The Truth About the Cuban-American Vote

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
In The Wall Street Journal's Political Diary:

The Truth About the Cuban-American Vote

Ever since the final vote tally in Florida gave President Obama the state's 29 electoral votes, some Democrats have been crowing that their candidate beat Mitt Romney among ballots cast for president by Cuban-Americans in the state. Not so fast, says Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington and editor of the website Capitol Hill Cubans. "Actual Cuban-American Vote Result: Romney 58%-Obama 42%," the website reported on Nov. 12. "And that's conservative," Mr. Claver-Carone told me by telephone on Tuesday.

If Mr. Obama had won—or had even gotten close to winning—the Cuban-American vote, it would indeed be big news. Over the years South Florida Cubans have been reliable Republican voters. A shift in their preferences would raise plenty of serious questions about the direction of the party and its appeal to the electorate.

But it is premature to draw such conclusions. If Mr. Obama had won the Cuban-American vote, Mr. Claver-Carone says, it is very likely that the tallies in the Miami-Dade County would have been different. "If President Obama would have won a majority of the Cuban-American vote, he would have won Miami-Dade County by a much higher margin. The county wide number this year is consistent with 2008 and three points down from 2004—in both elections, the Cuban-American vote strongly favored Bush and McCain," he wrote on Nov. 8.

What is more, Mr. Claver-Carone observed: "A simple visual overview of the Miami-Dade County electoral map clearly shows that the precincts with the highest concentration of Cuban-American voters were precincts that Mitt Romney solidly won, in some cases with two-to-one margins." One reason exit polls did not capture the true vote is that they did not include over 50,000 absentee ballots cast by Cuban-Americans, many of them over 60, a demographic that typically goes Republican.

Having said all that, it is also true, as Capitol Hill Cubans has noted, that Mr. Obama won more Cuban-American votes against Mr. Romney than he did against Mr. McCain. But that may have to do more with Mr. Obama's skillful control of the narrative than any shift in values or priorities among the electorate. In 2007 Rep. Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney's running mate, voted in favor of lifting sanctions on Cuba. Even though he has since modified that stance, the Obama campaign seems to have been successful in raising suspicions among voters as to whether a Romney presidency would maintain the traditional hard-core stance of Republicans against the dictatorship in Havana.

If Mr. Claver-Carone's analysis is correct, the moral of this story is not that the Republicans have to alter their message but rather that they have to actually campaign in the state to win.