Jan. 10, 2019 – A strong majority of Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade County supported Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections, giving Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott a significant boost in tight statewide races.
Seventy percent of Cuban-Americans surveyed said they voted for DeSantis and 69 percent said they voted for Scott, according to the 2018 FIU Cuba Poll, the longest-running research project measuring Cuban-American public opinion. The poll also revealed that Cuban-Americans in Miami are now evenly split on support for the U.S. embargo of Cuba – a striking contrast to the 2016 poll, where only 37 percent of those surveyed expressed support for the policy.
This is the first Cuba Poll conducted since the midterms and the first since President Donald J. Trump took office. The poll showed Cuban-Americans were highly motivated this election cycle, with 87 percent of registered voters turning out on Election Day.
In Florida’s Congressional races, 72 percent of Cuban-Americans surveyed said they voted for Republican candidates, showing strong support even in races where the Republican candidate ultimately lost, including former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.
Despite the strong showing for Republican candidates, a large majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami said they continue to favor many of the policies of engagement ushered in under President Obama, including lifting of travel restrictions and increased investment in the island.
“The policy preferences of Cuban-Americans are less a reflection of their party affiliation and more a reflection of the attachments that they have on the island,” said Professor Guillermo Grenier, the principal investigator on the project and chairman of the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, the primary sponsor of the poll. “Cuban-Americans with relatives and alliances on the island are more likely to want to keep doors open.”
Since Obama’s decision to reestablish relations with the island nation in December 2014, much has changed in the tone of U.S.-Cuba relations, particularly under the Trump administration. A series of “sonic attacks” reported by the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2016 and 2017 led the U.S. to withdraw most of its diplomats and issue a travel advisory for U.S. citizens.
The national narrative and recent events seem to have fed a return to support for the embargo. The shift in attitude seems to be driven by older Cuban-Americans and those who arrived in the U.S. prior to 1980 – a segment of the population whose support for the embargo has gone up more than 10 percentage points – from 57 to 68 percent – since the 2016 poll.
“The mood of the community has changed in the last two years,” Grenier noted. “We see a community divided on the issue of the embargo while still willing to maintain and even expand business relationships established as a result of the Obama initiatives.”
Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said they supported Obama’s decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba, with a strong majority among all age groups supporting this view except those ages 76 and above, where support drops to 31 percent. The majority of registered voters (61 percent) and those not registered to vote (77 percent) said they supported the reestablishment of diplomatic ties.
A strong majority (57 percent) said they favor the lifting of travel restrictions for all Americans to Cuba, while half of those surveyed would allow investments by all Americans in private business enterprises in Cuba. Sixty-eight percent support the expansion or maintenance of existing business relations with the island.
The Republican Party’s hold on Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade has steadily declined since the poll began – from 70 percent in the early 1990s to just 54 percent this year. Younger voters and newer arrivals to the U.S. are fueling the growth of Democratic (19 percent) and independent or “no party affiliation” Cuban-American voters in Florida (26 percent).
The FIU Cuba Poll was conducted by telephone – cell phone and landline – between Nov. 14 and Dec. 1, 2018, using a random sample of 1,001 Cuban-American residents of Miami-Dade County, age 18 and over, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and English, depending on the respondents’ preference.
Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute (CRI) began sponsoring the Cuba Poll in 1991 to record a snapshot of the Cuban-American community at a time of major geopolitical change, including the collapse of the Soviet Union. Funding for the 2018 Cuba Poll was provided by the Green School, CRI and the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center. No external funds were used to conduct the poll.