Buzz around Cuba’s historic participation in last week’s Summit of the Americas follows months of handwringing around the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and how that decision might shape U.S. foreign policy moving forward. It also amplifies speculation that Cuba will be a factor leading into a high-stakes 2016 U.S. presidential election in which the Latino vote will once again be key.
According to multiple public opinion surveys—among them, the annual Chicago Council on Global Affairs Survey presented at Florida International University this week—hanging tough on Cuba is becoming something of a non-factor in winning the Latino vote. This new paradigm increasingly applies even in the swing state of Florida. According to FIU polling among Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade County, the percentage of Cuban-Americans supporting the U.S. embargo against Cuba has withered from 87 percent in 1991 to 48 percent today. While there are still variations, especially around the question of removing Cuba’s designation by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, nationwide surveys reveal across-the-board support between U.S. Latinos and non-Latinos alike for fostering political dialogue, easing travel restrictions and opening business channels between the two nations.
Instead of focusing on Cuba in 2016, savvy politicians will pivot to other policy issues of key interest to Latinos.
The Chicago Council survey reveals that Latinos are more likely than non-Latinos to prioritize solutions to humanitarian issues, including climate change and world hunger. They also are more supportive of multilateral ways of tackling these issues, with disproportionately favorable opinions of the performance of the United Nations. Finally, and perhaps least surprisingly, Latinos are less likely to view controlling and reducing immigration as an important policy goal.
While these specific differences set Latinos apart in their views, a candidate interested in earning their vote must also realize that a Latino political agenda is essentially an American one—with a distinctly domestic focus. More than a decade of polling has shown that, like other Americans, Latinos are most concerned about economic well-being. Protecting American jobs was priority No. 1 for both Latinos and non-Latinos in the Chicago Council survey.
Most importantly, the Chicago Council survey results demonstrate that U.S. Latinos share the foreign policy views of the overall U.S. public. Sixty-five percent of Latinos and non-Latinos alike said that the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world. Like other Americans, Latinos favor strong U.S. leadership in the world and consider the United States to be the most influential nation today and in 10 years’ time. Latinos and non-Latinos alike consider terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the Iran nuclear program and cyberattacks to be critical threats to U.S. vital interests. Both groups support a foreign policy that relies on multiple means of diplomatic and economic engagement, including alliances, treaties and trade agreements. And finally, majorities of both Latinos and non-Latinos support the use of U.S. troops to help prevent a government from committing genocide, to address humanitarian crises, to ensure the oil supply, to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and to combat terrorism.
While U.S. Latino views are far from monolithic, the influence of their more distinct priorities—from climate change to community well-being—will figure prominently into policy positions and considerations as their political participation grows.
In response, political leaders interested in wooing Latino voters would do well to accurately understand Latino’s current perspectives, moving away from dated rhetoric around Cuba to engage on the issues of interest, both local and global, for this growing community.