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Times are a changin’: A “Democratic sickness” is taking over my hometown of Hialeah

The “Trump Effect” is real in South Florida. Recent data reveals that Hispanics are identifying as Democrats—even in the heart of Cuban Miami.
Wendy Serra is a Reubin Askew Scholar at the University of Florida. She intends to begin law school this upcoming August.
Hispanic voter preferences are shifting in Florida Crédito: Getty Images

People keep telling me that being a Democrat is a just phase, like listening to alternative music or dabbling in existentialism.

They say that as soon as I become a big-shot lawyer and start raking in money, I will renounce my liberal ways and run gleefully into the low-tax arms of the Republican Party.

After all, how can I be a real Cuban and associate myself with the Democratic Party? If I wanted to be a lefty so badly, I should have just stayed in Havana!

I have been hearing this rhetoric since the 7 th grade, when I began to recognize some of the values of Democrats as my own. I came to Florida from Cuba at the age of 10, moving to Hialeah in Miami-Dade County for eight years before entering the University of Florida as a freshman in Gainesville in 2013.

According to those challenging my progressive leanings, my unforgivable deviancy being a Democrat is largely attributable the left-bent faculty indoctrinating me into a secretive, elitist Communist cult.

But almost immediately after I started my college education I learned that I was not the only one “suffering” from the supposed illness of liberalism. Trends show that young Cuban-Americans in Florida are moving away from the Republican Party and registering as No Party Affiliates, or – gasp! – even with the Democratic Party.

For me this new piece of information came as a relief—I felt in many ways more normal, my views validated. Cubans who no longer identify with the Republican Party is not limited to young adults attending college. Older, traditional, true Cuban-Americans are also rejecting the Republican Party, in large part because of the GOP’s nominee for President.

A host of prominent Hispanic leaders in South Florida have disavowed Donald Trump. From GOP members of Congress Carolos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to billionaire party financier Mike Fernandez, to Miami mayor Tomas Regaldo, Republican elected officials have distanced themselves from their party’s flag bearer and his divisive campaign rhetoric, especially towards Latinos. The “Trump Effect” is real in South Florida.

Although there’s no question of how I’ll be voting on November 8 th, predicting how other nationalized Cubans and Cuban-Americans will vote in this upcoming national election is no sure bet. My own social group remains split along party lines and there seem to be few patterns in who is supporting whom.

But enough with my story. To better understand the shifting partisan allegiances of Cubans, it’s useful to move away from anecdotes and go straight into the data, which point to the fact that the surge of newly registered Hispanic voters in Florida is likely the wildcard this presidential election.

As my faculty mentor at the University of Florida, Dr. Daniel Smith has shown, Hispanics in Florida are now more likely to register as Democrats than No Party Affiliates, and three-times more likely to register as Democrats than as Republicans.

Between January 1, 2016 and September 30 of this year, nearly 186,000 Hispanics have registered to vote in the Sunshine state. Of those, 42.3% registered as Democrats and another 41.8% registered as NPAs; only 14.5% registered with the GOP.

Of course, many Cubans bristle at being clumped into the broader “Hispanic” category; many more still disavow the party of John Kennedy.

But the most recent data reveals that Hispanics are identifying as Democrats—even in my home town of Hialeah, the heart of Cuban Miami!

According to the US Census, Hialeah’s population is comprised of more than 75% Cubans or Cuban-Americans. As of October 1, 2016, roughly 143,000 voters are registered to vote in Hialeah; some 120,000 (84%) identify as Hispanic.

Of these 120k Hispanic registrants in my home town, 38% are Republicans and 31% are NPAs. Perhaps surprisingly, 29.0% are registered as Democrats.

Those numbers still leave more Republicans than Democrats in Hialeah, but since January 1, 2016, a partisan transformation has taken place near the gridiron where Marco Rubio played high school football.

Of the 11,600 Hispanics who registered to vote in my hometown in 2016, 21% signed up as Republicans, 41% refused to pick a party, but 36% chose to be affiliated with the Democratic Party. That’s more than a 15 point registration Democrats-over-Republican registration gap.

Not only that, newly registered Hispanics in Hialeah were more likely to become Democrats than Republicans across all age cohort. Younger Hispanics, like me, were twice as likely (36% to 17%) to sign up as Democrats than Republicans; newly registered middle-aged Hispanics in Hialeah were 50% more likely to be Democratic than the party of home-grown Senator Rubio.

Even the more than 2,500 older Hispanics in Hialeah—those 60 and older—who newly registered in 2016, were roughly 13 percentage points (39% to 26%) more likely to register as Democrats than Republicans.

That older Hispanics—most likely to be Cubans like me—in my hometown are registering as Democrats is a momentous shift. Prior to 2013, roughly 60% of Hispanics registered in Hialeah were Republicans. As our latest Nobel Laureate sings, “The Times they are a Changin’,” even in my hometown.

Is it truly just Trump’s candidacy and his rhetoric that is pushing Cubans and Cuban-Americans away from the Republican Party? Will this “Trump Effect” be enduring? Or, are there broader socioeconomic issues in Miami causing this surprising trend?

Time will tell.

But what is clearly the case is that the “Democratic sickness” that many of my friends and extended family have diagnosed me with is highly contagious, and is not the result of young Cuban-Americans being indoctrinated by leftist faculty while away at college.