A Year Ago: The 2016 Gubernatorial Elections

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A year ago today, Ricardo Rosselló won Puerto Rico’s gubernatorial race with only 42% of the vote. This was the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista’s worst performance since its founding in 1967. The same can be said of the pro-commonwealth Partido Popular Democrático, which had never earned less than 40.7% of the vote.

These political parties’ poor performance can be explained by Puerto Ricans’ growing frustration with the island’s politics, the status question and Puerto Rico’s weak economy. These attitudes convinced many voters to support Alexandra Lúgaro’s or Manuel Cidre’s independent candidacies. The pie chart shows that together they earned around 17% of the vote, though Lúgaro’s 11%  helped her secure a third place finish. To put this in a historical context, the other time a fringe party gained more than 10% of the vote was in 1968 when Roberto Sánchez Vilella’s Partido del Pueblo won 11.7%.

Another reason why the PNP and the PPD did so poorly was their inability to inspire or mobilize Puerto Rican voters. Only 55% of eligible voters participated in the electoral process. Indeed, the voter turnout rate for the 2016 general elections was the lowest in Puerto Rico’s post-1952 history as illustrated in the graph below.

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Why did the island’s main political parties do so poorly? Why did 17% of voters support the candidacy of independent candidates even though they had little chances of winning the election? Why did so many Puerto Ricans decide not to cast a ballot?

Will these trends continue? In some ways the results of the 2017 status plebiscite confirm Puerto Ricans’ negative attitudes against the main political parties and their leaders. But will Hurricane Maria’s impact lead to a political realignment? Will the PPD find its voice? Will the PNP continue to push for statehood, when so many Puerto Ricans are growing weary of the federal government’s slow response to the island’s humanitarian catastrophe?

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