Puerto Rico Political Status Question, 2012

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A Puerto Rico Political Status Question, which was a non-binding referendum, was asked on November 6, 2012 in the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.[1]

The referendum asked voters two questions:[1]

  • Whether Puerto Ricans wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States
  • Which of three options voters preferred: statehood, sovereign free association, or independence

Both parts of the question were approved. The vote marked the first time in history that a majority of Puerto Ricans favored statehood over maintaining the status quo.[2] Then-governor, Luis Fortuno, was also defeated during this election, despite the fact that Fortuno was "pro-statehood," along with the majority of voters. He was replaced by his challenger, Alejandro Garcia Padilla.[3][1]

Election results

Below are the official election results:[1]

Change Relationship with U.S.
Approveda Yes 922,374 54%
Statehood, Sovereign Free Association, or Independence
Yes or no Votes Percentage
15px-600px-Yes check.png Yes 832,596 61%
10px-600px-Red x.png No 450,421 33%
10px-600px-Red x.png No 68,246 5%

For the first part of the question, 54 percent of voters sought to change Puerto Rico's relationship with the U.S., while 46 percent voted in favor of the status quo. For the second question, 61 percent favored statehood, 33 percent preferred sovereign free association and only five percent voted for independence.[1]


The two-part question was approved, showing that residents wanted to change the status of the country, with a majority seeking to become a state. Before the vote, then-President Barack Obama stated that he was "firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico" and would respect the will of the people in the event of a clear majority. However, after the election, the president and Congress did not take the steps necessary to alter Puerto Rico's status and advance its bid for statehood, largely due to the fact that, at the time, Congress was split between Democrats, who tended to favor statehood, and Republicans, who tended to oppose it.[2][3][1]


Originally, the issue was going to be split into two votes, but both questions were ultimately asked together in November 2012. The first part of the measure asked residents if they wanted to change the political status of the country from its position as a U.S. commonwealth; the second then asked residents what status they wanted for their country: U.S. statehood, sovereign free association or independence. Though both parts of the measure were approved, the U.S. Congress was required to approve the change, which it did not. Previous votes on the status of the country all confirmed residents' desires to remain a U.S. commonwealth, but with each vote the margin of approval decreased.[4] The first referendum on the status of the country was held in 1967 when over 60 percent agreed to keep the status as it was. Since 1952, the island has been self-governing, though it cannot conduct its own foreign policy. Furthermore, only Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. can vote in presidential elections. A White House task force issued a report in 2011 stating that the island should have a vote on the issue by 2012.[5]


Then-governor Fortuno, who supported and actively pursued the status question, wanted Puerto Rico to become the 51st state in the hopes that, with more control over its governmental affairs, Puerto Rico would be able to grow and expand its economy.[4][5]


Those who opposed the measure and who wanted to maintain the status quo, saw this question as a ploy by the president who, they maintained, used the commonwealth's status as an excuse for high crime rates and a struggling economy.[4][5]

After the two-part question was moved to just one vote, critics argued that it was unfair, saying residents may be confused about the second part and unsure what they are voting for overall. They also noted that having the two parts together seemed to assume that the vote in favor of the status quo would be defeated, thereby requiring a vote on the second question. However, the secretary of state assured voters would be free to leave the second part of the question blank, so they should not feel pressured to choose a different status for the country.[6]

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