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Marco Rubio has also denounced President Obama's decision to thaw diplomatic relations with Cuba. A hard line against Cuba was once a reliable way to draw votes from the influential and Republican leaning Cuban-American constituency in southern Florida. But sociology professor Guillermo Grenier of Florida International University says that's changing. He's been tracking public opinion in the Cuban-American community for more than two decades. He told me the Republican Party is gradually losing strength among Cuban-American voters.
GUILLERMO GRENIER: Well, only 46 percent of the Cuban-Americans now are Republicans. There's been a trend driven by demographic change in the community that is not spreading across the population equally. That it is the old Republicans are still staying Republicans, but the new Cuban arrivals, especially since 1995, are splitting up between the Democrats and the independents.
CORNISH: What does this mean in terms votes, though? When you talk about new arrivals, for instance, are these people who are registered? I mean, who are politicians appealing to when they go out to look for votes in the Cuban-American community?
GRENIER: Yeah, that's a good question because that's the key - is that the new arrivals are not as engaged in the political system perhaps because they're a bit exhausted with politics coming from Cuba the way they did. But regardless, they are just simply not as engaged. Only 31 percent of the folks that have come from Cuba since 1995 are citizens of the United States. Now, when they become citizens, 90 percent are registered, so they play once they sign up to play the game.
CORNISH: To dig into this a little deeper, is there a difference in attitude between new arrivals - young, new arrivals - and young Cuban-Americans who are maybe second, third-generation?
GRENIER: Yes. There's a slight difference, although if I were to categorize them, they'd be pretty much in the same bucket. That is the new arrivals have a very tolerant view of anything that has to do with increasing their ability to communicate, to travel, to maintain their relationships they have nurtured over years in Cuba. The young second-generation Cubans also are interested in travel, but they are interested in travel and maintaining contacts or establishing contacts with the islands of their parents. They see it as their American right - that is they want to be able to travel to any country that they wish to travel to. And politically, we'll see how it plays out. I think this is the first time we actually have had Cuba come into the radar screen of new voters as they become adults. This is the first time that Cuba has become an issue that they actually can weigh in on.
CORNISH: Given what you've seen in terms of the rhetoric, is there - could there be a penalty for candidates who take a hard line against Cuba in this upcoming election? Or is there still just enough of that older voter to make a difference?
GRENIER: No, I think that just demographically you can't play the Cuba card like you played it before - Republican or Democrat. It used to be the case that any candidate will come to Miami, have a little cafecito at Versailles restaurant and you talk about how your administration will change things for the island and you'll show Fidel who's boss. And, well, you can't play that rhetoric anymore. You can't - you can't open up with Cuba that way anymore. I mean, you can't talk about Cuba that way. So I think that the pluralist and the diversity within the Cuban vote right now will become very evident.
CORNISH: Guillermo Grenier - he's with the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
GRENIER: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.
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