6 in 10 Cuban-Americans favor Bush, poll says

But number planning to vote for him drops

March 21, 2004|By Rafael Lorente | Rafael Lorente,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

WASHINGTON - Six in 10 Cuban-American voters say they likely will cast ballots for President Bush in November, a substantial drop from the support he received in 2000, possibly reflecting tensions between exiles and a White House that some in the community feel has fallen short of its tough anti-Fidel Castro rhetoric.

Bush is estimated to have garnered about 80 percent of the Cuban-American vote in the 2000 election, thanks in large part to anger over the Clinton administration's return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba.

But in a recent poll of Cuban-Americans in Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward counties, 58.4 percent of registered voters said they would definitely or probably vote for Bush in November. About a quarter said they were undecided, with the rest saying they probably would not or definitely not vote to re-elect the president.

Bush won Florida by 537 votes after a disputed election in 2000, so any drop in support or turnout among Cuban-Americans is a cause for concern among Republicans.

"There is no Elian to kick around anymore," said Guillermo Grenier, a sociologist at Florida International University and author of the poll.

The survey of 1,807 Cuban-Americans was conducted Jan. 30 through March 16 by the university in partnership with the Sun-Sentinel and NBC 6, and included registered voters and nonvoters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

A Bush campaign spokesman said the president plans to come on strong with Cuban-Americans, and said the White House's record would contrast favorably with the Cuba record of the likely Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry.

"You're dealing with someone who has not been tough on Castro," said Bush spokesman Reed Dickens.

Silver linings for the White House are found in the poll results. Bush's support is strongest, 63.1 percent to 66.1 percent, among Cuban-Americans who arrived in the United States before 1975. That group includes older exiles who are more likely to vote. "I'm going to vote for him, for Bush," said Francisco Abella Jr., 54, of Miami. "I trust Bush more."

Bush's diminishing support could signal future problems for the Republican Party, whose hold on that community appears to be slipping.

Cuban-Americans who arrived since 1985, who represent almost a third of the adult population, and those born in the United States were the least likely to support the president and the Cuban-American Republican members of Congress.

Among the 10 percent of Cuban-American adults born in the United States, 37.9 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for the president.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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