"Statehood won a victory without precedent but it's an artificial victory," said Angel Israel Rivera Ortiz, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico. "It reflects a divided and confused electorate that is not clear on where it's going."
President Barack Obama had said he would support the will of the Puerto Rican people on the question of the island's relationship to the U.S., referred to simply on the island as its "status," and this week's referendum was intended to be the barometer.
But the results aren't so clear-cut. It was a two-part ballot that first asked all voters if they favor the current status as a territory. Regardless of the answer, all voters then got to choose in the second question from three options: statehood, independence or "sovereign free association," which would grant more autonomy to the island of nearly 4 million people.
More than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, responded `no' to the first question, saying they were not content with the current status; and nearly 800,000, or 61 percent, chose statehood -- a bigger percentage, and the first majority, than in the previous three referendums on this issue over the past 45 years.
Luis Delgado Rodriguez, who leads a group that supports sovereign free association, noted that 450,000 voters left the second question blank, raising questions about their preference. He said that those voters, coupled with those who support independence and sovereign free association, add up to more than those who favored statehood.
"This represents an overwhelming majority against statehood," he said.
The results are also murky because everyone could vote in the second round -- no matter their answer to the first question -- and the choice of "sovereign free association," is not the same as the current status. In other words, people could have voted for both no change in the first round and any of the choices in the second. Nearly 65,000 left the first question blank.
"With that kind of message, Congress is not going to do anything, and neither is President Obama," Rivera said.
Puerto Rico has been a territory for 114 years and its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Residents of the island cannot vote in the U.S. presidential election, have no representation in the Senate and only limited representation in the House of Representatives.