“If I win, it's because of Latinos”, president Barack Obama told the Des Moines Register newspaper in an interview last week. Not many people deny the importance of the Latino vote this year. However, this ethnic group cannot be seen as just one voting bloc, especially not when dealing with Cuban independent voters.
A very relevant issue for most Latinos is immigration reform – an issue that Obama continues to express to voters. Cuban American voters, on other hand, are not necessarily preoccupied with the problem. They benefit from the 'wet foot, dry foot' law, signed by former president Bill Clinton. It provides temporary legal residency for Cubans who literally step on US land and a legal path to citizenship. Many island comers also are in a stronger economic situation than most Latinos. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 57 percent of Cubans in the United States are home owners, while the Latino average is 46 percent.
While the majority of polls give the advantage to the Democratic Party among Latinos, Republican contender Mitt Romney leads widely among Cuban voters, nearly 1.88 million residents in the US 60 to 70 percent of Cuban voters identify themselves as Republicans. Around 20 percent consider themselves independents.
Even though independent Cuban voters are a very small voting group and there is little data on them, Casey Klofstad, an associate professor at the University of Miami, thinks that the crippled economy will influence these voters in the polls. “In general, everyone is most concerned about the economy in this election, Cuban Americans included,” told Klofstad.
Several political bloggers have argued that there is a growing shift in Cuban voters' policy preference from the Republican platform to more Democratic policies, especially because younger Cubans might be more influenced by mainstream culture. They tend to be against the Iraq war and care less about sanctions against Fidel Castro's regime, like the embargo. Nevertheless, the latest Mason-Dixon/Miami Herald poll contradicts this premise. The poll, held in the Miami-Dade county (where the vast majority of Cubans live) found of likely voters, 76 percent of overall Cubans support Romney for president, while 19 percent prefer Obama, and just five percent are undecided. Most Cuban independents in Florida dislike the policies of the current president with regards to Cuba (71% against 14%), being against the expansion of travel rights of Americans to the island (60% against 29%).
A Florida International University/Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald poll that interviewed likely Hispanic voters gives an advantage of 51-47 percent for Obama. Setting aside Cubans, Romney would win by 33 points (65% to 32%). Cuban Americans account for a third of all Florida voters.
“Younger Cuban voters think politically just like their parents. On social issues, Cubans also tend to like more the Republican health-care program and the Republican economic policies”, explained Eduardo Gamarra, professor of Latin American studies at the Florida International University. Gamarra also cited that Cubans are “the most disciplined voting group” among Latinos, and they tend to show up in droves on election day.
According to Humberto Fontova, a conservative Cuban pundit, the talks about a huge Cuban shift in the election have existed for more than 40 years. “Cuban-Americans voters are basically white middle-class American voters--basically share most of their concerns. About a voting shift by Cuban-Americans is simply wishful thinking by the Democratic axis”, defends Fontova.
On recent efforts by the Romney campaign to tout more Cuban votes with advertisements in Spanish, professor Gamarra said it would help a little, but would not change definitely the election. “Showing the preference of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro for Obama may not be the most effective strategy," Gamarra exemplified.