Cuban-Americans in South Florida, long seen as a major source of Republican votes and holding monolithic, hard-line views toward the Cuban government, are changing.
The latest Florida International University Cuba poll shows a generational divide.
The differences are especially pronounced between older Cubans who fled their country in the first two decades after the late dictator Fidel Castro took power and younger Cuban-Americans who were born outside the country.
The divergence between people who left Cuba and came to the U.S. before 1980 and other Cuban-Americans is “a stark, almost seismic division,” said Guillermo Grenier, lead investigator for the survey and chairman of FIU’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies.
At least for now, though, the polling shows Democrats can’t count on a huge cache of votes from Cuban-Americans, which is significant in Florida, which awards 29 electoral votes — more than a tenth of the number needed to win the presidency.
Also, there has been a shift, but not a reversal, of long-standing views about U.S.-Cuba relations.
The poll, conducted in the weeks following the 2018 midterm election and released in January, was conducted among Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, the epicenter of the Cuban-American community in the United States.
Cuban-Americans remain heavily Republican.
“Republicans are still very, very strong,” Grenier said.
Overall, pollsters found, voter registration is 54 percent Republican, 19 percent Democratic and 26 percent no party affiliation/independent.
But there are significant differences among various demographic groups that make up the Cuban-American community.
— Cubans who came to the U.S. before 1980 are 72 percent Republican, 11 percent Democratic and 17 percent no party affiliation.
— Cuban-Americans who weren’t born in Cuba are 41 percent Republican, 28 percent Democratic and 29 percent no party affiliation.
— Those who are 18 to 39 years old are 35 percent Republican, 23 percent Democratic and 40 percent no party affiliation.
— Seniors, people who are age 76 and older, are 76 percent Republican, 7 percent Democratic, 17 percent no party affiliation.
The lower identification with Republicans among younger voters shows up in the long-term trend of political affiliation in the Cuban-American community.
In 1997, Cuban-Americans were 69 percent Republican, 16 percent Democratic, and 14 percent no party affiliation.
Those shares remained steady until 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected.
Starting in 2008, Republican registration decreased to 53 percent, Democratic registration increased to 27 percent, and no party affiliation registration increased to 21 percent.
The new, lower Republican share of registration remained roughly steady in the following 10 years.
But the share of registered Democrats slipped 8 percentage points in the last 10 years, while no party affiliation voters are up 5 points.
Cuban-Americans provided major support for Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, helping them win tight statewide races.
In the governor’s race, Republican Ron DeSantis received 70 percent of the vote among Miami-Dade Cuban-Americans and Democrat Andrew Gillum received 29 percent of the vote.
The overall election was much closer. DeSantis won the governor’s office with 49.6 percent of the statewide vote to 49.2 percent for Gillum. Overall, Miami-Dade County went 39 percent for DeSantis and 59.9 percent for Gillum.
Various parts of the Cuban-American population had different candidate preferences.
Cubans who came to the U.S. before 1980 voted 84 percent for DeSantis and 15 percent for Gillum. Among Cuban-Americans born outside the island nation, the vote was 51 percent DeSantis and 48 percent Gillum.
The splits were almost exactly the same in the U.S. Senate race, in which Republican Rick Scott received 69 percent of the vote to Democrat Bill Nelson’s 30 percent. Scott won the election with 50 percent of the vote to 49.9 percent for Nelson, the incumbent he defeated.
Cuba wasn’t the overriding issue for Cuban-Americans.
Asked to pick their top issues, Cuba got 8 percent — “dead last in terms of what motivates” a vote for a specific candidate, Grenier said.
Many more cited the economy and jobs (47 percent), health care (29 percent), gun control (24 percent) and immigration (20 percent).
Grenier said the Cuban-American community is divided along demographic and ideological lines about dealing with Cuba.
There is broad agreement on the decades-long U.S. trade embargo limiting U.S. economic activities in Cuba, which was an attempt to squeeze the Cuban regime.
Few think it’s worked.
A total of 57 percent said it hasn’t worked at all and 26 percent said it hasn’t worked very well.
Just 12 percent said it worked well and 5 percent said it worked very well.
Yet, even though more than eight in 10 said the embargo hasn’t worked, 51 percent in the 2018 poll favor continuing it.
Overall support for the embargo has declined significantly over time. A far higher share — 78 percent — favored continuing the embargo in 1997.
The question produces one of the biggest divides within the Cuban-American community, Grenier said. “We see a community divided on the issue of the embargo,” he said.
Among Cuban-Americans age 18 to 39 there is little support, with 65 percent saying they don’t want to continue the embargo. Among those age 76 and older, 73 percent want it continued.
Among people who came to the U.S. before 1980, 68 percent favor continuing it. Among people who’ve come since 1995 and those not born in Cuba, 40 percent want to continue the embargo.
Views are mixed on expanding economic relations with the country, with 46 percent in favor, 22 percent wanting economic relations to stay the same, and 32 percent favoring a halt.
The most recent arrivals (since 1995) and second- and third-generation Cuban-Americans support engagement with the island nation, the researchers reported.
Migrants who came before 1980 have “retrenched to a more isolationist attitude towards U.S. /Cuba relations,” the polling report concluded.
Diplomatic relations with the island nation, resumed by President Barack Obama near the end of his time in office, are supported by 63 percent of Cuban-Americans, with 37 percent opposed.
Diplomatic relations are supported by 77 percent of those not born in Cuba and 83 percent of those aged 18 to 39. Among those 76 and older, 69 percent opposed U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations.
FIU’s Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs 2018 Cuba Poll surveyed 1,001 Cuban-Americans living in Miami-Dade County.
Interviews were conducted in Spanish and English, on land-lines and cellphones, between Nov. 14 and Dec. 1.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
It’s the 13th such poll conducted since 1991, with many of the same questions asked in poll after poll so trends can be seen over time.