Rick DeSantis and Marco Rubio both swept into wins in the midterm elections, DeSantis as Governor of Florida and Rubio keeping his seat in the Senate.
Both were supported by Puerto Rican voters in Florida. While early polls showed Puerto Rican voters trending toward Democratic candidates, that’s now how election night played out.
According to NBC exit polling data, 54% of Puerto Rican voters chose Governor DeSantis for a second term, an increase of 20% from the first time he was on the ballot for Florida Governor in 2018.
A Politico analysis further explained: “Headed into Election Day, there were clear signs that Republicans would sweep many races. But DeSantis’ win was epic in its scope as he not only took Miami-Dade County — long the firewall for Democrats — but he also won relatively reliable Democratic-leaning counties such as Palm Beach and Osceola. Osceola County is especially notable since it contains a huge contingent of Puerto Rican voters.”
DeSantis called it a “win for the ages.”
The voter intensity issue
Three days before election day, former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (D-FL) published an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel in which she explained that “the most important question” that an office seeker has to answer is “what is a person’s ‘voting intensity’ issue.”
Ros-Lehtinen went on to explain that a new study by Florida’s James Madison Institute “tells us without a doubt and using hard data that the voting intensity issue for the 1.1 million Central Floridians of Puerto Rican descent is openness to Puerto Rican statehood. Two-thirds to three-fourths of these voters favor statehood for Puerto Rico, according to recent polls.” she wrote.
“Florida’s voters of Puerto Rican descent have all the same general issue intensities this year as anyone else — inflation, the cost of groceries and gasoline, the border, and crime. But what makes them stand out is a passionate issue uniquely their own — wanting to see their ancestral homeland of Puerto Rico become a state.”
“This is not just another preference, but a voting intensity,” Ros-Lehtinen continued. “Eighty-five percent of these Floridians found the issue of Puerto Rican statehood to be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important. The status issue ranked much higher than other issues in order of importance to these voters. Seventy-one percent are more likely to vote for a candidate (of either political party) who is open to Puerto Rican statehood.”
Although the Democratic candidate for Governor, Rep. Charlie Crist, had made his support for Puerto Rico statehood explicit, DeSantis was able to neutralize the issue with his own sponsorship of Puerto Rico statehood legislation when he served in the House of Representatives and subsequent treatment of the issue.
As Ros-Lehtinen pointed out to potential voters in her Sunday op-ed, Gov. DeSantis has been “respectful and open to the idea with those for whom it was their vote intensity issue.”
The common view
This information conflicts with the common view that Puerto Ricans will automatically vote Democratic.
Former U.S. Representative Bob Cortes (R-FL) once explained, “Often considered the ‘swingiest’ of the swing Hispanic voters, Puerto Ricans are this way because of their migration pattern. The first wave of Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida many years ago did not come directly from Puerto Rico. Many retired from their jobs in places like New York, Chicago, Massachusetts and other northern states where they were registered Democrats. Hence, many Puerto Ricans from that wave are registered Democratic, not Republican.”
On the other hand, as former Rep. Cortes pointed out, “[t]he latest wave of Puerto Ricans came directly from the island shortly after Hurricane Maria…These voters are more in tune with issues of interest and concern back on the island at home such as statehood and self-determination.”
Pew Research’s recent report on Latino voters found a slight majority of Puerto Rican voters favoring Democratic candidates. However, the overall research shows that Hispanic voters are not a monolithic voting bloc. Puerto Rico reliably elects both Republican and Democratic leaders, with the issue of political status driving the distinction.
Statehood in particular has long been a bipartisan issue, with several Republican presidents supporting the admission of Puerto Rico as a state.