Majority of Cuban-Americans for warmer US-Cuba ties, poll says, but...

Those who support warmer US-Cuba ties, including lifting travel restrictions and re-establishing diplomatic relations, are not eligible to vote in the US, diminishing their political influence.

Florida International University has just released the results of a poll on Cuban American attitudes on Cuba and US policies (this is their tenth poll over the last twenty years). This latest FIU poll raises a lot of the big questions on the table right now and gets some contradictory answers.

Overall, a majority of respondents say they support maintaining the embargo (56 percent), and only 39 percent are ready to expand trade and investment in Cuba beyond current levels. At the same time, a majority (57 percent) favors lifting all restrictions on travel, 60 percent oppose restrictions on family travel, and 57 percent even support re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Oh, and a whopping 80 percent of respondents believe that the embargo has “not worked very well” or “not worked at all." Yes, you read that right.

What a mixed picture, right?

But it’s not so mixed if you start to look at specific categories, like the responses of 18-44 year-olds or of after-94’ers (those who arrived to the US after 1994). Those categories lead the pack on supporting engagement via diplomacy (70+ percent support), travel (75+ percent support), food and medicine sales (75+ percent), private investment, you name it. But what’s more important is where they fall behind – in citizenship and voter registration. Two-thirds of the after-1994 group are either non-citizens or non-registered citizens.

So, while 76 percent of the after-1994 group opposes a law that would limit family travel to the island to once every three years (a return to the Bush administration regulations, as proposed by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart this summer), the lawmaker who proposed these restrictions only has to worry about the 54 percent of the registered voters who say they oppose the changes. Across the board, the decided engagement tilt of the younger and more recent cohorts of Cuban Americans is tempered by slightly conservative tilt among registered-citizen Cuban Americans.

Some folks argue that money talks and US policy is shaped to a large degree by political campaign donations. No real argument here. But it’s not the only factor. Politicians do care about raw numbers. They may not respond to how a given community as a whole feels, but they do pay attention to how the voting part of that community feels, and what they intend to do about it.

Does anyone really doubt that most American voters are focused on jobs and the country's economic recovery? I’d argue that those Cuban Americans for whom their vote is tied to Cuba weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway. But what would happen if more of the after-1994 cohort registered to vote, and genuinely feared their travel rights being curtailed? Maybe maintaining those rights would be so important they’d camp outside their representatives’ offices. Or maybe they’d just go to Cuba illegally through a third country. There's really no way to know for sure until more of them start becoming citizens and get registered to vote.

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

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