New poll shows bipartisan support for Obama's Cuba policy

(Reuters) - A new national poll shows a bipartisan majority of American voters support the Obama administration’s new Cuba policy and would like to see an end to the 50-year-old economic embargo against the communist-ruled island.

U.S. President Barack Obama announces a shift in policy toward Cuba while delivering an address to the nation from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Doug Mills/Pool

The poll released on Wednesday by Beyond the Beltway, a joint public polling initiative by Washington-based research consultants Benenson Strategy Group and SKDKnickerbocker, found that most American voters support expanding trade, travel, and diplomatic relations with Havana.

Some 64 percent of those surveyed supported ending the embargo, including 74 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of independents.

A larger majority of voters - 72 percent - supported expanding travel and trade by Americans and having diplomatic relations with Cuba. Of those, 64 percent of Republicans under the age of 50 agreed that the recent policy changes “are in the best interests of the U.S. and Cuban people.”

The poll of 1,032 registered voters was hailed by supporters of Obama’s historic announcement in December to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba, as well as new regulations on travel and commerce with the island.

“This national poll makes it clear that the trend lines we’ve seen in recent years continue to rise toward strong bipartisan support for our new course on Cuba,” said Ricardo Herrero, director of CubaNow, a Miami-based advocacy group that backs the White House opening with Cuba.

Benenson is a Democrat-leaning polling group, which has also done work for New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat and vocal defender of the embargo.

While critics of the Cuba opening in Congress have so far not been able to block the White House moves to normalize relations, the embargo is a tougher issue for the Obama administration as it can only be removed by an act of Congress. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by Republicans.

The poll appears to confirm other surveys conducted soon after the Dec. 17 announcement to normalize relations with Cuba, which showed strong support for ending the embargo and re-establishing ties with the island, even among Cuban exiles in Miami.

Benenson describes itself as a strategic research consultancy that advises major companies and heads of state, including the president.

SKDKnickerbocker provides communications advice to companies as well as political candidates.

The poll was conducted Feb. 26-27 among registered voters selected to match national demographics of the voting population.

Reporting By David Adams in Miami; Editing by Jonathan Oatis