PredictWise and Pollfish ran a poll in the afternoon of Thursday, February 2, to gauge public opinion on President Trump’s Friday, January 27 executive order (EO) on immigration and refugees. While considering how this order affects public opinion it is important to remember: (1) The real impact of this executive order is going to be how it plays out in six month to four years; you are a political junkie, but most people do not game out public policy the way you do. (2) To combat that problem, we do not focus on the topline question about how people feel about the EO, but on the components, that may or may not become more salient as the EO’s impact unfolds.
Our results conform to all of the conflicting polling! When we focus on blocking travel with potential terrorism, “Should the US ban travel from countries that support terrorism?”, 59 percent of Americans support, with 75 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Democrats.
Similarly, when we ask “Should the US severely limit the number of refugees it accepts?” 63 percent of Americans support, with 79 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats. Refugees have never been popular. In 1939, 61 percent of Americans opposed brining a hypothetical 10,000 Jewish children from Germany into US.
But, these questions assume Trump can completely frame the question and keep it at a very high level. As soon as we touch on any of the details, things move sharply against the travel part of the EO.
While there was a lot of confusion, many US Citizens with dual citizenship were detained after the EO (including, by himself, a five year old Iranian-American). “Should US citizens with dual citizenship be banned from the US if a travel ban applies to their foreign citizenship?” Just 21 percent of Americans support this.
Expanding outward, many green card holders, permanent residents who frequently have no other home, were detained after the EO and their status is still confusing. “Should permanent US residents with green cards be banned from the US if a travel ban applies to their foreign citizenship?” Only 16 percent of Americans support this.
What about students? A main goal of the EO was to block students (there are over 12,000 from Iran studying in US): “Should student visa holders be banned from the US if a travel ban applies to their foreign citizenship?” Only 25 percent of Americans support this. That includes 40 percent of Republicans, but just 16 percent of Democrats. This may help explain that lack of enthusiasm: “Do you believe that foreign students coming to study in the US are good or bad for the US economy?” 55 percent of American do believe this, with 64 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans. Beyond, ensuring that US universities remain leaders in research, students getting advanced degrees in American frequently stay and help build innovative companies in the US.
Was it necessary to make the order effective immediately? What about those families that already sold everything to come to the US? “Regardless of how you feel about the travel ban, should we honor visas and travel permits that were issued before the ban?” 62 percent of Americans think US should honor all travel documents issued before the ban.
Implementation of the EO is a huge concern.
Did Trump pick the right seven countries? “Are you concerned that the travel ban excluded majority-Muslim countries where Trump has business interests?” 54 percent of Americans are concerned. With just 33 percent of Republicans, but 68 percent of Democrats.
“Regardless of how you feel about the travel ban, how did the Trump administration roll it out?” 49 percent of Americans thought badly, with just 29 percent thought well.
Americans are concerned about the costs of EO.
“Do you think the travel ban will strengthen or weaken terrorist organizations?” 42 percent said strengthen, 31 percent said weaken, and 27 percent are unsure. And, there is no doubt it will affect US travel abroad, “Do you think countries will retaliate to the travel ban by restricting the travel rights of US citizens?” 71 percent assume they will (and they have already started).
Spun all about terrorism and kept at a high level, Trump’s EO is popular. But, get into the details and the popularity unravels quick.
Sam Corbett-Davies is a PhD candidate at Stanford University in computer science. Find him on Twitter @scorbettdavies.
David Rothschild is an economist at Microsoft Research. Find him on Twitter @DavMicRot.