Despite heightened concerns about terrorism, a majority (53 percent) favor allowing Syrian refugees into the United States
WASHINGTON – With leading GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, a new survey released today finds that Americans are increasingly concerned about terrorism, yet remain open to accepting Syrian refugees into the U.S. Forty-seven percent of Americans are worried that they or a member of their family will be a victim of terrorism—up from 33 percent who expressed this fear one year ago. At the same time, 53 percent say that the United States should allow in refugees from Syria if they go through a security clearance process.
The December 2015 PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was conducted by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with Religion News Service. The nationwide survey of 1,003 adults was conducted from December 2 to December 6, 2015. The survey measures Americans’ opinions about terrorism, refugees, Muslims and Islam, immigrants and mass shootings.
“Overall, this survey paints a portrait of an American public that is deeply concerned about terrorism, but not panicked,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “Even though worries about terrorism have risen significantly over the last year, a majority still welcome Syrian refugees, and Americans remain more likely to hold positive views of immigrants than negative ones.”
A majority (53 percent) of Americans support allowing Syrian refugees to come to the U.S. provided they go through a security clearance process. However, more than four in ten (41 percent) oppose admitting Syrian refugees into the country. There are stark partisan divides on this issue. While 63 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents favor allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S., only 35 percent of Republicans agree.
Roughly half (48 percent) of Americans say that the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society, while 35 percent say it threatens traditional American customs and values. Republicans are roughly twice as likely as Democrats to say that newcomers from other countries represent a threat to traditional American customs and values (53 percent vs. 27 percent, respectively). A majority (56 percent) of Democrats say that immigrants strengthen American society.
“Despite heated rhetoric singling out Muslims, a majority of the public still believes that Muslims are an important part of the religious community in this country,” said Dr. Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director. “However, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Americans have become somewhat more critical of American Muslims for not doing enough to take on extremism in their own communities.”
A majority (53 percent) of the public agrees that U.S. Muslims have not done enough to oppose extremism in their own communities, up from 46 percent in 2011. Roughly one-third (35 percent) disagrees with this statement, while about one in ten (13 percent) Americans offer no opinion. Close to half (47 percent) of the public also believe that Islam is at odds with American values and way of life, compared to 43 percent who disagree.
Republicans are far more critical of American Muslims’ efforts than Democrats. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans say that American Muslims have not done enough to confront extremism, a view shared by less than half (45 percent) of Democrats.
At the same time, close to six in ten (57 percent) Americans say that American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S. Opinions on this issue have been fairly stable over the past few years. By a wide margin, no group expresses a more inclusive attitude toward Muslims than the religiously unaffiliated. Two-thirds (67 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans say that American Muslims are an important part of the U.S. religious community. Majorities of non-white Protestants (56 percent), Catholics (55 percent) and white mainline Protestants (51 percent) also agree that Muslims are an important part of America’s religious community. Fewer than half (47 percent) of white evangelical Protestants agree.
Despite the strong opinions many express about Muslims, very few Americans report knowing a lot about Islam and most do not have regular contact with Muslims. Only 16 percent of the public report knowing a lot about the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims, while nearly six in ten (57 percent) say they know a little and roughly one-quarter (26 percent) say they know nothing at all. Fewer than one in ten (8 percent) Americans report daily contact with someone who is Muslim.
Among the findings:
- Partisan Divides on Importance of Terrorism, Mass Shootings, Illegal Immigration. Three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans say that terrorism is a critical issue, up 22 percentage points since 2011 (53 percent). Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say mass shootings are a critical issue in the U.S. today. Americans are somewhat less concerned about illegal immigration: 41 percent identify it as a critical issue facing the country.There are notable partisan differences in views about the importance of these issues. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the issue of terrorism is of critical importance (84 percent vs. 70 percent, respectively), while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to prioritize the issue of mass shootings (74 percent vs. 60 percent, respectively). There is an even deeper partisan divide in views about the importance of illegal immigration. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say illegal immigration is a critical issue to the country (63 percent vs. 30 percent, respectively). The views of independents roughly mirror those of the general public.
- A Double Standard on Religious Violence. Americans employ a double standard when judging acts of violence committed by self-identified Christians and Muslims. Three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans say that self-identified Christians who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christian. In contrast, only half (50 percent) of the public says that Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are not really Muslim.
- The 2016 Presidential Election. Hillary Clinton (52 percent) leads among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, while 31 percent support Bernie Sanders and four percent prefer Martin O’Malley. Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, 23 percent support Donald Trump, 16 percent support Ben Carson, 12 percent support Marco Rubio, 11 percent support Ted Cruz, nine percent support Jeb Bush, four percent support Rand Paul, three percent support Chris Christie, two percent support Carly Fiorina, two percent support John Kasich, and two percent support Mike Huckabee.
The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with Religion News Service. The survey was made possible by a generous grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between December 2, 2015 and December 6, 2015. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,003 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (500 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The sample is designed to represent the total U.S. adult population and includes respondents from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.7 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.
Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.