Despite the specific concerns about possible terrorism associated with accepting Syrian refugees, Americans’ opposition to the current plan is in line with public opinion on refugee situations in the past. Across seven different refugee situations since 1939 for which Gallup has a basic support or opposition measure, the average level of public support has been 33% and the average level of opposition has been 57%.
Of these seven situations, the only one a majority of Americans supported involved Kosovo refugees in 1999. However, support may have been higher because the question mentioned that only several hundred refugees were being accepted, and the question was asked after the government had already taken that action.
Americans are a bit more positive when asked if the Syrian refugees would be welcomed if they came to their community — 49% say they would be welcomed and 46% say they would not be. However, that is a slightly more negative assessment than Gallup found in a 1979 poll asking about Southeast Asian refugees, also known as the “boat people.” At that time, 57% of Americans said those refugees would be welcomed in their community and 30% said they would not be.