Three Numbers From New Hampshire’s 2020 Primary That Should Give Democrats Heartburn

I have been thinking a lot about the presidential elections. Could President Donald Trump win reelection? 

The newest national poll conducted by Emerson College has Trump beating all his Democratic rivals by slim margins. The exception is Bernie Sanders, who beats Trump by 2%. The recent ABC News/Washington Post survey has better news for Democrats as all the potential nominees beat Trump by a few percentage points. An USA Today/Suffolk University Poll from December 2019 finds that Trump wins by healthy margins if respondents are asked to choose between Trump, one of his Democratic rivals, and an unidentified third-party candidate. 

Seen through the lens of this November’s presidential elections, the results of the New Hampshire primaries offer Democrats three warning signs.

15%

Many of New Hampshire’s voters are registered as independents. The state’s Democratic primary is semi-closed. The exit polls that 52% of primary-goers this year are Democrats, 45% are independents and the rest were Republicans. 

New Hampshire may be once again a battleground state and in a tight election, its four electoral college votes could make a difference for either side. Thus, both parties need to attract independents, while energizing their base. This is not always an easy balance as efforts to increase one group of voters could dissuade the other group from turning out. 

The exit poll for the Democratic primary asked primary-goers if they would “vote Democratic in November regardless of nominee”. And 15% of respondents said “No”. More worrying, 27% of these respondents are Sanders supporters and 22% voted for Buttigieg. This means that around 10% of the state’s Democratic primary-goers could potentially either vote Republican, support a third-party candidate, or stay at home. 

-6%

Young voters part the Democratic Party’s coalition and in the past the Sanders campaign has energized this voting bloc. In 2016, the exit poll for the New Hampshire Democratic estimates that 19% of primary-goers were between the ages of 18–29. Sanders won 83% of these voters’ support.

The exit poll for the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary indicates that turnout among this voting group declined by 6%. Sanders won 47% of this vote, which is in line with our expectations. We see a similar pattern in this year’s Iowa Democratic caucuses. Voters ages 17–29 represented 13% —  a drop of 15% from 2016. Like in the Granite State, 47% of these young voters supported Sanders. 

Sanders argues that the only way Democrats will beat Trump is by expanding the electorate and obviously he believes that he is in the best position to do it. Will young voters, who are more diverse than older Americans, turnout in big numbers come November?

129,461

According to Dante Scala’s calculations, New Hampshire’s Democratic primary broke the 2008 voter turnout record. This is good news for Democrats, especially given the lower than expected voter turnout in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. 

Trump may be the incumbent, but he was still in the ballot in New Hampshire’s Republican primary. Unsurprisingly, the president won 88% of the vote. What was surprising was the estimated 146,896 Republican and independent voters, who participated in the primary.  

Why does this matter? Read the table carefully.

This year’s voter turnout may have not matched 1992 levels, but Trump won a bigger share of the vote than the other incumbent presidents, including Reagan!

Does this mean that Trump will win in November? Not necessarily. But Trump’s margin of victory is higher than other incumbent presidents, who successfully won re-election.

These three numbers — 15%, -6% and 129,461 — should give Democrats something to think about as they select their nominee and get ready for the general election.

Could President Donald Trump win reelection? The newest national poll conducted by Emerson College has Trump beating all his Democratic rivals by slim margins. The exception is Bernie Sanders, who beats Trump by 2%. The recent ABC News/Washington Post survey has better news for Democrats. All the potential nominees beat Trump by a few percentage points. An USA Today/Suffolk University Poll from December 2019 finds that Trump should win by healthy margins if respondents are asked to choose between Trump, one of the main Democratic candidates, and an unidentified third-party candidate.

Seen through the lens of this November’s presidential elections, the results of the New Hampshire primaries offer Democrats three warning signs.

15%

Many of New Hampshire’s voters are registered as independents. The state’s Democratic primary is semi-closed. The exit poll estimates that 52% of primary-goers this year were Democrats, 45% were independents, and the rest were Republicans.

New Hampshire may be once again a battleground state. In a close election, its four electoral college votes could make a difference to either side. Thus, both parties need to attract independents, while energizing their base. This is not always an easy balance as efforts to increase one group of voters’ participation could dissuade the other group from turning out.

The exit poll for the Democratic primary asked primary-goers if they would “vote Democratic in November regardless of the nominee” and 15% of respondents said: “No”. 

More worrying, 27% of these respondents are Sanders’ supporters and 22% voted for Pete Buttigieg. This means that around 10% of the state’s Democratic primary-goers could potentially vote for Trump, support a third-party candidate, or stay at home.

