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Clinton, Trump and the 2016 Cuban vote in Florida

A simple look at the election data can dispel once and for all with this fiction that Cuban-Americans and Obama’s Cuba policy cost Clinton the Sunshine State.
Giancarlo Sopo is a Cuban American communication strategist and founder of CubaOne Foundation in Miami. He was a teaching fellow on Leadership and Presidential Politics at the Harvard University Extension School
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Donald Trump speaking to Cuban-American Bay of Pigs veterans in Miami on October 25, 2016 Crédito: Jessica Weiss/Univision

Before all the votes were counted, some were already arguing that President Obama's changes to U.S.-Cuba policy backfired for Democrats and cost Hillary Clinton Florida's 29 electoral votes.

They claim that Cuban-American voters turned out in droves to support President-elect Trump who, in the final weeks before the election, reversed his position on U.S.-Cuba policy.

A closer look at the data tells a different story.

As a candidate, Hillary Clinton called for the lifting of the U.S. embargo and performed well among Cuban-American voters according to exit and pre-election polling data.

● Secretary Clinton's performance among Cuban-American voters was strong by historical standards in Florida, home to seven out of 10 of the country’s Cuban-Americans. Depending on your preferred poll, Clinton share of the Cuban-American electorate was somewhere between 47% to 41%. Either figure would be a near record high for Democrats who in 2000, 2004, and 2008 earned 25%, 29%, and 35%, respectively.

● Conversely, surveys pinned President-elect Trump’s share of Florida’s Cuban-American electorate somewhere between 54% and 52%, a relatively low number for Republicans compared to George W. Bush (2000 and 2004) and John McCain’s performances of 75%, 71%, and 65%, respectively.

● A Latino Decisions study also found Clinton at 50% among all Cuban-American voters in the country, the highest percentage ever for a Democratic presidential candidate.

To make their case, however, opponents of the President’s Cuba policy point to a late October poll by The New York Times and Siena College that showed a 20-point swing in Mr. Trump’s favor among Cuban-Americans. They then establish causation between Cuban-Americans’ views on U.S.-Cuba policy and how they vote. These arguments are weak.

First, serious political analysts should not put too much stock in a roughly 50-person sample that even the Times’ own Nate Cohn described as “very small.”

Second, the relationship between how Cuban-Americans vote and their views on U.S.-Cuba policy is unclear. Studies have consistently shown that Cuban-Americans have grown increasingly supportive of ending the U.S. embargo. Florida International University’s latest survey of 1,000 Cuban-Americans found that 55% of registered Cuban-American voters back Obama’s Cuba policy. Interestingly, FIU also found that four out of 10 (41.6%) of the new policy’s supporters were also Trump voters.

The hardliners’ argument is further weakened by voting results in municipalities and precincts with high concentrations of Cuban-American voters.

● In Miami-Dade County, where one out of three voters is Cuban-American, Clinton defeated President-elect Trump by nearly 30 points and surpassed President Obama's 2012 vote totals by 81,000 votes.

● In the Miami suburb of Westchester, where three out of four voters are Cuban-American, Trump saw an 8-point drop in support from Mitt Romney's 2012 totals, while Clinton saw a 6-point improvement—a 14-point swing in Democrats' favor.

● Democrats even saw gains in the traditionally GOP and heavily Cuban city of Hialeah. In 2012, Obama and Romney’s totals were 45% and 54%, respectively, in La ciudad que progresa. Four years later, Republicans saw their 9-point advantage vanish with Clinton and Trump virtually tied at 48.9% to 49%, respectively.

If all of these numbers are confusing, here’s the good news: You don’t have to be a pollster to figure out that if Clinton surpassed Obama in Miami, Hialeah, and Westchester, it’s unlikely that his Cuba policy or a symbolic vote at the United Nations hurt her chances as some would have you believe.

Instead, there is a logical explanation for last week’s election results that is consistent with election data, math, and common sense: Donald Trump won Florida for the same reason that he was successful in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania where there are very few Cuban-American voters.

Had Clinton mirrored President Obama’s 2012 performance with Florida’s white non-Hispanics and kept Trump at Mitt Romney’s levels, she would have won the state. Meanwhile, Clinton would not have won Florida even if she had improved her margins among Cuban-Americans by 10 points. Clearly, white non-Hispanics were the decisive demographic in the president-elect’s victory.

As Cuban-Americans we can take pride in our achievements: we’re a hard-working community with good values; we played a vital role in Miami’s transformation from a sleepy beach town to a global city; our contributions to the arts, commerce, and civic life of this country are innumerable; and yes, Pitbull is one of our own. Electing Donald Trump as President is not among our achievements.

To paraphrase Sen. Marco Rubio, we can now dispel once and for all with this fiction that Cuban-Americans and Obama’s Cuba policy cost Clinton the Sunshine State.