Those who support warmer US-Cuba ties, including lifting travel
restrictions and re-establishing diplomatic relations, are not eligible
to vote in the US, diminishing their political influence.
By Anya Landau French, Guest blogger / October 19, 2011
Florida International University has just released the results of a poll
on Cuban American attitudes on Cuba and US policies (this is their tenth
poll over the last twenty years). This latest FIU poll raises a lot of
the big questions on the table right now and gets some contradictory
Overall, a majority of respondents say they support maintaining the
embargo (56 percent), and only 39 percent are ready to expand trade and
investment in Cuba beyond current levels. At the same time, a majority
(57 percent) favors lifting all restrictions on travel, 60 percent
oppose restrictions on family travel, and 57 percent even support
re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Oh, and a whopping 80
percent of respondents believe that the embargo has "not worked very
well" or "not worked at all." Yes, you read that right.
What a mixed picture, right?
But it's not so mixed if you start to look at specific categories, like
the responses of 18-44 year-olds or of after-94'ers (those who arrived
to the US after 1994). Those categories lead the pack on supporting
engagement via diplomacy (70+ percent support), travel (75+ percent
support), food and medicine sales (75+ percent), private investment, you
name it. But what's more important is where they fall behind – in
citizenship and voter registration. Two-thirds of the after-1994 group
are either non-citizens or non-registered citizens.
So, while 76 percent of the after-1994 group opposes a law that would
limit family travel to the island to once every three years (a return to
the Bush administration regulations, as proposed by Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart this summer), the lawmaker who proposed these restrictions
only has to worry about the 54 percent of the registered voters who say
they oppose the changes. Across the board, the decided engagement tilt
of the younger and more recent cohorts of Cuban Americans is tempered by
slightly conservative tilt among registered-citizen Cuban Americans.
Some folks argue that money talks and US policy is shaped to a large
degree by political campaign donations. No real argument here. But it's
not the only factor. Politicians do care about raw numbers. They may not
respond to how a given community as a whole feels, but they do pay
attention to how the voting part of that community feels, and what they
intend to do about it.
Does anyone really doubt that most American voters are focused on jobs
and the country's economic recovery? I'd argue that those Cuban
Americans for whom their vote is tied to Cuba weren't going to vote for
Obama anyway. But what would happen if more of the after-1994 cohort
registered to vote, and genuinely feared their travel rights being
curtailed? Maybe maintaining those rights would be so important they'd
camp outside their representatives' offices. Or maybe they'd just go to
Cuba illegally through a third country. There's really no way to know
for sure until more of them start becoming citizens and get registered
--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the
"US-Cuba Policy Initiative," directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New
America Foundation/American Strategy Program.