The 'nation of immigrants' wants more refugee screenings

December 01, 2015, 2:59 PM UTC

Most Americans support individual certification for Syrian and Iraqi refugees

Americans continue to describe the United States as a “nation of immigrants,” but the latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds concern about the United States taking in immigrant refugees from Syria, with many worried about the level of support those refugees may have for ISIS.  More than three in four Americans regard ISIS as an “immediate and serious threat” to the United States. 

The terror attacks in Paris – and the finding that some of the attackers may have used the route of Syrian refugees into the European Union – have clearly put many Americans on edge.  One in four Americans believe that a majority of Syrian refugees support ISIS, with the figure even higher among Republicans. 

So it is not surprising that most Americans, even a majority of Democrats, favor having the director of the FBI and the Secretary of Homeland Security certify that each individual Syrian or Iraqi refugee is not a security threat to the United States, part of legislation passed by the House of Representatives last week.  Most Democratic representatives voted against that legislation, and President Obama has promised to veto it. 

But that might not go far enough: two in three Americans want stricter screenings of all refugees who come to the United States, not just those from Syria, or those from other Muslim countries. 

From the beginning of the Syrian civil war through last week, 2,290 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States, just about 10% of the number referred to the U.S. by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  More than half the public admits it doesn’t know how many refugees have been admitted, but many others overestimate the number.  23% (and 36% of Republicans) think more than 5,000 have been admitted. 

In the last few years, Republicans have been more concerned than Democrats about immigration in general, and this poll is no exception.  83% of Republicans would not accept Muslim refugees from Syria (compared with just under half of Democrats).  While GOP candidates like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have talked about admitting Christian refugees from Syria, half of Republicans would also reject Christian Syrians.

Republicans are, however, more likely to support engagement in Syria.  Two in three say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about ISIS in Syria; only half of Democrats and independents agree.  And Republicans are much more willing than others to take two specific steps: air strikes and possibly sending U.S. ground troops.  Overall, the country is divided on sending ground troops into combat is Syria; Republicans favor than action by nearly two to one.

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.