Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Cuba poll from IRI [Updated x2]

The International Republican Institute will release a poll of Cuban public opinion today. An account of the poll appears in today’s New York Times.

The poll was in the field March 14-April 12, ending six weeks after Raul Castro took office.

On a scale of one to ten, Cubans gave Raul a 5.55 score. Younger Cubans were markedly more likely than those over 60 to support a shift to a democratic system with multiparty elections.

When asked to name the biggest problem they face, the Times account says that more than half of respondents “considered their economic woes to be their chief concern while less than 10 percent listed lack of political freedom as the main problem facing the country.”

IRI did a similar poll in October 2007 and released partial results.

[Update: IRI’s press release is here, and charts showing some of the poll results are here (pdf).]

[Update: A few comments about the poll and the results.

Polling in Cuba is not a simple proposition because a) foreigners aren’t allowed to do it, b) respondents aren’t accustomed to surveys, and c) this poll goes to sensitive subjects, to say the least.

Nonetheless, it looks like the pollsters did their best.

Assuming the results are in the ballpark, and they seem that way to me, what does the poll mean?

First, the poll was taken in weeks three through seven of the Raul Castro government, so I doubt it has much predictive value regarding Cuban opinion of Raul. Rather than use the “Do you approve/disapprove of the performance” question that gives us our presidential approval ratings (President Bush is around 31 percent now), it used a “pick a number on a scale of one to ten” question, and Raul scored 56 percent, slightly in positive territory. Regardless, in the long term it’s his performance that will matter more than first-impression numbers.

Second, the predominance of economic issues stands out. Asked to identify “the biggest problem in Cuba,” 64 percent cited cost of living/dual currency/food scarcity, which are essentially the same thing. Nine percent cited the political system. If you inflate the political number to account for fear or nervousness, you are still left with a very strong margin placing priority on fixing economics as opposed to politics.

Third, 71 percent do not believe the current government will solve the big problems in the next few years. But only a slight majority, 54 percent, believes that a democratic government would solve them, and 43 percent believe a democratic government would not.

Add it all up – and add caveats and grains of salt – and it looks like the government has a political opportunity to seize, and it is in the driver’s seat. Simply put, if it solves day-to-day economic woes, it will be addressing Cubans’ top concern, and it will accumulate political credit.

The opposition, meanwhile, would only stand to benefit from this public opinion landscape if the government fails to improve the economy, or if improvements are followed by expectations that spin out of control – and if it were to acquire a means to connect broadly with the Cuban public and take advantage of the situation.]

1 comment:

Antony said...

I think this does give Raul Castro and his leadership team some leeway and breathing space. I am encouraged by the changes in Cuba and hope they continue if they do indeed take this Chinese/ Vietnamese model. I am confident that they will.