Much has been said, and much more will be said, in the next days about the Puerto Rico primary, and how it will give Hillary the popular count vote (if you include FL, and don't count caucus state, and if the sun turns blue, etc). And let's for now ignore the fact, that she plans to make that case with a couple hundred thousand votes by american citizens that cannot vote for her in November.
But since no one in the mainland media really knows anything about Puerto Rico, nor has there been any polling done recently, I'll give you my take on what I'm seeing on the ground.
But first some background on PR election results.
::: This has been really fun, but I'm gonna go watch the ending of the Spurs-Lakers game and then to sleep. Please leave any questions in the comments, I will answer them tomorrow. Thank you all! :::
::: Top recommended? Really? Dkos has oficially jumped the shark. Thank you all! :::
::: Just got into the top 3! All right, you will make me leave the beach house early and vote change in 08! Puerto Rico's primary does not count for much, we cannot vote in November, but man would it be fun to destroy the Clinton's last remaining argument :::
Let me start by saying that I think Obama could pull this off, and that by no means do I expect a huge Clinton blow out. But I'll expand on that in the next couple of days.
First off, projections of a two million turnout are ridiculous. Last night I heard a Hillary surrogate in MSNBC after hours, say there are over 4 million registered voters in PR! That's not only crazy, it's a lie. In the 2000 census the island population was at 3.8 million. More recent estimates round the total pop close to 4 million. So, unless the Hillary campaign plans to enfranchise a couple hundred thousand children, there is no legal way four million people will vote on Sunday, June the 1st.
As Markos said today, there are no real national parties here. Yes there is a Democratic Party and a Republican party, but they are mostly organized for fund raising for national races and for local politicians to gain access in DC circles. They have no ground operations, volunteers, offices, hell I don't think they have any full-time paid staff. So all the operations in the primary will be run by the local parties and turnout will depend on their machines.
Now, about predicting turnout. Let's look at the last three gubernatorial elections. All links are from the PR Election Commission here(in Spanish).
In 2004, 1,990,372 voters, out of 2.4 million registered, for an 82% turnout.
In 2000, 2,015,987 voters went to the polls, of 2,447,032 registered, for an 82% turnout.
In 1996, 1,971,718, out of 2.38 registered, for...you guessed it...82% turnout.
As you can see, there is a pretty steady turnout of 82% for the last three gubernatorial races. So that means 1.8 million voters will turn up on June 1st, right, RIGHT!?! Wrong.
Let's look at other recent political events with no gubernatorial or mayoral elections.
In 2005, a referendum was held to change our local legislature from two chambers to one. Out of 2.4 million voters, only 553,955 voters turned out for a very crummy 22.6% participation rate. This event is important, because I will be predicting a similar turnout for the primary. In that event there was no question of the island political status, nor was there any political patronage at stake. The local parties took no official opinion, and no major GOTV efforts were organized by the local parties. More or less the same could be said about the upcoming primaries.
In 1998, a referendum on the political status of the island was held. You must understand that status is the main issue in the island, and the one that fuels all political discussions. Of 2.1 million registered voters, only 1.6 voters went to the polls, for a 72% voter participation. Turnout dropped 10 points when compared to the general elections. A similar referendum was held in 1994, with only 62% turnout. Both were won by the pro-commonwealth party.
A couple of observations. In gubernatorial elections (mayors are also chosen on that date) turnout remains steady at 82%. When there are no political offices in the ballot, turnout drops. There are a couple of factors to explain this:
- Gubernatorial elections are held on the first Tuesday of November, and it is a national holiday. Everyone gets the day off, and just votes and sits in front of the TV to wait for the results. Families and friends gather, food is cooked, champaigne is bought. Everyone dresses in their parties colors (red for commonwealth, blue for statehooters, green for independence party, brown for greens...weird, I know).
- Political patronage here is the norm. Puerto Rico has a huge government, close to 300,000 public servants, if you add municipal employees. These are 300,000 voters, and their families, who have a strong incentive to vote and hope their political party wins. Political discrimination among government employees in the norm, and each time a political party takes over, many people get laid off, other are sent to do menial tasks, and most face harassment from the winners. Thus, on gubernatorial elections a massive army of public transport is rented by both major parties, nursing homes are raided with volunteers looking to get out every senior they can find, doorknockers have an assigned quota of party faithful to call and make sure they voted. All in all a pretty efficient GOTV effort. None of this will be available during the presidental primary.
- Generals are held in November, during the middle of the school semester, when there is not much else going on. Local coverage of the election consumes each cycle the month before, with massive demonstrations around the island by all parties. Two days before the elections both major parties hold giant rallies in San Juan, with over a 100,000 supporters each. Motivation is high, the streets are buzzing, everyone is talking politics all the time. Not much happening this week here, except that summer is here, and bermuda shorts are in short (get it?) supply.
Now, on those events were turnout has dwindled, none of these factors were present. Even during the status referendums, many stayed home because there was no political patronage at stake. Only the most faithful turned out to defend its ideology of choice. When no ideology issue was in the ballot, turnout bottomed to only 22%. There is some ideology on June the 1st, but mostly for pro statehooters (whom more than half are republicans).
Another thing is that all these special elections were held on a Sunday. The 2005 one, was also held in the middle of summer. This being a tropical island and all, most people use their weekends to travel, disconnect, enjoy our natural beauties, etc. The June 1st primary will be also on a Sunday. Worst, it’s the first Sunday of summer, as schools end next week. Thousands will be on vacation around the island. (Myself will be enjoying a beach house in the soutwestern tip of the island with a couple of friends from NY, I doubt I will make it on time to San Juan to vote...polling booth close at 3pm).
So with no political patronage at stake, no offices or mayors in danger, no status issue in the public debate, and with the arrival of summer upon us, expect turnout to behave much more like the 2005 referendum. I would be truly surprised if more than 600,000 thousand turn out.
A final note before I leave for the night, If you want to understand how puertorrican politics work, you must forget whatever you know about politics, how it's done, how voters are turned out, how political patronage is dole out, etc. We are Latino, but we don't vote according to typical mainland latino issues. First off, we are american citizens, so immigration is not an issue for us. Second, Latino is a pretty big label. We have very little in common with Mexicans or Central Americans, and a lot in common with Dominicans and Cubans. But we don't vote like Miami Cubans...confusing I know. Don't buy the argument that because Hillary has won the Latino vote, she will clean up here.
Puertorrican politics are like latinamerican politics. You don't choose a party, you are born into one. We don’t root for our parties, we fight for them, we scream, we ruin family meetings talking politics. We like our candidate strong, with personality, we like them to hug us, kiss us, dance with us. We don't mind choosing women (we had a female governor), as long as they are strong women. If you are a nice guy, if you can't dole out the punishment, you are branded as a "mongo", literally a local slang that means flacid. The label mongo is a death.
Right now, this race feels very mongo in the island.
PS. During the next couple of days I’ll update, especially when Hillary and Barack arrive. As of now Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Chelsea have visited the island. None have caused much furor among the citizens, only our local politicians seem excited at all. Bill Richardson just arrived today.
PSS. I also would like to talk about racism, chauvinism, and name recognition in the island.
PPPS. Also, next week the SEIU national convention will be held in the island, and both candidates are expected to speak, so I’m guessing most news out of PR will be from that event.