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Polls: Latino-American Votes Divided Between Bush, Kerry - 2004-05-19

A new poll shows Latino voters in the United States divided in their support for George Bush and John Kerry, six months before the U.S. presidential election.

Sergio Bendixen & Associates, a Miami-based polling firm with close ties to the Democratic Party surveyed 1,800 registered Latino voters, 600 in Florida, and 400 each in the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

The overall results give Senator Kerry an edge with Latino voters in all three southwestern states. However President Bush leads in Florida which he won by 537 votes in the 2000 election. In Florida, President Bush leads Mr. Kerry 55 percent to 35 percent, similar to the results in 2000, when he received 61 percent of Florida's Hispanic vote to Vice-President Al Gore's 39 percent.

Cuban-Americans are a majority of Florida's Hispanic population and President Bush counts them among his strongest supporters. However Scott Gardner a research analyst at Bendixen & Associates says within the Cuban-American vote, strong differences are emerging this year.

"The Cubans born in Cuba are supporting Mr. Bush with 80 percent of the vote, and 12 percent for John Kerry," he said. "The U.S. born are supporting Mr. Kerry with 54 percent, and only 33 percent for the president."

That points to a generational divide within the Cuban-American community says Mr. Gardner who notes that Democrats like Bill Clinton have also done well with Cuban-American voters. Based on the latest polling data, Scott Gardner says it would be a mistake to assume that any one political party enjoys overwhelming support from Cuban-American voters.

"We decided that that now the younger Cubans and the U.S. born Cubans are not as loyal to the Republican Party as they used to be," said Mr. Gardner. "So, the image that Cubans are all for the Republican Party, well the new generations are making up their own minds."

Bush campaign officials say they are working to capture at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally in November. Kerry campaign associates say the Massachusetts senator hopes to take away at least five percent of the Cuban American vote from Mr. Bush in Florida, while holding traditional Democratic Latino constituencies in the state such as Puerto Ricans.

The latest poll from Bendixen and Associates indicates that nationally the Latino vote is far from decided with 40 percent of those polled saying they had not made up their minds yet who they will vote for in November.