The Washington Post today described in a front page story how the exodus from Puerto Rico may determine the 2016 presidential election. The newspaper ran a second article online later today announcing an upcoming visit by presidential candidate Jeb Bush to Central Florida to appeal to the regioin’s “fast-growing Latino population.”
The statistics from 2010 to 2013 are the most recent firm figures, but it’s clear that the numbers of people leaving Puerto Rico for the States are increasing rather than decreasing. Florida has been a particularly welcome place for people from Puerto Rico since the 1970’s, when a core population began to settle in the Orlando area. Florida is also drawing people of Puerto Rican origin from the northern States which have historically had high concentrations of Puerto Rican migrants.
So there is a high concentration of Puerto Rican voters in Florida, and the number is likely to grow between now and the 2016 presidential elections.
Residents of Puerto Rico can’t vote in presidential elections, but they can vote in Democratic and Republican primaries. While Puerto Rico just celebrated a holiday in honor of Jose Celso Barbosa, one of the founders of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico more than a century ago, there are larger numbers of registered Democrats than Republicans in Puerto Rico. However, people in Puerto Rico affiliate politically based on their preference on Puerto Rico’s political status (independence, statehood or “Commonwealth“), and a survey of Puerto Rican voters in Central Florida found that the majority identified themselves as conservative, regardless of whether their national political party affiliation was Democrat or Republican.
So Florida’s Puerto Rican voters are not a known quantity. They may choose either party and any candidate.
Now think about Florida. Florida is a swing State — a State which may vote either way. In fact, it’s sometimes described as “the ultimate battleground state.” Many of the States in the Union are predictable “red” or “blue” states, tending to vote for the same party in each election cycle. The states that can swing either way are the ones that candidates really focus on. With 29 electoral votes, Florida is always important in presidential elections. In 2016, with thousands of new voters who don’t yet have a settled political allegiance, Florida may be more important than ever.
The Post quotes Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, as saying, “I think you are going to see a hyper-focus in Florida, the likes of which we have never seen. I do think Puerto Ricans can change the political landscape.”
So the new Puerto Rican voters in Florida are poised to make a big difference in the election.
While Puerto Ricans are not generally loyal to either national political party, there is an issue that means a lot to this voting population: statehood.
Among the Central Floridian voters surveyed, nearly 80% considered status resolution for Puerto Rico important. Not surprisingly, an equally large majority favor giving Puerto Rico a simple up or down vote on statehood. It is natural that those who have voted for statehood with their feet by coming to live in a State are interested in providing the same opportunity for equal rights and a political voice to their friends and family in Puerto Rico.
For candidates for the presidential race in 2016, this means that Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory is a topic that they may have to address. Jeb Bush has already stated his position. Hillary Clinton also issued a recent statement on Puerto Rican fiscal and economic issues, as have others. A new election year issue could be about to enter the national dialogue.
For recent Puerto Rican transplants to Florida, after living for many years as U.S. citizens in a territory with no voting representation on the presidential level, 2016 is poised to represent a significant increase in national relevance.