Cuban-Americans Flipped to Obama? Not Quite

This election cycle was remarkable in the degree to which we were subjected to analysis of the polls. In particular, conservatives like me believed the pollsters had it wrong when they showed a likely voter mix that resembled 2008. We were wrong; the pollsters were largely right. The Democrats turned out in enough numbers to negate the advantage Romney had with independents.

In the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat, an unprecedented amount of scrutiny was focused on the Cuban-American population of south Florida. Some exit polls claimed Romney lost the historically reliable Cuban vote for the GOP, and others showed a small margin in favor of Romney.

The Cuban-American vote is important because it has been a Republican island in the sea of blue that is the map of south Florida. In fact, it has been important enough to perhaps swing an entire presidential election. Many observers believe an angry Cuban-American bloc turned against Vice President Al Gore because of President Clinton’s handling of the Elian Gonzalez case. George W. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes, and exit polls show Gore did worse with Cuban-Americans in 2000 than Clinton did in 1996. It’s not a stretch to think that at least 269 Cubans registered a protest vote in favor of Bush or voted for Bush but wouldn’t have voted at all if not for Elian.

Despite a Republican-dominated state legislature and a Republican governor, the state has gone for Obama twice, though the spread in 2012 contracted to .9% from 2.5% in 2008. So as we look forward, we can see that Cuban-Americans may once again have a disproportionate influence in choosing a president in 2016.

The exit polls showing a close contest between Obama and Romney among Cuban-Americans are in contrast to polls immediately before the election that showed the Cuban vote was firmly in Romney’s camp. Professor Eduardo Gamarra of Florida International University fielded one such poll, and had this to say of his findings:

“You keep hearing about a liberalization of the vote with younger, second-generation Cubans. But the polls are not showing it,” Gamarra said. “Young Cubans are starting to look more Republican than their parents.”

So when the question of who won the Cuban vote in 2012 arises, which poll are we to believe? There’s an old saw that says the only important poll is the one taken on Election Day, so I’ve gone to the actual election results at the precinct level to see which polls were closer to the truth. There’s quite a bit of extrapolating that has to be done, but I think you’ll see it’s pretty straightforward.