In the most recent (nonbinding) 2020 referendum, Puerto Ricans voted for statehood by a 52.5% to 47.5% margin. Including abstentions, the margin was 50.8% to 49.2%. And of course, you have to account for the fact that nearly half of eligible voters didn't vote. But in any case, the views of Puerto Ricans seems to have only slightly shifted since the 1998 plebiscite where statehood was defeated 50.3% to 46.6%.

Several commentators and at least one senator have suggested admitting Puerto Rico as a state in the coming Congress, when Democrats will have control of both chambers. My question is, has there ever been a case of Congress admitting a U.S. state where there were such high levels of internal disagreement within the would-be state?

(For the sake of argument, let's posit that support for statehood in Puerto Rico is a majority but not a supermajority, i.e. 55% for and 45% against, and a hypothetical binding referendum would have a similar breakdown)

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    How do you measure "internal disagreement"? I am not sure if there were any polls, but "Bleeding Kansas" and West Virginia sounds like serious contenders for the title.
    – SJuan76
    Jan 11, 2021 at 19:37
  • @SJuan76- I’m looking specifically for internal disagreement on the issue of statehood, which I think would rule out something like Bleeding Kansas (where, correct me if I’m wrong, both sides eventually wanted statehood). Ideally I was hoping for an answer based on referendums or votes in state legislatures. But if there’s historical evidence for a strong anti-statehood movement or sentiment in a prospective state, I’d consider accepting an answer. Jan 11, 2021 at 23:05
  • There are only thirty-something odd potential precedents, most of which I believe overwhelmingly supported statehood. But someone would need to look through all the cases to be sure.
    – Jan
    Jan 12, 2021 at 5:48

1 Answer 1


There is very little historical precedent. Only two such referendums have been held, for Alaska and Hawaii, with large majorities in favour of statehood in both cases (more than 80% in Alaska, more than 90% in Hawaii)

Prior to this there were votes to ratify a proposed constitution, with 71% approval in Oklahoma, though its not clear how many of the 29% opposed were opposed to statehood in general, or to this constitution in particular (or how many of 71% in approval were voting tactically, feeling that this constitution was the best that they were likely to get)

Other votes and ratifications of constitutions have been bitterly fought, but usually, the question of Statehood is not in doubt, it is the nature of that statehood that is (sometimes violently) debated. As was the case in Kansas.

Looking beyond the USA, it is not so strange for a 52-48 margin in a referendum to be acted upon: brexit.

  • In Alaska and Hawaii, the colonial occupiers got to vote. Is that the case in PR? Jan 13, 2021 at 5:26
  • UK joining the EC was based on a 67/33% result. Still not quite the same level as the current PR votes or Brexit.
    – Jontia
    Jan 13, 2021 at 8:42
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    Yes, and they allowed those damned Saxon colonisers to vote. This would have been different if only the Celtic Britons were eligible. (irony)
    – James K
    Jan 13, 2021 at 8:57
  • @KeithMcClary - There is no genetic criterion for voting in independence/statehood referendums in Puerto Rico, if that's what you mean. Now you've got me imagining the government saying "Sorry, your Taino mtDNA test came back negative. No vote for you." ;) All inhabitants of the island can determine their form of government. At least in theory, since the results of the previous referendums were not respected.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 13, 2021 at 17:39

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