In the wake of three major natural disasters in the United States, Ipsos Public Affairs conducted a survey to better understand how much Americans know about Puerto Rico and its relationship to the United States. The survey also examined American perceptions of the federal government’s obligations to its citizens following a natural disaster, and whether Americans approve or disapprove of recent disaster responses by the government.
A majority of Americans (75%) report being aware that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, whose residents are U.S. citizens. Over one in ten Americans (14%) believe that Puerto Rico is its own country, while a slightly smaller number believe Puerto Rico is a U.S. state (11%). Over two-thirds of Americans (70%) understand that Puerto Rican residents, although U.S. citizens, do not have full representation in Congress and have no electoral college votes in Presidential elections. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to understand Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States (78% and 73% respectively), but fewer Republicans understand Puerto Rican residents voting rights than Democrats (65% and 71% respectively).
Awareness of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and their resulting damage is nearly universal (97% or more have read or heard something about each event), but approval of the federal government’s response is not as widespread. Over three-quarters of American approve of the federal disaster response for both Hurricane Harvey in Texas (78%) and Hurricane Irma in Florida (78%), but only 56% of Americans approve of the response in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Republicans are significantly more likely to approve of the responses in Texas (91%), Florida (90%) and in Puerto Rico (82%). Three-quarters of Democrats also approve of the response in Texas (75%) and Florida (75%), but just 40% of Democrats approve of the response in Puerto Rico, while 38% strongly disapprove of the response
Americans from both sides of the aisle agree that the federal government should provide people and supplies for immediate search and rescue ( All Americans 77%, Democrats 81%, Republicans 75%) and supplies and support staff until local utilities are back working ( All Americans 75%, Democrats 75% and Republicans 73%). Partisan differences are seen when offers of help become longer term: three-quarters of Democrats (76%) and Independents (74%) say the federal government should provide financial support to pay for rebuilding of infrastructure and utilities compared to 63% of Republicans. Providing financial support to pay for rebuilding of private homes and property is also a partisan sticking point. Over half of Democrats (55%) believe the U.S. government should help rebuild private property, compared to just 35% of Republicans. Independents (46%) are in line with the population as whole (46%) when it comes to rebuilding private property.