Poll indicates Crist in line -- and Scott, Lopez-Cantera out of step -- with Cubans, Floridians over Cuba

Miami HeraldFebruary 11, 2014 

Large majorities of Floridians, those of Cuban descent and Americans in general support normalizing relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that indicates Charlie Crist's recent stance against the embargo could be more of a political plus than a minus.

Once a hotbed of hardline positions against Cuba, Florida residents are more inclined to want to engage or normalize relations with Cuba compared to the rest of the nation, the Atlantic Council poll shows. In Florida, support for normalization tops 63 percent, with 30 percent opposed; nationwide, support is 56-35 percent.

Perhaps most-surprisingly, those of Cuban descent heavily favor normalization or engagement: 79-21 percent in Florida and 73-26 percent nationwide. The sample size of Cuban-Americans was small in the state and national polls, however overall Hispanic support for engaging Cuba is strong.

The poll was released just days after Crist said Friday on Real Time with Bill Maher that he opposes the embargo.

“The embargo has done nothing in more than fifty years to change the regime in Cuba," Crist said

Crist's new position -- a reversal from his pro-embargo past -- instantly drew rebukes from Republican opponent and Gov. Rick Scott, anti-Castro hardliners and conservatives in general.

“The suggestion that the Cuban people should be stood up against is insulting,” Scott said Monday. “We stand for them. America is built on freedom and democracy. Cuba is not free or Democratic. The embargo that’s in place is part of standing up for the Cuban individuals, Cuban families’ freedom. So we need to continue the embargo.”

Scott’s lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, added that: “Charlie Crist’s comments just show his ignorance on the issue of what is going on in Cuba. As a Cuban American I was insulted by it. He should get a little smarter on what’s actually happening.”

However, the Atlantic Council poll indicates that Lopez-Cantera and Scott’s views are decidedly in the minority.

The survey didn't specifically ask whether people support or oppose the embargo. Instead, it polled people two separate ways: Whether the U.S. should "engage" more with Cuba or whether it should "normalize" relations. More people supported normalization than engagement.

But, when responses to the poll questions were averaged together, it clearly showed a shift in public sentiment.

“Floridians are even more supportive than an already supportive nation to incrementally or fully change course. This is a key change from the past: Cuba used to be intractable because Florida was intractable. This poll argues that is no longer true,” Peter Schechter and Jason Marczak, executives Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council, wrote in an introduction to the survey.

The poll also indicated that even self-identified conservative Republicans -- Scott’s political base -- want more normalized engagement with Cuba: 50 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed. Democrats and independents showed outsized support.

Whether Crist's stance translates into actual votes isn't clear from the survey, however. The poll didn't specifically drill down on voters and, relative to the electorate, could have under-sampled Republicans, depending on how the methodology is interpreted.

Also, Crist's new position on Cuba exposes him to an old charge he has faced ever since leaving the GOP: Flip-flopping.

As the Republican governor from 2007-2011, Crist backed U.S. sanctions against Cuba and signed a state law hiking costs on agencies that book trips to the repressive regime.

“I think the current policy in place is responsible,'” said Crist June 14, 2010, during a Miami Beach stop. “I do support the embargo.”

But on Maher's HBO show, Crist had a different take: "The embargo’s been going on what, fifty years now, and I don’t think it worked. It is obvious to me we need to move forward and get the embargo taken away.’’

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