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World

Despite Optimism, Many Cubans Still Wish To Leave, Secret Poll Finds

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Cubans are overwhelmingly in favor of better relations with the U.S. and more than half say if they had the chance, they would leave Cuba for good. That's just a small taste of new poll released this week on behalf of the TV networks Univision and Fusion in collaboration with The Washington Post. The Miami-based polling firm Bendixen and Amandi conducted the 79-question survey in secret across Cuba, 1,200 interviews in all. It was the idea of Fernand Amandi and we wanted to know how his firm pulled this off. He joins us now from Miami.

Welcome to the program.

FERNAND AMANDI: It's great to be here. Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Well, give us some nuts and bolts of how exactly this worked. How do you carry out a poll in a country where polling is illegal?

AMANDI: Well, we do it very, very, very carefully. (Laughter). And always aware that if any moment came where the interviewers, or the interviewees for that matter, were detected by government authorities that it was very likely that the poll would be stopped and we wouldn't be able to bring these results to the world.

BLOCK: OK. Well, let's talk about that discretion. You knew, for one thing, that you would not be able to do this polling by phone, right?

AMANDI: Correct. Anything less than about 95 percent telephone penetration means you're potentially missing a significant portion of the population. We were able this time to conduct it with Cuban interviewers to create the type of rapport where they could express themselves. And we were very gratified to see that they did so.

BLOCK: How did the interviewers - the pollsters - introduce themselves to the people that they were polling? How do they explain who they were doing this for?

AMANDI: Well, we cannot necessarily go into the exact specifics because as you can imagine even as we speak, our interviewers are at risk of being detained for having participated in this poll should they be uncovered. But what I can disclose is that our interviewers did come to people's homes, they specifically mentioned that they were doing an anonymous survey. And by assuring them that they were not selling them, they were hopeful to see they could get people to respond candidly.

BLOCK: Did you find that there were some questions that the Cubans being polled were more comfortable answering than others, where you could sense based on the results that you were getting that they were either being disingenuous, or just weren't answering at all?

AMANDI: Interestingly enough, on the two questions where we thought there would be the greatest degree of reticence or unwillingness to speak - the approval ratings on Raul Castro and Fidel Castro, questions that have never been asked in Cuba in a scientific way since the revolution that we know of, everyone answered those questions that participated in the interviews.

BLOCK: Let's talk about that question. You asked Cubans to rate their leaders. Raul Castro, the president, got a 47 percent approval rating. Fidel Castro, 44 percent. Barack Obama got an 80 percent approval rating from Cubans - much, much higher, frankly, than he has here in the United States.

AMANDI: Truly a phenomenal result, that the American president would almost double the approval rating of the two, you know, undisputed leaders of Cuba. For those that were not satisfied with the political system - 53 percent answered that in affirmative - we followed up with, why not? And what they actually said was striking.

BLOCK: And what were some of those responses?

AMANDI: Because they make us believe we are living the best life in the world when that's not the case. It's a fraud that is 59 years old. Because we are slaves. I didn't choose my president. There is no democracy or freedom of expression. These are the types of comments which you know, maybe even saying watered-down versions of those, would probably today still get you jailed, if not worse, in Cuba. The fact that so many uttered these statements was really remarkable.

BLOCK: Along with the questions about how they feel about their leaders, how they feel about Cuba's Communist Party, you also asked Cubans what celebrity they would most like to visit Cuba. What were some of the responses you got?

AMANDI: Well, far and away, the winner to that particular question was Barack Obama. But I must confess, there were a couple of folks that we realized said Michael Jackson. And I don't think our interviewers had it in them to let them know the bad news that unfortunately the King of Pop is no longer with us here on Earth.

BLOCK: Fernand Amandi thanks so much for talking to us about your poll in Cuba.

AMANDI: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Fernand Amandi is project manager of the research firm Bendixen and Amandi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.