Americans Continue to Favor the Return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba

by Frank Newport

Only three in 10 favor waiting for family custody hearing


PRINCETON, NJ -- The American public remains convinced that Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old Cuban boy who is caught in an international tug-of-war between the U.S. and Cuba, should be returned to his father in Cuba. Not only do Americans agree with the Justice Department decision to return him, a majority also think it is in the best interest of the boy that he return. Only 31% of Americans say that a decision on his return should be delayed until after a family custody hearing, and fewer than four in 10 favor a Congressional law that would grant him permanent residency status in the U.S.

Little Change Over the Past Three Months
The public's sentiment on the Elian Gonzalez issue has not changed significantly over the past three months, despite the enormous amount of publicity given the issue, including televised interviews with the boy, the announcement by Fidel Castro that he was ready to send both the boy's father and an entourage of other Cubans to this country to be with the boy, and the intervention into the situation by American politicians and presidential candidates. About two-thirds of Americans have consistently approved of the U.S. Justice Department decision to send the boy back to his father in Cuba. In the most recent Gallup Poll completed March 30-April 2, 64% of Americans said they approve of the decision, while slightly fewer than three in 10 disapprove.

Additionally, when asked what would be in the best interests of the boy, a slightly smaller but still substantial percentage of Americans - 56% -- say that he should return to live with his father in Cuba, compared to 31% who say he should remain with relatives in Florida. These numbers, too, have not changed substantially since January.

Only 31% Favor Waiting for Family Custody Hearing
Central to the controversy is the issue of which body of law takes precedence: immigration law or family law. The Justice Department argues that it is an open-and-shut immigration case, while its opponents believe that the issue is really a child custody case. Opponents of the Justice Department's decision thus argue that Elian should not be returned to Cuba until a full family custody hearing on the case has been held. The government, on the other hand, says that Elian should be returned now, or if the family is willing to sign a waiver, after an Atlanta court hears an appeal on an asylum plea. The public sides with the government, with only one-third agreeing that Elian should be kept in this country until after the custody hearing.

When Should Elian Gonzalez Return to Cuba?
Now 42%
After Appeals Are Heard on Asylum 14%
Only After Full Family Custody Hearing 31%
Never 4%

Grant Political Asylum?
Another approach to dealing with the Elian case is reflected in the stand taken last Thursday by Vice President Al Gore, who broke ranks with the administration when he argued that Elian and perhaps his father or other relatives should be granted political asylum in this country. The Gallup Poll asked Americans in February and again this past weekend if they favored or opposed a congressional law that would grant Elian citizenship or permanent residency status. Thirty-nine percent in the most recent poll favor such a law, while 51% oppose it.

The bill to grant Elian permanent residency status was introduced in the Senate by Republicans, but Gore's announcement underscores the fact that there is some support for it on both sides of the political aisle. There are essentially no political differences between Americans who identify with the Democratic and the Republican parties on the issue; about four out of 10 members of both parties favor it.

While the U.S. public feels it is in the best interests of Elian to send him back to Cuba, Americans are not convinced that the U.S. government is making its decisions on what is best for the boy. A little more than half of Americans - 54% -- say that the government's motive in the case is to better U.S. and Cuban relations, while only 26% say the government is thinking about the best interests of the boy.

Negotiations Preferred Rather Than Having Elian Removed by Authorities
What if Elian's Miami relatives lose their appeal? Although Americans favor the idea of sending Elian back to Cuba, they seem wary of the possibility that the six-year-old might need to be removed from his relatives by force. When given a choice between having "authorities remove him" and "negotiating" with the family when it is time to send Elian back, the public chooses the latter alternative by a 50% to 38% margin.

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 999 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 30-April 2, 2000. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next we have a question about Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy who is a survivor of a boat filled with Cuban immigrants which sank off the coast of Florida last November. He is now in Florida where his custody is being disputed. How closely have you followed the news about this story -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all closely?

  Very closely Somewhat closely Not too closely Not at all closely No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 32% 46 16 6 *
2000 Feb 14-15 23% 55 17 5 *
2000 Jan 25-26 34% 44 17 4 1
1999 Dec 9-12 23% 45 18 13 1

Which of the following solutions do you think would be in the best interests of the boy -- [ROTATED: for him to remain in the U.S. to live with relatives who have requested he stay here (or) for him to live with his father in Cuba, as his father requested]?


  Remain in U.S. Live with father in Cuba OTHER (vol.) No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 31% 56 5 8
2000 Feb 14-15 36% 55 4 5
2000 Jan 25-26 33% 60 3 4
1999 Dec 9-12 45% 45 3 7

As you may know, the U.S. government recently decided to send the boy back to Cuba to live with his father rather than have him remain with relatives in the United States. From what you know about this case, do you approve or disapprove of the decision to send the boy to Cuba to live with his father?


  Approve Disapprove No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 64% 28 8
2000 Feb 14-15 67% 27 6
2000 Jan 25-26 67% 25 8
2000 Jan 7-10 56% 36 8

As you may know, bills have been introduced in Congress which would grant Elian Gonzales U.S. citizenship, or give him permanent resident status. Would you favor or oppose the passage of such a law by Congress?

  Favor Oppose No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 39% 51 10
2000 Jan 25-26* 37% 54 9
(*) Question wording:As you may know, bills have been introduced in the House and Senate in Washington which would grant Elian Gonzales U.S. citizenship, or give him permanent resident status. Would you favor or oppose the passage of such a law by Congress?

Based on what you know and have seen in the news, how do you feel toward each of the following people involved in the Elian Gonzalez situation - how sympathetic are you toward [RANDOM ORDER] -- very sympathetic, somewhat sympathetic, somewhat unsympathetic, or very unsympathetic?

  Very sympa-
Somewhat sympa-
Somewhat unsympa-
Very unsympa-
No opin.
A. Elian Gonzalez himself
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 73% 19 3 2 3
B. Elian Gonzalez's father in Cuba
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 39% 38 10 8 5
C. Elian Gonzalez's relatives in Miami
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 22% 44 15 14 5

Do you think Elian Gonzalez should be returned to Cuba - immediately, if the family does not pledge to return Elian under the terms the Justice Department is requesting; only after the appeals court reviewing Elian's case rules on whether he should get political asylum; or only after a full custody hearing takes place in family court?

  Immediately After appeals ruling After full custody hearing NOT RETURNED TO CUBA (vol.) OTHER (vol.) No opin.
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 42% 14 31 4 2 7

If the relatives of Elian Gonzalez in Miami lose their current court appeal and refuse to turn the boy over to the Justice Department as they have been asked to do, what should the Justice Department do -- have authorities remove Elian from the Miami relatives' home; (or) negotiate with the family until they agree to voluntarily turn Elian over to the Justice Department?

  Have the authorities remove Elian Negotiate with family OTHER (vol.) No opin.
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 38% 50 5 7

Do you think the Clinton Administration and Justice Department are making their decisions in this case mostly on the basis of -- what they feel is in the best interests of Elian Gonzalez (or) what they feel is in the best interests of U.S. relations with Cuba?

  Best interests of Elian U.S. relations with Cuba BOTH EQUALLY (vol.) NEITHER/ OTHER (vol.) No opin.
2000 Mar 30-Apr 1 26% 54 4 9 7

(vol.) = volunteered response

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