Poll: It’s Time to Normalize Relations With Cuba

A bike-taxi and a vintage American car are seen in front of a building decorated with a large Cuban flag, on December 31, 2013, in Havana. A new regulation released by Cuban President Raul Castro will allow Cubans or foreign residents to freely buy new or used cars in government-run stores as of January 3, 2014; after 50 years of automobile sales regulations. 
National Journal
Charlie Cook
Feb. 24, 2014, 5 p.m.

Every once in a while, a polit­ic­al ca­nard is ex­posed — something that once may have been gen­er­ally ac­cep­ted and per­haps true, but has re­mained a part of the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom.

Such is the case with the view that any kind of nor­mal­iz­a­tion of re­la­tions with Cuba is a polit­ic­al third rail; that is to say, if you touch it, you die (or get de­feated). In the Cold War era, par­tic­u­larly in the 1960s, nor­mal­iz­a­tion of re­la­tions with Cuba was a non­starter, and in fact, it was dan­ger­ous for most politi­cians to sup­port.

But that day has long since passed. In all but pos­sibly a hand­ful of con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts in Flor­ida and New Jer­sey — if even there — this is a noth­ing-bur­ger is­sue. Few voters would have any prob­lem with it. Like the mis­sile silos in North Dakota, our policy to­ward Cuba is a Cold War rel­ic that has long since passed its time.

A new bi­par­tis­an na­tion­al sur­vey points to strong and broad-based sup­port for a ma­jor change in U.S. policy to­ward Cuba, even among Re­pub­lic­ans.

In­deed, Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers rep­res­ent­ing farm states have a par­tic­u­lar in­cent­ive to sup­port le­gis­la­tion that would cre­ate a new mar­ket for U.S. goods, par­tic­u­larly corn and grain, just 90 miles off the coast of Flor­ida.

Com­mis­sioned by the At­lantic Coun­cil, a highly re­spec­ted for­eign policy think tank, and its Ad­rienne Arsht Lat­in Amer­ica Cen­ter, the poll was con­duc­ted Jan. 7-22, in Eng­lish and Span­ish, among 1,024 adults na­tion­wide. The sur­vey also in­cluded an over-sample of 617 Flor­idi­ans, so that their at­ti­tudes could be giv­en par­tic­u­lar fo­cus, and had a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.1 per­cent­age points na­tion­ally and 4.0 points for the Flor­ida group. The sur­vey was con­duc­ted jointly by Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster Glen Bol­ger of Pub­lic Opin­ion Strategies and Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Paul Maslin of Fairb­ank, Maslin, Maul­lin, Metz, & As­so­ci­ates. Both are among the best poll­sters in the coun­try.

Na­tion­ally, 56 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans sup­port either nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions or en­ga­ging more dir­ectly with Cuba; just 35 per­cent are op­posed. Sup­port for a policy change is also re­flec­ted in the num­bers of people who feel most in­tensely about the is­sue, with 30 per­cent of the over­all sample strongly fa­vor­ing such a change and 26 per­cent some­what in fa­vor, while 22 per­cent strongly op­pose and an­oth­er 13 per­cent some­what op­pose this. Nine per­cent have no opin­ion. Among Demo­crats and in­de­pend­ents, 60 per­cent fa­vor chan­ging re­la­tions; 31 per­cent of Demo­crats and 30 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents are op­posed. Even among Re­pub­lic­ans, 52 per­cent fa­vor a change in policy, with 41 per­cent in op­pos­i­tion.

In Flor­ida, the state with the most Cuban-Amer­ic­ans and the one geo­graph­ic­ally closest and most likely to fol­low and be af­fected by U.S.-Cuba re­la­tions, 63 per­cent fa­vor a change — 7 points more than the na­tion­al sup­port level. Only 30 per­cent op­pose a change, 5 points few­er than the na­tion­al op­pos­i­tion. So much for the idea that a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate fa­vor­ing nor­mal­iz­a­tion would lose any chance of car­ry­ing Flor­ida.

Among His­pan­ics na­tion­wide, 62 per­cent sup­port a change in policy, while 30 per­cent op­pose it. These num­bers are al­most identic­al to the Flor­ida at­ti­tudes.

