Politics

Majority of Americans View Cuba Favorably for First Time

by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

  • Favorability jumps from 38% in 2014 to 54% now
  • Improvement matches timeline of Obama's overtures to Cuba
  • Partisan gap on issue has doubled in last two years

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A majority of the American public, which for decades has viewed Cuba in a decidedly negative light, sees the country favorably for the first time in Gallup polling history. Fifty-four percent now view Cuba positively -- an increase of eight percentage points from last year, 16 points from two years ago and 33 points since 2006.

160215cuba_favorabilitychart1

Americans' attitudes about Cuba have changed dramatically since 1996 when Gallup first asked the current version of the question. Only 10% that year said they had a favorable opinion. An earlier version of the question that measured favorability with a numerical scale not directly comparable to the current format found strong majorities of the U.S. public in 1976, 1979 and 1980 viewing Cuba unfavorably.

Public's Views of Cuba Tied to U.S. Government's Actions

The public's increasingly positive view of Cuba comes against the backdrop of President Barack Obama's vigorous campaign over the past two years to rebuild relations between the two countries. The biggest change took place last summer when formal diplomatic relations, severed in 1961 after the U.S. objected to the revolutionary regime led by Fidel Castro, were restored, and both countries reopened their embassies.

Over the past two decades, the views of the American public have tended to move in tandem with the ups and downs of relations between the two governments.

  • Gallup measured the highest unfavorable rating, 81%, in 1996 -- the year the U.S. Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act tightening an embargo on Cuba.
  • About two-thirds of Americans viewed Cuba negatively in most years from 2001 through 2008, as President George W. Bush maintained a hard-line approach to relations between the two nations.
  • In 2009, Obama was sworn into office, and unfavorable attitudes about Cuba dropped to 60%, with 29% favorable. During Obama's presidency, with its emphasis on finding ways to decrease hostilities between the two nations, Cuba's favorable ratings have climbed 25 points.

Perceptions of Cuba Divide Along Partisan Lines

Most of the shift in attitudes over the past two years has occurred among Democrats and independents. The percentage of Republicans with a favorable view grew by just six points from 2014 (28%) to now (34%) and still represents only a third of those in the GOP. Meanwhile, there has been a 15-point increase among independents from 2014 to 2015 (38% to 53%, respectively), and a 28-point change among Democrats -- from less than a majority (45%) holding a favorable view in 2014 to almost three-fourths (73%) today.

160215Cubafavorabilitytable1_(1)

With a strong majority of Republicans seeing Cuba in a negative light and an even larger majority of Democrats viewing it positively, candidates for the parties' presidential nominations this year have mostly echoed those views. Both candidates on the Republican side with Cuban backgrounds -- Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- blasted Obama's reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. Two of the other top vote-getters in last week's New Hampshire primary, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, have also been critical of the move. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have strongly supported Obama's attempts to normalize relations.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has taken a different tack, saying he agrees with reopening relations with Cuba -- with the caveat that "we should have made a stronger deal."

Bottom Line

Americans' views of Cuba have become dramatically more positive in recent years, mostly because Democrats now overwhelmingly view Cuba favorably. During the past few years, Americans' opinions about Cuba have become sharply polarized by political party, with the Democrat-Republican gap in favorability more than doubling in the last two years -- from 17 points in 2014 to 39 points today.

The momentum of public opinion seems to favor Democratic presidential candidates; the public backed their stances on reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba even before Obama's moves in the past two years. The wild card in this, as in so many other aspects of the upcoming election, is Trump, who seems to lean closer to a Democratic point of view than a Republican one.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 3-7, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

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