-6%

Young voters are integral part the Democratic Party’s coalition. The exit poll for the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic primary found that 19% of primary-goers were between the ages of 18–29. Sanders won 83% of these voters’ support.

The exit poll for the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary suggests that turnout among this voting group declined by 6%. Sanders won 47% of this vote, which is in line with our expectations. We see a similar pattern in this year’s Iowa Democratic caucuses. Voters ages 17–29 represented 13% — a drop of 5% from 2016. Like in the Granite State, 47% of these young voters supported Sanders.

Sanders argues that the only way Democrats will beat Trump is by expanding the electorate and obviously he believes that he is in the best position to do so. So far, Sanders’ candidacy has not increased voter turnout among this group. Will young voters, who are more diverse and progressive than older Americans, turnout in big numbers in November? 

129,461

According to Dante Scala’s calculations, New Hampshire’s Democratic primary broke the voter turnout record set in 2008. This is good news for Democrats, especially given the lower than expected voter turnout in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

Trump may be the incumbent, but he was still in the ballot in New Hampshire’s Republican primary. Unsurprisingly, the president won 88% of the vote. What was surprising was the estimated 146,896 Republicans and independents, who participated in the primary.

Why does this matter? The next table shows that Trump’s victory should not be taken lightly. 

Even though he did not face a serious challenge from Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts Governor and the Libertarian Party’s former vice presidential nominee in 2016, the Trump campaign was able to energize and mobilize their supporters. This year’s voter turnout may have not matched 1992 levels. However, Trump’s share of the vote is bigger than Reagan’s share!

Does this mean that Trump will win in November? Not necessarily. But the figure above shows that Trump’s victory is in line with the performance of other incumbent presidents who successfully won re-election.

Should We Reform the Electoral College? A Few Considerations

For the last days, I have been thinking about the way Americans elect their president and I am not the only way thinking about this issue, according to Google Trends data.

To win the presidency, a nominee has to earn a minimum of 270 electoral votes, rather than a majority of votes cast. This is not the place to review the history of the Electoral College (EC), but it is important to keep in mind that it totals 538 votes. Each state and the District of Columbia gets a proportional share of these electoral votes, according to the following formula:

  1. States receive two electoral votes, which corresponds to each’s allotment of two seats in the U.S. Senate.
  2. The remaining electoral votes are distributed among the 50 states based on each’s number of Congressional Districts.
  3. With the adoption of the 23rd amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the District of Columbia has three electoral votes.

The EC is a much-maligned system. In a recent town-hall, Massachusetts Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren explained why she wants to get rid of the EC and let Americans vote directly for their president. Here is one of Senator Warren’s tweets summarizing her position:

Unsurprisingly, Republicans oppose her proposal. For example, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted:

Even President Donald Trump, who won the EC but lost the popular to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes, entered the debate, sharing his thoughts on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1108187855954870272

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1108190837257764864

What do Americans think of the EC? Do they want to get rid of it? Last summer, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a poll that found that close to two-thirds of Americans want to directly elect their president by popular vote. It also demonstrated that Democrats strongly favored getting rid of the EC while Republicans’ attitudes are mixed. A Rasmussen survey of likely voters carried out in early October 2018 did not corroborate the PRRI’s findings. Only 46% of respondents favored “eliminating” the EC. In December 2016, Gallup found that 49% of Americans wanted “to amend the Constitution to allow for a popular vote for president”, but this was lower than the 62% of respondents who in 2012 wanted to get rid of the EC. In addition, Gallup’s research also suggested that 81% of left-leaning and 19% of right leaning Americans wanted to do away with the EC.

While many Americans are dissatisfied with the EC, amending the constitution is unrealistic in today’s hyperpartisan environment. So what can we do?

One solution, as Jamelle Bouie recently argued in the pages of The New York Times, is for states to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This initiative is quite simple. It requires states (and the District of Columbia) to pledge their delegates to the winner of the national popular vote. So far, 13 states, equaling 181 electoral votes, have passed legislation supporting this project. But the system goes into effect once the initiative attracts 270 electoral votes.

StateGovernorState Legislature2016 Pres. WinnerVote Margin
CADemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton30%
CODemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton5%
CTDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton16%
DCDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton86%
HIDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton32%
ILDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton17%
MARepublicanDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton27%
MDRepublicanDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton26%
NJDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton14%
NYDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton25%
RIDemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton16%
VTRepublicanDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton26%
WADemocratDemocratic MayorityHillary Clinton16%

While other states are considering joining the Compact, the biggest hurdle, as the table shows, is that Republicans still dominate a majority of the states’ legislatures and governor mansions across the country. For now, the Compact is an unrealistic option.

