Academic journal article Centro Journal

Political Crisis, Migration and Electoral Behavior in Puerto Rico

Academic journal article Centro Journal

Political Crisis, Migration and Electoral Behavior in Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

Puerto Rico is in crisis. The crisis is political in nature. Puerto Ricans are not satisfied with the political system they live in and the political class that governs them locally. A sign of this dissatisfaction with the political system is evident in the precipitous drop in the level of participation at election time that happened in the elections held in 2016. Dissatisfaction may also be reflected in the level of emigration from the island. Emigration is not a new phenomenon, but rather a historical trend. The collapse in the exercise of the franchise in Puerto Rico, however, is a new phenomenon, and it requires explanation.

It has been proposed that emigration from the island is the underlying reason for the decline in turnout in the 2016 elections. However, the analysis I present in this paper shows that emigration does not account for the decline in the rate of participation in those elections. A decline in population driven by emigration may have resulted in fewer votes being cast at election time in 2016, but it does not explain why fewer registered voters turned out to vote. The decline in voter participation rate in 2016 was much larger than any decline in population could account for. Emigration cannot, and in fact does not, account for the decline in turnout, as I demonstrate in this analysis. Instead, to account for such a decline in participation, I suggest and propose alternatively that recent as well as secular changes in the political system are the likely explanation for why a sizable segment of the Puerto Rican electorate disengaged from the political process.

Voting as a legitimizing factor

The focus on turnout at election time is crucial given its significance in practical as well as symbolic terms for the political system in Puerto Rico. Historically, Puerto Rico has exhibited high rates of electoral participation by any measure. Since the middle of the twentieth century through its end, the average turnout rate in general elections on the island every four years has ranged between 73 percent and 89 percent of duly registered voters (see Table 1) (Bayrón Toro 2000). Even when measuring turnout by a more stringent standard -the citizen, voting-age population-turnout during the last four decades of the twentieth century had not been below 64, and often hovered around 80 percent (see Table 2) (Cámara Fuertes 2004). However, the 2016 elections yielded only a 55 percent rate of participation of registered voters; a level of participation never experienced in the previous 68 years in Puerto Rico. I propose that this turnout rate, meager by Puerto Rico's standards, may be an indication of the disenchantment and disappointment of Puerto Rico's electorate in its political class and its political system. I suggest further that very limited political alternatives to manage life in Puerto Rico may have turned off the electorate in a manner never witnessed before, indicating a likely crisis in the existing political system.

As Robert Anderson has argued, "[t]he electoral system is the keystone of legitimization in the Puerto Rican political system... So the party system in Puerto Rico is intimately tied into the mass-participation electoral system, which in turn is one of the bulwarks of a larger political system characterized by a relation of direct dependence upon (or increasing integration with) the metropolitan United States" (Anderson 1983, 6). Moreover, while voting is not the only way the inhabitants of the island can convey their political preferences and goals to government officials, it is by and large the most common form of political participation and one that characterizes in singular fashion Puerto Rican political behavior (Cámara Fuertes 200; Ramírez 1977; Rivera et al. 1991). The precipitous drop in the turnout rate in the 2016 may serve as an indicator of a growing disaffection with the political system and the regime the electoral system sustains.

All political regimes need a modicum of political support from those ruled by the political authorities. …

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