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April 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Herald Editor’s Review of 2003 Poll Results

From time to time, this column will look back over previous months to report on how readers saw important events in Puerto Rico, the nation and world as reflected by their votes on the Hot Button Issue polls. This week, we look at the first three months of 2003 to gauge reader opinion on specific issues and point to interesting trends in the voting results.

The first trend observed was the continuing increase in reader participation in the poll. For the first three months of 2003, one can observe an average 33% increase over 2002 in the number of readers voting in a given poll. For instance, for the poll asking if the March 2003 article on Puerto Rico published in National Geographic Magazine was generally accurate and fair, nearly 500 readers expressed an opinion, an all-time high. In that poll, an interesting body of opinion was observed. Although both island and mainland voters agreed that the article was unfair, island readers voiced this opinion in significantly larger numbers. By a margin of 3 to 1 they thought the article unrepresentative of the Puerto Rican reality, while on the mainland opinion was within 7 percentage points of being even.

Concurrent with this development, higher numbers of island residents expressed viewpoints as compared to the numbers of mainland readers. For the National Geographic question, the percentage was nearly even, although the reader base in the mainland is obviously demographically higher. In 2002, on average, 73% of participants identified themselves as mainlanders while the remaining 27% self-identified as islanders. This year, so far, the gap is closing to an average of 65% for mainlanders as compared to 35% for island residents, an 8-point increase.

The big, big, big story in Puerto Rican politics this year is the reentry of former New Progressive Party (NPP) Governor Pedro Rosselló back into island partisan politics and Hot Button Issue polls tracked this event and the race for the next island governorship in five questions. In 2002, before Rosselló’s bombshell announcement, Herald readers had Carlos Pesquera winning the 2004 election with a slight margin over Popular Democratic Party (PDP) incumbent Sila Calderon in a five-way race including Rosselló. A poll held at that time showed overwhelming majorities on both the island and mainland opposing the idea of a NPP party primary.

Three months later, after the former Governor and current medical college professor, Dr. Rosselló, announced a new run for the top executive position in Puerto Rico, Herald viewer opinion favored him dramatically to wrest the Fortaleza from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) incumbent, Sila Calderon. In the same 5-way race, Rosselló clobbered the opposition among mainland voters with 61% and by voters on the island with 54%.

When it came to the NPP intra-party competition between Pesquera and Rosselló for the nomination to oppose Ms. Calderon, Herald readers dropped their former preference for Pesquera and threw their support to the former Governor. About half felt that a primary campaign should be held to determine the NPP candidate, but when given the option as to who should step aside to avoid a primary fight, readers thought that Pesquera should be the one to bow out by a margin of over 2 to 1. In a separate poll, when asked to predict who would win an NPP primary if it were held between the two rivals, 2 out of 3 mainland readers and 3 out of 4 islanders favored Rosselló to prevail.

At this point in the political roulette game, it is clear that Herald readers are placing their chips on Rosselló’s number while a bet on a Sila Calderon victory will pay higher odds. Ultimately, whoever is running, 35% of Herald voters think that the principle campaign issue will be the economy, with 30% thinking that it will be the debate over Puerto Rico’s permanent political status. In the same poll Herald readers put Political Corruption – Rosselló’s nemesis – at 21% and economic and social issues at 14%. This preeminent rating of the economy as an issue, and the relatively low status of the political corruption message is not good news for Sila Calderon, who seems to wish to avoid the former and stress the latter. In the first poll of 2003, nearly 70% of voters wished to see a plebiscite on political status held before this year is out. Prospect for such a vote, at this point, seems remote.

The Bush Administration’s policy toward Iraq became a dominate national issue for poll respondents and one can track a shift in opinion as the clock ticked toward eventual zero hour on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border. In an October 2002 poll, 63% of respondents wanted the U.S. to refrain from action against Iraq or, if it did, only with United Nations approval. The remaining 37% approved of unilateral action by the United States, if necessary. By early February of this year, the majority still wished to give the UN inspectors time to complete their work in Iraq but the percentage had shrunk to 53%. The remaining 47% of readers in that poll were content to see the U.S. "go it alone."

Two weeks later, when asked "Is war with Iraq justified at this time?", opinion was dead even. 45% said "yes," 45% said "no" and 10% were undecided. Somewhat related to the Iraq situation was a poll measuring reader reaction to a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to return to a military draft. 57% of respondents thought that the military should remain "all volunteer," while 43% thought that moving towards universal conscription was a good idea.

Two 2003 polls related to the fate of Roosevelt Roads, the sprawling naval base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, that the U.S. Navy recently slated for a dramatic -- and perhaps killing -- reduction in force as soon as training exercises cease in nearby Vieques in May. In a January poll, 56% of respondents thought that the base should be kept open as a military facility, with the Navy finding other uses to justify its continued use. The remaining 44% judged that its better use would be for the base to close altogether and its land turned to other uses.

In an early April poll, Herald readers reacted to ABC News reporter John Stossel who, in a "20-20" report entitled "Give me a Break," concluded that Puerto Ricans "want it both ways," in that they want the training on Vieques to stop but want Roosevelt Roads to remain open. Surprisingly, 2 out of 3 mainland voters agreed with him, while opinion among island respondents was evenly divided.

In reader reaction to other Hot Button Issues, 58% thought that the University of Michigan’s admission policy that favorably weighted the applications of minority students was unconstitutional and should be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and, after the tragic disintegration of NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia, 68% of respondents wanted manned space exploration to continue while the rest either didn’t think so or didn’t know.

Finally, in an interesting reaction to the question, "What aspect of American citizenship is for you the most important determining factor?", half of all respondents said that Constitutional protection and guarantees topped the list while the other half of voters, in almost even numbers, chose among the other options listed: legal access to the United States, economic opportunities and long-term political stability.

How did you come down on these issues? Whether you found yourself in the majority or minority on the topics discussed, we hope that you are enjoying the "Hot Button Issue" polls and that you will continue to "sound off" on topics of importance to the island and larger nation.


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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