Poll: Cuban Americans support Obama's Cuba plan

The Miami HeraldApril 22, 2009 

A majority of Cuban Americans support President Barack Obama and back his moves to improve relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that suggests the community's staunch support for a tough U.S. stance against the Castro government may be eroding.

The survey said 64 percent of respondents favor Obama's directive to lift all restrictions on remittances and visits by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they were opposed to the measure.

The telephone survey of 400 Cuban-American adults in Florida, New Jersey and other states was conducted in Spanish and English on April 15-16, days after Obama announced his administration would relax sanctions against Havana. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

"Ten years ago, you wouldn't have seen anything near these numbers. Now it's the reality of where the community is," said Fernand Amandi, a pollster with Miami's Bendixen & Associates, a Democratic firm that did the survey. "It's unprecedented to suggest that the community for the first time is aligned with a Democratic president when it comes to Cuba policy."

Though Obama stopped far short of endorsing travel for all Americans, the poll suggests he would have support for that measure, too. The poll found that two-thirds of Cuban American adults – 67 percent – support lifting travel restrictions so that all Americans could travel to Cuba.

Obama has said he supports keeping in place the 47-year-old economic embargo against Cuba and the survey notes that the community is split on maintaining the embargo. Forty-two percent of respondents believe it should be continued, while 43 percent believe it should be scrapped.

Amandi said the poll reflects that more recent arrivals from Cuba and second- and third-generation Cuban Americans "don't necessarily share the hard-line point of view their predecessors had" and that some older exiles may be "changing their minds as well.

"There would have been tremendous opposition to any kind of loosening of sanctions six or 10 years ago," Amandi said. "This represents a 180-degree change, a realization that after 50 years nothing has been done to bring liberty to Cuba."

Mauricio Claver Carone, a leading pro-embargo lobbyist, noted, however, that the three Miami Republican members of Congress who back hard-line sanctions – and criticized Obama for lifting the remittance cap entirely – were re-elected in November even as Obama garnered an estimated 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in South Florida.

"The Cuban-American members of Congress who are considered hard-liners outperformed both presidential candidates in South Florida in every precinct," Claver-Carone said. "Which means that there are people who voted for Barack Obama and voted for these pro-embargo stalwarts. These polls are almost nonsensical."

But the poll finds Obama with "surprisingly high ratings from Cuban Americans" – a voting block that traditionally favors Republicans. Two-thirds of Cuban American adults in the poll – 67 percent – give Obama a favorable rating, while only 20 percent gave him an unfavorable rating.

"If I were a Republican strategist, I'd look at these numbers with some trepidation," Amandi said.

The poll suggests that the number of Cuban Americans who send money to relatives in Cuba will not increase significantly – 44 percent said they already send money – but that the amount of remittances will climb.

Thirty percent of respondents said they were planning to send more than $1,000 to their family members every year and 7 percent said they'd send more than $3,000 a year.

Under the Bush administration, remittances had been capped at $300 per quarter.

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