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Deciphering Puerto Rico’s Election Results

Statehood won.  Pro-statehood Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi kept his seat.  On the other hand, anti-statehood Governor-elect Alejandro Garcia Padilla gained control of La Fortaleza , and anti-statehood legislators picked up enough seats in the Puerto Rican legislature to seize control from the pro-statehood party after eight years in the minority.

What does this all mean?

Some press is reporting that statehood’s victory in the polls has been undermined by local losses.  We take the opposite approach.  Puerto Ricans may have voted out individual candidates who adhere to the statehood position, but nevertheless – indeed, in the very same vote – they let it be known in a much broader sense that they seek statehood.  The quest for statehood appears to be stronger than any one person.

This is significant.  Voters have sent a powerful message that regardless of the specific officials who govern Puerto Rico and handle day-to-day matters, they would prefer to be a State.

We have written at length about Puerto Rico’s unique problems (and how those problems are exacerbated by Puerto Rico’s lack of representation in Congress) – poverty, unemployment and drug-related violence head the list.  The 2012 election was tough for any Puerto Rican incumbent, and although Resident Commissioner Pierluisi survived it, Governor Fortuno and many local legislators did not.

The tough, politically unpopular decisions Governor Fortuno made when he first assumed office hurt him and his party.  One of his first acts was to scale back the size of Puerto Rico’s government.  The financial markets responded favorably to Governor Fortuno’s decisions, but reducing the size of the local government’s workforce and implementing other budget cuts cost him votes.

So the people of Puerto Rico – a small majority, but a majority nonetheless – decided to elect a new governor.  They chose Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a representative of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which advised its supporters in the plebiscite to answer “yes” to the question of whether Puerto Rico “should continue to have its present form of territorial status.”  

In the race for governor, Garcia Padilla received 879,947 votes (47.79%) to Fortuno’s  867,129 votes (47.09%).  On the question of status, however,Garcia Padilla’s preferred “yes” option received 803,407 votes (46%) compared with 943,094 votes (54%) for “no.”

These numbers show that statehood won by a significantly higher margin than the gubernatorial race (8% versus 0.7%).  Yet while the upcoming swearing in of Garcia Padilla is all but guaranteed, the progression of the statehood vote is less certain.  Resident Commissioner Pierluisi has promised to advance the will of the people of Puerto Rico, but his job will be considerably more difficult if the losing side of the vote – the minority who voted to keep Puerto Rico as a territory – lobbies Congress to not honor the results of the November 6th vote.

Governor Fortuno has been accused by his opponents of holding the plebiscite to motivate his supporters to come to the polls – an accusation that implies broad recognition of the strong support for statehood.  Regardless, that’s not what happened.  Voters approved statehood for Puerto Rico even while they rejected the leader of Puerto Rico’s statehood party.  Statehood is a movement, and it is bigger than any one person.  That is a powerful message.

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