If the United State Congress were to allow the citizens of Puerto Rico to choose between independence and statehood, an overwhelming majority (70 percent) would choose statehood, with 14 percent opting for independence and 13 percent undecided, according to a Suffolk University/Universidad del Turabo poll of 601 likely voters in Puerto Rico.

“This finding has historic and political implications beyond the composition of our flag,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “Whether President Obama’s popularity would translate into Puerto Rico’s having blue state status remains to be seen. However the impact of these numbers on the political conversation should not be ignored.”

With a population of just under 4 million, Puerto Rico has been an unincorporated territory of the United States since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Although Puerto Ricans were granted United States citizenship in 1917, they cannot vote for the president of the United States and have no voting representation in Congress. In a nonbinding referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico held in November 2012, 54 percent of voters said they should not continue with the Island’s current territorial status.

“Puerto Rico is going through difficult times, and we wanted to do a study that enabled us to analyze the people’s perceptions and opinions about important issues, such as government, the economy and the island’s future, through a public opinion survey based on a scientific approach and through an experienced partner,” said Dennis Alicea, chancellor of the Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. “We are delighted to have partnered with Suffolk University on this endeavor, and we share the results in order to establish a framework, demonstrate transparency and motivate further research.”

The Suffolk University/Universidad del Turabo poll is the first major poll of its kind since the Puerto Rico election for governor in November 2012.

Mixed views of Puerto Rican leaders

Voters were split on the job performances of former Governor Luis Fortuño (43 percent approve/45 percent disapprove) and newly elected Governor Alejandro García Padilla (36 percent approve/39 percent disapprove), although voters favored García Padilla by 44 percent, with 36 percent giving him an unfavorable rating.

U.S. leaders viewed favorably

President Obama had a favorable rating of 83 percent with an unfavorable rating of 9 percent, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was viewed favorably by 66 percent and unfavorably by 12 percent. Clinton had defeated Obama 68 percent to 31 percent in the June 2008 Democratic Primary when both were competing for Puerto Rico’s 55 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Economic woes & drug trafficking

Nearly 58 percent of voters said that Puerto Rico was on the wrong track. This was driven by two key issues: crime/drug trafficking (40 percent) and Puerto Rico’s economy/unemployment (38 percent). Ninety-eight percent of voters said there is a drug consumption problem in Puerto Rico. Sixty-eight percent said that the Puerto Rican economy has gotten worse over the past four years, while 7 percent said it had improved, and 24 percent said it has stayed the same.

Public safety & infrastructure

A dismal view on Puerto Rican’s public safety and infrastructure matched a despondent outlook overall. Fewer than 30 percent of voters rated police protection and public safety as excellent or good, while nearly 70 percent said that they were fair or poor. While 14 percent of those polled rated the roads and bridges in Puerto Rico as excellent or good, more than 85 percent said they were fair or poor.

Health care

Puerto Rican voters had a positive outlook on the quality of the health care they receive, with 66 percent rating their health care as excellent or good and 33 percent saying their health care was fair or poor.

Threats to the United States

When asked to evaluate the country posing the biggest threat to the United States from among a list of eight, Puerto Rican voters chose North Korea (48 percent), followed by China and Afghanistan, which tied for second at 7 percent each. When asked if China poses an economic threat to the United States, 60 percent said yes and 26 percent no.

Methodology

The statewide survey of 601 Puerto Rican voters was conducted March 20-31, 2013, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. The margin of error is +/-4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website and on the Universidad del Turabo website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.