April 14, 2023 | OPINION | By Saigopal Rangaraj
In Florida’s 2022 midterms, the Democratic Party found itself all but decimated. Governor Ron DeSantis carried the state by almost 20 points, dashing any hopes that Florida could be a battleground state in the near future. Republicans have consistently won the state; however, Miami-Dade country had remained an exception to this. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama won this county, home to the state’s largest metro area: the Miami metropolitan region.
72% of the county’s population identifies as Hispanic. The Democratic Party should have won the county given that the majority of Black, Asian, and Hispanic voters’ historically voted Democrat. Yet, in 2022, they did not. A significant factor in this unthinkable shift is the dwindling support from Cuban American voters, who have abandoned the Democratic party in droves.
To try and unpack this unsettling shift, Zoraiz Zafar ‘25 and I traveled to Miami. We conducted interviews, examined countless articles, and visited key cultural sights and museums to gain a better understanding of why the Democratic Party performed so poorly. Our interviews highlighted the fact that many Cuban American respondents disliked the Democratic Party’s rhetoric and policies, resonated with the economic policies enacted by Florida, and voted along group lines.
The rise of the Republican Party among Hispanic voters in Florida is largely attributed to their aggressive anti-socialist rhetoric and hardline stances on countries like Cuba. In stark contrast, the Democratic Party has shifted leftwards, pushed for improved ties with the Cuban regime, and a greater share of the party appears to hold socialist values.
For people that fled Cuba, this sentiment struck a raw nerve. One interviewee who fled in fear of political persecution was irked by President Obama’s decision to soften relations with Cuba and its socialist regime. The same sentiment was shared by other respondents who felt the Democratic Party’s approach to Cuba was insufficient.
The Democratic Party’s perceived association with socialism, in addition to the stricter restrictions placed in blue states during the COVID-19 pandemic, changed the perceptions of business owners who became skeptical of Democratic policies.
Our interviewees in Little Havana showed an overall disinterest in politics, with small business owners interested in the candidates who advocated for lower regulations. Most interviewees at Miami Beach were not familiar with prominent political figures on either side of the aisle but adamantly supported governmental assistance for small business owners and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Florida’s COVID-19 response reflected these pro-business views; its restrictions were some of the laxest in the nation, reinforcing the Republican Party’s business-friendly narrative.
Another dynamic among Cuban American voters that became clear during our interviews were group voting decisions. Many Cuban Americans chose not to talk about politics but would support the candidate or party that their peers favored, sometimes even against their own beliefs. Many respondents also brought up President Trump in their answers, with their political leanings defined by their opinion of his performance as President.
Viewing Cuban American voters as part of a larger Latino vote leaves many people in this community feeling unheard. The Democratic Party has not done enough to reach out to Cuban American voters, who are crucial in Florida elections. The party’s approach to Cuba and socialist regimes has not resonated with them, leading to a shift toward the Republicans. The Democratic Party must reevaluate its approach to Florida, invest in grassroots organizational efforts, and change its image to win back voters’ trust.
Democrats need to find ways to appeal to the state’s diverse population by addressing their unique concerns and values. This could involve a more nuanced approach to foreign policy, with a focus on human rights and freedom; economic policies that prioritize small businesses; and targeted advertising that counters the Republican pro-business narrative. The party needs to create a more comprehensive and targeted approach to Florida politics that resonates with its voters’ values. Unless the Democratic Party drastically alters course, Florida will be a lost cause.