Democrats Cubans

It’s actually 187,006 problems, or how many more Cuban Americans are registered as Republicans rather than Democrats in Florida (53% are registered Republicans, 26% are Democrats, and 21% are Independents).

But it wasn’t always so! In 2016, Trump only won about half of Florida’s Cuban vote. In 2020, he took 55% of it, helping even Democrats’ margins in Miami-Dade County—a previously liberal bastion that counterbalanced ruby red central and northern Florida—and guaranteeing Republicans’ supermajority in the state legislature and claim to all 29 of Florida’s electoral college votes. This, I don’t need to remind Democrats, led to three gut wrenching days during which the entire country waited while Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania decided the election for Biden by razor thin margins.

So, why did Democrats steadily lose ground among Cuban Americans? Some liberal commentators fault Cuban Americans themselves. Perhaps they are too racist, too insular, too unempathetic of other minorities’ issues, and/or too susceptible to misinformation.

As a satirist and member of South Florida’s Cuban American community, I have taken it to task innumerable times and, believe me, reaped a whirlwind of backlash as a result. However, chalking up Democrats’ losses to innate ethnographic deficiencies is shortsighted, prejudiced, and ignores how America’s “big tent” party fundamentally fails to understand or effectively communicate with Cuban Americans. A continuation of this dismissive viewpoint guarantees Republicans’ grip on the community and the State of Florida, endangering Democrats’ national aspirations for decades to come.


Let’s start with what should be the easy stuff but remains one of the Democratic Party’s most glaring shortcoming. Democrats need to stop rewriting, reframing, and repurposing Cuban American history. For the love of God, Ted Kennedy, or whatever cosmic entity/liberal icon you worship, listen to us when we recount our experiences.

Democrats’ indiscretions can be as blatant as openly lionizing Che Guevara and Fidel Castro or can take more subtle forms such as praising Cuba’s health care, supposed racial equality, or educational system. These actions have been perpetrated by many Democratic thought leaders, including Bernie Sanders, Karen Bass, and Barbara Lee. Just as tellingly, the party tends to fall silent when Cubans on the island demand social and political change, as occurred during the 2020 San Isidro movement.

They’re wrong. This piece’s purpose is not to dismantle erroneous notions about Cuban history. It simply serves as a reminder that readers should check their privilege and not ignore the very real trauma my community has and continues to live because it might not fit sophomoric understanding of Caribbean geopolitics.

I’ve been called all manner of other pejoratives by Republicans but only Democrats stopped me cold while retelling my family’s flight from Cuba to “correct” me on “what actually happened.” The latter experiences were exponentially more galling than the former. You can’t begin a conversation, much less foster a modicum of trust, without first establishing the validity of a community’s experiences. Those who refuse to understand this first section should stop reading and close the tab because the rest of the piece will be a wash.

Show Up

Republicans made impressive inroads in Cuban American communities because Democrats ceded the field. Let’s examine a telling test case. In 2016, Trump received 50% of the vote in Hialeah, the most heavily Cuban municipality in the United States. In 2020, his share jumped to 66%. Why?

Latinos for Trump officially set up shop in South Florida in June 2019. However, led by Cuban American fascist and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, Trump’s grassroots stakes were planted in Miami-Dade County as early as 2016. A constellation of unaffiliated but interconnected conservative and far-right non-profits, influencers, radio personalities, and political operatives and organizations mounted an enormous, sustained social and traditional media campaign targeting Cuban Americans and other Latinos. They blasted non-stop conservative talking points and misinformation on YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Spanish radio and TV. Meanwhile, Democratic messaging made nary a peep.

Hialeah has the highest rate of Obamacare enrollees in the country. Democrats could have implemented a concerted messaging campaign on how their signature legislative success of the past 15 years betters the lives of Hialeah’s residents. But they didn’t. Instead, they wrote the city off as a conservative bastion and largely forgot about it until two months before the 2020 presidential election, at which point they launched a get out the vote (GOTV) drive. We’ll get back to this point.

Conservative organizations are deeply ensconced in Cuban American communities. They’re active year-round, leading charity drives to support dissidents on the island, organizing cultural events, and grooming the next crop of Republican candidates. Liberals have no pipeline to funnel budding activists between the Young Democrats and municipal commissions or the Florida House of Representatives. Progressive Miami-based organizations are balkanized, under-funded, and neglected by national leaders. With the notable exception of The Miami Freedom Project, they are also largely absent. The Republican Party has happily filled the vacuum.


Cuban Americans can smell bullshit a mile away. And they’ll let you know it. The Republicans, for all their mis- and disinformation, do one radical thing extremely well: they hire Cuban Americans to talk to other Cuban Americans.

Wild, I know! Meanwhile, Democrats routinely ship 30-year-old chiefs of staff from Illinois, Wisconsin, and California to run county and state campaigns who have literally never met a Cuban American. Even more insulting are national campaigns that parachute Nuyoricans, Chicanos, or South Texas Mexicans because they figure, “Hey! These guys are Hispanic! Those crazy Cubans in Miami are Hispanic! It’s all the same at the end of the day, right?”

Flat out wrong. If you don’t know the difference between a marielito and a balsero, you have no business speaking to Cuban Americans about their priorities. That’s why the community reacted so poorly to comparisons of Trump to Fidel Castro and other authoritarian Latin American leaders. Furthermore, translating press releases into Spanish does not cut it. 53% of Hispanics consume their media in English. Authentic bilingual content tends to work better, as 61% of Hispanics are more likely to take notice of these campaigns when they reflect their lived experiences.

Cuban American concerns and experiences are our own, not Mexican, not Puerto Rican, not Colombian. Republicans know this and they’re eating Democrats’ lunch as a result.

