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Hawaii, of course, is a state.  And there's 600,000 Pacific Islanders on the mainland, along with 3.4 million Puerto Ricans, 1.2 million Cubans, 0.8 million Dominicans, and 1.7 million from the West Indies.  So there's actually a large number of Pacific Islanders and Caribbean Americans who, if citizens, can vote in the United States federal elections and do have representation.

But Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are all United States Territories, and they do not have voting representatives in Washington DC, nor can they participate in the electoral college.  (Additional US Territories have populations ranging from none to a handful.)

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Ten Second Summary

Expanding the electorate is a good thing.  Territories that want federal representation - voting federal representation - should be able to get it.  And chances are, they would elect Democrats in a nice little progressive feedback loop.

To Vote

What if all these Territories wanted federal representation?  Whether through statehood or some other status (which would require a constitutional amendment), let's just look at the numbers for a minute and ignore the politics of achieving representation or whether it is desired.

Puerto Rico: Easy.  About the population of Oregon or Kentucky, it clearly deserves two Senators, a half dozen representatives, and 7 or 8 electoral votes.

The rest: Harder.  The biggest, Guam, has less than half the population of Wyoming at 170,000; the smallest, American Samoa, has 57,000.  Right now we have the Senators from California representing 70 times the population as the Senators from Wyoming, which isn't all that great, but they would represent 646 times the population of a theoretical State of Samoa.  That just seems out of whack.

If we lumped the remaining territories all together it's 423,000 people, still 100,000 less than Wyoming, but not that out of line.  However, creating one state that spans half the globe is absurd in so many ways.

A combination of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands is more realistic geographically, culturally, and politically, and would result in a state with a population about half that of Wyoming - not too bad.  

Another possibility entirely would be to have non-state entities with fractional votes, and current political boundaries would stay the same.  So for instance, the Virgin Islands would get one Senator and one Representative, but the Senator would only have, say, 0.5 votes and the Representative would have 0.25 votes.

That, of course, is just the simple mathematical view that ignores people completely.  

Let the People Speak

What do people want?

Puerto Rico:  47% voted for statehood in 1998 ("none of the above" actually won); 57% said they preferred statehood over the status quo or independence in a 2008 poll - 77% preferred statehood if independence were the only other choice; and the party advocating statehood won major victories in the 2008 elections, although this is not necessarily because of their stance on statehood.  (It's possible these numbers overstate support for statehood because the first choice of many may not have been listed as an option.)  In other words, at most about half the population supports statehood, but this number may be increasing.  Political status aside, there seems to be greater support for voting in presidential elections, however, as elected officials quickly voted to do so when given the chance in 2000.  

US Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa: The webpage of Representative Donna Christensen (VI) prominently features a proposed amendment, supported by Madeleine Bordallo (GU) and Eni Faleomavaega (AS), which gives territories the right to vote for president.  

Northern Mariana Islands and Guam:
 Some distant rumblings of statehood.

Democratic Leaning

The chart below shows how Pacific Islanders and Caribbean Americans voted in 2008; in the cases of American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands, other competitive races were used instead of the presidential race.  (Yes, Guam voted for president; their votes just didn't count for anything in the electoral college.)  All non-voting delegates to the US House from territories caucus with the Democrats.

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Except for Cuban-Americans, we have a bunch of Democratic-leaning populations here - this year.  Native Hawaiians and Chamorros are likely showing a bit of a home state (ocean?) bias towards Obama, as he grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, although a contested Democratic primary in Guam probably helped too.  Among the entire population (not just Pacific Islanders), Obama improved over Kerry's performance by 27 points in Guam and 18 points in Hawaii, far more than the national average; I estimate about a 20-25 point improvement among Native Hawaiians as well.

Puerto Ricans aren't guaranteed to vote the same way as their relatives who live in New York, either.  It's still a strong indication that they would be likely to vote Democratic at the federal level, however.

Because there can be a disconnect between party politics on a local and national level, the estimates for American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands have an extra factor of uncertainty in them.  The Republicans seem near extinction in the Virgin Islands, however, and would seem unlikely to improve their lot much in this majority Afro-Caribbean territory.  American Samoa, on the other hand, appears to have had (judging on fundraising) a real race for the House delegate in 2008, with the Democrat winning with 60% of the vote.

This diary is the eighth in a series taking a close look at the 2008 electorate and exploring three themes: diversity within demographics, progressive feedback loops, and demographic change.  

Tomorrow: The Native Alaskan Electorate: An Economic Factor?

Cross posted at Open Left.

Diaries in this series (updated list):

Looking Back
Alternate History
Why Republicans Should Be Really Scared
African-Americans – We Are Not All of Us Alike
East and South Asian Americans – Diverse and Growing
West Asian Americans – Rapid Change
Native Americans – Increasing Participation
Islander Americans – In Need of More Representation
Native Alaskans – An Economic Factor?
Latino Electorate – Increasing Influence
European-Americans – Tribal Politics Persist
“Americans” – You Might Be Surprised
Appalachia – Surprisingly Democratic
Why Republicans Should Be Really, Really Scared
Why Republicans Should Be Really, Really, Really Scared
A Few More Tidbits

Related 2008 electorate diaries:
Maps: Blue America and the Changing Electorate
Maps: Obama and White Evangelicals

Originally posted to Daniel Donner on Sat Nov 07, 2009 at 06:34 AM PST.


What to do about territories?

13%5 votes
16%6 votes
2%1 votes
66%24 votes

| 36 votes | Vote | Results

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