Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Political Incorporation of Cuban Americans: Why Won't Little Havana Turn Blue?

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Political Incorporation of Cuban Americans: Why Won't Little Havana Turn Blue?

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article examines the political implications of the changing demographics of the Cuban American community. Over the past decade, pundits have predicted a massive shiftin Cuban American voting behavior owing to demographic changes in the community. The authors find evidence that the attitudes of Cuban Americans have undergone significant changes, driven largely by the increased number of post-Mariel (1980) immigrants. The authors also find, however, that these dramatic changes have not yet been reflected at the ballot box, nor are they likely to be soon, owing to the slow process of immigrant political incorporation.

Keywords

public opinion and political participation; race; ethnicity; politics

Introduction

As the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, scholars have increasingly come to recognize the important role that Latinos play in American politics (e.g., Abrajano, Alvarez, and Nagler 2009; Kaufmann 2003; Pantoja and Gershon 2006). Between 1990 and 2008, the Latino population increased from 9 percent to 15.1 percent, and is expected to reach approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population by 2020 (U.S. Census Bureau 2008a). Even more importantly, Latinos are concentrated in some of the most competitive states (e.g., Florida, New Mexico), and their continued growth is expected to make other states more competitive in the near future (e.g., Texas).

Within this growing community, Cuban Americans are an exceptional case. Despite sharing similar cultural, social, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, Cuban Americans are distinctive among Latinos in their staunch support for the Republican Party. Cuban Americans routinely vote for Republican presidential candidates at rates exceeding 65 percent (Goodnough 2004), turn out to vote at very high rates compared to other Latinos (Garcia Bedolla 2009), and are disproportionately concentrated in Florida, arguably the most important presidential battleground state.

Having observed dramatic demographic changes in the Cuban community over the past decade, during each of the last two presidential campaigns scholars and pundits have predicted that Cuban Americans would abruptly turn and vote Democratic (e.g., Goodnough 2004; Reiff2008; Silva 2007. By the year 2000, for instance, the community was about equally split between immigrants who arrived before and after the Mariel boatliftof 1980 (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). Unlike earlier political refugees, post- 1980 immigrants tend to be economic refugees who lack the anti-Castro fervor that characterizes earlier émigrés' political views (e.g., Bendixen 2009). Consequently, their ties to contemporary Cuba are much stronger, and they tend to hold more moderate political preferences, especially on questions of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.

Predictions of dramatic change in the attitudes and behavior of the Cuban American electorate are grounded in a distinguished literature on voting behavior that holds that social psychological attachments like partisanship and predispositions toward key actors and about central issues strongly influence vote choice (e.g., Campbell et al. 1960). From this perspective, the changing demographics that are occurring portend potentially dramatic change in voting patterns due to the increased numbers of post-Mariel immigrants and native-born Cuban Americans who are creating an electorate that is less staunchly Republican and less fiercely anti-Castro.

While the logic of rapid change in Cuban Americans' vote choice is theoretically compelling, recent elections have evinced little support for the claim that the Cuban American electorate is becoming more progressive. The electorate's continued strong support for the GOP is perhaps most clearly seen by examining Cuban American support for Republican presidential candidates.

The top line in Figure 1 shows the proportion of Cuban Americans who voted for the GOP in Miami Dade County in the last four presidential elections, while the middle line depicts the proportion of all voters who voted for the GOP. …

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