Polling of Hispanic Republicans shows strong support for President Bush but concern over his policy toward Cuba.
A large majority of Hispanic Republicans in Miami-Dade County support President Bush in his reelection bid, but almost as many feel that he needs to get tougher on Cuba or risk losing their support, according to a new poll.
The findings suggest that while the president remains popular among Cuban Americans, there is room for the Democrats to take advantage of their frustrations and siphon off some of their votes, the pollster says.
‘‘The dissatisfaction with Bush shows that people are unhappy with his Cuba policy,’’ said Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno, whose company, Campaign Data, conducted the poll for BellSouth.
But Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, “has not announced a plan for the democratization of Cuba and has not released what his Cuba policy is. Until now, Cuban Americans don’t have an alternative.’‘
The questions on Bush and Cuba were part of a larger poll that Campaign Data conducted on state legislative issues—such as healthcare and education—for BellSouth.
The company regularly sponsors polls on public-policy issues. ‘‘We are a highly regulated industry and we like to keep a pulse on the issues,’’ spokeswoman Marta Casas-Celaya said.
The poll of 600 registered voters has a margin of error of three to five percentage points and was conducted from Jan. 19-22. It was released to members of the Republican Hispanic Caucus. Only Miami-Dade Hispanic Republicans—mostly Cuban American—were included in the results of the Bush and Cuba questions.
In response to the question, ‘‘How likely are you to vote for the reelection of President George W. Bush?’’ about 88 percent of respondents said they were likely or very likely.
Then another issue was raised: “In August 2003, Miami’s 11 Hispanic legislators sent a letter to Bush urging him to take a tougher line toward the Castro regime. The letter warned the president that if he did not toughen his stance toward Cuba, he could not expect the strong support of the Cuban community in the presidential election.’‘
Seventy percent agreed or strongly agreed.
‘‘My fear is that this poll is revealing a growing indifference among Cuban Americans that jeopardizes our goal of producing overwhelming voter turnout and reelecting President Bush,’’ said Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, one of the state lawmakers who helped write the cautionary letter to the White House. A White House spokesman could not be reached Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, R-Miami, said the poll worries her.
She noted that since the letter was written to the president last year, Washington has taken several steps to get tougher on Castro, including indicting the Cuban pilots who shot down civilian pilots in 1996 and expelling alleged Cuban spies from the United States.
‘‘I think the folks have gotten the message in the White House that we want to energize George Bush on Cuba policy,’’ Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview Thursday. “We are pleased with the direction the Bush administration is taking.’‘
However, state Rep. Manny Prieguez, R-Miami, who chaired the state’s Republican Hispanic Caucus when the group wrote Bush the letter, said Bush’s actions to date aren’t sufficient.
To send a clear signal that he is serious about toppling Castro, Bush needs to suspend money remittance and most travel to the island, Prieguez said.
‘‘That would guarantee the Cuban-American vote in November,’’ Prieguez said. “That would put a big steak and potatoes on the plate of Cuban-American voters. Right now, we’re on Weight Watchers.’‘