On Wednesday, February 8, 2017, President Trump bragged on Twitter that the “Immigration Ban is One of Trump’s Most Popular Orders So Far”: 55 percent Approve, 38 percent Disapprove, and 8 percent Don’t Know/No Opinion. Of course, Trump cherry picked the most favorable poll for his Executive Order (EO); Huffington Post’s Pollster listed eight polls done in the previous week that ranged from 42 to 52 percent approval.
There are a lot of different reasons the polls vary so much: mode and question wording are key. First, people may respond differently to a live telephone operator than a web interface (maybe people are shy to say they support the executive order to a live person?). Second, phone operators reach different types of people than web panels (maybe people online are more anti-immigrant than people who answer phones?). Third, the questions are subtly different on the web and telephone; the web explicitly lets people opt out of answering, but you need to pipe up to say do not know or are indifferent on the phone. Fourth, the questions are explicitly different from poll-to-poll, as it is a complicated executive order to frame in a few words.
But, we are not going to get into a methodical discussion today: we are going to agree that: (1) today (2) on the surface (3) framed as Trump presented it, the executive order is relatively popular.
Yet, while considering how this order affects public opinion it is important to remember: (1) The lawsuits (ultimately staying the EO) and protests are framed around the least popular aspects of the order, not the full order or the way that Trump frames it. (2) You are a political junkie, but most people do not game out public policy the way you do. We care a lot about who people will think in the weeks and months as the ramifications unfold. And, that will likely be a mix of what Trump message and what the opposition messages.
So, we do not focus just on the topline question about how people feel about the EO, like every other pollster does, but on the components, that may or may not become more salient as the EO’s impact unfolds.
PredictWise and Pollfish ran this poll in the afternoon of Thursday, February 2, to gauge public opinion on President Trump’s Friday, January 27 Executive Order on immigration and refugees. We talked about it on February 3.
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. If anything, this is a little more supportive of the EO than most polling as we included a direct reference to terrorism.
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. For reference, in 1939, 61 percent of Americans opposed bringing 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. People like the high-level idea of stopping immigrants from coming to the US, just not any specific immigrant or category of immigrants.
There is no support for applying the EO to long-term residents of the seven named countries. While the Trump administration has subsequently decided not to pursue long-term-residents with the EO, it was within the bounds of their initial interpretation and key to the federal courts staying the implementation of the EO. In the hours and days after the EO went into effect many US Citizens with dual citizenship were detained (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 they are good for the economy, with 64 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans. Beyond, ensuring that US universities remain leaders in research, students getting advanced degrees in America frequently stay and help build innovative companies in the US.
Implementation of the EO is a huge concern. It was a messy affair that brought a human face to the consequences and called into question the efficacy of the order.
Was it necessary to make the order effective immediately and to people already with visas (versus just sopping the issuance of more visa)? 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.
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. A plurality think it will strengthen terrorist organizations! Even though this same group of respondents overwhelmingly “support” the EO as the other pollster asked about it, they do not think it will do its stated goal.
“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, focus on any detail and the popularity unravels quick.
Tobias Konitzer is a PhD candidate in communication at Stanford University. Find him on Twitter @KonitzerTobias.
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.