Poll: A Majority of Americans Oppose Accepting Syrian Refugees

Image: Syrian refugees line up to receive aid for the winter from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Tripoli, northern Lebanon
Syrian refugees line up to receive aid for the winter from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Tripoli, northern Lebanon November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY OMAR IBRAHIM / Reuters

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By Allison Kopicki, John Lapinski and Hannah Hartig

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, more than half of the nation’s governors have declared they will not accept new Syrian refugees into their states, and a new poll shows that a majority of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s plans to accept increased numbers of Syrian refugees. The latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll shows that 56% of Americans disapprove of allowing more migrants fleeing violence in Syria and other nations into the country, while 41% approve and the issue divides sharply across party lines. But overwhelmingly, Americans say the U.S. and its allies are losing the war against ISIS and the poll shows bipartisan support for sending additional ground troops to fight the Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.

The poll reveals a number of partisan divides on government policies to deal with both the threat of terrorism and the plans to accept more Syrian refugees into the country. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the U.S. has taken in fewer than 2,000 refugees, although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has submitted over 20,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement consideration by the United States. President Obama has declared he would like to accept 10,000 in the next year. The president’s approval rating is at 43%, down 3 points from last month, and his lowest approval rating measured in the NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll this year.

About 8 in 10 Republicans disapprove of accepting more Syrian refugees – including 64% who strongly disapprove. Nearly two thirds of Democrats support the president’s policy, while more independents disapprove (59%) than approve (40%).

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the use of overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism, but this divides along party lines as well. Republicans nearly universally (86%) see military force as the answer, but 60% of Democrats agree with the statement that relying too much on military force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism. Again independents are more divided, with more (55%) saying military force is necessary to defeat terrorism.

Majorities of Americans across all parties support sending additional ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, although Republicans are more hawkish, with 51% in strong support, compared to 20% of Democrats and 31% of independents.

The NBC News online poll was conducted from Sunday through Tuesday among 5,755 adults nationwide, as news of the violence in Paris and the subsequent manhunt for suspects was still unfolding. Eighty-one percent of Americans say they were following the news coverage very or somewhat closely. Against this backdrop of heightened tension, the poll finds a shared sense of anxiousness among many Americans:

  • Only 45% of Americans say the U.S. government’s efforts to reduce the threat of terrorism is going well – this is down from 62% who said so in April of this year.
  • Few Americans say that the U.S. and its allies are winning the fight against ISIS – just 24%, while 70% say we are losing.
  • More than half of Americans say they are somewhat (38%) or very worried (16%) that they or someone in their family might become the victim of a terrorist attack, although 44% say they are not worried.
  • There is near unanimous support (81%) for extensive surveillance and security checks in public places, such as stadiums, movie theaters, and shopping malls, to prevent terrorist attacks.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 Americans said they have felt depressed in the past few days because of concerns about terrorist attacks or the war against terrorism.

-- Stephanie Psyllos and Josh Clinton contributed reporting.

The NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll was conducted online by from November 15-17, 2015 among a national sample of 5,755 adults aged 18 and over. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Overall results have an error estimate of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points. A full description of our methodology and the poll can be found here.

The poll was produced by the Data Analytics Lab of NBC News in conjunction with Penn’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies with data collection and tabulation conducted by SurveyMonkey.