Experts Don't Agree On Cuban American Vote

Nov 14, 2012

The Cuban vote in this election has become a topic of debate among researchers.
Credit Phillip Pessar /Flickr

Following this year's close presidential election here in Florida, there were reports that Obama had won the Cuban vote, or at least he had gotten a record share of it.

However, some political researchers and professors here in South Florida don't agree that this election represented a historic shift for South Florida's Cuban-Americans -- a population that has historically voted in favor of the GOP. 

The Miami Herald reports,

FIU professors Dario Moreno and Kevin Hill reported Monday their analysis of tallies from selected precincts in Miami-Dade County indicated GOP candidate Mitt Romney won up to 59 percent of the Cuban vote.

Miami Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International, however, reported Monday its own analysis of the county’s 48 largest Hispanic districts showed Obama won the Cuban vote, 51-49 percent over Romney.

The dispute involves competing visions of whether the Cuban-American vote has moved beyond its half-century-old support for the GOP. But while the two sides disagree on the numbers, it appears clear that Obama received more Cuban votes last week than he did in 2008.

Bendixen sparked the argument Friday when its initial analysis, based on exit polls of 3,800 Florida Hispanic voters and phone calls to 1,000 others who cast absentee ballots, showed Obama with 48 percent of the Cuban vote statewide — a historic high — and Romney at 52.

Ben Bishin, a political researcher at the University of California Riverside, writes in a guest post for the -- a blog that highlights political science research -- that exit polling from Florida on the Cuban vote should be met with skepticism. 

Bishin writes, 

My research, as well as close examination of the data, call Tuesday’s poll results into question.  Such a shift would indicate a drop in GOP support on the order of 10-15 points.  Consistent with research on political incorporation, in a recent paper with Casey Klofstad, we find that the effects of recent demographic changes among Cuban Americans are slow to take root in the electorate as the economic circumstances that drove their migration appear to serve as a barrier to citizenship and participation. While those who immigrated after Mariel made up a majority of Cuban American immigrants, in 2008 they constituted only 20% of the Cuban American immigrants in the electorate.  Moreover, the children and grandchildren of these early immigrants were still solidly Republican.

Exit polling of minority groups in Florida is notoriously unreliable as well. Typically, the national organizations poll at fewer than 50 locations statewide, a number insufficient to fully reflect a population that tends to be homogeneous in any particular place, but tends to hold heterogeneous political attitudes across the state.  While Miami’s Cuban Americans have a reputation for touting the hard line against Fidel Castro, for example, those across the state in Hillsborough County, which has the third largest Cuban American population of any county in the US, tend to be much more moderate.   Survey researchers have long recognized this difficulty.  Moreover, these exit polls are poorly designed to capture Latinos’ preferences more generally as, for instance, they seldom even identify Puerto Ricans who have had a large influence on recent elections, and are almost as numerous in Florida’s electorate as are Cubans.   Even Cuban Americans outside of Florida (where almost one-third reside) aren’t identified in the National Exit Poll thus preventing us from drawing inferences about their preferences nationally.

Experts have long expected that as the Cuban American population in South Florida gets younger, it will likely become less staunchly Republican.

What the experts can't agree on: whether or not this is happening now.