The Risk of Unrealistic Expectations: Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s Electrical System and the Rosselló Administration’s Credibility Crisis

The Puerto Rican government currently faces two crises. One caused by Hurricanes Irma’s and Maria’s destruction of the island’s infrastructure. The other is a credibility crisis caused by  the government’s incapacity to address Puerto Rico’s post-Maria challenges and worsened by Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s unrealistic expectations about the recovery efforts.

The efforts to restore electricity to the island’s customers is a good example of these unrealistic expectations. On October 14, 2017, Rosselló promised that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) would reestablish electricity to 95% of customers before December 15.  During the news conference, he also ordered PREPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to meet a set of short-term goals, captured in the table below.

Date Electricity Generation Goal
Difference Between Actual Generation & Stated Goal 
October 31 30% +3%
November 15 50% -21%
December 1 80% -14%
December 15 95%   ?

The following graph help us see the pace of power restoration. The horizontal colored lines each represent one of the goals listed in the above table, while the blue trend line represents the percentage of electricity generated from September 21 to December 1, 2017.

chart (62)

The graph also illustrates some of the challenges the electrical system has faced in this time period. For example on November 15, PREPA met the goal of 50% electricity generation, but a problem with one of the high voltage transmission lines reduced the figure to 29%.

Why did Rosselló set in place these ambitious goals? After all, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as I noted in a previous post, explained that these goals were unrealistic from the get go. One explanation is that Rosselló may have set these goals to encourage PREPA, private contractors and the USACE  to work harder and faster. Another more cynical explanation is that “groupthink” has affected the governor’s decision-making process,  forcing his advisors to conform with Rosselló’s understanding of the crisis and suppressing any form of dissension amongst his inner circle.

Regardless of the reasons, Rosselló’s decision to set these unrealistic expectations and PREPA’s and the USACE’s inability to meet these goals are starting to wear on Puerto Ricans’ patience. While we do not have any public opinion data, it seems that anger against Rosselló and his government is growing in the island. In Washington, D.C., more and more lawmakers are raising serious questions about the Puerto Rican government’s capacity to lead the island’s recovery efforts.

 

Advertisements

The U.S. Media’s Decreasing Coverage of Puerto Rico’s Recovery Efforts

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló is requesting the U.S. Congress for a disaster relief package of $94.4 billion to reconstruct the island’s infrastructure and more than 400,000 houses destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. If history is prologue, Puerto Rican officials will have to get ready to fight back fiscal conservatives who will arduously work to trim the request by several billions of dollars.

Although Puerto Rico has many allies in Congress, they are not powerful enough to take on the Republican establishment. One way to pressure Congress to support the island’s financial needs is to rally the American public to their side. If a majority of Americans called on their congressional delegation to support Puerto Rico’s request, there is a good chance that the Republican leadership will soften its opposition. But the success of this strategy is linked to the U.S. media’s coverage of the island’s struggles, which has decreased since President Donald Trump’s controversial visit to Puerto Rico in early October.

The three graphs below demonstrate the U.S. media’s waning interest in Puerto Rico’s recovery. The first graph looks at the U.S. online media environment, which includes newspapers such as The New York Times, online news publications like the The Daily Beast and popular political blogs like The Daily Kos or The Blaze. I used Media Cloud’s open source platform to search the number of sentences that make a reference to Puerto Rico in news stories from September 1 to November 10, 2017. Media Cloud connected these sentences to 32,314 articles. As noted above, the online news media’s interest in Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts was strongest in early October before and after President Trump’s visit to the island.

chart (4)

The next two graphs captures the national news networks’ and the affiliate networks’ coverage of Puerto Rico from September 1 to November 10, 2017. To collect this data, I searched the content of the Television News Archive, using GDELT’s Television Explorer search engine. The graphs calculates the number of mentions Puerto Rico earned each day.

chart (1)chart (2)

Similar to the nation’s online media, TV news networks’ coverage of Puerto Rico has waned since early October.

Will Governor Rosselló’s request of $94.4 billion win over enough Congressional support? It is too early to say. One way to pressure Congress to act is by calling on Americans to support Puerto Rico’s financial needs. But this will require the U.S. media to devote more attention to the island’s current challenges and its future opportunities. What do you think? Is Puerto Rico asking for too much money? Will Republicans support the Governor’s request or will they cut the package by several billions of dollars? Will the Trump administration support this request and its price tag?

A Year Ago: The 2016 Gubernatorial Elections

chart (39)

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.

chart (41)

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?

Did Ricardo Rosselló Earn More Mentions than Carmen Yulín Cruz in U.S. Online News After Hurricane Maria?

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, has become the strongest critic of the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. Her growing popularity among Democrats in the United States has overshadowed Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló. In an earlier post, I used Google Trends data to show that many Google users in the United States started to search for more information on Cruz after her first Twitter battle with President Trump.

While Rosselló has earned more mentions in U.S. TV news organizations’ reporting of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, the San Juan mayor did receive more mentions in the cable news channels, especially in CNN and MSNBC.

