Because Florida’s electoral votes are always the centerpiece of a winning presidential campaign, Cuban American voters are one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. In fact, Donald Trump has gone out his way to thank Cuban American voters for his dramatic victory last election.
Cuban Americans were historically a solid Republican demographic and for decades found natural allies in the GOP because of their stalwart anti-communist politics. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, exiles have made their way to South Florida, where they’ve built an impressive political machine that continues to have an outsized influence in U.S. politics.
But the rise of Donald Trump is revealing longstanding fissures in Republican demography among Cuban Americans.
The end of an era?
Times are changing for Cuban exile politics, and Republican support has already been on the decline in the Cuban American community since the turn of the century. Way before Donald Trump’s firebrand politics shook up Republican politics, Cuban Americans were already beginning to diversify their political leanings.
The tie that binds Cuban exile politics was always a hardline approach to relations with the communist regime in the former homeland. That common denominator has grown increasingly weak as younger Cuban Americans favor strengthening ties with the island.
President Obama’s executive actions to improve Cuba-U.S. relations were celebrated as much as they were derided by Cuban Americans.
In the same way, President Obama’s last-hour change to generous migration policies known as wet foot/dry foot (which welcomed all Cubans who touched American soil) were received with mixed feelings. For a number of years, several prominent Cuban American politicians have called for the end of ultra-accommodative Cuban immigration policies, something that was unimaginable a decade ago.
Once a solid voting bloc, now a toss-up
According to Latino Decisions, for the first time in history most Cuban Americans voted for Hillary Clinton nationwide. In Florida, a thin majority (54 percent) voted for Donald Trump. This continues a long decline in Republican support that we’ve seen in recent history.
Republicans are now dealing with a razor-thin margin of support among Cuban American voters.
Miami, home of Havana-in-exile, is now pretty reliably blue, and it will likely only become more liberal over time. The era of Cuban American reliably delivering the Republican vote is over as Cuban American voters’ concerns center around American life rather than U.S.-Cuba relations.
Meet the new Cubans: Puerto Ricans
The decline in Republican support in Cuban Americans is also coinciding with the rise of Puerto Ricans, a solidly Democratic demographic, who are set to eclipse Cubans as the largest Hispanic group in Florida in the not-so-distant future.
The Puerto Rican population in the Sunshine State has increased 110 percent since 2000. Given that Puerto Ricans are born American citizens and are migrating in droves to Florida, they may tip the political balance in favor of Democrats in future elections.
Not reliable Republicans anymore
The golden era of Cuban American politics is largely over. In sum, Cuban Americans were a largely politically united contingent in the recent past. Today, their politics are becoming more varied, and every day resemble those of the general American populace.
This doesn’t bode well for the future of GOP support in Florida, as winning the state’s coveted electoral voters will require some Hispanic support. As Cuban Americans increasingly become diverse in their politics, this is quickly becoming a serious demographic problem for Republicans and a boon for Democrats.
Photo by Gage Skidmore