Another solution could be for states to adopt what I call the Maine-Nebraska Model or what is also known as the “Congressional District Method“. These two states distribute their electoral votes using the following formula:

  1. The winner of the popular vote receives the two electoral votes associated with their states’ representation in the U.S. Senate.
  2. A presidential candidate can lose the state’s popular vote, but still earn electoral votes if he or she can win a majority of the vote in each of the state’s Congressional Districts.

In 2008, Nebraska split its electoral votes, awarding John McCain four of its five electoral votes and one to Barack Obama. Obama won the majority of the vote in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Omaha and its suburbs. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won three of Maine’s four electoral vote, while Donald Trump won the electoral vote of the mostly-rural 2nd Congressional District.

What if all the states adopted this Maine-Nebraska Model? Would it have affected the results of the 2016 presidential race?

The table below includes numbers for the actual outcome of the elections, while the next column looks at the results if we apply the Maine-Nebraska Model. The table also includes the number of Congressional Districts and states each candidate won. The last column shows who won the District of Columbia’s three electoral votes.

Actual OutcomeMN_ModelStatesCongressional DistrictsDC
Clinton232237201943
Trump306301302410

If all states had apportioned their electoral votes using Maine’s and Nebraska’s approach, President Trump would have still comfortably won the presidency. Should this disqualify this alternative to the EC?

Let us apply the Maine-Nebraska Model to the 2012 and the 2008 presidential elections.

Actual OutcomeMN_ModelStatesCongressional DistrictsDC
Obama332265262103
Romney206273242250

Under the Maine-Nebraska Model, President Obama would have been a one-term president. And Obama’s victory in 2008 would have been narrower.

Actual OutcomeMN_ModelStatesCongressional DistrictsDC
McCain173255281990
Obama365283222363

What if we applied the model to the 2004 and 2000 elections?

Actual OutcomeMN_ModelStatesCongressional DistrictsDC
Bush286318312560
Kerry251220191793
Actual OutcomeMN_ModelStatesCongressional DistrictsDC
Bush271300302400
Gore268238201953

Under the Maine-Nebraska Model, President Bush would have earned more electoral votes in both elections.

What can we learn from this analysis? If we agree we Senator Warren’s belief that we need to change the EC in order to force presidential candidates to campaign outside “battleground states”, the Maine-Nebraska Model accomplishes this goal. After all, would Maine or Nebraska have received any attention during the last presidential elections, if they distributed their electoral votes as the other 48 states?

It is important to note that Senator Warren would probably not support the Maine-Nebraska Model. But, her desire to eliminate the EC is unrealistic. Amending the constitution will not take place in the next years.

Republicans’ opposition to reforming the EC is understandable. If it was not for the EC, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton would have won their respective races. But if public opinion starts to turn against the EC, Republicans could propose that states adopt Maine’s and Nebraska’s approach as a measure that seems more democratic than the current electoral system.

Would this be good for democracy? It would be a step in the right direction. But the chances that states will adopt Maine’s or Nebraska’s approach is also a long shot. It is not in either party’s interest. By turning battleground states into battleground districts, the parties would have to adapt their campaigning structures and raise more money to target even more districts.

For now, it seems we will just have to accept the EC’s limitations as it is unlikely that Americans will be able to reform or replace the current electoral system.

Americans’ Opinions of FEMA’s Responses to Alabama and Puerto Rico

On March 3, 2019, a series of tornadoes hit towns across Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. The worst one decimated a number of communities around Beauregard, Alabama, claiming 23 lives and injuring close to 100.  The next morning President Trump tweeted:

FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes. @GovernorKayIvey, one of the best in our Country, has been so informed. She is working closely with FEMA (and me!).

Needless to say, President Trump’s words angered many. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be impartial when it reacts to a natural disaster, the tweet suggests that the President affects the amount of assistance FEMA provides. Has Trump be playing favorites, favoring red states over blue states? Have his negative views of Puerto Rico explain why the federal government has been slow at disbursing the funds appropriated to finance the island’s recovery?

This is likely to become an issue in next year’s presidential elections. For instance, both Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro have recently visited Puerto Rico to highlight the Trump administration’s “‘disrespectful’ treatment”  of the island’s 3.3 million U.S. citizens. Do Americans share Warren’s or Castro’s views?

The most recent Economist/YouGov Poll (March 10-12, 2019) asked its panel the following question: “Do you think the federal government was more responsive to the tornadoes in Alabama or the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?” 

