Opinion

Democrats Should Give Caribbean and Pacific Islands Statehood

3.5 million Americans have no federal representation.

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.

10 comments

  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.

  2. @NOPE, You are correct about American Samoa but all of the other territories have relatively recently inquired about statehood. And in Guam and Mariana Islands case about being combined into a single state. If we read on previous statehood acceptance and attempts, especially in the 19th century, they were all very contentious and weren’t all done out of altruism. I honestly don’t think a modern democratic country should have any non-voting non-participatory territories if said territories want to become states.

  3. 5 states seems a bit much. Puerto Rico statehood for sure, perhaps the Virgin Islands included with PR. Washington DC could become part of Maryland and or Virginia, or perhaps it’s own state. Pacific Island territories populations aren’t even close to Wyoming, so that seems a bit of a reach even if American Samoa was included. Anyway, I agree with Ottens, ridiculous that Wyoming has the same number of Senators as California. Founding Fathers did not envision states with such population variations, or even a country that stretched from Sea to Shining Sea, pacific island territories, etc.

  4. Thanks for your comment!

    Maybe the Pacific territories could form a single state? “Pacific America”?

    Guam does have a larger population (170,000) than Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire and Rhode Island did at independence. (source)

  5. More likely is that Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are combined into a single territory first. Guam is the only “Southern” Mariana island, and the two territories are culturally and linguistically united by a shared Chamorro culture and language.

    Such a combined “Mariana Islands” or more simply “Mariana” territory would have a population exceeding that of Alaska when it achieved statehood in 1959.

    American Samoa would feel like a third wheel in a “Pacific America” state since it is thousands of miles and across the equator from the Marianas, and it is culturally distinct since Samoans are Polynesians while Chamorros are Melanesians. Besides, statehood would require that Samoans give up traditional norms of local governance and communal land ownership that would be at odds with American constitutional principles.

    Providing statehood to the Marianas would send a powerful message to adversaries such as China and North Korea that the U.S. regards the islands as integrally and indivisibly part of the U.S. making it clear that the U.S. has a keen interest in maintaining a strong military and diplomatic presence in the Eastern Pacific.

  6. I think the Puerto Rico question is the one easiest to solve. DC is more tricky and it’s issues can be resolved without Statehood. Virgin Islands has a chance too but it would have a better chance if the whole island chain was one continuous political entity.

    It’s the Pacific islands that are going to have a tougher time. To me, Guam and Mariana have to convince their fellow Micronesians in the Free Associated States (Palau, Marshall Islands, Fed. States of Micronesia) to get behind the idea of a unified Micronesia as a part of the United States. Would make statehood much more viable and possible for both sides.

    I agree with the general idea though. Every American citizen needs their full rights.

  7. BuffaloDave- the founding fathers knew exactly what they were doing when they gave Wyoming the same amount of representation in the Senate as California. They wanted farmers, which most of them were at the time, to have representation in the Government. They also gave California more representation in the House and gave them more electoral votes so everyone is fairly represented.

  8. Yes, a state of “Mariana” and the state of Puerto Rico combined with the American virgin islands, Calebra, and Valquez. That being said, I would vy for merging Rhode Island with Connecticut and merging New Hampshire with Vermont. (They would thus be called simply Connecticut and – I like the name – Vermont).
    OK, thus we add two new states, minus the two states that will have been merged. We would thereby maintain the nice even number of 50 states!

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