They may wait and see before making personal travel plans

A majority of Americans, 61 percent, approve of the Obama administration’s new policy of relaxing trade policies with communist-controlled Cuba, at either a gradual and selective pace or in a broad and accelerated fashion, a new survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows.

Americans are supportive also of Pope Francis’ plans to visit Cuba in September, and a majority registered agreement (either strong or qualified) with the pontiff’s decision to meet at the Vatican with Cuban leader Raul Castro on May 10.

The SLU Polling Institute found similar sentiments in a slightly longer series of questions in Florida. (See The national survey base was not presented with questions on potential ferry or cruise ship travel­­ to Cuba, a topic that is of higher local interest in Florida.) All the data was collected in an online survey of more than 1,000 individuals (voters and non-voters) during the period between May 25 and 31. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The following questions and responses dealt with trade, commerce, and employment sectors, and show that 39 percent feel trade should be opened gradually and selectively, while another 22 percent favor faster expansion of trade, for a combined 61 percent favoring an expansion of trade over the current levels.

Some businesses are interested in exploring more trade with Cuba, while some legislators oppose the idea of regular trade with the communist nation. American companies are allowed to sell food and medicine to Cuba. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?

 15% The current trade restrictions should be left in place
39% Trade should be opened gradually to selected goods and services, but not opened broadly
22% Trade should be broadened quickly to include most or all goods and services
8% Trade with Cuba at all is a bad idea and should be reversed
17% Don’t know / not sure


The survey also asked people about certain employment sectors that might be likely candidates for trade with Cuba. (As people were allowed to select more than one answer to represent all employment fields in their households, the percentages exceed 100.)

Do you or does anyone in your household work in the following industries, which have all expressed interest in expanded commerce with Cuba? Choose as many as apply; you   may indicate more than one:

 24% Tourism/Hospitality
14% Transportation – passenger and cargo
36% Higher education
13% Agriculture (includes food industry)
26% Telecommunications and Internet


Pope Francis and Cuba

Those polled also seemed pleased that Pope Francis has been interacting with Cuba in a variety of ways. The Pope, who currently enjoys the good (either somewhat or strongly favorable) opinion of 61 percent of those responding, met for nearly an hour privately at the Vatican with Raul Castro on May 10. While 60 percent of those polled either strongly or somewhat agreed with that visit, a total of 65 percent are supportive of the pope’s upcoming trip to Cuba. He is set to tour Cuba from September 19 to 22, on his way to the United States.

The survey posed these specific questions on the related topics.

Pope Francis recently met with Cuban leader Raul Castro at the Vatican in Rome. Do you agree or disagree with Pope Francis’ decision to meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro?

25% Strongly agree
35% Somewhat agree
10% Somewhat disagree
6% Strongly disagree
25% Don’t know / unsure


Pope Francis has also announced plans to visit Cuba and its people on his way to the United States later this year. Do you support or oppose Pope Francis’ decision to visit Cuba?

30% Strongly support
35% Somewhat support
9% Somewhat oppose
5% Strongly oppose
21% Don’t know / unsure


Michael Anthony Novak, PhD, assistant professor of theology at Saint Leo, said: “I couldn’t help noticing that respondents felt a little more strongly in favor of Pope Francis traveling to Cuba than they did for his simply meeting with Raul Castro. That might suggest that people feel strongly about the power of papal ‘activism’ in visits to troubled locations. It was one of the most striking features of John Paul II’s papacy that his presence helped Eastern Europe’s transition from Communism. Pope Francis in Cuba—a Latin American Pope in a Latin American country—could carry all the spiritual weight that John Paul II did in his native Poland.”

Pleasure Trips to Cuba Further Off

While respondents tended to look favorably on expanding trade with Cuba, that view did not necessarily translate into immediate personal appeal. When asked how interested they are in the destination, 40 percent, the largest proportion, said “not at all interested,” and 25 percent said “somewhat interested.” Another 17 percent said they are “very interested.” Of those expressing interest, a combined total of 37 percent said they would commit to go within a year or within two years. The single most common timeframe selected was “I don’t know” at 35 percent. A timeframe of within five years was selected by 29 percent.

Those considering a trip to Cuba in large part—61 percent—cited general curiosity as a motivating influence. Eight possible reasons were supplied, and respondents were allowed to choose more than one. The next most popular attractions selected were: arts and culture at 50 percent; history and politics at 34 percent; environment and ecology at 24 percent; and proximity at 16 percent. Responses in the single digits were: family ties at 9 percent; Catholic life and the Church also at 9 percent; and the health care and medical system at 8 percent.

Peter Marian, a Saint Leo instructor of international hospitality and tourism, said he suspects many Americans are likely to have an image of Cuba from movies, media photographs, and videos as a place with crumbling, older infrastructure and 50-year-old cars. That can dampen immediate tourist interest, he said, as potential travelers might wonder: “Can they handle an influx of visitors including cruise ships with 3,000 people getting off at the same time and expecting island excursions, lodging, transportation, safety, and can they provide positive dining experiences for all?” The tourism trade will perhaps build over a decades time, Marian said, if tourists’ needs are met and people report positive experiences.

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University poll of 1,022 adults was conducted between May 25 and 31, 2015. The margin of error on political questions (of likely voters only) is approximately 3 percent +/- with a 95 percent confidence level. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. Sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive – usually $1 dollar deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account – for their participation.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from all 50 states and more than 60 nations. Saint Leo’s 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from other locations. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Throughout these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

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