rico is in fact owned by the United States. The survey was conducted after Hurricane Maria. A study last year found that fewer than half of people surveyed on the mainland were aware of this, so there has been some improvement — but not enough.

Why don’t Americans know about Puerto Rico?

There are a number of likely reasons for U.S. ignorance:

  • Some Puerto Rico leaders have been intentionally misleading, calling Puerto Rico a “country” and discussing “national” issues in ways that unquestionably suggest that Puerto Rico is an independent nation.
  • Puerto Rico is not covered in most mainland U.S. schools. Territories are not included in most lessons on the 50 states and many states have no benchmarks related to Puerto Rico.
  • People confidently repeat claims about Puerto Rico that are incorrect. This is not something special about Puerto Rico. However, when half of the people in the country misunderstand the relationship of Puerto Rico and the U.S., their ignorance is contagious.

Knowledge can be contagious, too. Perhaps Puerto Rico’s presence in the headlines will help spread the truth about Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States.

Since Americans are twice as likely to support Puerto Rico when they know they would be supporting fellow citizens, this could make a big difference.

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