Many Americans open to better ties with Cuba

Many Americans open to better ties with Cuba

WASHINGTON - Though lawmakers from both political parties lambasted President Barack Obama on Wednesday for shifting US policy on Cuba, Americans by and large are open to stronger ties with the communist-governed island, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Fewer than 20 per cent of Americans oppose establishing US diplomatic relations with Cuba, the poll of 31,000 adults showed. More than 40 per cent of the respondents were in favour of rapprochement. Some 39 per cent said they were not sure.

Obama announced on Wednesday that the United States would restore diplomatic relations it had severed with Cuba more than 50 years ago. The poll was taken before the announcement, running between July 10 and October 9 of this year.

Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said the results could bolster Obama's efforts to convince Congress to lift the US embargo on Cuba completely. She predicted that already strong support for a shift would grow.

"Public support for this will continue to increase," she said.

Obama's move drew sharp criticism from some Democrats, including typical ally Senator Robert Menendez.

Republicans were harsher, particularly potential presidential candidates Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

But the poll showed residents of Florida, a critical battleground in presidential elections that is geographically close to the isolated island, overwhelmingly supportive of a change.

In a sample size of 1,055 Floridians, some 47 per cent said the United States should establish diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation, while 22 per cent said it should not.

Obama's fellow Democrats hope to hold on to the coalition that elected him in 2008 and 2012.

Hispanics were a key part of that coalition, and the poll showed they were largely in favour of a US-Cuba policy revamp. Nationally, 49 per cent of Latinos supported starting diplomatic relations, while roughly 20 per cent did not.

Both men and women backed a change.

Roughly 55 per cent of polled men supported a shift, while 20 per cent opposed it. Among women, 32 per cent were in favour and 19 per cent were opposed. Women were another key part of the voting coalition that propelled Obama to the White House.

Broken down according to political party, support was more varied. Some 39 per cent of Republicans supported a change, while 28 per cent did not. A majority of Democrats, 54 per cent, were in favour of establishing diplomatic relations, while only 15 per cent were opposed.

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