How Donald Trump's Failure to Help Puerto Rico Could Haunt Him in 2020


A great deal of attention has been focused on how Puerto Rico will rebuild following Hurricane Maria. But, spurred by the devastation left in the storm’s wake, there are significant numbers of Puerto Ricans who will likely choose to leave the island altogether—a departure which could potentially have significant implications for American politics in years to come.

In a recent interview with Public Radio International’s Living on Earth radio show, Edwin Meléndez, Director of Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies estimated that “between 100,000 and 200,000 people will leave Puerto Rico this year.”

What’s more, Meléndez stated, based on his data, “Half that flow will go to Florida, even more than half.”

Meléndez’s data is a conservative estimate compared to that of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who said in late September that as much as 30% of the Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million could leave the island if post-Maria conditions don’t improve.

What makes Meléndez and Cruz’s predictions so significant—should they come to pass—is the possible impact an influx of that magnitude could have on politics in the perennial battleground state of Florida.

As University of Southern Florida Professor of Government and Politics Susan Macmanus explained during the recent Living on Earth taping, the Latinx vote in Florida has been notoriously up for grabs. However, she noted:

More recently we see that young Puerto Ricans are leaning more independent, but if they have a choice and it’s party-intensive, they lean more Democratic. The Puerto Rican population coming here is fairly young, and so Democrats right now are salivating. They see a terrific opportunity to register all the new arrivals.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton handily carried the Puerto Rican vote in Florida by an estimated 72%, only to lose the state thanks, in part, to Trump’s support within the traditionally more conservative Cuban-American base.

So, should anywhere from 50,000-100,000 Puerto Ricans move to, and register to vote in, Florida, there’s a serious likelihood that they would represent a major boon to the state’s Democratic voter base.

Is that enough to change the course of, say, the 2020 election? That remains to be seen. Given Donald Trump’s ongoing racism and his abysmal handling of Puerto Rico’s disastrous post-storm conditions, it’s possible that this influx of Puerto Ricans could tip Florida’s scales for the Democrats once and for all.

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