They may wait and see before making personal travel plans

A majority of Floridians, 63 percent, approve of the Obama administration’s new policy of relaxing trade policies with communist-controlled Cuba, and 58 percent are at least somewhat supportive of having direct ferry or cruise ship service from U.S. ports to the island nation, a new survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows.

Floridians are even more approving of Pope Francis’ plans to visit Cuba in September, and more than half registered strong or partial agreement of the pontiff’s decision to meet at the Vatican with Cuban leader Raul Castro on May 10.

The SLU Polling Institute found similar sentiments nationally. (See

The national survey base was not presented with questions on ferry or cruise ship travel­­, as that topic is of natural geographic interest to Floridians in particular.) All the data was collected in an online survey of 535 individuals (voters and non-voters) during the period between May 25 and 31. The statewide survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The following questions and responses dealt with trade, commerce, and employment sectors, and show that 43 percent feel trade should be opened gradually and selectively, while another 20 percent favor faster expansion of trade, for a combined 63 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?

 16% The current trade restrictions should be left in place
43% Trade should be opened gradually to selected goods and services, but not opened broadly
20% Trade should be broadened quickly to include most or all goods and services
9% Trade with Cuba at all is a bad idea and should be reversed
12% 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:

 34% Tourism/Hospitality
14% Transportation – passenger and cargo
33% Higher education
10% Agriculture (includes food industry)
21% Telecommunications and Internet


Given recent news accounts of interest in new transportation options between Florida and Cuba, the poll asked the following question about water travel. Additional bases of respondents of 200 people were contacted in both Miami and Tampa, two port cities. Results were similar across the three samples. (Because of rounding, the total percentages in each column comes to 101. And because the sample sizes in Miami and Tampa are smaller, the margin of error for results for these two cities is plus or minus 7 percentage points.)

Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose having direct ferry or cruise ship service between U.S. ports and Cuba?

Statewide (N=535) Miami (N=200) Tampa (N=200)
23% Strongly support 27% 28%
35% Somewhat support 34% 30%
14% Somewhat oppose 14% 15%
16% Strongly oppose 17% 17%
13% Don’t know / unsure 9% 11%


Pope Francis and Cuba

Those polled also seemed pleased that Pope Francis is interacting with Cuba in a variety of ways. The Pope, who currently enjoys the good (either somewhat or strongly favorable) opinion of 66 percent of Floridians polled, 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, 65 percent are supportive of the pope’s upcoming trip to Cuba. He is set to tour the island 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?

27% Strongly agree
33% Somewhat agree
11% Somewhat disagree
10% Strongly disagree
19% 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?

29% Strongly support
36% Somewhat support
11% Somewhat oppose
7% Strongly oppose
17% Don’t know / unsure


Michael Anthony Novak, PhD, assistant professor of theology at Saint Leo University, commented: “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 Florida respondents tend to look favorably on expanding trade with Cuba, and seem pleased that Pope Francis will be there in a few months, fewer are thinking of traveling there themselves. When asked how interested they are in a trip, 35 percent, the largest proportion, said “not at all interested,” and 25 percent said “somewhat interested.” Another 21 percent said they are “very interested.” Of those interested in making the trip, a combined total of 45 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 32 percent. A timeframe of within five years was selected by 24 percent.

Floridians considering a trip to Cuba in large part—64 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 33 percent; proximity at 24 percent; environment and ecology at 23 percent; and family ties at 13 percent. Responses in the single digits were: the health care and medical system at 8 percent; and Catholic life and the Church at 5 percent.

Regarding the potential for water travel to the island­­­—a concept that gathered support from 58 percent of the state population—Floridians weren’t as eager to get on a ferry or cruise ship themselves: only 38 percent see this as very or somewhat likely. This question was asked also of additional populations of 200 people each in the port cities of Miami and Tampa, where results were slightly more favorable. (The margin of error for the per-city samples is plus or minus 7 percentage points. Also, the percentages add up to more than 100 because of rounding.)

How likely are you to use direct ferry or cruise ship service between U.S. ports and Cuba? Would you say you are very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or not likely at all to use such service?

Statewide (N = 535) Miami (N=200) Tampa (N=200)
17% Very likely 17% 20%
21% Somewhat likely 24% 21%
16% Somewhat unlikely 18% 14%
38% Not at all likely 35% 40%
8% Don’t know / unsure 7% 7%


Peter Marian, a Saint Leo instructor of international hospitality and tourism, said 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 decade’s 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 535 Florida adults, including 410 likely voters, was conducted between May 25 and 31, 2015. The margin of error on political questions (of likely voters only) is approximately 4.5 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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