Poll: Most Americans oppose Syrian refugee resettlement

From Bloomberg

My Margaret Talev

Most Americans want the U.S. to stop letting in Syrian refugees amid fears of terrorist infiltrations after the Paris attacks, siding with Republican presidential candidates, governors, and lawmakers who want to freeze the Obama administration’s resettlement program.

The findings are part of a Bloomberg Politics national poll released Wednesday that also shows the nation divided on whether to send U.S. troops to Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State, an idea President Barack Obama opposes, and whether the U.S. government is doing enough to protect the homeland from a comparable attack.

Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults in the survey, conducted in the days immediately following the attacks, say the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees. Just 28 percent would keep the program with the screening process as it now exists, while 11 percent said they would favor a limited program to accept only Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims, a proposal Obama has dismissed as “shameful” and un-American.

Read the questions and methodology here.

More broadly, terrorism and the Islamic State group surged to the top of Americans’ concerns immediately following the deadly attacks, even as Republicans and Democrats remain divided over how best to address threats. The percentage of those rating terrorism or the Islamic State as top concerns has nearly doubled since the poll last was taken in September. At the same time, those who think the U.S. is on the right track fell to 23 percent, the lowest rating in more than three years. Obama’s disapproval rating rose to 51 percent, up 4 percentage points since September.

These trends may offer momentum to the Republican leaders of Congress as they begin hearings and consider threatening a government shutdown over Obama’s Syria policies, even as 64 percent of Americans say Islam is an inherently peaceful religion.

Terror in general, and specifically ISIS, the group that claimed responsibility for last week’s attacks, are cited by a combined 35 percent of Americans as the top issue in the survey conducted Nov. 15-17. That’s about the same as concerns about jobs, immigration, health care and the federal deficit combined. ISIS alone is the top issue for 21 percent of Americans, up from 11 percent in September. Terrorism is the top issue for 14 percent, up from 7 percent two months ago.

Despite ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, 53 percent of Americans favor a U.S.-Russia military coalition to fight Islamic terrorism.

That finding is a reflection of the “any-friend-in-a-storm” psychology, said J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the poll. “Vladmir Putin is not a popular personality in this country,” she said of the Russian leader. “However, we're facing a common threat. Here's an opportunity to align. both Republicans and Democrats seem to say, 'Let's go.'”

There is no consensus about whether to send U.S. troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, with 44 percent for the idea and 45 percent against it, or whether the U.S. has done enough to protect the homeland from a Paris-style attack.

Differences break sharply along partisan lines; 64 percent of Republicans support sending U.S. troops, and 59 percent of Democrats oppose the idea, while Democrats are nearly twice as confident as Republicans that the U.S. is doing enough to protect Americans at home. On the refugee question, only 12 percent of Republicans want to keep the current program compared with 46 percent of Democrats.

While majorities in both parties agree that Islam is inherently a peaceful religion, evangelicals are split, with 46 saying Islam is inherently violent. On the other side, 45 percent of evangelicals call Islam an inherently peaceful religion with some adherents who twist its teachings to justify violence.

The national poll of 1,002 adults was conducted Nov. 15-17 for Bloomberg Politics by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa. It includes a smaller sample of 628 adults who were asked questions about the Paris attacks on Nov. 16 and 17. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The smaller sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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