Tanzina: All this month, we're taking a look at the issues that matter most to Latino voters in the 2020 election. Today, we're looking at Cuban American voters and we're hearing from our listeners on this exact topic. Here's what you have to say.
Sarah: This is Sarah [unintelligible 00:00:17] calling from Lakewood Ranch, Florida. I am a Cuban American, second generation. What I am most concerned with in this election is the protection of human rights and human dignity and equal treatment for all. These are really founding principles that are just being trampled on today. Whether you look at the reaction to peaceful protests or whether you do look at immigration law or whether you look at the rhetoric coming out of the White House, it's just atrocious. As a person of color, as the daughter of an immigrant, these are the things that are most concerning to me. If we don't have this, what do we have as a country?
Julio: Hello, my name is Julio. I live in San Francisco. I think there's concern about a huge number of Latinos that they're not getting a clear information. They just getting one-time information and that can become more likely for people to vote for one president rather than another one. I think there needs to be more information for Latinos for an old perspective, so they can have a more clear understanding and a better way to make a decision.
Tanzina: If you're listening and you want to share your thoughts with us about how you're voting. Give us a call at 877-8-MY-TAKE. That's 877-869-8253. [Spanish language]. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state of Florida by roughly 110,000 votes. While the majority of Latinos in Florida did not vote for the President, roughly 54% of Cuban American voters did back Trump contributing to his narrow victory. This year there are signs that support for the President among Cuban Americans and Florida has in fact grown.
A recent poll from Florida International University of Cuban Americans in South Florida found that 59% plan to vote for Trump this election. Part of that enthusiasm stems from the Trump campaign's extensive efforts to court Cuban American voters, which date back to the beginning of Donald Trump's time in office. The president's relentless attacks on Joe Biden and the Democratic Party as socialist also appear to be resonating with some Cuban Americans. Joining me now is Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of history at Florida International University. Michael, thanks for being with me.
Michael: Yes, my pleasure.
Tanzina: Also with us as Carmen Sesin, a reporter with NBC News.com and NBC Latino. Carmen, welcome to the show.
Carmen: Thank you, Tanzina.
Tanzina: Carmen, let's start with you. We talked a little bit about the president's strategy in courting Cuban Americans. Why else are we seeing increased enthusiasm?
Carmen: I think it all started with the sanctions on Cuba early on in the Trump administration, even though during the Obama years, it seemed that a lot of Cubans were on board with this. This struck a chord with them and they started seeing him differently. I spoke to Cuban voters back then about how they felt and many of them said, "I know that these sanctions hurt my relatives in Cuba, but at the same time, I like it when the US government is tough on the Cuban government."
I think it started with that. As you said, the courting. It wasn't just the campaign events, but each time that the administration had a major policy speech, they would come to Miami and do it. That really had the same effect as a campaign rally. They were speaking to an audience full of Cuban Americans and that would energize them.
Tanzina: Michael, how have Donald Trump's and Joe Biden's messages to Cuban American voters differed this year?
Michael: I think the contrast is almost more about the intensity of the messaging in a way. Quite frankly, until recently the Biden campaign efforts to reach out to Cuban American voters, I think have been striking for their, not absence entirely, but they certainly had a light footprint. As Carmen was just saying, the Trump team has been in Miami steadily leading up to the 2016 election and ever since. I don't know of a major metropolitan area that has received more high-level visits from the Trump administration.
The Trump administration's rhetoric on Cuba is certainly part of it. I think Biden has been a little bit reticent to get into those waters. You've seen them do more on that front lately, but I have to say, I think in so many ways, the tough talk on Cuba is almost not about Cuba. It's in some ways, a proxy for broader ideological debates that we're having in this country and is really a proxy for concerns in our domestic politics.
Tanzina: Also, can you put in perspective for us, Michael, what the Cuban American vote means nationally for the "Latino vote" versus what it means in Florida?
Michael: It's a really good question. I think sometimes we speak about the Cuban vote as equal to Florida. Certainly, it matters in Florida. I would say that even in Florida, it's less important as a percentage of the total Latino vote in Florida than it used to be, surely by virtue of the growth of other non-Cuban Latino populations in the state. I think Puerto Ricans, for example.
But Florida is a margins game and it's a swing state so the Cuban votes still matters. I think if you get outside of Florida, there's a significant Cuban population in the Tri-state area, New York City, Northern New Jersey. There are smaller pockets of Cubans in places like Houston, Texas, Austin, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky. Frankly, we have much less information about how those communities tend to vote. If I had to guess, I think the community in South Florida trends more Republican, trends more right-leaning, then the Cuban diaspora as a whole nationwide but, of course, the Cuban diaspora is heavily, heavily concentrated in South Florida. That difference matters.
Tanzina: Carmen, when you talk to Cuban American voters, what are they telling you about the two presidential candidates?
Carmen: There are different groups. You have the historic exile, which is those Cubans who mostly came in the 1960s, 1970s who are older now. Many of them have actually passed away already. You also have Cuban Americans that were born and raised here in the US or at least raised here. Those lean a little bit more democratic. Then you have more recent arrivals. Those who came after 1980 and especially those who came from 1995 on. That's where you see a shift and support for Trump.
The FIU pull that you mentioned at the beginning cites, that those who came from 2005 up until recently, I believe, something like 76% support Trump, which is an amazing number. When you talk to these people, the historic exiles always lean Republican for the same issues, but where you see that shift and where you see the most fervent support for Trump is among those more recent arrivals.
When you talk to them, the messaging in the past several months has completely turned to socialism and the United States. These folks truly believe that a vote for Biden is a vote for socialism in the US even though Biden is not a socialist. We know that and he has said it many times, but they think that Kamala Harris is more liberal. They're afraid of the influence that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or New York rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could have on a Biden administration. When you talk to them, it's all referencing what they want to do in Cuba.
They feel that they really lived to the communism, unlike other Cuban Americans, those that came recently, they feel that they really know what communism is. They tell me, "You have no idea what it's like to stand on a line for hours under the sun to go shopping for food and then when you get to the store, there's nothing left and you have to go home empty-handed and you don't have food or milk for your children. You don't know what it's like to get on a bike and have to bike for hours under the sun to get to work because there was no gas to drive a car. "
They're constantly referencing those things and they believe that if Biden wins, we're just so much closer to socialism in the United States, Cuban style of socialism.
Tanzina: Michael, what about the gender differences that you're seeing? Are there differences in how men and women Cuban American voters feel about the candidates?
Michael: My impression, based on the FIU polling that was done, is that some of the gender differences that you see in the national electorate are reflected in the Cuban American electorate, but I'd like to just go back quickly to the socialism point, because I think this is so key and so at the core of what's happening in the Cuban American community. It's been highly distressing because not in Bernie Sanders wildest dreams has anything that he's proposed equal dictatorship or the proletariat or total state control of all aspects of the private economy and yet that's the way in which this label socialism is being invoked.
To Carmen's point about the personal stories and traumas that Cuban spring to that conversation, and particularly recently arrived Cubans, there's some unmistakable irony here. Those are the very lines that those folks remember such a searing experience. Those have been aggravated in recent years because of the pylon effect sanctions of the Trump administration on Cuba. More recent Cuban arrivals left the Island at a time when relative to say 20 years ago, there was somewhat of an opening toward private enterprise that seemed to for a moment lift expectations.
It's a very perplexing thing. This shift in support for Trump among the recently arrived migrants. It's definitely one of the main storylines here. It's unclear how much of a political impact it's going to have to me because the more recently arrived you are perhaps the less likely you are to become a citizen yet, but we're trying to disentangle what's driving that. It's not just the disinformation. Folks who have a lack of understanding about the deep history of some of the issues that are at the forefront of US domestic politics.
In addition to this Biden equals socialism thing, there's all kinds of misinformation and frankly, racist talk that circulates on these WhatsApp groups about Black Lives Matter being the sleeper cell of the Democratic Party. It's pretty awful, there's no other way that I can put it.
Tanzina: Now, if you could give us a little bit more info on what the messages that are being spread about Black Lives Matter in particular, where are they coming from and what are they meant to trigger among certain Cuban American voters and conservative voters?
Michael: Sure. I think a little bit of background may be helpful quickly. I think one of the things that's so interesting, but also vexing about South Florida, Miami, is that the image of this place outside of South Florida is that it's a melting pot, people from all over the place, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean and that multiculturalism is celebrated.
It's something that city boosters celebrate.
Yet that image exists on top of a deep embedded history of racial tensions, inter-ethnic tensions. Miami was back in the day at Jim Crow City before Cubans really transformed the ethnic makeup of the city in the 1960s. Add on to that, the fact that in Latin American societies share so much in common with the United States in terms of a history of race relations and also the history of certain members of those societies to deny that there is a complex history of race relations or to deny that racism is a problem.
How that manifests today is you have real polarization between Latino immigrant communities who are generally whiter relative to the racial composition of the societies from where they come, looking around them and saying, "Well, if I was able to achieve certain success here as a migrant, what are these other people complaining about?" It's a classic iteration of that conversation. "Slavery happened so long ago. Let's not talk about it." Black Lives Matter is really getting invoked as part of this slippery slope to socialism.
There has been much made of the ties between certain members of the Black Lives Matter movement and the governments in say Venezuela but there really has been a selectivity to that narrative. We're not talking about the majority here. There's been a lot made of the looting right way over what it was in terms of a reflection of the broader protest movements. There is a racial animus here at play and seeing, you get this inheritance of Latin American racial politics brought here, meeting with the US domestic rhetoric of law and order and that's the recipe out of which so much of this misinformation is coming.
Tanzina: Carmen, when you hear that, what does your reporting tell you about that element here? The racial element that's getting played out and the messaging that a lot of Cuban Americans that I would even argue that certain Venezuelan Americans in Florida might be leaning towards.
Carmen: There's definitely a demographic difference. I'd say those who are raised here in this country, understand the Black Lives Matter movement and perhaps even participated in the protest and everything. Where you see the difference is among those who grew up not only in Latin Cuba, but all over Latin America, that I heard continuously during the protest.
I remember hearing from two Latinos when the protests erupted again, their comments were, "Oh my God, how do they allow this in this country?" They weren't Cuban American.
Same thing. I recently wrote a story on Colombian American voters in Florida. I interviewed a Republican Colombian and I asked him why he thinks there's a shift that there are more Colombians supporting Trump this year in Florida than in 2016. I asked him why and the first topic he mentioned, it was the Black Lives Matter movement. There's exactly what Michael Bustamante mentioned. It's the whole race relations and Latin America reflected here and the United States.
Yes, there's a lot of disinformation and they're definitely equating the Black Lives Matter movement to Marxism. I'm not sure who started that or where it started. I have spent an enormous amount of time watching YouTube channels from Columbia that do spread this misinformation, conspiracy theories and that's a constant theme there. They constantly mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement and how this equates to communism and Marxism, that this is their way of getting into the United States and spreading communism.
These videos, they're watched here in the United States. They're hour-long shows. They get clipped to like maybe one minute or 30 seconds and then they're spread through WhatsApp or they're posted on Facebook and everyone watches it here. Some of those programs got over a million views, so people are watching them.
Tanzina: The ugly racial politics that are playing out abroad are also seemingly playing out here as we head into this election. Let's to continue to talk about and think about. Carmen Sesin, a reporter with NBC News.com and NBC Latino. Michael Bustamante is an assistant professor of history at Florida International University. Thanks so much to you, both for joining me.
Carmen: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Tanzina: You can hear all of the segments from our series A Votar online at the takeaway.org/Latinovoters.
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