Do you think the federal government was more responsive to the tornadoes in Alabama or the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands_

Sadly, but not surprisingly, many Americans think that the federal government has favored Alabama over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Could this be problematic for the White House? A close look at the survey’s crosstabs show that 66% of Democrats believe the federal government favored Alabama over the other U.S. territories, while only 32% of independent and 28% of Republicans share this opinion. 

The survey also asked respondents to evaluate the President Trump’s and the federal government’s response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. This is the fifth time this survey posed this question, allowing us to track Americans’ attitudes for the past 18 months. 

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump handled the response to Hurricane Maria_

The numbers have not fluctuated too much since YouGov asked this question in last year’s surveys. As noted above, partisanship determines how negatively respondents feel about Trump’s handling of the response. Thus, 80% of Democrats disapprove of his response, while 77% of Republicans approve of his performance. Independents, an important voting group, are more divided with 31% approving and 39% disapproving of President Trump’s actions.

Respondents were also asked to rate the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria. 

Do you think the federal government has responded adequately to Hurricane Maria or could it be done much better_

As noted above, there is not too much change in the last few months. Republicans are more likely to have positive views of the government’s response, while Democrats are more critical. Today, 43% of independents tend to be critical, though this represents a 4% drop from September 2018.

How salient is this issue? Will it affect the 2020 presidential elections? Right now, other issues will likely overshadow the Trump administration’s treatment of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. But this issue will prove be problematic with President Trump in Florida, a state he needs to win if he hopes to win reelection.

Author’s Note: A version of this post is also found in the The Puerto Rico Data Lab, a blog I created to reflect on US-Puerto Rico relations in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. You can follow me in Twitter at the following accounts: @cyordan or @pr_datalab.

Did the Trump Administration Favor Texas and Florida Over Puerto Rico? FEMA’s Data Says…

A version of this post was published in Pasquines on December 19, 2018.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, dated September 19, 2018, Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood governor, noted that:

“The ongoing and historic inequalities resulting from Puerto Rico’s territorial status have been exacerbated by a series of decisions by the federal government that have slowed our post-disaster recovery, compared to what has happened in other jurisdictions stateside.”

Earlier in September, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo argued that:

“President Trump never tried to help Puerto Rico. Florida got attention, Texas got attention, and Puerto Rico got the short end of the stick.”

For his part, President Trump has defended his administration’s response to the island. He told reporters that the response  to Puerto Rico was the “toughest” of last year’s disasters. Trump described the administration’s response as an “unsung success,” and he even noted with a sense of pride that “we had been given A-pluses for” Texas and Florida and that “in a certain way the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, it’s harder to understand.” In a tweet questioning the George Washington University study, commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico, that estimates that Hurricane Maria caused close to 3,000 deaths, Trump stated:

“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

Are Rossello and Cuomo correct in saying that the Trump administration treated Puerto Rico differently than Florida or Texas? Given that Trump mentioned the “Billions of Dollars” he has raised to help rebuild the island, have the states affected by Hurricanes Harvey or Irma received more money than Puerto Rico? Has Puerto Rico’s territorial status prevented Rossello’s administration from securing funds for the island in Congress, as many pro-statehood leaders have said?

These are difficult and controversial questions. But answers to them can help us think about the state of U.S.-Puerto Rico relations in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In this short analysis, I want to compare FEMA’s response to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. I will only focus on two variables. First, I will examine FEMA’s cost-sharing formula for these jurisdictions. Second, I investigate the total amount of disaster relief funds FEMA has already obligated and expended in the states or territories affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. In a future analysis, I will look more closely at other sources of federal spending, as most of the funding available to states and territories in the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergencies does not come FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund. I will also explore whether these federal contracts are benefiting local contractors or out-of-state ones.

Before we look at these numbers, it is important to keep in mind three observations. First, Hurricane Maria was not the costliest storm of 2017, though it was the deadliest.

Second, as the effects of natural disasters have become more costly over time, the federal government’s financial response has not. For example, while Hurricane Katrina caused damages of $165 billion the federal government spent around $115 billion in its response. Third, the disbursement of federal disaster assistance can be very slow, as the reconstruction of New Orleans after Katrina shows.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act establishes that the federal government is a partner to local and state governments when they address the effects of natural disasters or other emergencies.  As part of this partnership, the law assumes that state and local governments will “contribute toward some of the costs incurred by the disaster response and recovery programs.” This is what is known as the cost-share and the Stafford Act’s formula specifies that the federal government at a minimum will be responsible for 75% of the costs. The governor (or tribal chief) can ask the FEMA Administrator to readjust this formula, but the president must approve the request. The readjustment takes into consideration the severity of the natural disaster and the state’s capacity to lead and to finance short-term emergency efforts and long-term recovery ones.

