Study Finds Cuban-Americans Still Republican

February 20, 2012 Updated: March 17, 2012

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—Over 30 years the attitudes of Cuban-Americans have progressively changed, but a recent study indicates that these changes will not influence their votes.

Researchers Benjamin G. Bishin, associate professor of political science at UC Riverside and Casey A. Klofstad, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami studied Cuban-Americans’ attitudes and voting behavior.

Post-Mariel immigrants accounted for slightly more than half of foreign born Cubans in South Florida in the 2008 election, but 78.6 percent of the Cuban-American electorate are pre-Mariel immigrants, the scholars wrote.

The Mariel boatlift was a mass exodus of people from Cuba to Florida in 1980. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro said he would allow anyone who wanted to leave Cuba to travel to America by boat. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the final count of refugees was greater than 100,000 people.

About 90 percent of Cuban immigrant voters arrived before Mariel. Less than 46 percent of those who immigrated after 1980 can vote, according to an abstract of their study “The Political Incorporation of Cuban Americans: Why Won’t Little Havana Turn Blue?” It was published in the journal Political Research Quarterly.

“Changes in their voting behavior will be slower than one will anticipate as changes in the community due to the younger Cubans are anticipated to be more moderate in their preferences. Their situation is unique, being that they can stay here and work without having a status,” said Klofstad.

The root of pre-Mariel immigrants’ support for Republican candidates seems to come from the party’s anti-communist stance and a perception that the Democratic Party has mishandled Cuba policy, according to the study. Cuban immigrants’ economic success also drives them to lean toward the GOP pro-business and small-government platforms, according to Klofstad and Bishin.

Post-Mariel immigrants were not economically well off in Cuba and earn about 50 percent less than pre-Mariel immigrants, with many lacking a college degree compared to pre-Mariel immigrants, according to the study.

Many of the children and grandchildren raised in Republican households tend to affiliate with the GOP even though they hold progressive views on trade and travel to Cuba and feel less aversion toward the Castro regime than the older generation. Fidel Castro is no longer officially head of the government, but his brother Raul Castro took his place in 2008. According to the State Department, Cuba is a totalitarian state, which does not tolerate opposition. Human rights violations are systemic, according to a 2009 State Department report.

Klofstad added, “Transition from a nonvoter to a voter will be slow, it will happen but a shift will be very slow. If parents or grandparents are hard-liners, they can be a very strong influence on them as it all depends on who their parents are and if they have stronger anti-communist attitudes.”

Cuban-Americans are different than other Latinos in their support for the Republican Party. They regularly vote for Republican presidential candidates at rates over 65 percent. They also vote at higher rates compared to other Latinos who are also disproportionately concentrated in Florida, a crucial presidential battleground state, according to Bishin and Klofstad.

“We find that Cuban-Americans are moving away from the Republican Party at a much slower rate than is widely appreciated,” said Bishin.