The prospect of the U.S. normalizing relations with Cuba is the latest twist in the long story of the two nations’ interactions since Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in July 1898. Following Castro’s rise to power in 1959, the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of 1960 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 brought the US and Cuba near open conflict and the US and the USSR to the brink of nuclear war. It was not until the early 1970s, following Nixon’s rapprochement with China, that the issue of restoring ties with Cuba came back into the public sphere.
In a 1972 Potomac Associates poll 43% said relations should be re-established and 46% did not, and by the end of the decade a 1979 Gallup/CCFR poll found a slight move in favor at 48%-36%. By 1986, the same survey found a majority in favor, 53%-35%. Tensions over refugees had moved it back to 46%-45% by the 1994 survey, but by the end of the century a Gallup poll found the needle back at 56%-35%. A 2009 Pew survey found the split at 52%-33%, and last fall a New York Times survey reported it at 56%-29%. So while the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics has made the subject a contentious one, a majority of the U.S. public has been in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba for nearly three decades. Policy is finally catching up to the voters.