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With his comments calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Donald Trump may be tapping into widespread antipathy toward immigration from the Middle East, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.
The poll was conducted before Trump made his contentious proposal Monday and does not reflect public opinion about it. But it indicates a suspicion of newcomers from the region where Muslims predominate and follows last week's deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California, by a couple said by authorities to have been radicalized — with the wife having pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The poll found three-quarters of Republicans thought immigration from the region was too high, with nearly as many expressing fears about the possibility that Syrian refugees will commit violence.
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Some things to know about public opinion on refugees and immigration from the Middle East from the AP-GfK poll:
Most want less Middle East immigration
Both Americans in general and Republicans in particular were more likely to say the United States is allowing too many immigrants from the Middle East than to say so about other regions of the world, including Latin America.
In the poll, 54 percent of Americans, including about three-quarters of Republicans, about half of independents and over a third of Democrats, said the United States takes in too many immigrants from the Middle East.
By contrast, 46 percent of Americans, including 6 in 10 Republicans, slightly under half of independents and 3 in 10 Democrats, said the U.S. takes too many immigrants from Latin America.
Just 28 percent of Americans said the same of immigrants from Europe, with little variation by party identification.
Demographic fault lines
The poll indicates that Trump's rhetoric, before he proposed the sweeping prohibition on Muslims, might appeal to fears about immigration from the Middle East shared by many Americans. It also points to a risk of alienating some groups, such as younger Americans, non-whites, and some less conservative Republicans.
Whites were more likely than non-whites to say the current level of immigration from the region is too high, 59 percent to 43 percent.
More than 6 in 10 Americans over 50, but less than half of those under 50, said the U.S. lets in too many immigrants from the Middle East. Men were more likely than women to say so, 59 percent to 50 percent.
Within the Republican Party, supporters of the tea party movement were more likely than those who are not supporters to say the level of immigration from the Middle East is too high, 84 percent to 71 percent.
Opposition to refugees
The AP-GfK poll also found that 53 percent of Americans opposed the Obama administration's plan to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria into United States, with just 23 percent saying they were in favor. Majorities of both Republicans (78 percent) and independents (54 percent) opposed letting in the refugees, while Democrats were more likely to be in favor than opposed, 41 percent to 32 percent.
Many Americans consider refugees to be a security risk to the United States. Forty-nine percent saw an extremely or somewhat high risk of Syrian refugees committing acts of religious or political violence in the United States. Seven in 10 Republicans and 3 in 10 Democrats considered refugees to be at least a somewhat high risk.
More generally, Americans were significantly more likely than they were at the beginning of this year to rate the risk of a terrorist attack in the U.S. as at least somewhat high, with 70 percent saying so in the latest poll, after 50 percent said so in January.
No obligation to help
Just 41 percent of Americans said the United States has a moral duty to offer asylum to people who come into the country to escape violence or political persecution, while 55 percent said it does not. That attitude is essentially unchanged since July 2014, when 44 percent said the U.S. has an obligation to help people fleeing violence and persecution.
More than 7 in 10 Republicans and nearly 6 in 10 independents said the United States does not have an obligation to offer refuge, while nearly 6 in 10 Democrats said it does.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,007 adults was conducted online Dec. 3-7, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.