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Why Don’t Americans Want D.C. To Be A State?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Recently things have been looking up for D.C.-statehood advocates. Almost every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has expressed support for making the nation’s capital the 51st state. The House scheduled (and then postponed) a hearing on the issue. And as this native Washingtonian can attest, many locals marching in July 4 parades carried signs that said “No Taxation Without Representation,” a Revolutionary War slogan repurposed as the rallying cry for D.C. statehood.

There’s just one snag: Nearly two-thirds of Americans — 64 percent — oppose making D.C. a state, according to a recent Gallup poll.

While D.C. statehood is very popular within the District (in 2017, 86 percent of D.C. residents voted in support of a statehood referendum), support among Americans at large is much lower. The question hasn’t been polled that often, but in the only other polls we found,1 conducted in 1989 and 1992, a majority of Americans (around 55 percent) said they opposed D.C. statehood.

So what is it about D.C. statehood that gives Americans pause? The most obvious explanation might be that adding a state could change the makeup of Congress. Washington, D.C., is a heavily Democratic city — for example, just 4 percent of its residents voted for President Trump in 2016 — so D.C. statehood would almost certainly give Democrats two more senators and one more seat in the House, all of which could make Republicans less likely to support it.

But perhaps there’s something else going on here, as Americans haven’t always been opposed to adding new states. For instance, before Alaska became a state in 1959, 71 percent of Americans were in favor of adding it to the Union, according to a Gallup poll from 1957.2 And support for Puerto Rico’s statehood remains higher than support for the District’s. In Gallup’s most recent poll, they found that two-thirds of Americans favor statehood for Puerto Rico.

So it could be that Americans just don’t think of the nation’s capital as a state. In an interview with Politico, Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones said that Americans’ (largely negative) views on the federal government might be influencing the way they think about the District. A Gallup poll from January found that a majority of Americans, 63 percent, said they have “not very much” or no trust in the federal government’s ability to handle domestic problems, and, Jones said, it’s possible that this attitude “rains down on D.C.’s population and local government.”

Regardless of why many Americans are reluctant to grant D.C. statehood, the issue probably isn’t going away: Democrats are campaigning on it and D.C.’s mayor and nonvoting congressional representative are pushing for it, which is likely to keep the issue in the spotlight at least until the 2020 election.

Other polling bites

  • A Quinnipiac University poll of California Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters found that a plurality supported their senator, Kamala Harris, in the Democratic primary. Harris’ 23 percent narrowly edges out former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s at 21 percent, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders at 18 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent. This looks like good news for Harris, who is up from 17 percent in Quinnipiac’s April survey, though her lead over Biden falls within the poll’s margin of error.
  • President Trump tweeted on Sunday that four Democratic congresswomen of color — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three days later, a YouGov poll asked Americans how they felt about the president’s tweets and found that a majority thought they were “terrible” or “bad.” But there was a wide partisan divide, with 87 percent of Democrats rating the tweets as “terrible” or “bad” and only 13 percent of Republicans saying the same.
  • An Economist/YouGov poll found that among U.S. adults who voted for Trump in 2016, a majority have either “very unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” views of three of the four first-term congresswomen Trump alluded to in his tweet. Eighty-two percent said they have a very unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable view of Ocasio-Cortez, 73 percent said this of Omar and 67 percent said it of Tlaib, but just 36 percent had a negative opinion of Pressley.
  • Last week, Trump announced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would conduct a series of raids to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. A little over half of registered voters — 51 percent — said they “somewhat” or “strongly” supported the raids, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll published on Wednesday. Thirty-five percent of voters said they either “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed the raids.
  • A recent Gallup poll found that women between 18 and 49 are more likely to view the “American dream” as unattainable than men and women over 50. Nearly three-quarters of people over 50 and 73 percent of men under 50 said they believed that if they “work hard and play by the rules,” they will be able to achieve the American dream. Just 58 percent of women under 50 said the same.
  • A joint Washington Post-Reforma poll found that 55 percent of Mexican adults think the main problem facing their country is insecurity. The poll also found that 42 percent of Mexicans characterize U.S.-Mexico relations as “bad” or “very bad” while only 24 percent say they’re “good” or “very good.”
  • The percentage of U.S. adults who say that when they go online they mostly do it on a smartphone has nearly doubled since 2013, a Pew Research Center report found. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. adults said they usually access the internet on a cellphone in 2019, compared with 19 percent in 2013. Among Americans between 18 and 29, almost 60 percent say they mostly go online using their cellphone; six years ago, that figure was 41 percent.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.1 points). At this time last week, 42.5 percent approved and 52.4 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -9.9 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.4 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.9 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.4 percentage points (46.2 percent to 39.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.4 points (46.3 percent to 39.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.2 points (46.1 percent to 39.9 percent).

CORRECTION (July 19, 2019, 1:18 p.m.): A previous version of this article said that if D.C. became a state it would gain three electoral votes. D.C. already has three electoral votes.

Footnotes

  1. By searching the Roper Center’s database of polls for questions on D.C. statehood.

  2. That said, new states have often been added in pairs that were expected to balance each other out politically.

Erin Doherty is FiveThirtyEight’s politics intern.

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