Home > Press Releases > New PRRI/Brookings Survey: Even Before Orlando Shootings, Americans’ Concerns Over Terrorism Up Nearly 20 Points
New PRRI/Brookings Survey: Even Before Orlando Shootings, Americans’ Concerns Over Terrorism Up Nearly 20 Points

Despite increased anxieties, most Americans reject bans on Muslim immigrants and Syrian refugees, and oppose building a wall on the Mexican border

WASHINGTON—In the wake of the Orlando massacre, a new PRRI/Brookings survey finds more than half (51 percent) of Americans express concern that they or a family member will be a victim of terrorism, up from 33 percent in November 2014. Donald Trump supporters (65 percent) report higher rates of anxiety about being a victim of terrorism. The survey also finds that majorities of Americans are concerned that they or a loved one will be a victim of violent crime (63 percent) or lose their job (65 percent).

The PRRI/Brookings immigration survey was conducted by the nonpartisan PRRI in partnership with The Brookings Institution. The large national survey of 2,607 adults was conducted between April 4 and May 2, 2016. The survey explores attitudes about the direction of the country and cultural change, immigration policy, immigrants’ contributions to American culture, and support for authoritarian leadership in a time of anxiety.

“Even before the mass shooting in Orlando, Americans have been expressing growing concerns about terrorism, yet these anxieties have not translated into public support for drastic policy measures,” said PRRI Research Director Dan Cox. “Most Americans reject the idea that the U.S. should build a wall along the southern border or institute a ban on Muslim immigrants or Syrian refugees.”

Not surprisingly, supporters of Donald Trump strongly embrace these policies, although Republicans overall are favorably disposed to them as well. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of Trump supporters and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Republicans support temporarily banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country, compared to only 40 percent of the general public. Similarly, 78 percent of Trump supporters and 66 percent of Republicans favor denying Syrian refugees entrance to the U.S., a view shared by less than half (44 percent) of the public. More than eight in ten (82 percent) Trump supporters and about two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans favor building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a position favored by only 41 percent of the public. Independents, an increasingly important subgroup as candidates pivot to the general election, tend to mirror the American public on these issues, and Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed.

Americans remain firmly committed to an immigration policy that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, compared to other policy options. More than six in ten (61 percent) Americans say immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements. Roughly one in five (17 percent) favor permanent residency status but not citizenship for this group, and about the same number (21 percent) say all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be deported. Notably, support for a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has remained remarkably steady since early 2013.

“The survey also revealed the presence of a new strain of protectionism among Republicans,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “Republicans, and particularly Trump supporters, strongly believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence on both the economic and cultural fronts.”

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Republicans and about eight in ten (83 percent) Trump supporters, compared to 55 percent of Americans overall, agree that foreign influence over the American way of life needs to be curtailed. Approximately four in ten (41 percent) Democrats agree, while political independents’ attitudes mirror those of Americans overall.

On the economic front, a majority (52 percent) of the public says that free trade agreements with other countries are mostly harmful because they send U.S. jobs overseas and drive down wages, while roughly four in ten (41 percent) say that free trade agreements are mostly helpful because they open new markets for U.S. companies and allow Americans to buy goods more cheaply. Six in ten (60 percent) Republicans and 69 percent of Trump supporters say that free trade agreements are mostly harmful to the U.S. In contrast, Democrats are closely divided, with about as many saying they are helpful (45 percent) as harmful (49 percent). The views of independents do not differ significantly from Americans overall.

Americans are divided over the kind of leadership needed today. Approximately half (49 percent) agree that America has gone so far off track that we need a leader willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right, while roughly the same number disagree (50 percent). Republicans (57 percent), and particularly Trump supporters (72 percent), are significantly more likely than Democrats (41 percent) or independents (48 percent) to agree with this vision of political leadership.

Additional key findings:
Americans strongly divided by party on the impact of immigration and demographic change

  • Americans are nearly twice as likely to say immigrants are changing American society “a lot” (39 percent) as they are to say immigrants are changing their local communities “a lot” (22 percent). Notably, there are no significant partisan differences on whether immigrants impact local communities, but there are large differences between partisans in their perception of immigrants’ impact on American society.
  • Americans are divided over how comfortable they feel around non-English-speaking immigrants: 50 percent are bothered by such encounters, while 49 percent are not. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans and 77 percent of Trump supporters say it bothers them when they come into contact with immigrants who do not speak English, while nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Democrats say this does not bother them.
  • Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) say new immigrants mostly take jobs Americans do not want, although belief in this notion drops among the white working class (53 percent). Only one-quarter (25 percent) of the public believes immigrants take jobs away from American citizens.
  • The public is also divided over whether so-called “reverse discrimination,” or discrimination against whites, is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities: 49 percent agree and 49 percent disagree. There are huge partisan disparities on this question: more than eight in ten (81 percent) Trump supporters and 72 percent of Republicans agree with this statement, compared to only one-third (32 percent) of Democrats. Independents are divided.

The 2016 election: Bill beats Hillary in favorability contest and two-thirds of Americans negative on GOP

  • Bill Clinton is viewed more favorably than Hillary Clinton (56 percent vs. 44 percent, respectively). The favorability gap is most prevalent among men: 56 percent of men view Bill favorably, while only 38 percent say the same of Hillary. The favorability ratings of both Clintons have eroded in recent years: in October 2013, Hillary enjoyed a 57 percent favorable rating; in 2012, Bill was viewed favorably by 70 percent of Americans.
  • Only 35 percent of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, compared to 50 percent who hold favorable views of the Democratic Party. Roughly half (49 percent) of Americans say the Democratic Party represents their views on immigration well; 39 percent say the same about the Republican Party. 

Is America a Christian nation? Evangelicals say not anymore

  • Over the last four years, the proportion of white evangelical Protestants who believe that the U.S. is no longer a Christian nation has increased 11 points, from 48 percent in 2012 to 59 percent today.
  • Americans are divided about whether discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem as discrimination against other groups: 49 percent agree; 50 percent disagree. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Republicans believe discrimination against Christians today is as big an issue as discrimination against other groups, while fewer than half of independents (45 percent) and Democrats (34 percent) agree.

A Populist shift on taxes among Republicans

  • Over the last four years, support for raising taxes on Americans earning more than $250,000 per year has risen sharply among Republicans: most (54 percent) now support higher taxes, up 18 points since 2012. Sixty-nine percent of the general public favor raising taxes on wealthy Americans.

The topline questionnaire, full methodology, and additional findings and analysis can be found here: https://www.prri.org/research/prri-brookings-immigration-report/.


The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI in partnership with the Brookings Institution. The survey was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 2,607 adults (age 18 and up) living in the United States, including all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted both online using a self-administered design and by telephone. All interviews were conducted among participants in AmeriSpeak, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the national U.S. adult population run by NORC at the University of Chicago. Panel participants without Internet access, which included 461 respondents, were interviewed via telephone by professional interviewers under the direction of NORC. Interviewing was conducted in both Spanish and English between April 4 and May 2, 2016.

PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.