Most of Florida’s Puerto Rican voters don’t like Trump — but fewer say they’ll vote

Puerto Rican voters in Florida are unhappy with President Donald Trump when it comes to his actions concerning the island, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes for Democrats, according to a poll released Monday by the progressive group Equis Labs.

Seventy-three percent of registered Puerto Rican voters who were polled disapproved of Trump’s handling of the U.S. territory, but a smaller percentage — 67 percent — said they were “highly motivated” to vote, suggesting that Democrats may need to do more work if they want to lock down Florida’s Puerto Rican vote for 2020.

“Specifically for Puerto Rican voters ... there is such a great opportunity here for Democrats to speak to voters on their issues,” said Melissa Morales, research director of Equis Labs.

The new poll offers some insight into one of the most coveted and fastest-growing blocs of voters in Florida, whose share of those eligible to register to vote has increased by 30 percent since 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. Puerto Ricans make up a third of Hispanics of voting age in Florida, on par with Cuban Americans in the state.

The group’s fast-paced growth seems promising to some Democrats. But in the 2018 midterm elections, expectations that Puerto Ricans who had fled the island after Hurricane Maria would vote for Democratic candidates didn’t materialize.

Fernand Amandi, an expert on the Hispanic vote in the United States, said they also don’t vote as one bloc: “They’ve also shown to be a swing voter constituency. They don’t vote homogeneously.”

Some estimates show that as many as 50,000 Puerto Ricans fled the island following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and they overwhelmingly chose Central Florida as their destination. That number has continued to grow as the island has struggled to emerge from a crippling economic crisis.

Amandi said an estimated 350,000 Puerto Ricans are registered to vote in Florida. About 180,000 of them are registered Democrats and more than 70,000 of them are registered Republicans. An estimated 120,000 are not affiliated with any party.

The Equis Labs poll of Puerto Ricans surveyed 600 registered Puerto Rican voters in Florida from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, with an overall margin of error of 4 percent.

In spite of Trump’s unpopularity among Puerto Ricans, 21 percent of those polled said they would vote to re-elect Trump, while 63 percent said they would vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Sixteen percent said they are still undecided.

The survey also examined voter attitudes by the year they came to Florida. Forty percent of those surveyed arrived between 1980 and 1999, and about 50 percent have moved to the state since 2000. Of those who moved post-2010, 79 percent said they would vote for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.

For those who arrived between 2000 and 2010, just over half — 54 percent — said they would be likely to vote for the Democratic candidate. Puerto Ricans who were born in the U.S. were most likely to say they would vote to re-elect Trump, at 27 percent of those polled. But that’s countered by the 63 percent who said they would vote for a Democratic candidate.

The poll also looked at gender. While 41 percent of Puerto Rican men polled said they approve of Trump’s job performance, only 24 percent of Puerto Rican women thought the same — a group that the researchers said could be an opportunity for Democratic candidates.

“There is one takeaway there that emerges in this poll: Puerto Rican women are going to be key in Florida,” said progressive consultant Carlos Odio, co-founder and vice president of Equis Labs.

Perhaps one of the most unifying opinions revealed by the survey is the belief that discrimination against Hispanics in the U.S. has worsened since Trump took office. About 78 percent of those polled said this will motivate them to vote in the 2020 election.

The survey is one of the most recent to measure engagement among Puerto Ricans after protests over the summer led to the ouster of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled — which includes both those born on the island and those born in the U.S. — said politicians in Puerto Rico are to blame for the island’s instability, compared with 19 percent who blame the president. A smaller percentage, 15 percent, blame the fiscal control board federally appointed through the 2016 PROMESA law to oversee the island’s finances.

On the divisive issue of statehood, 57 percent of Puerto Ricans in Florida support making the island the 51st state, while 26 percent support Puerto Rico’s current status and 6 percent want the island to be fully independent.

Bianca Padró Ocasio is a general assignment reporter for the Miami Herald. She has been a Florida journalist for several years, covering everything from crime and courts to hurricanes and politics. Her bilingual work telling the stories of the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida has been previously recognized by the Florida Society of News Editors and the Florida Sunshine State Awards.