The strong swing of Cuban-American voters to President Obama and Democrats was one of the most interesting and probably one of the most significant shifts in voting patterns in 2012.
For Republicans, that shift to Democrats is cause for panic and denial. After all, Cuban-Americans are just about the only group of minority voters who have ever backed Republicans. If even their taste for the GOP is waning, then Republicans are in worse shape than previously thought.
For Democrats, it is difficult to think of a strategically more important group with which we could possibly hope to make inroads than Cuban-Americans. Cuban-Americans are a growing group of minority voters, concentrated strongly in THE largest and most important swing state in the country—Florida.
If Democrats can consolidate and expand upon the gains made in 2012 with Cuban-American voters in the coming years, it will suddenly become much more difficult for Republicans to win Florida's all-important 29 Electoral votes. If Cuban-Americans even begin to regularly split their vote roughly 50-50—much less to vote outright for Democrats—then Florida could shift from a lean-red state to a lean-blue state.
This is a point that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina recognizes very well:
Even parity is a triumph for the Obama campaign given the longstanding loyalty of anti-communist Cubans to the Republicans.
“This marks a dramatic realignment of politics in that state,” said Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager.
And it is the GOP's worst fear come true:
Republicans will be worried that a community they had long been able to rely on was turning away from the party in Florida, the largest of the swing states and always a prize in the presidential poll.
And it wasn't only President Obama who made substantial gains among Cuban-American voters. For the first time (ever?), a Cuban-American Democrat got elected to Congress from Miami—Joe Garcia in FL-26. Garcia handily dispatched Republican incumbent David Rivera, 54 percent-43 percent.
Ever since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and prompted a wave of Cubans to flee north to Miami, the Cuban-American community in Florida, and especially in Miami proper, has been a solidly Republican voting bloc.
Because Florida is such an important state in the electoral college, the influence of Cuban-American voters on American politics has been profound. For example, if it were not for overwhelming support from Cuban-American voters for George W. Bush, Al Gore would have easily carried Florida by a large margin in 2000, and would thus have been the 43rd president.
And with Fidel Castro on death's door, the possibility of even greater change seems to be in the air.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Exit Polls and the Cuban vote:
In 2008, a shift in Cuban-American voting patterns had already begun to become evident, as President Obama made up ground in the Cuban-American community—especially among younger Cuban-Americans. In 2008:
Exit polls showed that 84 percent of Miami-Dade Cuban-Americans over 65 voted for Sen. McCain, and 55 percent of those 29 or younger voted for President-elect Obama. Young Cuban-Americans, most of whom were born here, are leaving the Bay of Pigs to history and questioning the value of a failed trade embargo. To many of them, Castro is a tired anachronism who grows increasingly irrelevant and is hardly worth the political preoccupation.
In 2012, as Republicans continued to alienate Hispanics and Latinos of all national origins, Obama expanded even further upon his 2008 gains with Cuban-American voters. On and shortly after election night, a number of exit polls found that Obama ran even or may even have won Cuban-American voters in Florida
The network exit polls (conducted by Edison Research) found that Obama won Cuban-Americans 49 percent-47 percent.
A separate exit poll from Bendixen & Amandi International found that Romney narrowly edged out Obama 52 percent-48 percent.
Fox news separately reported that Romney won Cuban-Americans 50 percent-47 percent—although I am not sure if this actually comes from a different source than the network exit polls.
But Latino Decisions found a different result—they found that Cuban-Americans in Florida backed Romney by a larger 64 percent-35 percent margin.
What has been the reaction in the Cuban-American community to these exit polls? (Cuban American support for Obama belies community’s image)
“¡ No me digas! Really, so much?” former state Republican Sen. Roberto Casas of Hialeah said.
He shouldn’t have been so shocked. After all, he and his wife, his brother, his children and spouses all voted for Obama.
You read that right. A Cuban-American former Republican state senator and what sounds like much of his family all voted for Obama.
“He was the best candidate,” Casas explained after I pressed him for his personal view, which he gave somewhat grudgingly because, while he was happy to analyze demographic shifts making the Cuban community more diverse — the newer arrivals, the younger generation — he was not as willing to delve into on his own vote.
“Ever since the Tea Party took over the Republican Party, I haven’t liked it one bit,” Casas said. “That is not what we’re about. I think this president is better able to help all of the population of Miami-Dade.”
