Miami-Dade County is about 82% Latino or African American. The Cuban community is huge, 34% of 2.5 million people is 800,000+ - a large conservative voter potential after you subtract out the children. This huge block of voters has shaped Cuban-American foreign policy since the 1950s. It's difficult to live in South Florida without learning about 20th century Cuban history. It's bloody.
The Cuban community used to be homogenous in their attitude toward Cuba, largely shaped by what the community viewed as a debacle (epic failure) of the Bay of Pigs Invasion where 68 Cuban exiles died in the 3 days of fighting or executed after capture. As far as the exiles were concerned, The Cuban Missile Crisis would never have occurred had they been successful at the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Many of my Cuban American students have explained the exile rationale in this way: JFK blew it. JFK is a Democrat. I'm a Republican. The party loyalty born of that rationale shapes elections, but that ideology is changing. Both younger and later immigrants don't hold with the hard and fast attitudes of older/earlier Cuban immigrants. The number of Cuban American Democrats is increasing along with 69% wanting relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, less support for the Cuban embargo (52% oppose the embargo) and 68% desire re-established diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Despite these changes, a 63% majority still thinks Cuba should retain it's designation of being sponsor of terrorism.
You might wonder why anyone would care about one group of people. It's because as a voting group, Cuban Americans influence elections in Miami-Dade County, Florida. It's hard to elect more and better Democrats to office in Miami-Dade without getting some Cuban American votes.
The Cuban American Community that came to the U.S. in the 1950s were largely middle class who were not going to do well under Fulgencio Batista and later people left in droves after the Castros took over for similar reasons. The ethnic breakdown of Miami-Dade County is something like 64% Hispanic and 34% Cuban American. That is ten times the number of Cubans estimated to live in both the Los Angles and the tri-state NYC areas. This is a voting block that in the past was largely Republican, socially conservative and easy to target for political messaging.
The shift in attitude is documented in a long term series of polls.
Two professors at Florida International University have taken a poll every few years since 1991 to gauge the shift in the political views of Cuban-Americans over time - 23 years. It is unique in its focus on solely Cuban American respondents. It also has (from a statistical point of view) some eye brow raising issues, like excluding "unsure or don't know" answers from the calculations as if they didn't exist. Others wonder if the study being funded by groups who would like to see full diplomatic relations influenced the poll questions (here's the list - nothing objectionable) or the analysis (taking out the "not sure, don't know, refused to answer responses is questionable). FIU also put the whole thing (pdf) on line for comment and review along with the list of those who sponsored (paid for) the poll. To my way of thinking, if you don't like the math, request the raw data from the professors and calculate it yourself; that's what the Miami Herald (also a listed sponsor) did.
Here's how one of the researcher's explained it:
Grenier acknowledged his numbers reflect only those respondents who said they favored or opposed the embargo and did not include “don’t know/no answer” replies. Including those numbers in the tally would change the percentages to 45-41 against the embargo — short of a majority and with 12 percent replying “don’t know/no answer.”Short a majority, but still more opposing the embargo than those who support it and this isn't the first poll to report results like these. Some would say the results are within the margin of error with the real results showing even for and against groups. Including the don't know/no answer responses would impact the study, so I would ask the researchers to rework the math to include those responses. Even so, the series of the surveys still show a shift in Cuban American political attitudes and that's worth noting.
I read this poll as encouraging. Then again, I'm probably one of the most liberal people living in South Florida. However, there are a few other nuggets in this poll. One is that 84% of the respondents want to get their news in Spanish which should tell people to make major buys in Spanish radio, TV and print publications. Mailers should be in Spanish and GoTV efforts need more Spanish speakers. That's a no brainer for people living in multi-cultural areas, but for people living in mono-cultural areas, that's news.
The respondents also want to retain (63%) the favored status (66%) Cuban immigrants receive. I only regret there not being a question asking if the favored status should be extended to other groups or all immigrants. It would be helpful to know how Cuban Americans view Dominicans, Hondurans, Haitians and so on.
In practical terms this change can be illustrated with the fact that Joe Garcia, a Democrat, was actually elected to Congress from Western Miami-Dade and Monroe County. To be sure, Joe Garcia isn't the best or brightest Democrat, some would even refer to him as a DINO; but he's a Democrat. Another consideration is how touchy Marco Rubio is when anyone suggests that the Hispanic vote is split between Cuban Americans and all other Hispanics, he says that's offensive. I'd go further. There are three or four distinct groups of Hispanics in Miami-Dade. Cubans who have favored immigration status, Puerto Ricans who are citizens, second, third or fourth-generational Hispanics born U.S. citizens and an overlapping group of the Hispanics immigrants and citizens alike fighting for immigration reform. The best news for liberals is the fact that 30% of the polled Cuban Americans are registered Democrats and the other groups have similar or greater Democratic Party representation.
This is progress. I'll take it.