Finally, Time’s Tim Padgett decided that the Cuban-American vote demonstrated that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio may not be worth much in the wider Hispanic community. Padgett wrote:
Despite his best efforts, Rubio is a Cuban-American, which counts for a lot on his humid home turf of South Florida but muy poco in the arid Southwest. That’s where the lion’s share of U.S. Latinos reside and where groups like Mexican-Americans, the largest Hispanic bloc, often resent the preferential immigration treatment that Washington gives Cubans fleeing the Castro dictatorship.
But now the GOP has to wonder how much long-term clout Rubio, a rising conservative star and a top prospect for the 2016 presidential nomination, has with even Cuban voters.
The bottom line: no one should use a single data point (a poll!) to draw quick conclusions about a unique voting population (or allow a pollster or pundit to do as much in their stories). Best to slow down and gather some more information.
Or, to put a political scientist’s polish on that thought, here is what University of California, Riverside professor Ben Bishin wrote at The Monkey Cage blog on November 11:
The evidence presented here suggests that claims about dramatic changes in the Cuban American electorate are premature. Exit polls that employ cluster sampling may have problems in assessing attitudes among politically and geographically heterogeneous communities. Telephone polls, in contrast, find strong support for Mitt Romney, consistent with expectations from past research. Finally, comparison of demographic data and voting patterns suggest that the Cuban American community voted for Romney. While this community is doubtlessly undergoing significant changes, the political outcome of this tumult is still uncertain. Little Havana does not yet appear to have turned blue.
The confusion around the polling of South Florida’s Cuban-American voters is a symptom of the overarching problem Florida media—and other media around the nation—have had with polls. Journalists have been all too willing to accept as fact the polls they pay for. Once the check is cashed, news organizations are reluctant to dismiss or even question their own polls.
Three days before the election, a Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll showed Romney leading by 6 points in Florida—51-45. “[N]early every key indicator in the Times’ pre-Election Day poll reveals Romney’s advantage in a state Obama won four years ago,” the Times reported.
On the Sunday following the election, the Times called itself a loser in its political winners and losers column: “Our polls didn’t just miss the bull’s-eye, they missed the entire target.”
It’s nice to see the Times publicly acknowledge as much. But, is that it? Don’t readers deserve some further reflection on what happened here and what might be learned for next time?
Oh. While many fans of Lucy and Ricky may like to repeat the “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do” quote, Ricky apparently never quite said that. A good reminder to journalists and their audiences—be careful what you believe.