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In Cuba, there have been several national referenda or petitions on major constitutional or governmental matters which have been reported to have extremely high support for the "official" position (that favored by the government). Most notably, in 2002, a referendum on whether socialism should remain the only permitted form of government reportedly received more than 99% of the votes with a 98% turnout.1 Even the recent constitutional referendum, which was generally characterized as having much more opposition than previous ones, was supported by 90% of the population with similar turnout. In a world in which leaders with 60% or 70% in elections are considered wildly popular, this seems either noteworthy or unusual.

Of course, the government has largely not permitted opponents of the referenda to campaign in many of these cases, along with otherwise suppressing attempts to publicly advocate the contrary position, which might naturally be expected to tilt the voting toward their preferred outcome. Still, the margins of these results are surprising. For the purposes of comparison, in the United States, generally considered a country with a relatively positive view of capitalism, only 71% of the conservative Republican Party expressed a positive view of capitalism in 2010, let alone declaring that it should be made an irrevocable part of the constitution.

So what accounts for the popularity of the officially favored position in Cuban referenda? Are the ideas or policies voted upon in the referendum simply extremely popular in Cuba relative to most ideas in many other countries? Are there overwhelming incentives that would make opponents reluctant to express a contrary opinion (e.g. bonuses for workers at state enterprises for voting in the correct manner, fines for voting "incorrectly" or something of the sort)? Is the vote even overtly manipulated in any way (i.e. outright inaccurate reporting of results)?

I have been unable to find the original source where I found this figure earlier today, but based on Cuba's population of around 11.2 million in 2002, a population pyramid showing about 28% below the age of majority in the same year, and the Cuban government's claim of 8.1 million signatures, the figure appears to be correct if we take the reported figures at face value.

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    Vote to reopen. Anything in the 90%+ range seems very fishy as a result, even if it such numbers have had a long history in Communist-run countries. The question is: what effects - if not coerced, or what mechanisms - if coerced, drive these results? Hey, think of it as a chance for the pro-Cuba people to educate the rest of us on why the numbers are so high. Seems to me there should be some known or at least suspected reasons for these numbers, either way. This is very, very, much in the political arena. Nov 16, 2021 at 17:44
  • Relying on statistics and results reported by the Cuban government is dubious at best. You will occasionally see praise or even a documentary promoting the idea of how good the healthcare is. In reality, the stats cited are incredibly suspect. academic.oup.com/heapol/article/33/6/755/5035051 .
    – eps
    Nov 16, 2021 at 22:14
  • Just look at the recent protests, there are examples of people being dragged off by the security forces live on stream. Most people living in repressive political environments are well aware of what happens if you buck the system and choose the path of least resistance. The simple answer is that votes in repressive society's are utterly meaningless (as the existing answer by Markvs says). It's essentially impossible to "prove" it tho, that's kinda the whole point. There are still Stalin defenders to this day after all.
    – eps
    Nov 16, 2021 at 22:29
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica you’re telling me that the question saying “Of course, the government has largely not permitted opponents of the referenda to campaign in many of these cases, along with otherwise suppressing attempts to publicly advocate the contrary position, which might naturally be expected to tilt the voting toward their preferred outcome.” doesn’t appear to be biased to you? Really? Nov 17, 2021 at 14:15
  • @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica I am saying no such thing. Only that I am highly curious how exactly those very high numbers get achieved and what they signify. No more, no less. I am not claiming these are free elections, for one. FWIW, this level of "votes for" makes me think people don't trust the ballots are all that secret. Otherwise they'd probably get more blank ballots. But that opinion is not an answer and there is surprisingly little about this on the internet. Which makes this a good question. And, well, the pro-Cuba folk can always chime up with some researched answers. Nov 17, 2021 at 19:20

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This is a very strange question. In the former Soviet Union 99% of the vote with 98% of turnout was a routine result (yes, people did vote in the USSR). The referendum of whether to preserve the USSR in 1991 the government position (yes!) got overwhelming support, the USSR became ex a few months later. Same in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Even now in Kadyrov's Chechnya it is a norm.

Edit. Since the OP still thinks this does not answer the question. The voting results in non-free elections do not matter. People are afraid to say what they think. They do not know if their votes are really anonymous, but they do know that their votes do not count (as Stalin once said: "It does not matter who votes, it matters who counts the votes"), and it is safer and wiser to support the government position.

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  • OK, but that does not answer the question. It just pushes it back a little. Also, note that the Soviet referendum had much lower turnout, with only 80% participating in the regions that took part and whole regions abstaining, and it was also quite distinct in nature (something along the lines of, "should our country cease to exist or not?"
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 16, 2021 at 5:15
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    To be clear, your answer suggests that the percentage supporting the policy is much smaller, but that fear of retaliation for voting against government-favored policies raises it to extreme levels? That is a distinct possibility that I have thought of, of course, but I would be interested in sources backing it up in a Cuban context.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 16, 2021 at 5:24
  • My answer says that the percentage does not matter in non-free elections: TV, all the media present one point of view, there is essentially no election campaign, etc. See ooni.org/post/cuba-referendum
    – markvs
    Nov 16, 2021 at 5:29
  • @Obie 2.0: It's basically the same reason that Trump claims he won the 2020 US Presidential election. What matters to people like that is not the actual votes, but the result they want. If the votes don't match their desires, they lie about it. The only difference is that Trump didn't have the power to enforce his lies, while the Cuban government does.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 16, 2021 at 16:58
  • @jamesqf: Everybody knows who won the 2020 election.
    – markvs
    Nov 16, 2021 at 17:05

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