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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

NOT A 10 OUT OF 10: Americans’ Rate the Trump Administration’s Response to Recent Hurricanes

On October 18, 2017, President Donald Trump met with Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rossello, to discuss the island’s recovery efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria pummeled the island . Shortly after the meeting, they took questions from reporters. One of these reporters asked President Trump to use a 10 point scale to rate the White House’s response to Puerto Rico’s woes.

Although Governor Rossello’s comments made it clear that the island was facing a serious humanitarian catastrophe and that Puerto Rico needed even more federal resources, the President gave the federal government’s efforts a perfect 10 out of 10.

Do Americans agree with President’s Trump’s score? Since Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas and Louisiana, many opinion polls have been asking Americans what they think of President Trump’s or the federal government’s disaster relief efforts. The most recent FoxNews poll, conducted on 22-24 October 2017, did not ask respondents whether or not they agreed with President’s Trump’s evaluation. It it did however ask them to “rate the Trump administration’s response to recent hurricanes” in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston.  

As noted in the graph below, the Trump administration earned higher marks for its response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma than Hurricane Maria.

chart (8)

The next graph breaks down these numbers along  respondents’ political leanings. Rather than looking at the response to Houston or Florida, let’s focus on their opinions of the Trump administration’s handling of the situation in Puerto Rico.

chart (10)

In conclusion, it is clear that a majority of Americans believe that the Trump administration’s reactions to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are far from perfect. But partisanship does play role in how Americans rate the government’s efforts.

This short analysis raises three questions:

  1. If Trump’s supporters give the Trump administration a more positive rating, are they be willing to increase disaster relief spending for Puerto Rico? Experts believe that it will cost between $45-$95 billion to rebuild the island.
  2. How stable are Americans’ opinions? In other words, have Americans’ opinion fluctuated from early October when the U.S. media paid close attention to Puerto Rico’s post-Maria challenges? Similarly, will American opinion change as as the situation in the island receives less media coverage?
  3. Finally, how do Puerto Ricans living in the mainland rate the Trump administration’s efforts? How does their opinions compare to other Latinos’ and Latinas’ views of the situation?

We will answer some of these questions in upcoming posts. But for now, what do you think of the Trump administration’s efforts? Do you agree with President Trump’s rating or are you more critical? Let us know.