Look­ing at spe­cif­ic policy op­tions, 62 per­cent na­tion­ally sup­port al­low­ing more Amer­ic­an com­pan­ies to do busi­ness in Cuba, while just 36 per­cent op­pose it. Look­ing at in­tens­ity, 35 per­cent strongly sup­port that op­tion; 24 per­cent strongly op­pose it. Among Flor­idi­ans, the over­all num­bers are 63 per­cent in sup­port, 32 per­cent op­pos­ing (with 40 per­cent strongly sup­port­ing a change, and 21 per­cent strongly op­pos­ing). Among Lati­nos na­tion­ally, 65 per­cent sup­port, and 32 per­cent op­pose (40 per­cent strongly sup­port; 20 per­cent strongly op­pose).

An­oth­er policy op­tion would be to re­move re­stric­tions on U.S. cit­izens spend­ing dol­lars in Cuba. Sixty-one per­cent sup­port such a policy change, while 35 per­cent op­pose it (35 per­cent strongly sup­port; 22 per­cent strongly op­pose). At­ti­tudes among Flor­idi­ans were quite sim­il­ar, with 63 per­cent in sup­port and 32 per­cent in op­pos­i­tion (40 per­cent strongly sup­port; 19 per­cent strongly op­pose). Lati­nos’ mar­gin of sup­port was even high­er, with 67 per­cent sup­port­ing and 29 per­cent op­pos­ing (38 per­cent strongly sup­port; 18 per­cent strongly op­pose).

An­oth­er ques­tion in the poll con­cerned re­mov­ing all re­stric­tions on travel to Cuba by U.S. cit­izens, an idea which was sup­por­ted by 61 per­cent na­tion­ally, and op­posed by only 36 per­cent (35 per­cent strongly sup­port; 20 per­cent strongly op­pose). Sup­port for travel was even high­er among Cuba’s next-door neigh­bors in Flor­ida, where 67 per­cent sup­port the lift­ing of travel re­stric­tions, and just 29 per­cent op­pose (38 per­cent strongly sup­port; 18 per­cent strongly op­pose). Fi­nally, the num­bers were very sim­il­ar among His­pan­ics, of whom 66 per­cent sup­port the idea, and just 31 per­cent op­pose it (37 per­cent strongly sup­port; 16 per­cent strongly op­pose).

The only ques­tion that was at all a close call was wheth­er to al­low Cuba ac­cess to high-speed In­ter­net tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions sys­tems based in the U.S., a ques­tion that just 52 per­cent of re­spond­ents sup­por­ted, with 43 per­cent op­pos­ing the idea. Al­though, again, the Flor­ida num­bers were more sup­port­ive of the In­ter­net ques­tion: 64 per­cent voiced sup­port, with only 28 per­cent op­pos­ing the no­tion. Among His­pan­ics it was 55 per­cent sup­port, 33 per­cent op­pose.

It is hard to ar­gue that U.S. policy to­ward Cuba has been any­thing but spec­tac­u­larly un­suc­cess­ful. Either Fi­del or Raul Castro has been in power since Feb­ru­ary 1959; so much for our isol­a­tion of Cuba destabil­iz­ing the Castro re­gimes. Years ago, a former Ca­na­dian am­bas­sad­or to Cuba told me privately that then-Prime Min­is­ter Fi­del Castro would have prob­ably been gone long ago, or at least big changes would have taken place on the is­land, if the U.S. had nor­mal­ized re­la­tions. He ar­gued that, with an in­creas­ingly glob­al eco­nomy and com­mu­nic­a­tions ad­vances, the same forces that helped East­ern European coun­tries shed the yoke of Com­mun­ism prob­ably would have helped trans­form Cuba as well, had it not al­ways had the U.S. to scape­goat for all of its prob­lems.

Some of Amer­ica’s strongest al­lies and most im­port­ant trad­ing part­ners are coun­tries that we once fought against and with which we had le­git­im­ate griev­ances at one point or an­oth­er. Even­tu­ally, however, na­tions have to move on; it’s time for the tiny band of in­transigent Cuban-Amer­ic­an politi­cians who are car­ry­ing on this fu­tile cru­sade to throw in the tow­el and ac­cept the new real­ity, or for oth­ers to just ig­nore them and forge a more ra­tion­al policy.

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