One way to find out what Cuban-Americans are thinking is to hang out at Miami’s Versailles restaurant. It’s not the most scientific approach, but it usually leads to Cuban coffee, a pastry and maybe even some tasty roasted pork.
For more precise information, I rely on a Florida International University poll of Cuban-Americans. See 40-page report.
Guillermo J. Grenier and Hugh Gladwin, professors in FIU’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, have been doing the poll since 1991. It’s the longest-running research project tracking Cuban-American opinion in South Florida.
The 2018 poll surveyed 1,001 Cuban-Americans 18 and older. To obtain those interviews, the researchers had to make 51,899 calls at random. That led to 751 cell phone and 250 landline interviews with Cuban-Americans.
Their support for economic sanctions grew even as a slight majority favored diplomatic relations with Cuba. I asked Dr. Grenier about that and other seeming contradictions in the survey. Here is our exchange:
Cuba Money Project: Is the Cuban-American demographic unusual or distinctive in any way when it comes to polls? One of the things that strikes me about the results are the contradictions. A fairly strong majority – 63 percent – favors diplomatic relations with Cuba and, at the same time, a majority – 51 percent – supports the embargo. What do you think?
Guillermo Grenier: These contradictions have been present since the very first polls back in 1991. Folks want to hit with a stick and hold out a carrot as well. They want something different than the “status quo.” (You see the same kinds of contradictions in other emotional issue research as well, i.e. on abortion rights.) In the Cuban-American case, many of the contradictions that seem to dominate when the results are presented in aggregate form, become more accessible when more sophisticated statistical analysis are performed. For example, a colleague and I are writing now on the deeper characteristics of respondents who support engagement policies. We found a curvilinear relationship with the time spent on the island and the support for engagement. That is, respondents who spent less than 20 and more than 40 years on the island before migrating are much more likely to support engagement policies. This might be because of the frustrations inherent in the Cuban economy and the lack of opportunity for young professional. Who knows. But you can’t see this by reporting aggregate results. I bet there is a lot more hidden in there that might clarify or make more complicated the relationships between support for engagement and isolation policies.
Cuba Money Project: A key change from 2016, as you point out, is that support for continuing the embargo rose from 37 percent in 2016 to 51 percent in 2018. People who arrived in the U.S. from 1959 to 1979 were the main drivers of this change with 68 percent supporting the embargo, according to the poll. It’s a little surprising to me that the 1959-1979 demographic could trigger such a dramatic shift in the results. Any idea how many 1959-1979 residents were represented in the group of the 1,001 respondents?
Dr. Grenier: There is an over representation of the earlier cohorts in the 2018 poll but we dealt with it by weighing the results. It might not have completely stabilized the differences but almost. The weighing has an impact on the results as well. In 2016, 45% of the pre 1980 group supported the embargo. In 2018 that support increased to 68%. This big of a swing can definitely have an impact on results in samples that are both weighed to represent the population. The old timers “gave peace chance” when Obama changed the rules and now have decided, for whatever reason, that it has not turned out as they anticipated (“didn’t get enough back,” whatever.) What it shows to me is that Cubans respond to, rather than completely control or drive U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba. What is needed is principled leadership in Washington. Cubans in Miami will adjust.
Cuba Money Project: Your poll report provides valuable insight into the possible reasons why there was a shift in thinking among Cuban-Americans. Do you think that social media sites such as Facebook contributed to the change in attitude? I just watched “The Great Hack” and sometimes wonder if any governments or institutions have targeted Cuban-Americans.
Dr. Grenier: The older groups were the ones who changed most dramatically. The young people and the post 1995 stayed on their trendlines. The later group are the big users of social media so they would be the ones “hacked.” Don’t see it happening. Ultimately I think Cuba is really not that important to anyone other than Cubans. Opportunists will use this fact to their benefit when they can but in general it’s just not that important anymore and will become less so as other Latino groups grow in Florida. Hillary only lost Hialeah by a few hundred votes so the importance of the Cuban vote has seen its heyday. On tight ass races statewide a few thousand votes matter but in general hackers interested in swaying the swing of the big political pendulum would find very little return on investment in hacking the Cuban mindset. I think…
Cuba Money Project: Will the poll continue in 2020? I’d love to see how things evolve.
Dr. Grenier: Hopefully. 2020 sounds like a good year to end this thing. Need to find $40K somewhere, though.