Poll in Cuba: Obama more popular than Fidel, Raul Castro

havana-live-Cuba child with Obama shirtHAVANA, 8 April  President Barack Obama is more popular among Cubans than either of the Castro brothers who have ruled the island for the past five and a half decades, according to a new poll secretly conducted there last month.

Eighty percent of the Cubans polled said they had a “very positive” or “somewhat positive” opinion of Obama, while just 17 percent registered a “very negative” or “somewhat negative” impression.

The widespread approval of the U.S. president was in sharp contrast to the mostly adverse opinions of Cuban leader Raul Castro (48 percent negative, 47 percent postive) and his retired older brother Fidel (50 percent negative, 44 percent positive).

Obama’s popularity — exceeded by only that of Pope Francis — was perhaps the most startling finding of the poll, which was conducted by the Miami company Bendixen & Amandi International for the TV networks Univision and Fusion and the Washington Post.

The survey is the first nationwide opinion poll conducted in Cuba by a private firm since the country turned communist. Without the Cuban government’s knowledge or permission, the pollsters conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults throughout the island between March 6 and 16. The poll has a plus-or-minus 2.8 percent margin of error.

The survey shows a curious mix of emotions and expectations among Cubans in the wake of the thaw between Washington and Havana announced by the two governments in December.

According to the poll, Cubans overwhelmingly support improved relations with the United States, which they believe will generate more tourism and better economic conditions on the island. Yet they don’t expect political change.

And while 73 percent said they are personally optimistic about the future, more than half would prefer to live in another country — mostly, the United States, which by a 5-to-1 margin they regard as a friendly country.

And the unusually large number of “undecided” or “did not answer” responses to that question — more than a fifth of the sample — suggests that many Cubans didn’t consider it prudent to answer, which might mean even more regard the United States as a friend.