By GARY FINEOUT
03/16/2021 07:01 AM EDT
Posted on POLITICO
TALLAHASSEE — A new poll of Cuban-American voters in Florida shows that an overwhelming majority is solidly opposed to the Biden administration reengaging with the island dictatorship — and their brief drift toward Democrats has been totally reversed.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, studies, exit polls and voting patterns indicated that the exiled community’s hardline positions about Cuba had begun to soften, prompting Obama to make a historic visit to the island in early 2016 — a move that brought a torrent of criticism from Florida Republicans including then-Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio.
But now 66 percent of those polled by Bendixen & Amandi International opposed reverting back to Obama policies toward Cuba. In a poll done by the same group in 2015, 51 percent backed the former president’s effort. The new poll also showed a major shift in support for keeping the decades-old trade embargo against Cuba. Six years ago, only 36 percent favored retaining the embargo. Now 66 percent say they favor keeping it in place. The poll also found a majority — 56 percent — oppose easing travel restrictions.
“We see the Cuban-American electorate has recalibrated and defaulted back to the hardline positions,” said Fernand Amandi, president of Bendixen & Amandi, who called it a “Back to the Future” moment for Cuban-Americans where their positions are similar to the ones they held in the 1980s and 1990s.
Cuban-Americans are one of the largest bloc of Hispanic voters in the state — and their support in the past for Republicans have helped the GOP maintain its winning record in the state. In the run-up to the 2020 election, Republicans successfully slammed Democrats as socialists, a message that resonated with Cuban-Americans and other groups that had fled Latin American countries led by dictators.
In 2016 in Florida, Trump won over an estimated 54 percent of Cuban-American voters to 41 percent for Hillary Clinton, who lost the stateby nearly 113,000 votes. The new poll of 400 Cuban-American voters — all of whom voted in November — showed that 62 percent backed Trump this time around. And that support for Trump hasn’t cooled as 62 percent had a favorable opinion for the former president, compared to 45 percent who had a favorable opinion for Biden.
Trump’s surge due to support from Cuban-Americans was evident in Miami-Dade County. Four years earlier, Trump won only 34 percent of the nearly 1 million votes cast there. In 2020, he took 46 percent of the vote, losing the county by only about seven percentage points.
The Biden administration so far has taken a cautious approach to Cuba. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki earlier this month told reporters that a “Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” Psaki did say the administration was “carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.” The Trump administration made that change just days before Biden was sworn into office.
Scott, now a senator, said he was “not surprised” at the findings.
“The Cuban-American community rejected the Obama/Biden policy of dictatorship empowerment,” Scott said in a statement. “In contrast, the Trump administration implemented a policy of marginalizing the dictatorship to empower the Cuban people. The community has seen the direct impact of both policies and understands that now would be the worst time to throw another life-line to that murderous dictatorship.”
Rubio, in a statement, said Florida Democrats “naively believe” that the Cuba’s regime can be persuaded to change through tourism.
“Anyone that sides with this so-called ‘re-engagement’ doesn’t just play into the regimes hands, they also do so at their own political peril,” he said.
Amandi said the survey suggests that Democrats “are almost back to square zero when it comes to this group politically.”
“A lot of the gains Democrats were making and did make during the Obama years seemed to have been wiped out as a result of Trump’s four years in office,” said Amandi, who also works as a Democratic consultant.
The poll also had one other warning sign for Democrats: Some 40 percent of Cuban-Americans surveyed said they don’t believe the results of the 2020 election. Amandi called this finding an “ominous challenge” to win over Cuban-Americans in the future.
“As a Cuban-American it’s very troubling and disturbing that an uncomfortably high percentage of Cuban voters, many of who came to the United States to live in a democratic and free society, discounted the election results and buy into the big lie that the election was rigged,” Amandi said.
The latest poll was conducted March 8-11 among 400 registered Cuban-American voters and questions were asked in both Spanish and English. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.