Donald Trump has drawn widespread criticism for his proposal this week to block Muslims from entering the United States, but a new poll shows Republican voters might actually see some merit to the idea. In fact, a majority of Republicans believe there is a high risk that Syrian refugees will commit religious and political violence in the U.S., per an Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday.
The poll was conducted before Trump made his controversial statement Monday, so its results do not reflect public opinion about his latest immigration plan. However, it comes after last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, where officials have said the young couple who carried out the attacks was Muslim and had become radicalized, with the wife pledging to follow the Islamic State group.
In several different measures, survey respondents largely showed negative feelings toward the Middle East, with 54 percent of Americans saying the U.S. accepts too many people from the region. That view was more popular among Republicans -- three-quarters of GOP respondents said the U.S. has too many Middle Eastern refugees, while half of independents and more than a third of Democrats agreed.
As politicians and lawmakers have made anti-Muslim comments in recent weeks, they have received criticism from the American Muslim community and prominent Democrats. But in the Republican primaries, these more extreme views are likely to benefit politicians.
Tea Party supporters, whites and older Americans, who are all important GOP primary voters, were more likely to say immigration from the Middle East was too high, the poll showed. And a significant 63 percent of evangelical Christians -- who are important for the Iowa caucuses -- held that view.
Despite the concerns of Republicans, the U.S. accepted far fewer immigrants from the Middle East than from some other countries last year. In 2014, the nation gave visas to more than 600,000 people from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while it granted 1.4 million visas to Mexicans.
Recent terror attacks around the world have sparked fears that terrorists could enter the U.S. or Europe as refugees. The poll found that 49 percent of Americans (and 70 percent of Republicans) saw an “extremely high” or “somewhat high” risk of Syrian refugees committing acts of violence in the U.S. Democrats fared differently on that measure, with only three in 10 saying they held that view.