A Rare Look Inside Cuban Society: A New Survey of Cuban Public Opinion

The Republic of Cuba is one of the United States’ nearest neighbors, but tight restrictions on the movement of information and people over the past 60 years means we know little about Cubans’ opinions about their society. A new survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago provides a rare glimpse inside Cuban society to understand its citizens’ daily experiences, their attitudes, and the goals they aspire to for themselves and their country.

After decades of economic sanctions and travel bans established by both countries during the Cold War, former U.S. President Barack Obama announced a normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014. The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC, each closed in 1961, and these restrictions have meant that few Cubans have legally traveled to America, and few Americans have visited Cuba, over the past 60 years. 

The nationally representative survey, conducted in the fall of 2016, reveals that Cubans are excited to see these restrictions come down. Most believe a normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States will be a positive change for Cuba. They are hopeful it will lead to expanded economic opportunities and a greater ability to visit the United States. Although generally positive about the impacts of normalizing relations with the United States, Cubans do express some concerns about the impact this openness will have on Cuban culture.

Cuban attitudes toward the economy, both present and future, are generally pessimistic. Although there is some private enterprise, Cuba’s state-controlled economy means that the vast majority of sectors are owned and operated by the regime. Currently, few Cubans perceive their economy as excellent or good, and most say the situation has not changed recently. Most Cubans also believe the country’s economic situation will either remain the same or deteriorate in coming years.

The survey also reveals that Cubans want to see fundamental changes to the economy, with a majority saying there should be more private enterprise, and many with a personal goal of owning their own business. Additionally, fully 95 percent prioritize a high level of economic growth as an important goal for the country, and more than two-thirds view competition in the marketplace as a positive force for this growth.

The flow of objective and unbiased news and information coming in and out of Cuba is limited, as private ownership of mass media is prohibited.  Although few Cubans access foreign media sources, the survey reveals access to be a consistent characteristic differentiating attitudes within the Cuban population. Those who access foreign media tend to be younger and more avid news consumers overall. In terms of their attitudes, they are more positive about the national economy and their personal financial situations. They are more likely to be critical of some aspects of Cuban society, for example saying pollution, unemployment, terrorism, access to medical care, and access to education are serious problems for Cuba. And Cubans who access foreign media are also more likely to set aspirational goals such as traveling abroad, starting their own business, and buying a car or home.

Funded and conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the survey featured a national random route-sample of adults 18 years and older in Cuba and yielded in-person interviews of 840 adults with a main field period between October 3 and November 26, 2016.