Nearly half – 47% of Americans – are worried that they or a member of their family will be a victim of terrorism, up from 33% who expressed the same fear one year ago, a new poll reveals. However, at the same time, 53% say that the US should allow in refugees from Syria if they go through a security clearance process.
With GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump calling for a ban on Muslims entering the US, the new survey, released Thursday, reflects Americans’ ambivalence between their fear and their democratic values.
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 measured 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 small majority (53%) of Americans indeed support allowing Syrian refugees to come to the US provided they go through a security clearance process. However, 41% oppose letting Syrian refugees in altogether. There are stark partisan divides on this issue. While 63% of Democrats and 56% of independents favor allowing Syrian refugees into the US, only 35% of Republicans agree.
48% of Americans say that the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society, while 35% 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% vs. 27%, respectively). A majority (56%) 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.”
53% of the public agrees that US Muslims have not done enough to oppose extremism in their own communities, up from 46% in 2011. 35% disagrees with this statement, while 13% of Americans offer no opinion. 47% of the public also believe that Islam is at odds with American values and way of life, compared to 43% who disagree.
Republicans are far more critical of American Muslims’ efforts than Democrats. 67% of Republicans say that American Muslims have not done enough to confront extremism, a view shared by less than 45% of Democrats.
At the same time, 57% of Americans say that American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the US. 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. 67% of religiously unaffiliated Americans say that American Muslims are an important part of the US religious community. Majorities of non-white Protestants (56%), Catholics (55%) and white mainline Protestants (51%) also agree that Muslims are an important part of America’s religious community. Fewer than half (47%) 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% of the public report knowing a lot about the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims, while 57% say they know a little and 26% say they know nothing at all. Only 8% of Americans report daily contact with someone who is Muslim.