Call this unexpected support for Obama “the spiral of silence” vote, as political science professor Eduardo Gamarra does.
“They were embarrassed to say they were going to vote for Obama,” he said, “but they did.”
Miami-Dade County swung Democratic in 2012—and not just by a little bit:
While most of the rest of the country swung towards Romney, there was a very strong 7.6 percent net swing towards Obama in Miami-Dade County.
Maybe some more votes will trickle in, but at this point, the vote totals for 2012 in Miami-Dade County are:
Obama: 540,776 (61.58%)
Romney: 332,602 (37.88%)
By contrast, in 2008, the vote totals for Miami-Dade County were:
Obama: 499,831 (57.81%)
McCain: 360,551 (41.70%)
In 2012, Obama won Miami-Dade County by a margin of 208,174 votes, while in 2008 he won Miami-Dade County by a margin of only 139,280 votes.
This means there was a net vote margin shift of 68,894 votes towards Obama from 2008 to 2012.
Currently, President Obama is ahead statewide in Florida by 4,235,270 to 4,162,081—or by a margin of 73,189 votes. So the shift in Miami-Dade County alone is responsible for 94 percent of Obama's (current) statewide margin of victory.
Put slightly differently, if there had been no swing to Obama in Miami-Dade County, Obama would be ahead by a grand total of ... wait for it ... 4,295 votes. That sounds just like recount purgatory to me. In other words, rather than a narrow (but clear and comfortable) victory for Obama in Florida, it would have been 2000 all over again.
But ... Did Cuban-Americans really swing to Obama?
So, what explains that large swing to Obama in Miami-Dade County, which occurred at the same time that most of the rest of the USA was swinging towards Romney?
Logically, there are not many possibilities to choose between:
Theory 1) White voters in Miami swung massively to Obama -
This is, I suppose, theoretically possible, but seems to be extremely improbable. I doubt anyone seriously thinks that this is why Miami-Dade county swung to Obama.
Theory 2) African American turnout was way up, and Black voters voted strongly for Obama -
The trouble with this theory is that African American turnout was already very high, and African American voters backed Obama almost unanimously in 2008. In addition, actual total turnout was 878,127 in 2012, which is only slightly higher than the 864,636 vote turnout of 2008. While this may well explain part of the swing to Obama, it can only explain a small part of the swing.
Theory 3) There was a swing to Obama among Non-Cuban Hispanics -
I don't doubt that there was a swing to Obama among Non-Cuban Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County. But I do highly doubt that it was large enough to explain anything like the whole (or most) of the swing to Obama in the county as a whole. According to the 2010 Census, 856,007 of the 1,623,859 (53 percent) Hispanics in Miami-Dade County are Cuban. That leaves 767,852 Non-Cuban Hispanics, which on its face seems like a lot of people. But a number of the Non-Cuban Hispanics are "Black," especially in Miami's prominent Dominican community. In addition, Non-Cuban citizens are much less likely to be citizens, to be registered to vote, and to actually vote than are Cuban Hispanics. So while I am pretty sure this theory is true, I am highly skeptical that the effect is strong enough to explain the large overall countywide swing to Obama.
Theory 4) Cuban-American voters swung to Obama -
Even if you think any of the other theories are partially responsible, they cannot be large enough to explain the entire swing to Obama. This is the only possibility I can see that remains. This has to explain at least a large part of the swing to Obama.
Ben Bishin expresses some skepticism that there was really a substantial shift among Cuban voters to Obama.
Bishin presents maps showing precinct results side by side with the Cuban-American population:
Additional evidence is seen by examining election results. At 47.3% of the national population, Miami Dade County is an ideal place to look, as it is the most populous Cuban American county in the nation. The maps below compare the density of the Cuban American population in Miami Dade County, taken from the 2010 Census, with the unofficial presidential election results map. On the left, darker red areas indicate larger concentrations of Cuban Americans, while on the right graph, areas that voted for Romney are colored black. While these maps cannot be created on precisely the same scales, they are nonetheless highly suggestive.
One problem is that these maps are somewhat grainy and hard to make out. In addition, this just looks at the 2012 results in isolation, without looking at what is arguably the more important point—what was the change from 2008?
Bishin goes on and argues that while it is possible that Romney won a lot of precincts narrowly, that seems to him to be unlikely.
