In a landmark shift of opinion, a majority of Cuban-Americans now favor ending the 46-year-old economic embargo and restoring diplomatic relations with the communist-ruled island, a new poll has found.
The poll, carried out annually since 1991 by Florida International University, is a timely boost for President-elect Obama, who has pledged to undo some of the embargo tightening that went on during the Bush administration. Obama has promised to lift a 2004 executive order signed by Bush imposing restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island, as well as cash remittances sent to relatives there.
Obama also has said he would meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro, though he did not go as far as advocating an immediate end to the embargo.
The new poll for the first time shows a clear majority — 55 percent — in favor of lifting the embargo, up from 42 percent a year ago. A surprising 65 percent were in favor of formalizing diplomatic ties. The poll also showed strong support for ending Bush's restrictions on travel and remittances.
FIU has been polling Cuban-Americans regularly since 1991. Over the years, the polls have shown a gradual generational change of view in the exile community as younger, more liberal Cuban-Americans come of age and older, more conservative exiles die off.
"I'm not a political expert, but the numbers show there's clearly a growing desire for engagement among the younger people and those who arrived more recently," said Hugh Gladwin, director of FIU's Institute for Public Opinion Research.
After many years of solid support for the embargo, polling after 1997 began to show that support eroding. A 1994 migration deal had brought the first of a wave of more than 300,000 Cubans, many of whom retain strong family ties to the island and believe the embargo has failed to defeat communism.
Miami Cuban hardliners have dismissed the poll, questioning its veracity and the motives of those who paid for it, the nonpartisan Brookings Institution in Washington and the Miami-based Cuba Study Group, an organization of mostly wealthy Cuban exile businessmen, critical of U.S. Cuba policy.
"It's a joke," said Remedios Diaz-Oliver, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, an influential Miami-based group that strongly opposes any softening of U.S. Cuba policy. "The biggest poll was done on election night," he said, noting that all three Cuban-American candidates for Congress in South Florida won, two of them by big double-digit margins. All three are strong embargo supporters. "Cuba has not changed, and Cubans here don't want any relations with the government there."
The poll's authors say their results differ from those on election night mainly because they sampled Cuban-American legal residents, as well as registered voters. Only 60 percent of the 800 participants were U.S. citizens able to vote. Of those, 24 percent were not registered.
"Obviously, a good number of those people who arrived recently will register to vote, so the handwriting is on the wall," said Gladwin.
David Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.