This cost-sharing applies to FEMA’s public assistance grant program, which includes “emergency work” and “permanent work.” Two types of projects fall under “emergency work”: Category A – Debris Removal and Category – B Emergency Protective Measures. Most of these projects should be completed within the first six months of the incident, though the FEMA Administrator can expand the time-frame by another 6 months.

The next set of graphs compares the cost-share ratios for Category A and Category B projects in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

FEMA also funds “permanent work” projects and these fall under the following categories: Category C – Roads and Bridges; Category D – Water Control Facilities; Category E – Public Building and Contents; Category F – Public Utilities; and Category G – Parks, Recreation Facilities and Other Facilities. The goal of these projects is “to restore a damaged facility, through repair or restoration, to its pre-disaster design, function, and capacity in accordance with applicable codes and standards.” If applicants want to make improvements and FEMA approves the plans, federal funding will only be used to cover restoration costs and the applicant will pay the difference.

The next stacked bar graph looks at the cost-sharing formula for “permanent work” projects in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

These three graphs make it clear that Puerto Rico has benefited from FEMA’s decision to adjust the cost-sharing formula in different project categories. While it is true that Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, Hurricane Harvey’s damages were costlier. 


Let us look at FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund’s obligations and expenditures connected to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The U.S. General Accounting Office defines an obligation as “a definite commitment that creates a legal liability for the government for the payment of goods and services ordered or received.” An expenditure, on the other hand, “is an amount paid by federal agencies by cash or cash equivalent, during the fiscal year to liquidate government obligations.” In addition, these funds are not only applicable to Texas, Florida or Puerto Rico. They apply to states or jurisdictions affected by these hurricanes. Thus, disaster relief funds for the U.S. Virgin Islands can be either catalogued under Hurricanes Irma or Maria.

Even though Puerto Rico has received a higher number of funds, it is important to note that the disbursement has been slower. In Texas and Florida, over 75% of the obligated funds have already been spent, while in Puerto Rico the figure is 67%. While this discrepancy may explain Governor Rossello’s frustration with the recovery process, the graph shows that the federal government has not forgotten about Puerto Rico. In other words, the expended relief funds represent around 16% of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product (GDP), while they only account for approximately 0.28% of Texas’s GDP and 0.26% of Florida’s.

What can we learn from this analysis? There are at least three important lessons. First, Puerto Rico has not been forgotten by the federal government. There is little doubt that FEMA’s response to Puerto Rico was initially slow and that the FEMA Administrator has openly admitted to this reality. But the Trump administration has not only provided more funding to Puerto Rico’s recovery than any other state, but it has also agreed to pay for a higher share of these efforts.

Second, Puerto Rico’s authorities lacked the capacity to deal with Hurricane Maria’s effects, forcing FEMA and other federal agencies to assume control over the island’s recovery. This has not been always the case. The Government of Puerto Rico’s lead the recovery efforts following Hurricane Georges in 1998, serving as a reminder that the current administration needs to develop the institutional capacity to address the effects of future natural disasters.

Finally, even though it is clear from all of President Trump’s tweets and statements that he has little empathy for Hurricane Maria’s victims, his attitudes toward Puerto Rico are not shared by the thousands of federal workers and soldiers who have worked hard to help Puerto Ricans affected by the storm. While the federal government has made mistakes in its reaction to the island’s challenges post-Maria, this analysis shows that the Trump administration has not ignored or abandoned Puerto Rico. The data also demonstrates that the federal government did not favor Texas or Florida over Puerto Rico.

About the author: Carlos L. Yordán is an associate professor of political science and international relations and the director of the Semester on the United Nations at Drew University in Madison, N.J. He is currently researching U.S.-Puerto Rico relations in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Fact-Checking Governor Ricardo Rossello’s Claims on Statehood for Puerto Rico

This post was published in Pasquines on October 4, 2018.  

At the end of September, Newsweek’s Robert Valencia interviewed Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood governor, Ricardo Rosselló. They met a few days after President Donald Trump told Geraldo Rivera that he did not support Puerto Rico’s statehood aspirations. The president also blamed the island’s recovery on Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, and other “incompetent” leaders. Rosselló used the interview to make a case for why Puerto Rico should be admitted as the nation’s 51st state.

In making his case for statehood,  Rosselló made two problematic statements that require further scrutiny. For example, he told Valencia that  “Prior to the storm, only 20 percent of U.S. citizens in the mainland knew that we were citizens, and now, more than 90 percent do.” For the governor, this is Hurricane Maria’s silver lining. But, it is not clear how Rosselló reached this conclusion, as survey data discredits his view.

