Why Young Cuban Americans Are Thinking About Their Grandmas When Voting

Young latina with grandmother

Image via Shutterstock.

By Giselle Balido

April 15, 2020

U.S. Cubans tend to vote Republican, but younger generations continue to change their political affiliations even when the conversation about socialism is involved.  

The numbers seem to confirm what most in the political arena already believe: that Cubans in the U.S. vote overwhelmingly Republican. After all, in 2016 more than half (54%) of Florida Cubans supported Republican president-elect Donald Trump, according to a National Election Pool exit poll. 

Yet for more than a decade, Cuban registered voters have been moving toward the Democratic Party, a National Survey of Latinos published by Fact Tank has found. One reason for the shift may be U.S. born Cubans, who make up about 48% of the total U.S. Cuban population. Ranging in age from 18 to 49, they often have different political affiliations than their elders, the parents and grandparents who fled Fidel Castro’s Communist dictatorship and view any talk of Socialism or left-leaning politics with suspicion. 

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But under the surface, political affiliations have been quietly shifting. Today, only a third of all Cubans, including those not registered to vote, say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. And over half (56%) of Cubans ages 18 to 49 identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party compared with 39% of those 50 years and older. 

Voting “in Good Conscience”

And yet many believe this shift to the left could have stopped dead in its tracks if ex Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had been the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. His talk of “revolution” and his decadeslong professed admiration of what he has called Cuba’s great accomplishments in health and education, and which Cubans know to be dismal failures, would likely keep many Cubans from voting for the Democratic contender. 

Tony M., a Cuban national living in Florida, is a progressive Democrat who in 2016 struggled with the decision of whether he should vote for Sanders, who aligned with his values, or Hillary Clinton, who did not. On the way to the polls, he decided to vote for his second choice.

“I knew how much my parents suffered in Cuba and how hard it was for them to leave their country. I couldn’t, in good conscience, cast a vote for Sanders,” he says. 

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And a founding member of Project Pastelito, a grassroots initiative in Miami that works to get progressive candidates elected, said in an interview why she is more likely to vote for Biden than for Sanders: “I’m more progressive than Biden, but I also don’t want to stand next to the dummy in the Che Guevara T-shirt at a rally.”

With Biden, however, the perception is totally different, as Republican strategist Ana Navarro has said in an interview. “He passes what I call the ‘grandparent test’ with younger Cuban Americans: ‘Will my grandmother still speak to me if I vote for this guy?’ With Bernie, the answer is no. Cuban grandmothers would be brokenhearted.”

This seems to open the door wide for Biden to get all those Democratic Cuban votes he so badly needs to win Florida. Or does it? According to a recent Univision poll, both Biden and Sanders would get similar support among Latino voters in the state: 53%, for Biden and 52% for Sanders. But when one looks at the numbers from the 2012 presidential election, when 49% of Cuban voters supported Barack Obama while 47% supported Republican Mitt Romney, things begin to look better in the Sunshine State for the likely Democratic presidential candidate. 




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