New York – The majority of Latinos favor President Barack Obama over GOP contender Mitt Romney, according to an exclusive Fox News Latino. There is, however, one glaring exception: Cuban Americans.
While 64 percent of Mexican Americans and 67 percent of Puerto Ricans said they would vote for the Obama/Biden ticket come November, only 39 percent of the Cuban Americans polled said they would vote for the Democratic side.
“The Cuban-American vote is highly important,” said Pedro Roig, a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. “Florida is one of the battleground states. Florida, for the Republicans, is a must win.”
South Florida has the largest population of Cubans outside of the island –with smaller pockets of Cuban communities across the country– and hold considerable political clout in the region.
Unlike the majority of Latinos, who tend to lean liberal and vote Democratic, Cuban Americans seem to move in the opposite direction politically.
Overall, 55 percent of the likely Latino voters polled said they consider themselves Democrats, while only 29 percent identified as Republicans. Only 30 percent of the Cuban Americans polled said they were Democrats.
Cuban-American conservatism is strongly rooted in the anti-Castro sentiments stemming from the 1959 revolution, the botched Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration and Republican support for the U.S. embargo against trade with Cuba. The sentiments only strengthened as Fidel Castro kept power for decades and an influential group of Cuban-American politicians –particularly in Miami– became entrenched in the Republican Party.
In 2000, when then Attorney General Janet Reno decided to forcibly remove Elian Gonzalez from his family’s Miami home, it only exacerbated Cubans’ distrust of the Democratic Party. Cubans were largely against returning Elian, who was found clinging to an inner tube along the shores of Miami, to his father in Communist Cuba.
Besides their ardent anti-Castroism, Cuban Americans have also tended to side with the Republican Party on fiscal and social matters. Immigration, for instance, is one issue that is a greater concern for other Latinos –specifically those with Mexican, Central or South American roots– than to Cuban Americans. Cuban immigrants are protected from deportation under the “wet foot, dry foot policy,” which means once they reach American shore they cannot forcibly be returned to their country.
“Cuban Americans have historically voted Republican, for larger domestic economic and social policy reasons,” wrote Anya Landau French, the director of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, in The New York Times. “Those Cubans who do vote on the Cuba issue alone tend to be the most conservative and would not support a Democrat, which suggests that there is never more than a few percentage points of swing Cuban-American votes actually in play.”
Some experts, however, argue that the tide of Cuban-American conservatism is changing and that the demographic voting record is becoming more diverse because of concerns over the economy and the influence of a younger generation of Cuban Americans.
“The idea that Cuban Americans are a machine for the Republican Party is not true,” Roig said.
While overall, the Cuban-voting demographic does tend to be older than other Latino voters, there are signs that the younger generation of Cuban-American voters are moving away from their parents voting bloc and instead voting more for Democrats at the polls. Younger Cuban-American voters are less concerned with the politics of the island and have assimilated more with mainstream U.S. culture.
“As time moves on and there is a fading access to it, the issue is not so front a center,” said Alejandro Miyar, a Cuban-American Democrat from Miami, about the U.S. policy toward Cuba. “Everybody is trying to live a better life so Cuba is not the main issue.”
Younger Cuban Americans, however, cannot be pigeon-holed as leaning liberal, just as their parents cannot all be categorized as conservative. Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio is a prime example of a conservative, young Cuban American.
Rubio has been labeled by some as the “Michael Jordan of Republican Politics” and is a Tea Party favorite, who was high on the list for Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate and garnered a prime speaking spot at the Republican National Convention.
"Little Havana will never go blue," said Romy Portuondo-Remior, a Cuban-American activist and Republican, about the neighborhood in Miami. "There is the limelight on young Cuban Americans who are going left, but that is just not true."
"What it basically comes down to is that yes, the new generation of Cubans coming to America are more left leaning," she added. "However, this generation is not voting."
With their political power in South Florida, the Cuban-American voting demographic will play a key role in November, as President Barack Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney square off.
While the older generation is more-or-less guaranteed to go the GOP, both parties are working to appeal to the younger, more-assimilated Cuban Americans as well as those who the issue of Castro is trumped by that of the economy, health care and some of the other major talking points of this election season.
“The most hard-line voices in Miami, largely the older generation, may be the loudest and most firmly established,” Landau French wrote. “But they are no longer the most numerous, as reflected in repeated polls over the last several years.”
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