Those pesky Cubans who won’t turn blue.
We received the article below from reader TM who says:
And yet another commentary on why Cubans are not leftists, I mean moderates. Is there any reason Cubans HAVE to change?
The article is from Miami: The University of Miami Magazine and the reader brings up a good point. As I've documented extensively in the past, the media has been obsessed with the idea that eventually Cuban-Americans will "come around" to becoming liberal Democrats (like them). In this article Brett Sokol at least acknowledges that that hasn't been the case but still there's an air of contempt for our community.
Sokol quotes a UM professor, Casey A. Klofstad, in searching for reasons why. Klofstad co-authored a paper entitled: The Political Incorporation of Cuban Americans: Why Won’t Little Havana Turn Blue? The arrogance of the title alone is very bothersome to me as it must have been to the reader who sent us the article. The paper is 14 pages long and I won't bore you with the details but Klofstad and Bishin (his coauthor) wrote an article for the Huffington Post that summarizes their thinking.
While the Cuban American vote has been solidly Republican, many observers of Florida politics have come to believe that this portion of the electorate is shifting to the left due to a seismic demographic change in the community. Without getting into too much history (read up on the Mariel Boatlift if you want more details), Cuban émigrés who arrived in the United States before 1980 largely fled Cuba due to political persecution by the Castro regime, and as such are strong supporters of the GOP. In contrast, those who immigrated after 1980 are more accurately described as economic refugees. These more recent immigrants have come to the United States with less money and education, and are more likely to still have family living on the island, than earlier Cuban immigrants. Consequently, it is assumed that these newer immigrants are more moderate in their political stances, especially when it comes to policies that restrict traveling to Cuba and sending money to relatives that still live on the island.
With electoral outcomes are as razor-thin as they are these days, this radical shift in the Cuban American community has the potential to be a game changer for the Democratic Party. To test this theory, we gathered and analyzed data on the political leanings of the Cuban American community. In line with pundits' predictions, we find that the Cuban American community as a whole has shifted to the left in terms of partisanship and with regard to United States foreign policy towards Cuba.
In contrast to political observers' prognostications, however, we do not see much change in the vote choice of the Cuban American electorate over the last four presidential elections. This leads us to a puzzle: If there has been so much change in the Cuban American community, why has this not been reflected at the ballot box?
The answer lies at the intersection of socio-economic status and the difficulty of navigating United States immigration policy. Simply put, the costs associated with hiring a lawyer in order to obtain citizenship, and thus the right to vote, are disproportionately high for the relatively less prosperous and politically moderate portion of the Cuban American community. Consequently, they have not entered the electorate as quickly as one might assume given the dramatic demographic shifts in the community as a whole. Moreover, because of the unique policy the American government has on Cuban émigrés (i.e. the "wet foot, dry foot" policy), any Cuban who reaches American soil can become a legal permanent resident. That is, a Cuban immigrant can live and work in the United States without becoming a citizen. In combination, these factors reduce the incentive for newer immigrants to immediately become citizens. One result of this is that they are underrepresented in the electorate. More specifically, post-Mariel immigrants now constitute a majority of Cuban American immigrants to the United States, but in 2008 were less than 20% of the Cuban American electorate.
There's a lot to digest there but let's just say I agree with the premise that not all Cubans are the same. The thing I differ with the author on is the timing. I would argue that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the terrible economy Cuba suffered afterwards is the marker for the economic immigrants.
I also differ with the actual election results that are quoted in the paper and Sokol's article. I did an extensive precinct by precinct analysis of the election results in the most Cuban zip codes in Miami as per the census and concluded that John McCain obtained a minimum of 70% of the Cuban vote which is significantly higher than the 64% Klofstad claims. But even if I accept Klofstad's numbers how does he explain the fact that Bendixen, a Democratic pollster he quotes in his paper had Cubans who arrived in the decade of the 80s going for McCain by a 66-34 margin according to his own exit poll?
Cubans that arrived before the collapse of the Soviet Union for the most part reject the flowery rhetoric of progressives because they've seen those leftist policies implemented and their disastrous consequences. Their choice to reject an increasing leftist Democrat party is very rational.
No doubt that many recent arrivals, from the 90s and 2000s, have different political views than those who preceded them. Of course if you are a political refugee your interest in politics is going to be significantly higher than if you aren't. As the Klofstad states, many of the recent arrivals aren't citizens and many of them may never become citizens. But those who do and get involved politically will probably be a mixed bag. Remember that the pervasive Cuban-American culture in Miami they are adopting is one of great Republican party influence.
Then there's the issue of young, American-born Cuban Americans. It's obvious that some of them peeled away from the Republican candidate and went for Obama. It remains to be seen if this was a permanent shift toward the Democratic party or simply a temporary one based on the perception that Obama represented a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of a movement. Political scientists have closely correlated political party affiliation with parent's political party affiliation (just like religion). This is true of all voters, not just Cubans. I suspect a fair percentage of young Cuban-American Obama voters will swing the other way this time.
I'm not surprised to see Romney leading by so much in the Herald's Florida poll. A big component of that is that the Herald poll unlike many of the other published polls conducts interviews in Spanish if the respondent prefers it.
So Klofstad is correct in a sense, the pundits can turn blue in the face but Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade county isn't going to be turning blue. What a shame for Democrats.