Focus on Issues We Care About

National Democratic leaders tend to remember Cubans exist about two months before an election, at which point they flood Miami’s airwaves with GOTV and immigration messaging. This doesn’t work. Firstly, their year-round absence allows Republicans to run roughshod over their talking points. Secondly, immigration is not Cubans’ primary concern.

The Importance of National Issues to Cuban Americans by Age

Source: The 2022 FIU Cuba Poll

Across cohorts, the economy and health care beat out immigration. A full 85% of Cuban Americans who arrived after 1993 approved of Trump’s handling of the economy. This is the Cuban American demographic that shifted its political allegiance most drastically between 2016 (when 30% were registered Republicans) and 2019 (58% were registered Republicans). Meanwhile, according to the 2022 FIU Cuba Poll, 83% of those who emigrated between 1995 and 2014 somewhat or strongly opposed Biden’s handling of the economy. It’s no wonder Republicans ran up the tally.

Is Trump a business genius whose economic record can’t be challenged? Of course not. He bankrupted a dozen companies and marched the country into a pandemic recession. But Democrats never showed up to make those arguments in Cuban American communities. Nor did they lean on their health care achievements—Cuban Americans’ second most important policy priority.

The S-Word

¡Socialismo! South Florida Democrats’ rhetorical bane! They run at its mere mention, unable to stop this one word from penetrating their best defenses. This species of socialism would be completely foreign to Karl Marx, as it has absolutely nothing to do with proletarian ownership of the means of production. Rather, it simply describes whatever happens to irk conservatives ordering their morning cortaditos around a ventanita on any given day. This could include drag shows, prison reform, racial equity, or public transit. It doesn’t matter. If they don’t like it, it’s socialist.

Sun Tzu dedicated an entire chapter to not letting one’s enemy choose the battlefield. This is advice Democrats enthusiastically ignore. Instead, when accused of socialist tendencies, they put out 12-point white papers (and recite them in debates) explaining exactly why and how they are categorically not socialists. While they’re busy defining what they’re not, they’ve lost the ability to define what they actually stand for. All audiences hear is that the Democrat onstage might or might not be a socialist. And that’s how you lose a messaging fight.

The first thing Democrats need to do is STOP ENGAGING. Republicans are not leveling these accusations in good faith, so why on Earth do Democrats rebut them as if they were in a high school debate course?

Cuban Americans’ visceral aversion to socialism is real and well-founded. Many lost property, livelihoods, and loved ones to a socialist dictatorship. Those born in the United States, like myself, lost a connection to our madre patria, leaving us with a deep sense of cultural loss. Of course “socialism” remains a trigger. My community underwent deep generational trauma because of that word. Many of my friends and family calculate that even a minuscule chance of reliving that pain is not worth the risk. And so, they vote Republican, the anti-socialist party. Democrats ignore the validity of these sentiments at their peril.

What Democrats must do is shift the focus from the s-word and onto the candidates using it to retraumatize a population for their own selfish political gain. Don’t claim you’re not a socialist. Insist your opponent is un aprovechado (a cynical conman), un atrevido (a swindler), and un sin vergüenza (a shameless person). Put them on the defensive and make them explain why they chose to use a loaded term that does not apply to you. One very important fact to note: if you are not a Cuban American or at least a Hispanic candidate, these accusations may ring hollow. However, you can use Cuban American spokespeople to make these arguments in your stead.

In Conclusión

Democrats’ backsliding among Cuban Americans is largely a result of their own failure to prioritize this community for over a decade. Republicans saw an opening and charged in full force. However, these losses can be reversed. Cuban Americans remain an extremely rare swing demographic in what should be a key battleground state.

Nevertheless, as illustrated over the last few election cycles, having the right policies is not enough. To win back this electorate, Democrats must:

  1. Respect Cuban Americans’ experiences and history.
  2. Show up.
  3. Communicate authentically.
  4. Focus on issues we care about.
  5. Turn “socialism” into a cudgel to beat Republicans.

There are some Democratic leaders who will look at the Cuban American community and calculate that we are too difficult, too costly, too bothersome to win back. Instead, they might decide to focus on Black turnout in Georgia or White working-class voters in Wisconsin.


Firstly, trends in the Cuban American community are indicative of larger shifts in the U.S. Hispanic vote. Republicans also made gains among Florida’s Colombians, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans in 2020. Biden lost 10 percentage points among Hispanics in Georgia, eight in Colorado, eight in Ohio, and four in both Nevada and Virginia when compared to Hilary Clinton.

Secondly, there are 2.4 million Cuban Americans living in the United States. They make up 36% of Greater Miami’s and 7% of Florida’s population. Their turnout rate is 58%, higher than any other Hispanic group, and they routinely ballot switch—sometimes by as much as 11 points.

But let’s say the national Democratic Party would rather wipe its hands of Cuban Americans. Fair enough. Beyond abandoning several hundred thousand voters already predisposed to their policies, the party would also effectively forsake Florida’s 21.5 million residents to the neofascist whims of Ron DeSantis and his ilk. Lastly, winning one swing state is much easier than winning three or four, so ignoring the Cuban American community could ultimately endanger liberal policies across the country.

The Democratic Party is not entitled to Cuban Americans’ or any other ethnicity’s vote. It needs to engage them thoughtfully and authentically if it wants them back. Cuban Americans are an eminently “gettable” demographic for Democrats. The only question is whether the party is willing to do the work to get them.

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Andrew OtazoAndrew Otazo

'Miami Creation Myth' author Andrew Otazo has advised officials on Cuba policy, worked for the Mexican president, fired a tank, and ran with 30lbs of trash.

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