Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: NJ Residents Split on Accepting Syrian Refugees

A refugee cooks in font of her tent in the refugee camp © Freedom House on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.
A refugee cooks in font of her tent in the refugee camp © Freedom House on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.

New Jersey residents are evenly divided on whether to accept refugees from Syria, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

While 45 percent of residents polled 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, according to the poll. While many of the residents who participated in the poll oppose Syrian refugee resettlement, just 34 percent think the number of immigrants in the state is too high. That figure is down seven points from four months ago, pollsters said.  About 49 percent of residents polled think the number is just right. Most either say immigrants make the overall quality of life in New Jersey better (34 percent) or believe immigrants 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, according to the poll. Eight in 10 residents polled 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 polled (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 polled, 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. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.