Cuban-Americans No Longer a Sure Bet for the GOP

PHOTO: A woman casts her vote at Hialeah Fire Station #5 in Hialeah, Fla. on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

David Santiago, El Nuevo Herald/AP Photo

Barack Obama was undeniably the favored presidential candidate among Latinos.

Exit polls show that 71 percent of Latino voters nationwide cast ballots for the incumbent Democrat compared to 27 percent that cast votes for Republican Mitt Romney. But one group that has traditionally voted Republican acted more like a swing constituency this time around.

Cuban-American voters in Florida backed Romney for president, but just barely. And Obama won more of the Cuban vote than previous Democratic candidates in the state.

Romney edged out a win over Obama among Florida Cuban-American voters, 52-48 percent. Obama took 53 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida among those who voted on Election Day compared to Romney's 47 percent, according to a survey of nearly 5,000 voters conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International. Romney won among absentee and early voters, who tended to be older and more conservative. And Obama won 60 percent to 40 percent among Cuban-American voters born in the United States.

If the polls are accurate, that would represent a landmark shift in the politics of the Cuban-American community. Anchored in South Florida, Cuban-Americans have typically favored Republican presidential candidates, helping them perform well among Latino voters in the key battleground state.

But there have been signs before this election that the GOP's advantage with Cubans has begun to erode. While support for Obama is lower among Cuban-Americans than it is among other Hispanics, a growing number of traditionally conservative Cuban-Americans cast Democratic ballots. That has some Republicans worried about losing support from a voting bloc they previously counted on to provide much-needed votes in the battleground state of Florida.

Former President Bill Clinton pulled in about 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in 1996, according to Reuters. While George W. Bush performed well among Cubans, Obama achieved a similar percentage to Clinton during his 2008 campaign.

Age, as it does in other voting groups, also mattered. Young Cuban-Americans born in the United States backed Obama at a rate of more than 60 percent, according to exit poll data. That's because they were born and raised in the country, and have adopted more liberal attitudes than their parents.

Head of the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp. and anti-Castro lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone told the Miami Herald that the drop in Cuban's support for Romney may be partially due to his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). Ryan has supported lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, an unpopular position among many older Cuban-Americans.

Not everyone thinks the exit polling data showing a shift to the left among Florida Cubans is representative.

Florida International University professors Dario Moreno and Kevin Hill said Monday that their analysis from selected precincts in Miami-Dade County show Romney won up to 59 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

Cubans also contributed to the electoral victory of Cuban-American Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart told The Wall Street Journal, "This so-called change - I've been reading about it for 30 years…The community has not changed."

Matt Barreto of Latino survey group Latino Decisions is also critical of the idea that Cuban-Americans have shifted Democratic. He calls national exit polling on Cuban-Americans, which actually showed Obama with a slight lead among Cuban-American voters in Florida, "nonsense" because of small sampling sizes and wide margins of error. Barreto also believes his organization's surveys indicate Mitt Romney won the Cuban-American vote.

"Yes, it's possible that there's some softening, especially among second generation Cuban-Americans," he said, "but the Cuban immigrant vote is still very, very influential within the Cuban-American population and they are overwhelmingly Republican."

Many simply think the exit polling data should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans.

"For Republicans, this must be very sobering, because in a quick, dramatic shift, your most reliable base of Hispanics in the GOP are suddenly not there," pollster Fernand Amandi, managing partner of the survey group Bendixen & Amandi International, told the Washington Post.

Barreto did agree that a shift toward Democratic policies among younger Cubans is possible in the future.

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