Romney Narrows Obama's Latino Lead in Florida with Help of Cuban Voters

Cuban-American voters are coming through for Republicans once again, a new poll shows, and their support could help Mitt Romney win the critical swing state of Florida.

The poll, conducted by Florida International University, the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, shows 57.1 percent of likely Cuban-American voters in Florida saying that they would vote for Romney if the election were held now. In the last presidential election, 52.1 percent of Florida Cuban-American voters cast their ballot for Republican John McCain, according to the poll.

Slightly less than 37 percent of Cuban-American voters said they voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and nearly the same percent said they would re-elect the president in November.

Other Latino likely voters in Florida, however, prefer President Obama, giving him the lead over Romney – 51 to 44 percent. The lead among the Sunshine State’s Latinos is narrow enough to “spell trouble for a Democratic campaign that’s counting on minority support, as non-Hispanic white voters flock to the Republican ticket in droves,” noted The Miami Herald.

A poll conducted nationwide --also by FIU/Miami Herald-- indicates that Latinos overwhelmingly give the nod to Obama with 66 percent of 1,000 likely voters; 31 percent favor Romney. The Florida poll surveyed 720 likely voters.

A Pew Hispanic Center summary of Florida’s Latino voters noted that “Hispanic eligible voters in Florida have a different Hispanic origin profile from Hispanic eligible voters nationwide.”

“One-third --32 percent-- of Hispanic eligible voters in Florida are of Cuban origin, 28 percent are of Puerto Rican origin, 9 percent are of Mexican origin, and 30 percent claim other Hispanic origin,” the Pew summary said. “By contrast, among Hispanic eligible voters nationwide, 59 percent are Mexican, 14 percent are Puerto Rican, 5 percent are Cuban, and 22 percent are of some other Hispanic origin.”

South Florida has the largest population of Cubans outside of the island –with smaller pockets of Cuban communities across the country– and hold considerable political clout in the region.

Unlike the majority of Latinos, who tend to lean liberal and vote Democratic, Cuban Americans seem to move in the opposite direction politically.

Cuban-American conservatism is strongly rooted in the anti-Castro sentiments stemming from the 1959 revolution, the botched Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration and Republican support for the U.S. embargo against trade with Cuba. The sentiments only strengthened as Fidel Castro kept power for decades and an influential group of Cuban-American politicians –particularly in Miami– became entrenched in the Republican Party.

Besides their ardent anti-Castroism, Cuban Americans have also tended to side with the Republican Party on fiscal and social matters. Immigration, for instance, is one issue that is a greater concern for other Latinos –specifically those with Mexican, Central or South American roots– than to Cuban Americans. Cuban immigrants are protected from deportation under the “wet foot, dry foot policy,” which means once they reach American shore they cannot forcibly be returned to their country.

The Latino vote is considered extremely important in a race that, for now, appears will be close.

Nationwide, some 21 million Latinos are eligible to vote; about 12 million are expected to go to the polls on Nov. 6.

Latinos have significant populations in many of the swing states, making their potential to tilt an election substantial if they turn out in large enough numbers.

“Latinos have more power than ever this election,” said FIU Political Science Professor Eduardo Gamarra, who conducted the poll with the assistance of Newlink Group, a Miami-based consulting firm. “If there is a strong voter turnout of Latinos in November, they could have significant influence on the outcome of the election.”

On Nov. 4, 2008, a record-breaking 10.2 million Latino voters cast ballots in the U.S. presidential election— a 25 percent jump over the 2004 tally. Obama won nearly 70 percent of those votes, targeting the fastest-growing segment of the electorate with bumper stickers reading “Obámanos,” promises of immigration reform, and a vague-but-positive slogan of  “hope.”

Some polls have showed that Latino voters feel less enthusiastic about the president than they did in 2008.

The FIU/Miami Herald polls showed that the majority – 62 percent -- of Latinos nationwide who were surveyed said that they are better off today than they were four years ago. They also said that they view Obama as being better suited to handle the economy, immigration reform and foreign policy.

The exception was Cuban-Americans. Slightly more than 62 percent of respondents of Cuban origin nationwide said they are not better off today than they were four years ago.

In Florida, most Latino respondents – 54 percent – said they are not better off than they were four years ago; 46 percent said they are better off.

When broken down by groups, 63.1 percent of Cubans in Florida said they are not better off, nearly 37 percent said they are.

On this question, Mexicans agreed with Cubans, with 68.9 percent – the highest of any Latino group – saying they are not better off than they were four years ago; 31.1 percent said they are better off. A slight majority – 50.1 percent – of South Americans (they were not broken down into any more detail) said they are not better off; 49.9 percent said they are.

But other groups – Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans  – in Florida said they are better off. Dominicans had the greatest percentage of people saying they are better off, with 72.5 percent.

Nationally, Dominicans also had the highest percentage – 75.9 percent -- of people responding that they are better off. Unlike their compatriots in Florida, most Mexicans across the nation – 67.6 percent -- say they are better off. South Americans nationally also differed from their Florida compatriots, with 70 percent saying they are better off.

Other groups – Puerto Ricans and Central Americans – also said they are better off.

Nationally, most Latinos – 64 percent -- said they “identify mainly” with the Democratic Party, 28 percent said they identify with Republicans, 6 percent said they do not identify with either party, and 2 percent picked the Libertarian Party.

Asked “Has President Obama fulfilled his promises to the Hispanic community,” 45.3 percent of Latinos nationwide said yes, 37.9 percent said no, 15.8 percent said he has fulfilled “some promises,” and 9 percent said they did not know.

Among Florida respondents, the disappointment was greater.

Slightly more than 50 percent said the president has not fulfilled his promises to the Hispanic community; 35.6 percent said he has, 12 percent said he’s fulfilled some of them, and 1.7 percent said they did not know.

The disappointment was greatest among Cubans – 63.7 percent said he had not come through on his promises, 27.3 said he had. Among Mexicans, 52.7 percent said the president had failed in his promises, and 48.7 percent of South Americans said he had not delivered.

Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Central Americans had higher percentages saying the president had fulfilled his promises than people saying he had not.

As for confidence in Obama and Romney to perform on various aspects of a president’s job, Cubans in Florida and nationwide had more confidence in Romney than the president, while other Latino groups said they trusted Obama to handle those issues better than Romney.

The issues are fixing the economy, directing foreign policy and reforming the immigration system.