By Harry Enten
Donald Trump signed a wide-ranging executive order on Friday that resets the United States’ immigration and refugee programs. The policy bars immigrants from seven heavily Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days, including people with green cards. It bans all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees. And it cuts the number of refugees the U.S. will accept overall in 2017. (For a more detailed rundown, read here.)
The scope of Trump’s executive order is such that we’re largely in uncharted waters. Past polls are only so useful, as most of them did not ask about actions as broad as the ones Trump undertook. This isn’t like same-sex marriage, or other more straightforward yes-no issues that have been polled for years. I’d be suspect of anyone claiming it’s clear which way public support will go on Trump’s actions — at least until we get more polling.
Slight differences in framing and question wording can also have big effects on how well immigration, refugee and terrorism policies poll. Whether Trump’s executive order is viewed in humanitarian terms or (as the Trump administration has tried to frame it) in the context of counterterrorism could go a long way towards determining how much the public supports it.
In the meantime, here’s what we do know:
1. In the context of terrorism, at least a plurality of Americans are OK with immigration bans.
The Trump administration has argued that this is not a ban on Muslims. Rather, they’ll likely argue, as the order itself does, that the policies are meant “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” It’s not at all clear these policies will actually improve national security, but the American people have been more supportive of immigration restrictions in the name of counterterrorism. In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in January, 48 percent of voters supported “suspending immigration from ‘terror prone’ regions, even if it means turning away refugees from those regions.” Forty-two percent were opposed. And a December Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll found 50 percent of Americans were in favor of “banning future immigration from regions where there are active terrorist groups.”
2. But a majority of Americans oppose a religion-based immigration ban.
Just 41 percent of Americans supported a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country who are not U.S. citizens, according to an August 2016 ABC News/Washington Post poll. A slight majority (52 percent) were opposed. A July CBS News/New York Times survey, which asked a similar question, found only 35 percent of voters thought the U.S. should temporarily ban Muslim immigration.