Many Polled Seem to See Other Immigrants to U.S. Differently

SAINT LEO, FL – While President Barack Obama has been making the case that the United States and other nations should take in more refugees, a new Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey shows that Americans may be reluctant. Less than half agree that the United States “has an obligation to accommodate refugees when possible.”

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced a plan to increase the overall number of refugees accepted into the United States to 110,000 in a one-year period beginning October 1 because of the crisis in Syria and the Mideast. And this (Tuesday) morning at the United Nations, President Obama told fellow world leaders: “We must now open our hearts and do more to help refugees who are in desperate need of a home.”

Within domestic political circles in the United States, some Republicans oppose the expansion idea on security grounds. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said he wants to stop the entry of more Syrian refugees specifically for fears of admitting terrorists. The Hillary Clinton campaign favors refugee resettlement and an overhaul of the immigration system.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute, in a mid-September survey of political attitudes nationally and in Florida, included four questions on immigration topics. The online respondents to the polls—1,103 nationally and a separate sample of 502 just from Florida—were presented with a series of statements, and asked to indicate whether they agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly. They were also allowed to say they didn’t know.

When the responses for strongly and somewhat agreeing to the four statements were combined, the results were as shown in this table.

Immigration Statements U.S. –  % strongly and somewhat agreeing Florida –  %strongly and somewhat agreeing
Our nation has an obligation to accommodate refugees when possible 45.2 48.4
The U.S. should assign preferences or priorities in admitting persecuted refugee groups such as Christians, children, and women 49.0 48.0
Children born on U.S. soil should have a birthright to U.S. citizenship 64.8 68.8
Immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally and have obeyed laws should be allowed a path to citizenship 55.1 59.2


The first statement–which most closely aligns with the president’s remarks Tuesday at the United Nations–-failed to gather agreement among the majority of the samples, both nationally, and in Florida. Some sub-groups were more likely to support refugee assistance, including: those who say they are politically liberal or Democrats, people in the 18-to-35 age group, and African-Americans and Hispanics. Being a Christian or a Catholic didn’t make any difference, despite social-justice teachings of those faiths, and the appeals recently of international relief agencies associated with Protestant and Catholic faiths.

Dr. Patricia Campion, associate professor of global studies and sociology at Saint Leo University, reviewed all the findings. “The repeated terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. and the refugee crisis in Europe have made the issue quite visible in the campaign, with strong conservative positions being voiced, so it’s not surprising that a majority says they are against it. We could actually say that the surprise is that it’s not more,” Dr. Campion said. She considers Americans “still receptive to the issue” of refugee aid and resettlement generally, in spite of the current sentiments.

Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and political scientist, commented on the diversity in views reported among the four questions.

“It seems as though there is much more positive feeling for traditional immigrants compared to refugees, with over half of the sample supporting a pathway to citizenship and almost two-thirds favoring birthright citizenship,” he said. Birthright citizenship is the policy in place now, he noted.


More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: The surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument from September 10 – September 16. The national sample included responses from 1,103 adults and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Florida yielded responses from a parallel group and yielded 502 responses, with an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever our students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. We welcome people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourage learners of all generations. We are committed to providing educational opportunities to our nation’s armed forces, our veterans, and their families. We are regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and we guide all our students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

We remain the faithful stewards of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where our founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 15,000 students, we have expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintain a physical presence in seven states. We provide highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 82,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.