Florida: Deep-Dive on the Cuban Vote

  • Cubans still vote in large numbers. Puerto Ricans have become the largest origin bloc of eligible Hispanic voters in Florida, but Cuban-Americans are still the most represented at the polls. As such, changes in the vote preference of the Cuban electorate have a meaningful effect on statewide results.
  • There is lots of swing and uncertainty in the Cuban vote. Obama (’12) and Clinton (’16) made major inroads into the Cuban vote, but underperformance there doomed Nelson and Gillum (‘18). Equis polling shows Trump has gained among Cubans, an obstacle to Democrats’ efforts to build upon their 2016 coalition.
  • Public polls don’t always pick up shifts in the Cuban vote. A statewide sample of ~150 Hispanic votes isn’t enough to provide breakouts by national origin group, much less report on demographic variables beyond that (such as age, gender, place of birth, or year of arrival). Equis polled 600 Cuban voters in November 2019, in addition to 325 (August) and 162 (December) Cubans in our statewide surveys.
  • Narratives about the Cuban vote based solely on anecdotal data or outdated notions could make for some cringeworthy headlines — and campaign decisions.

1. Trump has already locked down his share of the Cuban vote

Our November survey focused exclusively on Cuban-American voters (sample n=600), with a look toward identifying partisan fault-lines along age, gender, wave of migration, and connection to Cuba.

2. Democrats have room to grow (and can’t afford not to)

Biden doesn’t need to win the Cuban vote, but the electoral math requires him to compete for increased support. Tens of thousands of votes are on the line in a state always decided by narrow margins. There is, after all, a big difference between finishing at 29% (where Dems were in late 2019), 35% (Obama’s 2008 number) or 41% (Clinton’s likely 2016 performance).

  1. US-Born Cuban-Americans. To find the Democratic base, you have to look at Cuban-Americans born in the US: in November they were -11 on Trump job approval and favored a Democratic nominee by a +7 margin. They also now outnumber the pre-1980 arrivals (aka the historic exile). To repeat: the electorate now includes more Cuban-American voters born in the United States than Cuban voters who arrived during the 50s-70s, even though the latter dominate the popular imagination. Democratic success in Florida starts with maximizing turnout and support in this cohort.
  2. Cuban voters arrived in the 90s onward. For this cohort, we turn to a new section, because….

3. The post-’93 arrivals require more attention

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered into a deep economic crisis characterized by food shortages. When an anti-government protest threatened to destabilize his regime, Fidel Castro announced that anybody could leave the country, leading to the 1994 rafter crisis and a Clinton White House agreement with the Cuban government to stop the flow of refugees in exchange for the US pledging to grant 20,000 visas a year. (Here’s a poignant photo essay on some of the rafters twenty years later.)

AP Photo/Hans Deryk

4. What’s happened since 2016: Trump, socialism and YouTubers

The research, both quantitative and qualitative, suggests some credible hypotheses for why post-’93 voters have swung toward Republicans:

5. Hialeah as a case study in Cuban vote-switching

The research suggests that the political identity or ideology of more recent Cuban arrivals is still in formation. As such, past vote choice has at times been more candidate-driven than party-driven.

6. Voters don’t know much about Joe Biden — or Democrats.

Joe Biden was the best-liked (or least-hated) of the candidates we tested with Cubans in 2019, and did best with post-’93 arrivals.

7. What can Democrats do?

The research suggests it is not too late for Biden to cross the 40% threshold of support with Cuban voters. Some approaches would seem necessary:

That’s all for now

Stay tuned for additional analysis on Hispanic voters in Florida.

  1. The FIU poll only interviews Cubans in Miami-Dade County, whereas the Equis/Global Strategy Group poll surveyed Cubans across Florida. However, you’d expect less, not more, of a Republican lean on statewide results, given the high concentration of Republicans in Miami.

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Equis Research

Equis Research

Creating a better understanding of the Latino electorate