A nation divided over immigration, terrorism, and the courts

February 16, 2017, 11:04 PM GMT+0

More Americans still disapprove of how Trump is handling his job as President than approve

Limiting immigration to help stop terrorism has become a major part of the Trump Presidency. It has dominated the President’s Twitter feed in recent days, as Trump criticizes judges who have limited his seven-country entry ban and links immigration from some Muslim-majority nations to security risks.

The latest Economist/YouGov Poll shows that the Administration’s immigration positions divide the country and highlight enormous party differences when it comes to fears about immigrants as security threats.

Republicans have overwhelmingly favored the President’s immigration actions, but they also fear those who may be entering the country, both legally and illegally, from the Middle East and Latin America. In this week’s poll, majorities of Republicans view Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border, and even Muslim tourists as security risks. Far fewer Democrats express concern about all three of these groups.

The issue of immigration has divided the parties throughout the campaign, and was important to Trump’s successful nomination campaign. Trump supporters were more worried about terrorism, and more willing to put limits on immigrants. Republicans today continue to think those things. Three in four Republicans view the Administration’s policies as making the country more safe.

More Republicans than Democrats (though not a majority) see even those foreigners entering the country legally as potential security risks. A third of Republicans say that about foreign tourists, and even more worry about foreign workers and students.

There is less concern about green card holders, though one in five Republicans (and 15% overall) view that group as a possible threat to U.S. security. Similar percentages are also worried about Iraqis who worked as translators for the U.S. military during the War in Iraq and express concern about Christians from Muslim-majority countries — a group the President has said should be given priority for U.S. entry.

Most Republicans express great enthusiasm over the executive orders that move ahead with limits on entry, though the balance of opinion in the country as a whole varies, depending on the specific order. Pluralities of Americans favor the 90-day ban on entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries and the 50% reduction of refugees admitted. But the country is narrowly opposed to constructing a border wall along the Mexican border. It is evenly divided over a complete ban on admitting refugees from Syria and a four-month stop on the admission of all refugees.

Majorities of Republicans support each of these measures, with support as high as eight in ten favoring the border wall and the 90-day, seven-country ban.

The judicial conflict over these executive orders highlights public opinion on both the role of the courts and the perception of conflict between national security and freedom of religion. Democrats in this poll are divided on which is more important; Republicans prioritize national security over freedom of religion by 64% to 25%.

While Americans of both parties have similar levels of confidence when it comes to the Supreme Court in general, they differ on the court system overall, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to express confidence in the court system. Two in three Republicans see the actions of the lower courts in preventing the implementation of the President’s executive orders as harming national security.

Few Republicans doubt that the Trump executive orders are unconstitutional, while nearly three in four Democrats believe they are. Republicans are dubious whether the courts should even have the right to review executive orders relating to national security: 40% say they should, while 47% say they should not. The country overall accepts judicial review of such orders by more than two to one.

The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court brings the expected partisan divide. While 82% of Republicans think that Gorsuch, if confirmed to the Court, would make decisions based on legal analysis, six in ten Democrats say he will allow his personal views to be more important in decision-making. And while Democrats aren’t sure Gorsuch can be independent when evaluating cases involving the Trump Administration, two in three Republicans believe he can be.

In this week’s poll, the overall assessment of Donald Trump remains negative: 43% approve of how he is handling his job, 47% do not.