The 51st and 52nd states? What Americans think about Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico’s future

April 30, 2021, 1:55 PM UTC

Democrats want to make the District of Columbia the country’s 51st state, but Republicans do not, according to the latest Economist/YouGov poll. There is a clear division of opinion among Americans (36% favor it, while 37% oppose it) about statehood for the District, reflecting partisan expectations should Washington D.C. be admitted as a state. 

For some officeholders, the decision is strategic. The District, a Democratic stronghold, could provide Congress with two more Democratic Senators and one Democratic representative. Many believe that Washington D.C. should receive increased representation because its population of 689,545 is larger than the population of two states, Wyoming and Vermont, and it is currently represented by one non-voting member of the U.S. House.

The party gap is not the only division. About half of D.C. residents are Black, and African-Americans (and Hispanic Americans) are in favor of statehood for the District. But overall, white Americans oppose it by 44% to 33% (although white Democrats are in favor by 65% to 16%). About one in four Americans (27%) aren’t sure what to think about giving statehood to Washington, D.C. 

Not all statehood admissions have been quite so divisive. Before the 1959 admission of Hawaii, the most recent state, a Gallup poll found 71% of the public in favor of its admission. In another 1958 Gallup poll, 73% favored statehood for Alaska. 

While a D.C. statehood bill passed the House of Representatives last week, it is seen as unlikely to get the 60 votes it would need in the U.S. Senate, given the partisan split. 

Americans tend to favor statehood for Puerto Rico 

Statehood has also been suggested for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and a statehood referendum there was approved by voters last November. There is more support in this week’s poll for Puerto Rican statehood that there is for D.C. statehood. By a twelve-point margin Americans approve (43% to 31%). 

Most groups are more in favor of Puerto Rican statehood than of D.C. statehood. Three in five Democrats (63%) support it, as are 45% of Independents and 21% of Republicans (though 58% of Republicans oppose it). Two in five white Americans (40%) support Puerto Rican statehood, compared to half of Black (52%) and Hispanic (51%) Americans.  

After Hurricane Maria devastated the island in late 2017, more than a third of U.S. adults agreed that the response to the disaster would have been quicker if Puerto Rico had been a state. Other polls suggested that even more Americans wanted it admitted to the union. In a 2019 Gallup Poll, two-thirds of the public favored admitting Puerto Rico as a state. 

Related: For his first 100 days, President Biden scores higher than Trump – but not Obama

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between April 25 - 27, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample