Date: November 14, 2016
To: Interested Parties
From: Giancarlo Sopo & Guillermo Grenier, Ph.D.
Re: Cuban-American Voters in the 2016 Election
- Hillary Clinton’s performance among Cuban-American voters in Florida was strong by historical standards, a sign that the Sunshine State’s Cuban-American vote is still up for grabs. Democrats saw significant improvements from 2012 in Miami-Dade County, as well as Hialeah and Westchester, the two communities with the highest concentration of Cuban-American voters.
- There is no evidence that the Cuban-American vote was decisive in Florida or that President Obama’s Cuba policy hurt Clinton’s chances. A majority of Cuban-American voters support the new U.S. policy and a significant share of the policy’s supporters are Trump voters.
- White non-Hispanic voters were the key to Donald Trump’s victory. Clinton would have lost Florida even if she had won the Cuban-American vote by five points.
How Cuban-Americans Voted in 2016
An Edison Research exit poll used by television networks and a Latino Decisions election eve survey show Hillary Clinton earning 41% and 47%, respectively, of Florida’s Cuban-American vote. As the following chart shows, Clinton’s performance was strong and the second best ever for a Democratic presidential candidate among Florida’s traditionally Republican Cuban-American community.
The Latino Decisions study also found that Clinton won a majority (50%) of the country’s Cuban-American voters, the highest share ever recorded for a Democratic presidential candidate. Approximately three out of 10 (32%) Cuban-Americans live outside of Florida.
Democrats Saw Gains in Areas With Large Cuban Populations
Hillary Clinton surpassed President Obama’s 2012 performance in Miami-Dade County, Hialeah, and Westchester. This would seem to bolster the argument that Cuban-Americans are increasingly voting Democratic and weakens the case that President Obama’s Cuba policy softened support for Clinton.
- In Miami-Dade County, where one out of three residents is Cuban-American, Clinton won by nearly 30 points, 63.7% to 34.1%, an 81,196-vote improvement for Democrats from 2012.
|Obama / Romney||541,440||61.6%||332,981||37.9%||+ 208,459||+ 23.7 pts.|
|Clinton / Trump||623,636||63.7%||333,901||34.1%||+ 289,735||+ 29.6 pts.|
|Difference||+81,196||+ 2.1 pts.||+ 920||– 3.8 pts||+ 81,276||+ 5.9 pts.|
- Democrats made inroads in the majority Cuban and traditionally Republican city of Hialeah where Clinton exceeded President Obama’s 2012 vote totals by 5,950 votes. Conversely, Republicans saw their 9.1-point 2012 margin vanish.
|Obama / Romney||27,675||45.2%||33,267||54.3%||+ 5,592||+ 9.1 pts.|
|Clinton / Trump||33,625||48.9%||33,718||49%||+ 93||+ 0.1 pts.|
|Difference||+ 5,950||+ 3.7 pts.||+ 451||– 5.3 pts.||– 5,499||– 9 pts.|
- In addition, Democrats saw a 14-point improvement from 2012 in the suburb of Westchester, the U.S. community with the highest percentage of residents born in Cuba.
|Obama / Romney||4,463||36%||7,856||63%||+ 3,393||+ 27 pts.|
|Clinton / Trump||5,480||42%||7,219||55%||+ 1,739||+ 13 pts.|
|Difference||+ 1,107||+ 6 pts.||– 637||– 8pts.||– 1,654||– 14 pts.|
The Role of U.S. Cuba Policy in the Election
Some have claimed that President Obama’s Cuba policy may have cost Clinton in Florida. We found no evidence to support this. It is unclear what, if any, role U.S-Cuba policy plays in determining how Cuban-Americans vote. Strong majorities of Cuban-Americans and Floridians favor engagement with Cuba.
- According to an August 2016 survey by Florida International University (FIU), 64% of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County support the new Cuba policies, including 55% of Cuban-American voters. The study also found that 58% of Cuban-American voters support the Obama-Clinton policy of ending the U.S. embargo, and 61% support diplomatic relations with the island.
- FIU also found that among the Cuban-Americans voters who said they support the new U.S. policy, four out of 10 (41.6%) identified themselves as Trump supporters.
- Support for the new Cuba policy extends beyond the Cuban-American community. The most recent Bloomberg poll showed 67% of likely Florida voters favor engagement with Cuba.
The Cuban-American Vote Was Not Decisive in Florida
Since at least 1980, Florida’s Cuban-American voters have leaned Republican, but have trended Democratic in recent elections. Some are suggesting that Cuban-Americans cost Hillary Clinton the state. Two conditions would be required for this to be true: (1) Clinton’s performance among Cuban-Americans would have to be unusually low and (2) Clinton would have won the state had she mirrored past performances among Cuban-Americans—both are false.
- Cuban-American voters were approximately six percent (570,878) of the 9,415,638 Florida voters who cast a ballot for President and 6.7% of Trump’s supporters in the state.
- Despite stronger showings for Democrats in Miami-Dade County and Cuban-American neighborhoods, some may cite polls to argue that Clinton under-performed President Obama’s 2012 share (48%) of the Cuban-American electorate by anywhere between one (47%) to seven (41%) points. However, a one to seven-point gap between Clinton and Obama’s shares of Cuban-American voters would only account for approximately 5,708 to 39,962 votes—well short of Clinton’s statewide deficit of 114,455-votes.
- In fact, ceteris paribus, Clinton would have still lost Florida (and the election) even if she had defeated Trump by five points among Cuban-American voters. It is therefore clear that Cuban-American voters were not the deciding factor in Present-elect Trump’s victory.
White Non-Hispanic Voters Propelled Trump to Victory in Florida
As was the case across the country, Trump’s performance among white non-Hispanic voters was, by far, the single most important factor to his victory in Florida.
- In 2016, white non-Hispanic voters were 62% of the electorate; yet, they made-up 81% of Trump’s statewide coalition. Republicans made gains in predominantly white non-Hispanic counties. For example: Trump’s margin over Clinton in Pasco County was 51,945 votes, a 14,164 vote improvement for the GOP compared to 2012. In Lake County, Trump’s victory margin was an increase of 13,447 votes for Republicans since the last presidential election.
- Sixty-four percent of Florida’s white, non-Hispanic voters supported Donald Trump, while 32% backed Hillary Clinton. In 2012, President Obama and Mitt Romney received 61% and 37%, respectively, of Florida’s white non-Hispanic voters. Trump’s 32-point advantage was an eight-point improvement for the GOP from 2012.
Had Clinton mirrored Obama’s 2012 performance among Florida’s white non-Hispanic voters and kept Trump at Romney’s support levels, she would have narrowed her 2016 gap among this demographic by approximately 467,015 votes and kept Florida in the Democrats’ column.
UPDATE (11/16/16 at 7:59 PM): A previous version of this memo hypothetically stated that Clinton would have lost to Trump even if she had won the Cuban-American vote by five, 10, or 15 points. This has been corrected given that under certain models, depending on the size of the vote for third-party candidates and turn-out levels for other demographics, a Clinton victory would have been possible had she won Cuban-Americans by 10 points or more. This does not change the memo’s main conclusions given the unlikeliness of a 10-point victory for a Democratic presidential candidate among Cuban-American voters.
About the Authors
Giancarlo Sopo is a communication strategist and founder of CubaOne Foundation. He was formerly the head of marketing and a communications consultant at Benenson Strategy Group, as well as a teaching fellow on Leadership and Presidential Politics at the Harvard University Extension School.
Guillermo J. Grenier, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and graduate program director in the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University. Dr. Grenier has authored and co-authored six books and dozens of articles on labor, migration, immigrant incorporation, and Cuban-American ideological profiles.