For the last two years, The Economist/YouGov poll has asked its respondents the following question: “What is the national citizenship of a person born in Puerto Rico whose parents were both also born in Puerto Rico?” Let us look at the responses collected on May 2016 – as Congress debated the PROMESA bill, October 2017 – following Hurricane Maria,  and June 2018 – after the New England Journal of Medicine published a study argued that the storm claimed the lives of an estimated 4,465 individuals.

The results of the most recent poll are not too encouraging. The number of people who were “not sure” about Puerto Ricans’ citizenship status has increased in the last two years. While the increased media coverage of Hurricane Maria helped many Americans realize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the newest survey shows a substantial decrease in the number of Americans who understand this reality.

Trying to gauge Puerto Ricans’ support for statehood, Valencia asked Rosselló  whether the low participation rate in the June 2017 status plebiscite was an indication that Puerto Ricans “have lost interest in statehood.” He also asked the governor whether his constituents’ support for statehood has changed in the last year.

Rosselló  argued that “The only reason folks decided not to participate in the plebiscite last year was that they knew what the outcome was going to be: that people were going to support statehood.” He also stressed that the current “support for statehood is big.” Let us look at the first statement.

It is difficult to explain why voters did not participate in the referendum. El Nuevo Dia conducted a poll two weeks before the vote that found that 52% of registered voters favored statehood, while 11% noted that they would not participate in the process. Another survey predicted the statehood option would win with 56% support and it found that only 15% would either support the opposition parties’ call for a boycott of the plebiscite or would not vote.

Given that the average participation rate in past status plebiscites and referendums is 72%, why did so many registered voters abstain from the vote? After the plebiscite, Jose Alfonso, who conducted El Nuevo Dia’s poll, re-surveyed the respondents in the original study. Based on these conversations, he argues that only 7% did not vote to show solidarity with the boycott. Around half of the sample explained that did not vote because the results of the plebiscite were not binding. Another 24% of respondents explained that the process was not fair and that Rosselló’s New Progressive Party (NPP) had included status options that did not reflect voters’ preferences.

It is not also clear whether Puerto Ricans’ support for statehood has increased or decreased after Hurricane Maria. However, a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey, conducted in Puerto Rico this summer, concluded that 48% of Puerto Ricans support statehood and 26% the status quo. While 10% favor independence, 16% refused to answer the question or did know now which option to choose. These results clearly demonstrate that Rosselló has exaggerated Puerto Ricans’ support for statehood after Maria.

Why are Rosselló’s statements problematic? For statehood to become a reality, Rossello and the NPP’s leadership need to get their facts straight. While media coverage of Puerto Rico has increased in the United States since Hurricane Maria devastated the island’s infrastructure, there is little evidence that U.S. citizens in the mainland know more about Puerto Ricans’ legal status or support the island’s incorporation as the 51st state. Just because 97% of those who participated in the 2017 status plebiscite voted in favor of statehood does not mean that most Puerto Ricans support statehood. If Rossello and the NPP leadership want Puerto Rico to become the next state of the union, they have to recognize that the statehood movement still faces lots of obstacles and that the NPP will need to spend more time and resources persuading Americans, both in the island and the in the mainland, about the benefits of statehood for Puerto Rico and the nation as a whole.

About the author: Carlos L. Yordán is an associate professor of political science and international relations and the director of the Semester on the United Nations at Drew University in Madison, N.J. He is currently researching U.S.-Puerto Rico relations in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Would Americans Support a Reduction of the U.S.’s Contribution to the U.N. Regular Budget?

The U.N. General Assembly’s General Debate starts on September 25, 2018. This year’s theme is “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People.” While this is a lofty title, it fails to capture the U.N.’s short-term challenges: convincing the Trump administration’s of its relevance. 

Since he announced his candidacy for the presidency, Donald Trump has questioned the significance of multilateral institutions and the rules that guide the global trading system. He has even been chastised U.S. relations with Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and other European states. So it is not surprising that President Trump thinks that the U.S. needs to rethink its foreign policy priorities and it should only finance those international institutions that advance the nation’s interests. This explains why the Trump administration has decided to stop funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA, in late August 2018. 

The U.S. currently pays 22% of the U.N. Regular Budget, which finances the organization’s Secretariat and many of the U.N.’s policies. The current U.N. Regular Budget (2018-19), which is for two years, is $5.4 billion and the U.S. contributes around $1 billion during this time period. Even though the U.N. Secretary General had proposed to cut the current budget by $193 million, the U.S. forced the the U.N. to further reduce the budget by $93 million to achieve a 5% reduction of the amount budgeted for the U.N. in 2016-17.

