Politics & Government

Will Donald Trump drive Miami Cuban Americans from GOP? New poll says yes

Donald Trump reacts to his victories last week.
Donald Trump reacts to his victories last week.

Donald Trump is the catalyst who could force a decisive break between Miami-Dade County’s influential Cuban-American voters and the Republican Party, a new poll has found.

Local Cuban Americans dislike Trump so much — and are increasingly so accepting of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama — that Trump’s likely presidential nomination might accentuate the voters’ political shift away from the GOP, according to the survey shared with the Miami Herald and conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster and a Florida International University associate politics professor.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents supported Trump, a number that is still higher than the 31 percent who backed Clinton — but also “the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate polls among this traditionally loyal demographic,” according to Moreno. He added that the results put likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton within “striking distance” of winning over the influential voting demographic. Trump won the March 15 Florida GOP primary in a rout.

“We’ve been seeing demographic changes in this community since 2004,” Moreno said, as younger voters of Cuban descent, and recent Cuban immigrants, have increasingly identified as Democrats or independents. “With Trump, the real danger is that he’s going to accelerate this realignment in Miami.”

Moreno is a Republican who has polled for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, though this poll was not conducted on either politician's behalf.

The pollster acknowledged his own bias against the Republican presidential front-runner: “I can’t vote for Trump,” Moreno said. “I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

About 10 percent of poll respondents said — unprompted in an open-ended question — that they wouldn’t vote at all if Trump wins the nomination. Voters are usually reluctant to admit that they plan to skip an election.

“If you’re in a swing district and 10 percent of the Republicans aren’t going to vote — 10 percent of the Cuban Americans aren’t going to vote — that’s very dangerous,” Moreno said.

Of particular concern to the local GOP in November are the race to replace Rubio — a key seat for Republicans to keep their Senate majority — and the race for Congressional District 26, held by freshman Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Moreno surveyed 400 likely Miami-Dade Cuban-American voters from April 21-23, conducting more than three-fourths of the interviews in Spanish. His results mirror those from a national poll conducted last month by Latino Decisions, a firm that has worked for Clinton, on behalf of the pro-immigrant America’s Voice organization. That poll found, among other things, that 73 percent of Florida Hispanic voters have a “very unfavorable” opinion of Trump.

Moreno’s poll, which has an error margin of 3 percentage points, found that hardline U.S.-Cuba policy no longer unifies the Cuban-American community. Instead, it is divided over the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, with 41 percent in favor and 52 percent against.

The split is driven by age and year of arrival in the U.S., according to the poll. Cubans ages 18-35 overwhelmingly back the Obama administration’s policy, with 61 percent in favor, and 35 percent opposed, while Cubans older than 75 oppose it by almost the same split, with 64 percent against the policy and 30 percent in favor.

Similarly, 59 percent of Cuban respondents who arrived in the U.S. after 1992 support the policy, while 30 percent oppose it. Seventy-one percent of Cuban respondents who immigrated before 1980 are against it, and 21 percent are for it. The younger Cuban Americans with fewer years in the U.S. also are the most likely to abandon the GOP in the presidential election.

A plurality of respondents — 49 percent — backed Mayor Gimenez’s discrimination claim against Carnival Corp. when the cruise line planned to sail to Cuba even if the island barred Cuban-born Americans from disembarking. (The Cuban government eventually reversed its policy.) Among the 30 percent of people who opposed Gimenez’s critique were Cuban Americans who oppose any relationship with the island.

Local Cuban-American politicians remain overwhelmingly popular in spite of their hardline Cuba stance. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rubio all have approval ratings of more than 70 percent among Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade, the only Florida county Rubio won as a presidential candidate. Gimenez polled at 59 percent, but more people could name him than they could Regalado. Regalado’s daughter, Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, is running against Gimenez in August’s county mayoral election.

Moreno also polled the popularity of Cuban-American celebrities and civic and business leaders. Musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan rated highest. The businessmen — Joe Arriola, Paul Cejas, Armando Codina, Adolfo Henriques, Jorge Pérez and Carlos Saladrigas — rated significantly lower than the Estefans and the politicians, suggesting their influence on public opinion might be limited, even as some of them campaign for the Obama Cuba policy.

The public, Moreno said, “just doesn’t know who they are.”

Rating higher than the businessmen were Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón — better known among older Cuban Americans — and FIU President Emeritus Modesto “Mitch” Maidique — better known among younger ones.