A Facebook page asked visitors a question: did they favor statehood for Puerto Rico? Visitors posted numerous responses. A direct count of reactions showed that the “yes” and “no” answers were nearly equal in number, but there were many lengthy comments as well.
It was clear that there were some common misconceptions, especially among those who spoke against statehood:
- Many respondents claimed that Puerto Rico had voted against statehood. While this was true in the 20th century, especially in the first status referendum in 1967, there have been three plebiscites in the current century, and statehood has been the clear winner in all three. In addition, the the initial ballots starting in 1967 contained a “commonwealth” option, which was defined differently each time, all of which have been soundly rejected as unconstitutional and/or inconsistent with U.S. law/policy.
- A number of respondents said they wouldn’t support statehood because Puerto Rico would be a blue state. In fact, Puerto Rico supports both Democratic and Republican candidates.
- There were also quite a few racist comments suggesting that Puerto Rico does not deserve statehood or would be a burden to the United States.
Supporters of statehood also showed some misconceptions:
- The idea that Puerto Rico would be a blue state turned up as a reason to support statehood as well as an argument against it.
- Some claimed that Puerto Rico is already a state.
- Others favored statehood but claimed that the U.S. doesn’t want Puerto Rico.
But there were still reams of comments from many different perspectives. It was easy for human readers to discount the inaccurate claims or to be distracted by aggressive tones. We turned to AI tools to help analyze the mass of data and get an unbiased analysis of the comments made.
Bard, the Google generative AI tool we chose for this project, provided an overview of the responses, saying, “The responses reveal a divided opinion on Puerto Rican statehood, with strong arguments expressed on both sides. While supporters emphasize self-determination, equality, and economic benefits, opponents raise concerns about cultural loss, political control, and potential burden on the US.”
The results did not distinguish between the opinions of people who live in Puerto Rico, who have been trending more strongly towards statehood, and those who have, it is said, “voted for statehood with their feet,” and embraced the broader U.S. culture but simultaneously argue for a pure Puerto Rico culture back home and may hold romanticized versions of what Puerto Rico independence may mean for the U.S. territory.
Bard identified the main reasons commenters gave for supporting statehood for Puerto Rico:
Respondents showed a strong desire for self-determination and equality. Many responses highlight the injustice of Puerto Rico’s current status as a territory, arguing for a voice in the US government and freedom to control their own destiny.
Economic benefits were also a common reason to favor statehood. Some believe statehood would bring economic advantages through increased federal funding and trade opportunities.
Social justice was a primary force behind statehood support. Comments about “stepchildren” and “crushed” independence movements underscore concerns about unequal treatment and historical injustices. The specific comments mentioned as examples include, “Yes! They are treated like stepchildren! They deserve a voice!” and “U.S. holds a territorial clause over the island, and all independent movements were crushed with long prison sentences.” The second quote doesn’t seem to support statehood, actually, but most of the time Bard understood the points being made.
Bard also identified reasons commenters gave for opposing statehood for Puerto Rico:
Cultural loss: Some fear statehood would lead to the erosion of Puerto Rican language and culture, with Puerto Rico’s special heritage absorbed by the US mainstream.
Political concerns were another reason for respondents to speak against statehood. Arguments about Republican opposition and potential burden on the US suggest anxieties about political representation and resource allocation.
Bard noticed the problem of widespread misinformation. Claims about Puerto Ricans not wanting statehood and being manipulated by the US appear unfounded and potentially discriminatory.
Bard noted that the survey prompts responses beyond a simple yes/no, revealing complex motivations and anxieties on both sides. The discussion also raises broader questions about colonialism, self-determination, and cultural identity within the US context. These factors contribute to the longstanding controversy and the difficulty of resolving it.
Misinformation and stereotypes are also part of the difficulty, though. Bard suggests that the frequent inaccuracies shown in discussions of Puerto Rico’s political status require careful consideration and accurate information dissemination.
While we did not ask for recommendations, Bard had some to share with us:
- Engaging in open dialogue and respectful discussions that acknowledge the diverse perspectives on this issue is crucial.
- Fact-checking and addressing misinformation are essential to ensuring informed decision-making.
- Understanding the historical context and ongoing struggles of Puerto Rico is vital for forming informed opinions on their future.
The Puerto Rico Report makes every effort to do all of these things.