What do Americans think of the U.S. contributions to the U.N. Regular Budget? Do they want the U.S. to cut its funding or withhold it as a way to penalize the U.N. for thwarting U.S. interests?

The Better World Campaign (BWC), a non-profit group that is trying to strengthen the bonds between the U.S. and the U.N., have been conducting public opinion surveys of American attitudes towards the U.N. since 2009. Its newest poll was conducted a year ago after President Trump delivered his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Polling from the BWC not only finds that Americans have favorable views of the U.N., but that these positive opinions have increased over time. According to latest figures, 65% of Americans have a positive opinion of the U.N., while 28% have a unfavorable view.

This chart summarizes the proportion of Americans who view the United Nations favorably.

Given the fact that so many Americans have a favorable attitude to the U.N., they should be critical of any effort to cut the U.N. Regular Budget or withhold payment of U.S.’s contribution as way to penalize the U.N. when it contradicts American foreign policy interests. 

Since 2019, the BWC’s polls have asked the following question:

Each member-nation of the UN pays a portion of the UN regular budget in the form of dues. These dues are based on a member-nation’s capacity to pay or its share of world income. The U.S. represents approximately 25% of the world’s income, and is assessed to pay 22% of the UN’s budget. Knowing this do you favor or oppose the U.S. paying our dues to the UN on time and in full?

Using the Better World Campaign survey's findings, Americans overwhelmingly favor the U.S. paying its dues to the U.N. Regular Budget.

These findings suggests that most Americans would not support the Trump administration’s efforts to politicize the U.N. budgetary process. But, this is not actually the case.

The last BWC survey (October 2017) asked respondents to rate portions of President Trump’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly using 1-100 scale, where 100 represents the strongest support for the statement. The BWC asked respondents to rate the following statement:

“The United States bears an unfair cost burden for the United Nations’ budget, but, to be fair, if the United Nations could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it.”

U.S. President Donald Trump
Respondents were asked to rate their support for a portion of the President Trump's speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017. In the statement, the president considers whether the U.S. contributions to the U.N. are unfair. In this rating, "100" equals the strongest support for the statement and "1" the lowest support.

Given that President Trump is a very divisive figure, it is interesting that many of the people who strongly supported paying in full the U.S.’s dues to the U.N. Regular Budget also support his views. Indeed, 20% of respondents fully agreed with the statement and another 42% gave it ratings ranging from 80 to 100 points. 

Even though the surveys of the BWC find that most Americans have favorable views of the U.N. and many of its policies, other surveys demonstrate that Americans are a lot of more critical of the U.N.

Since the 1950s, Gallup has been asking respondents the following question: “Do you think the United Nations is doing a good job a poor job in trying to solve the problems it has had to face.” As the next chart demonstrates, Americans’ opinions of the U.N. have shifted over time. Compared to BWC survey’s results, the Gallup’s findings show that many Americans give the U.N. poor marks.

Using Gallup data, the chart summarizes Americans' attitudes of U.N. efforts to address the world's problems.

It is difficult to explain why Americans have these different views about the UN and why so many agree with President Trump’s statement. But, it is worth noting that Trump’s remarks stress that if the U.N. could deliver on its promises, “this investment would be easily worth it”. Trump’s views force respondents to question whether the U.N. is doing a “good” or a “poor” job – to use the Gallup survey’s characterization. Thus, this could explain the disparity in the BWC survey between those that strongly want the U.S. government to pay its dues fully and on time versus those respondents who support Trump’s statement. 

Given that the BWC and Gallup surveys fail to give us a crosstabulation of their findings, it is difficult to see which Americans are most supportive or most critical. The Pew Research Center has conducted surveys on American’s public opinion of the U.N. for the last two decades. And one of their key findings is respondents’ party affiliation affects their views of the U.N. In 2016, 43% of Republicans had a favorable view of the U.N., while the same was true for 80% of Democrats and 64% of independents.

In this post, we considered whether the U.S. public would support the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce its contribution to the U.N. Regular Budget or to withhold payment of its dues as a way to penalize policies carried by the U.N. While most Americans want the U.S. to pay in full and in time its budgetary contributions, many Americans also agree with President Trump’s view that the U.S. contribution is “unfair”. Given the Gallup poll’s findings, we should expect President Trump to continue his line of attack to make sure the U.N. and the Secretary General do not contradict U.S. interests.

This brief analysis demonstrates that the U.N. leadership’s short-term challenge is not to convince “all people” of the U.N.’s current relevance. The Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and his colleagues have to also persuade President Trump that America’s budgetary contributions will help the U.N. advance its interests. If the Trump administration decides to cut its funding or delay payment, the U.N. will have also curtail its activities, jeopardizing its 2030 Agenda

About the author: Carlos L. Yordán is a long-time observer of the United Nations. He is currently associate professor of political science and international relations & director of the Semester on the United Nations at Drew University.

