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Did Obama or Romney win the Cuban-American vote?

By Juan O. Tamayo, The Miami Herald –

MIAMI — A claim that nearly half of Cuban-American voters favored President Barack Obama continued under dispute Monday, with one side claiming it had new evidence that it was true and the other insisting it was false.

Florida International University professors Dario Moreno and Kevin Hill reported Monday their analysis of tallies from selected precincts in Miami-Dade County, Fla., indicated GOP candidate Mitt Romney won up to 59 percent of the Cuban vote.

Miami Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International, however, reported Monday its own analysis of the county’s 48 largest Latino districts showed Obama won the Cuban vote, 51 percent-49 percent over Romney.

The dispute involves competing visions of whether the Cuban-American vote has moved beyond its half-century-old support for the GOP. But while the two sides disagree on the numbers, it appears clear that Obama received more Cuban votes last week than he did in 2008.

Bendixen sparked the argument Friday when its initial analysis, based on exit polls of 3,800 Florida Latino voters and phone calls to 1,000 others who cast absentee ballots, showed Obama with 48 percent of the Cuban vote statewide — a historic high — and Romney at 52.

The Miami-Dade districts that Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen & Amandi, later selected for the analysis he announced Monday were in predominantly Cuban areas such as Hialeah, Westchester, Little Havana, Doral and Kendall, Bendixen explained. Cubans make up about 75 percent of the county’s Latino electorate.

Another exit poll of Florida Latinos, carried out by Edison Research on behalf of CNN, CBS, Fox News and other news media, indicated that Cuban voters split 50 percent-47 percent for Romney.

In comparison, 75 percent of Florida Cubans voted for the Republican presidential candidate in 2000, 71 percent in 2004 and 65 percent in 2008, according to the Bendixen firm, which worked for the Obama campaign this year.

The Moreno-Hill analysis, however, indicated that at least 55 percent and a maximum of 59 percent of the county’s Cuban voters favored Romney, a 6-point gain for Obama over 2008 but still significant support for the GOP candidate, said Moreno.

“There was a significant reduction in Cuban-American support for the Republican candidate, but not as dramatic” as the Bendixen and Edison polls found, Moreno told El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald’s sister paper. The GOP’s John McCain won 64 percent of the county’s Cuban vote in 2008.

Moreno said his analysis used one of the methods of population analysis approved by U.S. courts for voting rights cases, known as “ecological regression.” It uses census and precinct tallies to exclude unwanted factors, such as non-Cuban voters.

A registered Republican, Moreno said he and Hill did the analysis as part of their academic research. They provided it to the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., headed by anti-Castro lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone in Washington.

The FIU professor also noted that Edison Research’s exit poll probably did not take absentee ballots into account. About 50,000 Cubans aged 60 and older, traditionally strongly Republican, vote by absentee ballots in presidential elections in Miami-Dade, he added.

Obama received 120,571 absentee ballots in Miami-Dade County last week, compared to Romney’s 117,082. In 2008, Obama took 72,305 absentee ballots while McCain took 102,000. Countywide, Obama received 499,831 votes in 2008 and McCain received 360,551. The president expanded the margin last week by 68,880 votes, getting 540,776 to Romney’s 332,602.

There were other differences between the Edison, Bendixen and FIU surveys. Edison had the smallest sample size of Cubans, about 255. Bendixen surveyed Latinos in six counties, including Miami-Dade. And FIU limited its study to Miami-Dade, which has the highest number of Cuban-Americans in the state.

Claver-Carone noted that the drop in Cubans’ support for Romney may have been due in part to his pick of his vice presidential running mate: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has supported lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

That “created skepticism among some Cuban-Americans and gave them (Democrats) an opening to make a case on economic and social issues,” Claver-Carone added. “The Obama campaign took full advantage of the opening.”

Sergio Bendixen, defending his numbers last week, noted that older Cubans who tend to be more conservative are dying off and younger Cuban-Americans believed to be more liberal are reaching voting age.

And since Cuba was not one of the main issue

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