2017 Puerto Rico Referendum: Statehood Vote Incoming?

The 2017 Puerto Rico referendum on statehood, coming on June 11, may turn out just like the last one that came before it.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful Caribbean island with rich culture and tradition. A United States possession for over a century, it’s also mired in a deep fiscal crisis. Debt and unemployment are high, and residents are leaving for opportunity on the American mainland. Their governor, Ricky Rosselló, is strongly pro-statehood, partially as a means of helping to fix the island’s problems.

Five years ago, a majority of those selecting an option chose statehood, but only 54 percent wanted a change at all. There was also a large boycott via blank ballots that delegitimized the results in the eyes of many. No action was taken back then. Will the voters, and the Trump administration, follow Rosselló’s lead now?

2017 Puerto Rico Referendum Choices

The referendum was originally to have just two options: statehood or independence/free association. This was not an accident, as the governor’s party wanted limited options. Between that and the financial crisis, voters would be pushed into the arms of the pro-statehood crowd. However, it was not until the Trump administration intervened and requested that a third option be added that the result seemed in doubt. This new choice is “current territorial status.”

Scientific opinion polls are hard to come by, at least since the new option was added. Prior to the third choice, statehood held commanding majorities in surveys. Now the status quo is in the mix, this might not be the statehood slam dunk previously expected. With two options, that plebiscite was designed to firmly settle Puerto Rico’s status. At this point, however, things might stay the way they are.

What Happens After The 2017 Puerto Rico Referendum?

Donald Trump is unpopular in Puerto Rico to say the least. The president’s views on Puerto Rican statehood also offer little kindness to the island. While he has officially supported Puerto Rico making a determination on their status, he recently ranted on Twitter against bailing the island out of its crisis. It is unlikely they’ll find his support when and if the referendum offers a statehood vote.

Congress must act on any statehood admissions. Not since 1959 has a state joined the union, and even at that, Hawaii saw a less divided vote than Puerto Rico will. There may not be overwhelming sentiment, and even though Governor Rosselló intends to force the issue, Washington is the decider.

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