Charlie Crist’s Cuba comments in line with public opinion, new poll says

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Charlie Crist’s recent comment against the Cuban embargo — decried by South Florida Republicans — actually puts him in line with a majority of Floridians, Americans and those of Cuban descent, according to new polling by the Atlantic Council.

“The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba,” Crist said Friday on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Florida residents, at one time the center of hardline anti-Castro sentiment, now are leaning toward normalized relations with Cuba — with 63 percent approving, and 30 percent opposed.

Nationwide, support for opening relations with Cuba is also gaining steam — 56 percent approve, 35 percent oppose.

As for Americans of Cuban descent, the push to establish closer U.S.-Cuban relations is overwhelmingly popular. In Florida, more than three-quarters (79 percent) favor either normalization or engagement with the island nation while only 21 percent oppose. Nationwide, the numbers are 73-26 percent.

The Miami Herald reports Crist’s comments drew immediate fire from conservative Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott and his newly minted Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

“The suggestion that the Cuban people should be stood up against is insulting,” Scott told reporters on 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.”

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

But the Atlantic Council polling shows the two are on the wrong side of the issue, writes Marc Caputo in the Naked Politics blog.

Although the survey did not ask about support or opposition of the embargo, it did poll people in two distinct ways: Whether the U.S. should increase “engagement” with Cuba or if the U.S. should “normalize” relations. Respondents favored normalization over engagement.

Averaging the responses together, there is a clear shift in public opinion.

Caputo notes that even among Scott’s political base, self-identified conservative Republicans, there is a desire for more normalized relations and/or engagement with Cuba: 50 percent approve closer relations while 41 percent oppose.

Democrats and independents were overwhelmingly in favor of Cuba-America relations.

It is still unknown whether Crist’s evolving stance on Cuba translates into votes. The survey didn’t specifically pick out voters and could have under-sampled Republicans, depending on interpretation of the methodology.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.