These maps show that while Cuban Americans were far from Romney’s only base of support, the areas with the largest populations are areas that supported Romney. While it is possible that Romney won only narrowly in these areas, it seems unlikely. Like most cities, much of Miami’s population is segregated such that Cuban Americans tend to be highly geographically concentrated. Moreover, the non-Cuban Latinos in these districts are also likely to be Latino. If Cuban Americans only narrowly supported Romney, we might then expect the non-Cuban Latinos, who tend to vote heavily Democratic, to swing these areas toward Obama. After all, recall that the National Exit Poll claims that Obama won the Cuban-American vote. We see little evidence of this.
So I decided to actually check the precinct results, and see if I could figure out what was happening.
And indeed, it does look like that is what happened—Romney won most of the heavily Cuban-American precincts (at least outside of Little Havana), but by substantially less than McCain did 4 years ago.
Because many precincts have been redrawn since 2008, it is hard to make a truly systematic apples to apples comparison between 2008 and 2012. So what I did was pick out a few precincts whose borders clearly tell did not change between 2008 and 2012 and were either in Little Havana or were in nearby areas (such as Hialeah) known to be heavily Cuban. In the areas outside of Little Havana proper, I was particularly careful to pick precincts that were both heavily Republican in 2008 and very heavily Hispanic, so that I could be very sure that I was really looking at Cuban-American voters, rather than other Hispanics. Here is what I found from my (non-random) selection of precincts:
We can clearly see that in every precinct, there was a large swing to Obama in 2012.
The swing seems to have been largest in Little Havana itself, but was also evident in other heavily Cuban neighborhoods. You'll note that Romney won the precincts I selected outside of Little Havana fairly handily, but remember that I generally tried to chose precincts which voted particularly strongly for McCain in 2008, so that I could be sure I was really looking at Cuban voters, rather than other Hispanics.
It is theoretically possible that I just happened to pick a bunch of precincts with noticeable swings to Obama by pure chance, but I don't think that's very likely. If anyone wants to check more precincts, please do. You can check 2008 precinct results from Dave's Redistricting App, and you can get 2012 results from Miami-Dade County here. But remember to check that the precinct boundaries have not been redrawn between elections.
So, how did Cuban-Americans in Miami actually vote? I don't know for certain, but I would guess Romney won them—but by much less than McCain did in 2008. Romney probably won them by about 10 or 15 points.
However, we have to remember one important fact—not all Cuban-Americans in Florida live in Miami. In fact, of the 1,213,438 Cuban-Americans living in Florida counted by the 2010 Census, 357,431 of them (29.5 percent) live outside of Miami-Dade County. And according to research that Bishin himself cites, Cuban-Americans who live outside of Miami-Dade County tend to be more "moderate," which in this case means they are more likely to vote for Democrats. And so it is very much conceivable that Obama probably did better among Cuban-Americans outside of Miami than among Cuban-Americans in Miami. Even if Obama lost Miami Cubans by 10 or 15 points, that could easily be enough to bring the total vote in Florida among ALL Cuban voters—not just those in Miami—to close to even.
For example, if the 70 percent of Cubans who live in Miami voted 57 percent-42 percent for Romney and the 30 percent of Cubans who live outside of Miami-Dade County voted 60 percent-39 percent (similarly to Hispanics generally) for Obama, then the overall Cuban-American vote in Florida as a whole would be quite close—just 51 percent-47 percent Romney. So even if Romney did win by a reasonably large margin of 10 or 15 points among Miami Cubans, that would be quite consistent with the exit polls showing that a close race with Cuban-American voters overall statewide.
And About those Puerto Ricans ...
But with all the hubbub about Cubans, we shouldn't forget that there are also many non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida. Puerto Ricans, who tend to live along the I-4 corridor in Central Florida, are the largest and probably the most politically important of these.
In 2012, Puerto Ricans in Florida voted for Obama over Romney by 72 percent to 28 percent.
That whooshing noise you just heard was the sound of Republican hopes and dreams. Being crushed.
Among other things, confronting the first Hispanic and Puerto Rican Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotamayor, with racial attacks may not have been the wisest political strategy for the Republican party. Who'd of thunk it?
And with the issue of Puerto Rican statehood once again coming to prominence, we can only wait to see what will come out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth next ...