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Most Cuban Americans do not support normalizing relations with the island, new poll shows

Cuban and American flags. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

As the Biden administration reviews Cuba policy, a new Florida poll finds that a majority of Cuban American voters do not support a return to Obama-era engagement with the communist island.

Sixty-six percent of 400 Cuban Americans, all of whom voted in the 2020 election, said they oppose normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, according to a Bendixen & Amandi International poll released Tuesday.

The results of the bilingual survey show former President Donald Trump’s support among Cuban Americans is enduring and that many in the community still back his hard-line policies against the Cuban government, even those deemed as hurting Cuban families. Fifty-six percent said they somewhat or strongly oppose easing travel between the two countries. About 35% said they supported it, either somewhat or strongly.

The results of the poll reaffirm what previews surveys have suggested: That rather than becoming more open to the idea of loosening U.S. restrictions with Cuba, Cuban Americans have increasingly dug into keeping the island closed off, said Fernand Amandi, the president of Bendixen & Amandi International, which has been tracking the Cuban community for over 45 years.

“What we’re seeing is a new back-to-the-future, retro-style to some of these issues, when it was believed that the Cuban community was going through a shift in perceptions during the Obama years,” said Amandi. “These results suggest that if there’s any change, it’s toward the hard line.”

The survey was conducted by telephone from March 8 to 11 in English and Spanish and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Most of those polled were born in in Cuba (75%). About 46% said they were conservative, 34% said they are moderates and 15% said they identified as liberal.

The results show Biden continues to trail Trump in support among Cubans in Florida. Forty-five percent said they view the president as very or somewhat favorably, while 62% said the same about Trump. Fifty-one percent say they view Biden as somewhat or very unfavorably. Thirty-six said the same of Trump.

And on the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, 40% of Cuban Americans in Florida said they do not accept the legitimacy of the election result that certified Biden as the winner. Fifty-four said they accepted the election results as legitimate.

Giancarlo Sopo, a Republican communications strategist who helped lead the Trump campaign’s messaging on Hispanics, said the lingering attitudes that favor Trump are a trend on the gains Republicans made with Latinos in working-class communities throughout Miami-Dade County.

“Democrats are alienating blue-collar and middle-class Latinos as their party and cultural institutions become more ‘woke’ and progressive,” said Sopo. “Cuban Americans, who had been trending Democratic for years, are no exception to this trend.”

The poll shows a change in the way Cuban Americans view the embargo on the island since the Obama years, with 66% saying they think the embargo should continue, a trend previously appearing in past polls conducted by the Florida International University. About 47% said the embargo should not continue.

Sixty nine percent were in favor of keeping Cuba in the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a decision taken by the Trump administration just days before leaving office and currently under review by the Biden team.

When it comes to humanitarian policies affecting Cuban American families, the community is divided. About 50% said they were somewhat or strongly opposed to ending the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, while 43% said they were strongly or somewhat in favor of ending it.

And 50% said they strongly or somewhat supported reinstating the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed Cuban migrants who reached the U.S. to stay and seek legal permanent resident status. Obama ended the 22-year policy in 2017 before leaving office. About 42% said they somewhat or strongly opposed it.

Some of the results in the poll resemble the findings in the last edition of Florida International University’s Cuba poll in October 2020. Those results showed strong support for Trump’s policies on the island, including maintaining the embargo, at 54%, and imposing greater sanctions to force a regime change in Cuba, with 65% of support.

Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of history at FIU, said he thinks the poll’s results point to the effectiveness of Trump’s messaging in South Florida’s Cuban community for four years, as the new administration weighs its approach to the island.

“What I see still is sort of the hangover, if you will, of four-plus years of the Trump administration hammering home its policies in this community,” Bustamante said.

He added that this new poll comes at a time when there’s a fierce debate happening in and outside Democratic circles on what should be the Biden administration’s approach to Cuba. Last week, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a press briefing that while the president is evaluating Trump’s policies, a “Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” Advancing human rights, Psaki added, would be the administration’s core principle in its approach.

“There’s definitely been some shifts in attitudes. I think that leadership matters in terms of driving a message,” Bustamante said. “I think the Biden administration has an opportunity when the time comes … Even if it’s not the same as what Obama did.”

For Ricardo Herrero, Cuba expert and executive director of the nonpartisan organization Cuba Study Group, the attitudes captured in the poll are consistent with how he says public opinion has shifted cyclically throughout history among Cuban Americans, which sways when a new administration sets a new agenda.

“When the Biden administration is telling you that Cuba is not a top priority, the dominant messaging that still maintains a grip over public opinion is what you had under the previous administration. That’s going to remain the case until you see this administration tackle this issue head on,” said Herrero.

Herrero added that he believes the Trump administration’s approach to Cuba did not benefit dissidents and reformists on the island, at a moment when the Cuban government is increasingly targeting independent journalists and artists on the island.

“These poll results really show how maintaining the status quo really benefits Trump supporters in Florida and the conservatives in the Cuban Communist Party,” he added.


(c) 2021 Miami Herald

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