Tipping Point? Public Opinion and US Cuba Policy in 2014

Cold War rhetoric and extremist policy were central to the discussion of the Atlantic Council poll on US-Cuba policy, hosted at the Pacific Council in Lost Angeles. Pollster Paul Maslin began the event by explaining that many Americans think the United States has worse relations with Cuba than with Iran. Congressman Howard Berman seized upon this theme and noted that even at the height of the Cold War American citizens were not restricted from traveling to the Soviet Union, underscoring the severity of the travel restriction placed upon most Americans for Cuba.

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This sentiment consistently echoes across party lines: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who openly endorses normalization and spoke at the DC launch of the poll, finds a strong Libertarian argument in lifting the travel restriction. While overall support for ending the embargo is stronger among Democrats and Independents, the majority of Republicans also favor normalization. Mr. Maslin pointed to the small discrepancy in favorability for change between the two parties, noting that such similar opinions across party lines are nearly unheard of in today’s polarized political climate.

Despite this shift, Congressman Berman noted that the pro-normalization movement was still fighting a tough battle, in that there are few fighting. The problem, he noted, is that for those who wish to keep the embargo, this is what they dedicate their entire political careers to: it is their everything. Alternately, those who favor normalization do so in a more passive way, and prioritize other issues. Atlantic Council Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center Director Peter Schechter pointed to Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, a one-time embargo supporter who recently came out in favor of normalization, saying that if Crist lost the race in six months it would be for a thousand reasons other than his stance on Cuba. Dean Frank Gilliam of the UCLA School of Public Policy elaborated on this discrepancy: “old narratives die hard.”