In this post, we look at U.S. Online News coverage of the island’s recovery efforts and how many sentences include references to either Rosselló or Cruz. In this short analysis, I used MediaCloud,  an open source platform created by a team of researchers at Harvard University and MIT to study “media ecosystems”, to search its collection of U.S. Online News for articles printed between September 18 and October 30, 2017 that mentioned either politician. So, who earned the most mentions?

chart (30)

Given the Google Trends data, this is not a surprising finding. While Rosselló did receive more mentions in the U.S. TV News coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts, it is important to note that she earned 47% of all the mentions and that his mentions were inflated by PBS News’ reporting.

If we look at a timeline of the media organizations in MediaCloud’s U.S. On-Line News Collection, we see a similar pattern to the trends we discussed in the previous posts.

chart (33)

The number of sentences that mentioned Cruz increased dramatically during her Twitter feud in late September with Trump. Different from the trend-lines examined in the previous two posts, sentences mentioning the San Juan Mayor outnumber those mentioning Rosselló for most of the time period.

In the previous trend-lines, we see that Rosselló’s numbers increase after his meeting with President Trump at the White House on October 19. By the end of October, Rosselló’s earns more mentions and this associated with his criticisms of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid and his decision to cancel the contract with Whitefish Energy, which Cruz, among many politicians in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, had criticized.

With these findings, we can conclude that Cruz has become a rising start in the United States. Her standing in Puerto Rico is more difficult to measure. Unfortunately, the tools we used to measure Cruz’s or Rosselló’s influence in the U.S. media environment does not apply to Puerto Rico. The Google Trends data for Google users in Puerto Rico does show that interest in Rosselló is still very strong. But we need to use these results with caution as many Puerto Ricans lack access to the Internet.

In the future, I will look at how Puerto Ricans perceive both Rosselló and Cruz, by comparing and contrasting Facebook users’ or Twitter users’ opinions of both politicians to a particular issue or event we can deduce their overall standing in the islands’ political system.

 

U.S. TV News Coverage of Ricardo Rosselló and Carmen Yulín Cruz After Hurricane Maria

Yesterday’s post analyzed Google Trends data for the United States and Puerto Rico to explore which politician – San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz or Governor Ricardo Rosselló – received the most attention after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico September 20, 2017.

While the data clearly demonstrated that Cruz earned the most attention, interest in Governor Rosselló among Google Search users in Puerto Rico was stronger than in the United States. Implied in yesterday’s post is President Donald Trump’s role on Google Search users’ interests on Puerto Rico and its political leaders. Interest in Cruz dramatically increased after her Twitter feud with the President. The same applies to Rosselló after his meeting with President Trump in the White House on October 19.

Google Trends is a wonderful tool, but it has its limitations. Thus, we should also look at U.S. media organizations’  coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts and see whether these bodies paid more attention to Cruz than to Rosselló.

For this post, I measured the number of mentions both politicians earned in the country’s television news networks. We limited our search queries to the TV news coverage from September 18 through October 30, 2017. We collected these data by searching Archive.Org’s TV News Archive.

chart (25)

Cruz’z coverage increases during her Twitter feud with President Trump and one of the spikes in for Rosselló’s  mention happens during his visit to the White House. Although these trends are similar to the ones that we saw in yesterday’s Google Trends graph, it is important to note that Rosselló was mentioned more than Cruz in the news coverage.

chart (27)

What if we filter the results by the type of TV news networks? The U.S. has primarily two types of networks: the cable news channels (i.e. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc…) and the affiliated networks (i.e. ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS).

chart (28)

chart (29)

Based on these two bar graphs, we can make the following observations.

  • Mayor Cruz received more mentions in the cable news channels than in the affiliated news networks.
  • The opposite is true for Governor Rosselló, but it is important to note that his mentions in the PBS News skew the amount of attention he received overall.
  • CBS News has paid closer attention to Puerto Rico than NBC News or ABC News. This is probably the David Begnaud effect, an issue I will cover in a later post.
  • CBS News mentions Cruz slightly more than Rosselló in its reporting.
  • The business news channels have paid closer attention to the Governor than the Mayor and this is because Cruz has little influence over the island’s economy and because these channels are less political, more conservative, and Rosselló has been less critical of President Trump.
  • The more “liberal” news channels have mentioned Cruz more than Rosselló.

To conclude, the TV news networks’ reporting of Puerto Rico’s recovery post-Maria mentions Governor Rosselló more than Mayor Cruz. These figures do not tell us whether the coverage has been fair, critical, or supportive. It is important to keep this in mind. But the TV news coverage has elevated both politicians’ standing in the U.S. As Puerto Rico tries to gain more financial and political support to rebuild its infrastructure and economy, these two leaders will play a role shaping Americans’ understanding of the island’s challenges and future opportunities.

So far we have seen data for Google Trends and the TV News Networks. What about the U.S. print and online media’s coverage of Puerto Rico’s crisis? I will be looking at this in a future post.