Does Donald Trump Care about Puerto Ricans Affected by Hurricane Maria?

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico’s southeast coast on September 20, 2017. Despite all the ups and downs associated with the island’s slow recovery after the storm, one thing seems to pretty steady. President Donald Trump and his White House have been arduously working to make sure that Hurricane Maria does not become the President’s Katrina. 

Many experts believe that the Bush administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans and communities along Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s coast hurt President George W. Bush’s approval ratings and undermined his leadership on domestic issues.  

Once it became clear that Hurricane Florence was going to hit the southeast coast of the United States, President Trump knew that he had to go on the offensive and show that his administration was ready to respond to the storm’s future impact. On September 12, 2018, Trump tweeted:

We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!

Other tweets followed, reassuring Americans that FEMA and first-responders “are supplied and ready” and asking those people in the path of the storm to “follow local evacuation orders”.

President Trump’s views on Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Maria set off a media storm. Rather than ignoring the criticisms, he doubled his efforts. In one of his tweets, he cited Fox Business News Lou Dobb’s view that: “The people of Puerto Rico have one of the most corrupt governments in our country”, alleging that the island’s slow recovery rested in the hands of the local government. He then had the audacity to  question the validity of a new study conducted by George Washington University on behalf of the Government of Puerto Rico that estimates the death-toll associated with Hurricane Maria was close to 3,000 lives.

What do Americans think of President Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria? Do they think that he cares for to needs of the victims of this Category 4 storm?

The recent Economist/YouGov poll (September 16-18, 2018) can help us answers these two questions. It is worth noting that this polling firm has asked the same questions three times since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, helping us understand whether American public opinion has shifted in this time period.

These questions were first asked on October 1-3, 2017 as President Trump visited Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to survey the hurricane’s damages. The questions were fielded again on June 3-5, 2017 after the publication of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that questioned the Government of Puerto Rico’s mortality data following Hurricane Maria and estimated that hurricane-related deaths stood between 793 and 8,498.

Let’s look at respondents’ answers to the first question.

It seems that Americans are slightly more critical of the president’s handling of Hurricane Maria. Have his tweets hurt his political standing among his supporters or independent voters?

It is worth noting that President Trump did not address Puerto Rico’s slow recovery or the controversy regarding the Puerto Rico Government’s inability to account for all the hurricane-related deaths. This could explain why his political standing with his supporters may have declined in early June 2018. The important finding is that his base thinks that his response to Hurricane Maria was the right one.

Given that the midterm elections are around the corner, it is important to considering whether independents approve or disapprove of the president’s response to Hurricane Maria.

While independents are more critical today of President Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria, it is worth emphasizing that his standing has slightly improved with this voting group since June.

Needless to say, the president’s strongest critics identify as Democrats. In October 2017, 54% of Democrats disapproved of his handling of the situation increasing to 73% today.

The Economist/YouGov Poll also asked respondents the following question: “How much do you think Donald Trump cares about the needs and problems of people affected by Hurricane Maria?” This question, as I noted in a previous post, is basically asking respondents to look past policy issues and to judge his moral character and his empathy towards others.

It is clear that while 46% of Americans approve of his handling of Hurricane Maria, many question his empathy towards the victims of the storm. This is even true among his strongest supporters.

Today 6 in 10 Democrats believe he does not care “about the needs and problems of people affected by Hurricane Maria”, while 37% of independents feel the same way.

Could these attitudes affect President Trump’s job approval? It is difficult to say. So far, it seems that while Trump’s supporters have problems with his moral character, they are not ready to abandon him at this point. We even see this attitudes with some members of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party (NPP), which currently controls Puerto Rico’s governorship and the legislature. While many Puerto Ricans were angered by Trump’s tweets, many of the NPP leaders, who identify as Republicans, publicly defended the president’s response.

So far, it is difficult to say whether or not Americans believe that Hurricane Maria is Trump’s Katrina or whether the island’s slow recovery will hurt his future electoral prospects.What is clear is that many Americans still support Trump, though many do question his character. While this may seem strange, it is important to remember that as electoral races across the country start to intensify, the American public will become more polarized. Thus, we should expect that Trump’s support among Republicans and among his more ardent supporters to grow, regardless of how they feel about his moral deficiencies.

NOTE: In the next weeks, the Puerto Rico Data Lab will be transition to this new site. For now, I will be publishing the same post in both platforms.