Opinion

Democrats Should Give Caribbean and Pacific Islands Statehood

3.5 million Americans have no federal representation. They could give Democrats a majority in the Senate.

San Juan Puerto Rico
San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico (Unsplash/Wei Zeng)

Donald Trump is disliked by so many Americans that Democrats could win not just the presidency but the Senate in November.

Longer term, however, Republicans have baked-in advantages that make Democratic control of the upper chamber elusive.

The solution: turn America’s overseas dependencies into states. That would give 3.5 million Americans the federal representation they deserve and add ten more seats to the Senate, most of which would lean Democratic.

Bias

David Shor — a Democratic data scientist who recently fell victim to cancel culture when he was fired for tweeting out a study that suggests nonviolent protests are more effective at changing public opinion than riots — tells New York Magazine that the Senate’s bias in favor of sparsely populated and largely white states in the middle and west of America is getting worse. That’s because ticket-splitting is increasingly rare.

Right-leaning voters in states like Montana and Nebraska may have been willing to vote for Democratic senators in the past even when they voted for Republican presidents. Now they vote Republican all the way.

This nationalization of elections could work in Democrats’ favor this year, given how unpopular Trump is. (Just 40 percent of Americans believe he’s doing a good job.)

But Shor warns that if 2024 is more like 2016, when the two parties were evenly matched, Democrats could end up with as few as 43 out of 100 Senate seats.

What to do?

A system that gives 580,000 people in Wyoming, the smallest state, as much power as the 40 million residents of California, the largest state, is not only unfair; it will ultimately be seen as illegitimate if residents of California and likeminded liberal states are repeatedly overruled by rural and conservative minorities in the heartland.

Devolution must be part of the solution. Shifting power to populous cities and states would help shrink the rural-urban divide. It should appeal to Democrats, who stand to gain power. It should appeal to Republicans, who want to protect their voters from progressive diktats out of Washington DC. Under a President Joe Biden, they might remember why they used to support federalism.

But Republicans are unlikely to agree to an overhaul of the Senate that would permanently shift the balance of power toward coastal states.

Nor do they support DC statehood. Although it is now a mainstream Democratic position, two in three voters disagree.

Popular

Statehood for America’s islands in the Caribbean and Pacific is more popular.

Shor reports that a majority of Democrats and a large minority of Republicans could support statehood for American Samoa (population: 55,000), Puerto Rico (3.2 million) and the American Virgin Islands (100,000). There are also Guam (170,000) and the Northern Mariana Islands (50,000).

Whenever they’ve been asked, majorities of the islanders themselves have spoken out for statehood.

It only takes a simple majority in both houses of Congress to admit new states. (As opposed to a two-thirds majority to change the Constitution and give small states fewer senators or large states more.) If Democrats defend their majority in the House of Representatives in November and win a majority in the Senate, they could create five new states in 2021.

They should. They may not get another chance in a long time.

One comment

  1. America Samoa has no desire for statehood. Under their current status only native Samoans and their children are allowed to own land. If they became a state, they’d have to open up their real estate markets to non-indigenous people, something that’s not widely supported.

    People who call for U.S. territories to become states need to read up on why statehood movements in territories have virtually no support.

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