The Cuban-American Vote

An Obama official inaccurately described Cuban-American voting patterns as currently more similar to that of other Hispanics. Not only are their voting patterns not like that of other Hispanics they are far more conservative than non-Hispanic Americans.

By Tania C. Mastrapa l November 19, 2012

For liberal media, academia and others of a leftist persuasion, Cuban-Americans are not so much “Hispanic voters” as they are a persistent irritant and a symbol of a minority hijacked, in the broadminded opinion, by the Republicans. Any sign of their defection from the GOP is welcomed with uproarious hosannas. It is taken as proof that identity politics work with the Cubans. Except that they don’t.

Political analysts, pollsters and biased journalists proved yet again during the 2012 presidential election that the obsession with Cuban-American voters has not let up. They never fail to make sweeping claims that at long last this reliable Republican bloc is moving left. In fact, the New York Times has been making this claim since the 1960s. The usual suspects made triumphant declarations that the majority of Cuban-Americans had voted for Barack Obama before the final vote count came in. It seems they omitted absentee ballots that many Cuban-Americans use to avoid the long lines in Miami’s sweltering heat. All counts also skipped Coral Gables and Pinecrest, both of which were plastered in Romney-Ryan lawn signs at Cuban-American homes. How convenient. Sure enough when the final votes came into the equation, still without Coral Gables and Pinecrest, 58% of the demographic in question voted for Romney and 42% for Obama with some counts at over 60% for Romney.

The spin machine now seeks to claim that regardless of this count more votes went to Obama than in 2008. And this is true, but the majority are still conservatives. A Miami Herald article called it the “Cuban Conundrum” which points to younger Cubans as “more Republican than their parents.” An Obama official inaccurately described Cuban-American voting patterns as currently more similar to that of other Hispanics. Not only are their voting patterns not like that of other Hispanics, they are far more conservative than non-Hispanic Americans. The real question though is why is it so important to break the bloc? Would the same analysts, pollsters and media, be as thrilled if younger American Jews no longer cared about the Holocaust or Israel?

Naturally for left leaning Americans anti-Communism is always unfashionable. Thus, exiles and their offspring have endured over five decades of attacks intended to discredit and divide them: media that insist younger Cubans no longer care about Communism; university professors who glorify Fidel and Che; mockery of older exiles who lived through random arrests, beatings, torture, block committees, confiscations and daily executions of friends and family; stardom for recent so-called defectors and their progeny, who disagree with historical exiles; and, one of the most common Soviet modus operandi, which is to pit children against their parents. It is actually a marvel and a true testament to conservative Cuban-American values that more have not turned left. Their Republican vote would likely be even stronger were it not for the effect of Republicans’ inexplicable support for the outdated Cuban Adjustment Act. The open door policy for Cuban immigrants (not exiles) who commute between Florida and the island has resulted in new voters who are perfectly comfortable with socialist policies.

Communism in Cuba as a primary motivation for voting Republican may very well lessen over time, particularly if Cuba is ever unshackled from its current regime and transforms into a place more or less resembling a free country. The same can be said for those who fled other Communist countries for whom a Republican vote was an anti-Communist vote. However, conservative Cuban-Americans may presently or eventually identify less and less with what the so-called “Hispanic” community and its more recent incarnation “Latino” seem to encompass.

Although, Hispanic as a category is dubious at best, identity politics have made it increasingly important for “advocacy” groups to speak for all people who more or less share the Spanish language. These groups have gone so far as to insist upon the absurdity that Hispanic/Latino be categorized as a race that is mutually exclusive of all other races. In fact, Spaniards have even been lumped in the category. Former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu was born in Cuba and his mother in El Salvador, yet, he has never classified himself as Hispanic. He is a Semite like many Latin Americans who are of Middle Eastern and North African origin. In the past some Hispanics grumbled that he was un arrepentido, literally repentant or sorry but in this case someone who is ashamed of their background. In retrospect what Sununu did was extract himself from the bully tactics of identity politics by simply being an American. This approach may start to make more sense to conservative Cubans and other Hispanics who do not view themselves as minorities in need of advocates, are not ashamed of or confused about their racial origins whichever they may be and reject the leftist compulsion to collectivize not only property but people.

The Latino advocacy groups quite plainly want to increase their numbers by creating a race because bigger numbers justify access to billions of dollars in federal funds for their projects. To be clear, these projects are never conservative. Their outreach and education may end up turning off conservative Hispanics like Romney-supporting Cuban-Americans and they could end up losing some of their all-important numbers. There is no doubt that this will make Cuban-Americans an even bigger thorn in their side. Frankly, any Hispanic who: finds La Raza questionnaires offensive and sometimes comical; does not rely on affirmative action to go to school; fled a leftist dictatorship; and, is mystified by the need to tell Disney to make Princess Sofia darker will likely bail on the group and check off Amerindian, Asian, Black, White or Other, as is the right of all other Americans.

There is no doubt that communities evolve and erode over time particularly if their raison d’être ceases to exist. The U.S. has a long history of hostility towards newcomers and a bizarre attitude towards their “race.” History has proven though, with the exception of slave descendants that the travails of immigrants also evolve and erode and after a seemingly interminable period they become just another part of the greater population. Cuban-Americans are likely to go this route in the near future. Their conservative majority opposes affirmative action, supports private property rights, defends religious freedom and embraces the importance of a close-knit family. A certain sector of non-Hispanic Americans who would like more Americans of this variety and less identity politics dominating elections may benefit from moving past their prejudice and embracing the knowledge that speaking Spanish is not a race, a physical appearance or a political ideology.

With or without conservative Cuban-Americans, Republicans have a tough battle ahead of them, if they hope to tear Hispanic votes away from Democrats. Foreign Affairs quoted a California pollster who said Latinos could become more like African Americans in that socioeconomic mobility does not affect their politics. Cuban-Americans have handily rejected the identity politics that have plagued others in addition to enjoying exceptional socioeconomic mobility. But, Cubans came to the United States seeking political refuge, not economic opportunity. Cuba’s population, with the exception of slave descendants and the small handful of Amerindians who survived their Spanish conquerors, was made up of immigrants from all over the world of every ethnicity, race and religion. These components help explain their eyerolls when Hispanic is referred to as a race. It also points to their aversion to a minority mentality. Democrats have effectively collectivized other Latinos, so a challenge for Republicans will be to break that barrier and appeal to their values as individuals. Republicans must reach out to law abiding Hispanics as Americans and not as an unwanted foreign presence.

Well known Cuban-Americans, from left to right: activist, Ramón Colás; journalist, Myriam Márquez; writer, Emilio Ichikawa; former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Otto Reich; singer, Celia Cruz; designer, René Ruiz; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio; and, Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Giménez.

Tania C. Mastrapa, Ph.D. is a Research Professor in Cuban and Latin American Studies at the Institute of World Politics. Dr. Mastrapa is also a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.