In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Cuba poll won’t change U.S. policy

A new poll showing that a majority of Miamians support a normalization of U.S. ties with Cuba has drawn a lot of excitement in the media, as the poll’s organizers and many pundits predicted that the survey will have a big impact on U.S. policy toward the island. Unfortunately, I don’t share their optimism.

After reading the poll’s fine-print and talking with some Washington insiders, I’m not that sure that Washington — especially the U.S. Congress, which holds the key to making major changes in U.S. policy toward the island — will be much moved by the survey’s results.

The poll, released earlier this week by the Atlantic Council, found that 56 percent of Americans — and, surprisingly, 64 percent of Miamians — favor changing the current U.S. policy on the island.

“This survey shows that the majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle are ready for a policy shift,” say Peter Schechter and Jason Marczak, the top officials of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council, which commissioned the survey. “Most surprisingly, Floridians are even more supportive than an already supportive nation to incrementally or fully change course.”

Problem is, we’ve heard this many times before. And, like other similar polls that showed an increased support for easing U.S. economic sanctions on the island, the Atlantic Council survey was conducted among the general population — not among likely voters. That’s a big difference, which Washington politicians look at very closely.

In 2009, a poll by Bendixen and Associates found that only 47 percent of Cuban-Americans supported the U.S. embargo on the island, down from 82 percent in 1992, and from 62 percent in 2005. But again, those were polls conducted among the general population, not among likely voters.

On Wednesday, I called Schechter and Marczak and asked them about the poll’s methodology. They confirmed to me that, in fact, it is a poll of the general population, but emphasized that more than 90 percent of those surveyed — both nationally and in Florida — are registered voters. Still, the poll did not ask questions that would give us a hint about whether these registered voters are likely voters.

“If we were running an election, we would filter by registered voters, or by people who intend to vote,” said Schechter. “But this is an issue campaign, and when you do an issue campaign, you try to poll everybody.”

But both Republican Cuban-American legislators, who tend to be the staunchest supporters of U.S. sanctions on Cuba, and their democratic counterparts say the poll is not likely to change their pro-embargo stand, nor that of Congress.

“I don’t see the poll as changing the public policy of the Congress of the United States,” Sen. Bob Menendez, head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told me in a telephone interview. “I see it as another expression of those who want to change the policy to try to create an environment in which they hope the policy will change. But it’s wishful thinking.”

Congressman Joe Garcia, D-Miami, a strong supporter of President Barack Obama’s policy to expand travel and remittances to Cuba, told me in a separate interview that the new poll “is meaningless.”

“We have seen this before,” Garcia said. He noted that the embargo is an emotional issue for many Cuban-American voters, and that those who support it tend to vote on it, while those who oppose it tend to cast their votes based on other issues.

Garcia added, “There is no will to take this thing on in Congress, because it doesn’t add any votes. And politics is a game of addition, not of subtraction.”

My opinion: The Atlantic Council poll is a serious poll done by serious people, but I doubt that it will have a major political impact.

U.S. politicians will not change their minds, because — as Garcia says — opposing the embargo does not add any votes. And Cuban politicians are not interested in a normalization of ties either, because they need to maintain the fiction that they are at “war” with the United States in order to stay in power indefinitely.

I would like Obama to continue expanding travel in both directions, because Cubans who come to Miami almost always go back to the island with a more favorable view of the United States than they came with. And Obama should also, by executive actions, expand trade with Cuban businesses that are not run by the island’s dictatorship.

But I don’t expect much more than that to happen until there are signs of serious change in Cuba.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Mexico’s education ‘abuse-meter’: a great idea!

    A Mexican group advocating for better education standards has done something that should be copied throughout Latin America — it erected an “abuse-meter” in one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues to inform passersby how much money from the country’s education budget is unaccounted for, or is being stolen, every minute.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: U.N. chief is half-right on Venezuela’s crisis

    United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spends most of his time talking about the Middle East, Ukraine and global warming. So when I interviewed him last week, I wanted to hear his views on the political crisis in Venezuela and other issues in Latin America.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Mexico’s big oil reform gamble

    Mexico’s historic energy rules passed into law earlier this week were hailed by President Enrique Peña Nieto as the beginning of a new era of prosperity, but — if they fail to produce quick results — they could also lead to an equally historic leftist victory in the 2018 elections.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category