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Most Americans support better US relations with Cuba: poll

A new poll shows most Americans, including most Latinos, support better U.S. relations with Cuba, sanctions against Venezuela, and a pathway to citizenship.

On the eve of President Barack Obama’s trip to Panama for meetings with dozens of Western Hemisphere leaders, a new poll shows most Americans, including most Latinos, support better U.S. relations with Cuba, sanctions against Venezuela, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The first-ever msnbc/Telemundo/Marist poll finds that 59% of Americans, including 56% of Latinos, approve of the recent U.S. decision for diplomatic recognition of Cuba. The newly launched poll will regularly check the pulse of Latinos in the U.S. and how that compares to the country overall.

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As compared to their views on the Cuba policy, Americans are slightly less supportive of economic sanctions on Venezuela for acts of violence and suppression against protesters. Just half of the country overall thinks it’s an appropriate action, including 52% of Latinos who feel the same way. A slightly larger number of Latinos, 19%, think the sanctions are too strong compared to the 13% of the country overall who thinks the same. 

The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela are among the 34 heads of state expected to join Obama at the Summit of the Americas this Friday and Saturday in Panama City. It will be the seventh meeting of its kind since the first one took place in Miami in 1994. The last meeting took place in Colombia three years ago. 

With regards to the immigration impasse here in the U.S., nearly two-thirds of the country and more than four out of five Latinos said that Obama and Congress should address passing immigration legislation to create a pathway to citizenship. 

“There is no doubt that for Latinos around the nation immigration reform is very important and something they want addressed soon,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. 

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Not including a pathway to citizenship is a deal-breaker for more than half the country. Fifty-two percent said immigration reform should only happen if that piece is included in a legislative plan. That number, 49%, is slightly smaller among Latinos, with another 44% willing to accept reform that doesn’t include that pathway. That figure is notably higher than the 39% of the overall population who said the same.

Obama’s executive action on immigration policies has far more support among Latinos in the U.S. when compared to the population overall — 78% of Latinos said they approve of his action though 57% of the country overall said the same. 

For those who disapprove of the president’s executive action, more than half of them, among both the overall population and Latinos in the U.S., said they disapprove because he acted without Congressional authorization and not because they are against the substance of what he did.

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There is a distinct divide in the sense of urgency on immigration reform between Latino Americans born outside of the U.S. and those born inside: 74% of those born in another country said immediate action is needed. On the other hand, 44% of those who are U.S.-born said the same.

A smaller divide between Latinos born in the U.S. versus those born elsewhere exists on the issue of a pathway to citizenship. Fifty-two percent of Latinos born in the U.S. said it’s essential for any reform legislation. But among those born elsewhere, a smaller number, 46%, said that it’s essential for reform. 

The poll shows that urgency comes with a price for one political party in particular.

“If immigration reform stalls, Latinos are more likely to point a finger at the GOP in Congress over President Obama or the Democrats in Congress,” said Miringoff. 

In the poll, 43% of all Americans, including 46% of Latinos, said they’ll lay most of the blame on Republicans in Congress if no agreement is reached by the end of 2016. That compares to just more than one out of ten, among both Latinos and all Americans, ready to blame Democrats in Congress and about a quarter would blame Obama.

This meeting of Western Hemisphere leaders is the first to take place since Argentinian-born Pope Francis became the first ever pope from the Americas in 2013. The poll found that 37% of the country said he has improved their opinion of the Catholic Church while 29% said he has made little difference in their opinion, which is nearly the same as what an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found last month.

The msnbc/Telemundo/Marist poll found that Latinos in the U.S. are more evenly divided with 32% saying Pope Francis has given them a more favorable opinion of the Catholic Church and the same percentage saying he has made no difference in their opinion.

Only single-digit percentages among both the overall population and among Latinos in the U.S. said Pope Francis has made their views of the Catholic Church less favorable. 

The inaugural msnbc/Telemundo/Marist poll is jointly sponsored by msnbc and Telemundo and was conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion from March 23 to April 5. The sample included 1,446 adults overall with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. The sample included 1,091 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points as well as an oversample of 362 Latino respondents with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.