We are within days of the 2020 election, and winning the Latino vote is extremely important for both parties because, with 32 million eligible voters, Latinos will be the largest ethnic minority in the electorate this year. The Cuban American community is one of the most influential subgroups within the diverse Latino community.
Corporate media commonly repeat the narrative that there is a “generational divide” among Cuban Americans: While the older generation that escaped the terror of Fidel Castro’s iron fist has been a loyal Republican constituency since the 1980s, young Cuban Americans overwhelmingly support the Democrats.
This generational divide did exist before 2017. President Barack Obama nearly won the Cuban American vote in 2012, thanks to support from both young Cuban Americans and newly arrived Cuban immigrants.
In 2016, poll data from Florida International University suggested that among Cuban Americans under 40, about 43 percent supported Hillary Clinton, while 21 percent supported Donald Trump. In contrast, the majority of Cuban Americans 65 and older said they would vote for Trump. Democrats had hoped this generational divide would produce a new Democratic majority in the heart of Little Havana, which would be a boon to their party in the swing state of Florida.
The divide didn’t last long, however. The tide began turning during the statewide election in 2018. Among Cuban Americans under age 40, 51 percent supported Republican Ron DeSantis for governor, and 52 percent voted for Rick Scott to join the U.S. Senate.
The trend continues in 2020. According to a new Florida International University poll, 55 percent of Cuban Americans under 40 said they would re-elect Trump, while only 29 percent would vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. These numbers are almost identical to those of Cuban Americans 75 and older (59 percent for Trump and 23 percent for Biden).
It seems that young Cuban Americans are embracing their parents’ and grandparents’ political beliefs. Even data from Democratic polling firm Equis Research seems to confirm this trend.
The Democratic Party Has Shifted Dramatically Left
To understand what’s driving this shift, I interviewed Giancarlo Sopo, the Trump campaign’s director of rapid response for Spanish-language media. Sopo is one of those young Cuban Americans who made the political shift from left to right in recent years.
Sopo’s grandfather was a poet and Cuban naval officer. He died as a political prisoner in one of Castro’s jails, so Sopo never met him. Sopo’s father risked his life to liberate Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Sopo and his sister were raised by a single mother, who often had to juggle two to three jobs to put food on the table. Yet she raised her children with a profound sense of gratitude for their blessings in this country.
Sopo supported the Democratic Party and its candidates in his early 20s. He volunteered for John Kerry’s campaign, organized a grassroots group to support Obama’s presidential bid in 2007, and served as a youth delegate on the Democratic National Committee’s Platform Drafting Committee. After the 2008 presidential election, Sopo became active in local Democratic politics.
Sopo began to notice a shift in the Democratic Party’s messaging in 2015: The party that once supported equality of opportunity was becoming obsessed with equality of outcome. “As a Catholic, I care about the poor, but I never really care about how much the guy next to me is making,” Sopo told me. Despite feeling uneasy with his party’s new messaging, Sopo and his wife volunteered for Clinton’s presidential campaign and he voted for her in 2016.
Since the 2016 election, socialism and its talking heads such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have become dominant voices in the Democratic Party. Their popularity has visibly pulled the party further left, a trend that made Sopo uncomfortable.
What troubled him more was the extent to which the Democratic Party’s leaders and its media allies normalized socialism and socialists. When DNC Chair Tom Perez called socialists “the future” of the Democratic Party, Sopo realized this party was not his anymore. The Democratic Party’s embrace of socialism has aliened many young Cuban Americans like him, who “want nothing to do with socialism.”
Then came Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Sopo was appalled by congressional Democrats’ ruthless smear campaign against Kavanaugh, along with their allies in the corporate media. He began to wonder what else Democrats and leftist media were getting wrong.
Cuban Americans Have Fared Well Under Trump
It didn’t take long for Sopo to realize that his past negative opinion of Trump was largely based on deceptive media narratives. Sopo also found that conservative ideas are far more compatible with his values and upbringing than leftist ones. Over time, Sopo became a strong supporter of Trump’s policies.
Sopo is in good company. According to the most recent Florida International University poll, the majority of Cuban Americans, across all age groups, approve of Trump’s handling of key issues, from immigration to the coronavirus pandemic, but especially his handling of the economy.
Sanjai Bhagat, a professor of finance at the University of Colorado, Boulder, published an analysis based on newly released U.S. Census data, that shows blacks and Hispanics have done extremely well in the Trump-Pence administration compared to the Obama-Biden administration. For example, the household median annual income increase (adjusted for inflation) for blacks and Hispanics has been more than double during Trump’s term compared to the Obama years. This rising household income has raised many above the poverty line.
“During each of the three years of Trump/Pence, about 380,000 Blacks climbed their way out of poverty, compared to only 80,000 for the Obama/Biden era,” Bhagat wrote. “More than half-million Hispanics moved up the economic ladder past the poverty line in each of the three years of Trump/Pence, compared to only 150,000 for the Obama/Biden era.”
Cuban Americans Even Support Trump on Immigration
I can understand why Trump’s economic policies are popular with Cuban Americans, but what about his immigration policies? The media likes us to believe that many Hispanic voters do not support Trump because they see his policies as anti-immigrant.
On the contrary, Sopo said, many of Trump’s immigration policies are “actually popular with Hispanics, even if they don’t realize it.” The data backs up Sopo’s claim. The same Florida International University poll shows that the majority of Cuban Americans (64 percent) either strongly approve or somewhat approve of Trump’s handling of immigration issues.
Sopo further explained that immigrants “want strong borders and safe communities just like everybody else,” saying, “Disorderly immigration processes hurt our families and pose serious public safety threats to our communities.” As a legal immigrant myself, I couldn’t agree more.
Besides good policies, according to Sopo, the Trump campaign has also successfully built “strong relationships with Hispanic leaders and communities across the country,” and “these relationships are rooted in respect and an understanding that there is no such thing as the Latino community; there are many of them, and every Hispanic group has its own cultural nuances and priorities.”
Young Cuban Americans’ embrace of the Republican Party and GOP candidates is one of the most underreported stories in this election cycle. Despite mountains of evidence, leftist media continue to push the myth of a “generational divide” within the Cuban American community.
Republicans, however, should take comfort in knowing that the Democrats do not have a monopoly over minority voters. Standing up for good values, developing good policies, and investing time in building good relationships with different communities are the keys to winning the hearts and minds of voters.