On Friday, as Miami prepared for Halloween weekend and election day, a Florida International University professor gave a Zoom presentation to Harvard students about a uniquely South Florida voting bloc likely to influence this year's outcome: Cuban-Americans.
Guillermo Grenier, a sociology professor at FIU, is one of two lead researchers who conducted the 2020 Cuba Poll from July to August this year, alongside associate professor Qing Lai. Grenier has been conducting the Cuba Poll since 1991, surveying hundreds of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County about their opinions on Cuba policy, domestic policy, and political affiliation.
This year's poll results came out in October, and showed that 60 percent of the 1,002 Cuban-Americans surveyed were likely to vote for Donald Trump. Though that number might have dropped a little owing to Biden's campaigning in recent months, Grenier says Trump will likely still win the majority of Miami's Cuban votes.
The Cuban-American community is by no means a monolith, but polling data shows that around 53 percent of Cubans in Miami-Dade County are registered Republicans, compared to 26 percent registered Democrats. The 21 percent of Cubans not affiliated with a party tend to skew right.
"Cuban-Americans are a voting bloc that Republicans can rely on," Grenier tells New Times. "Fifty-three percent of Cubans are Republican, and [the] independents vote like Republicans."
In Friday's Harvard talk, Grenier focused on his analysis of why Cubans have such strong ties to the Republican party and how Democrats might go about back some of the Cuban vote if they so desire.
Grenier says Cuban fealty to the Republican Party is rooted in connections that were forged during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
"Republicans know how to talk to Cubans well, by telling them they are important to the party. They felt they were elbow to elbow with Reagan in fighting the 'evil empire' of Communism," the professor says.
Republicans made inroads in the Cuban community by helping them register to vote and fill out citizenship paperwork, and by staying with them during the off-years between elections, Grenier explains, adding that the party has remained close to the community ever since. The result: Newer arrivals from Cuba are continuing to register as Republicans at a record rate. Grenier says enthusiasm for the party is at an all-time high among Cubans (in part because there is a Republican in the White House, and Cubans tend to adapt to whoever is in power).
Democrats, by contrast, tend to limit interactions with the Cuban community to the quadrennial presidential election cycle.
"Democrats in the '90s gave up on the Cuban vote," Grenier asserts. "The Democratic Party has to get in the game and get their hands dirty, not just every four years, if they want to win Cubans over."
The 2020 Cuba Poll found that U.S. foreign policy with the island is at the bottom of the list of Cuban-Americans' priorities — despite politicians' attempts to engage with the voting bloc with talk of the embargo or of extending diplomatic relations. The economy, healthcare, race, immigration, and China policy all ranked above Cuba as priorities among Cuban-Americans this year.
Grenier says that's nothing new.
"Cuba policies are always the lowest priority," says the sociologist, explaining that Cuban-Americans tend to be concerned about the same political issues as average Americans.
The Cuban-American community in Miami is likely to hold significant importance in this year's election, as they represent a reliably red-voting group in an important swing state. Any party that wants to win them over, Grenier says, must commit to staying engaged during off-years and focus on issues that are important to them, including family reunification and support of small businesses.
In the lead-up to election day, a number of Cuban-Americans have turned out in support of President Trump's reelection, with efforts such as the Cubans for Trump rallies and the creation of the now viral song, "Yo Voy a Votar Por Donald Trump" by Los 3 de la Habana.
That sort of campaign move, Grenier tells New Times, is intrinsically Cuban.
"Cuban culture is in general a very musical culture. Social media plays into the strength of Cuban culture, by putting everything to music, including politics."
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