Broad Backing for Cuba Relations

Apr 27, 2009 6:41am

President Obama’s overtures to Cuba are one of the ways he’s hit the zeitgeist in his first 100 days: Six in 10 Americans approve of the way he’s handling U.S. relations with the island nation, and most favor far more dramatic moves.

Sixty-six percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the United States should establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. Somewhat fewer, but still majorities, support lifting the trade embargo and travel restrictions, 57 and 55 percent, respectively.

Those aren’t entirely new views; as many supported diplomatic relations in a Gallup poll in 2006, and 58 percent supported ending travel restrictions as long ago as an ABC News poll in 2000. Majority support for ending the trade embargo, though, appears new.

Obama in mid-April lifted travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban-Americans and opened the door for U.S. telecommunications companies to do business there; he later said he seeks “a new beginning” with Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro responded that he was "willing to discuss everything – human rights, freedom of press, political prisoners, everything.” And Sunday, The New York Times reported that State Department and Cuban diplomats planned informal talks to see if formal discussions between the two governments could be held.

Opening U.S.-Cuba relations earns far greater skepticism among Republicans and conservatives than other Americans, but only on one issue does opposition reach a majority – an end to travel restrictions, which 55 percent of Republicans oppose (vs. 40 percent support). That could reflect Republicans’ heightened concerns about illegal immigration; unrestricted travel means Cubans could visit the United States, as well as Americans visiting Cuba.

Republican opposition eases on the other avenues – a 47-46 percent split (support/oppose) on diplomatic relations and a 36-49 percent division on open trade, with more opposed than in favor but a substantial 15 percent undecided.

Conservatives, for their part, split 51-42 percent on establishing diplomatic relations, with more in favor than opposed, and divide evenly on lifting both trade and travel restrictions. Each wins broad support from other sides of the political and ideological spectrums – Democrats, independents, liberals and moderates alike.

The majority’s view on Cuba matches related attitudes on international affairs. In this same poll, for example, 71 percent of Americans say they favor Obama’s willingness to meet with leaders of foreign nations that have been hostile toward the United States.

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