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NEW JERSEYANS SPLIT ON SYRIAN REFUGEES; MOST WORRIED ABOUT FUTURE TERRORIST ATTACKS
Overall immigration views little affected; high marks for U.S. handling of terrorism
Note: One-fifth of this Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was completed prior to the shooting in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday, Dec. 2. About half of all interviews had been completed by Friday, Dec. 4, when the FBI declared it was investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – In the midst of terror attacks at home and abroad, and following Gov. Chris Christie’s demand that no Syrian refugees come to the state, New Jersey residents split evenly on whether to accept refugees from Syria, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While 45 percent say New Jersey should remain open to refugees from the conflict in Syria, another 45 percent disagree, while 10 percent are unsure.
Most of those who oppose Syrian refugee resettlement in New Jersey also support Christie’s insistence that even refugee children should be barred. Only a quarter of those initially opposed to Syrian refugees in the state would make an exception for children.
Feelings toward Syrian refugees do not necessarily go hand in hand with general attitudes toward immigration. While many oppose Syrian refugee resettlement, just 34 percent of Garden Staters think the number of immigrants in the state is too high, actually down seven points in the past four months; 49 percent now think the number is just right. Most either say immigrants make the overall quality of life here better (34 percent) or believe they do not have much of an effect either way (38 percent). Only 19 percent of New Jerseyans say immigrants make the quality of life in the Garden State worse.
“Over half of U.S. governors – including New Jersey’s own – have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks, even though immigration policy is a federal, not state, responsibility,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “Opposition toward Syrian refugees has become, for some, a broader symbol of security and resistance to terrorism. Even New Jerseyans – whose general attitudes toward immigration remain largely positive – have reservations about harboring this specific group.”
Apprehension about Syrian refugees stems from significant concern over a future terror attack. Eight in 10 worry that another attack will happen on American soil, while seven in 10 fear one will occur in or near New Jersey.
As a precaution, almost all New Jerseyans (86 percent) support surveillance and security checks in public places like stadiums, movie theaters and shopping malls; this number is similar to other polls’ nationwide results.
Despite these fears, most New Jerseyans – unlike the rest of the country as reported in national polls – believe the U.S. government is generally doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism.
Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
Key demographics drive views on refugees
The Syrian refugee issue is certainly a partisan one: while 65 percent of Democrats believe New Jersey should continue to accept these individuals, 79 percent of Republicans take the opposite view. Independents most resemble the population as a whole, split 43 percent to 46 percent against.
Place of birth has a strong impact on views. Those born outside the United States are only slightly more accepting of Syrian refugees than native born citizens – 49 percent versus 45 percent. But they are much less likely to outright reject the refugees and more uncertain: 33 percent of foreign born residents, but 49 percent of U.S. natives, want the state to reject the refugees. Eighteen percent of those born outside the U.S. are unsure about accepting Syrian refugees, compared to 7 percent of natives.
A similar pattern emerges among those with foreign born versus American born parents and non-white versus white residents. Willingness to accept the refugees decreases among older residents and increases with education.
Immigration attitudes, fear of attacks linked to increased rejection of refugees
While the Syrian refugee matter has not significantly influenced overall views on immigration, individuals who oppose one are also more likely to oppose the other. A large majority of those who say there are too many immigrants in New Jersey (74 percent) and those who say immigrants make the state’s quality of life worse (81 percent) are against the continued acceptance of Syrian refugees in the state. Likewise, residents who say New Jersey should reject these refugees are more negative about immigrants, in general.
Concern over future terror attacks and over how terrorism is handled also accompanies greater caution toward Syrian refugees. Half of those worried about an attack in the U.S. or New Jersey say the state should no longer accept Syrian refugees. While half of residents who say the government is doing well at reducing terrorism believe New Jersey should accept Syrian refugees, six in 10 of those who say the government is not doing well oppose refugee resettlement here.
There is no significant difference in refugee views between those interviewed before and those interviewed after the San Bernardino shooting.
Terror concerns loom large, especially post-shooting
While majorities of partisans of all stripes are concerned, Republicans are the most worried about attacks both in the U.S. and in New Jersey, followed by independents and then Democrats. Women, older residents, and those more negative about immigration are more worried about future attacks than their counterparts, as are those who disapprove of Syrian refugees in New Jersey and those who do not think the U.S. government is doing well in reducing terror threats.
Fear jumps post-San Bernardino. While 29 percent of those interviewed before the shooting were very worried about another U.S. attack (another 44 percent somewhat), this number rises to 44 percent very worried (37 percent somewhat) among those interviewed after the attack.
“We were in the middle of polling when the San Bernardino shooting occurred,” noted Koning. “While concern of an attack was already high before the shooting, San Bernardino solidified and increased New Jerseyans’ fears – both in terms of a possible attack anywhere in the U.S., as well as in our own state.”
More than eight in 10 support greater security checks and surveillance in public places, with little difference among demographic groups. Among those most worried about another attack, nine in 10 support such measures.
How is the government handling terrorism?
Over half of every group believes the U.S. government is doing well in its efforts to reduce the threat of terrorism. Democrats are slightly more likely to believe this (26 percent say very well, 46 percent say somewhat well), compared to independents (19 percent, very well) and Republicans (18 percent, very well).
A majority of New Jerseyans who oppose accepting Syrian refugees and who are worried about future terrorist attacks are nonetheless satisfied with the way the government is handling the threat of terrorism, though to a lesser extent than their counterparts.