Poll: Most Americans Oppose Admitting Syrian Refugees, Favor Limited Military Involvement to Combat ISIS in Syria

August 15, 2016

With violence flaring in Syria and ongoing debate in the presidential campaign about refugee intake and national security, a new survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs finds that only 36 percent of Americans support admitting Syrian refugees. Self-described Democrats are more likely to support admitting them than Republicans and Independents. 

The survey also found that the American public supports limited U.S. military engagement in Syria to combat violent Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS, though most do not support sending U.S. ground troops. Americans are less supportive of U.S. involvement in the internal conflict in Syria between the Assad regime and rebel forces. The survey was conducted June 10-27, 2016. 

Partisan Divide on Syrian Refugees 

  • Only 36 percent of Americans support taking in refugees from Syria, similar to support in 2014.
  • A 56 percent majority of Democrats support admitting Syrian refugees, similar to 55 percent in 2014.
  • Only 18 percent of Republicans support admitting Syrian refugees, down from 27 percent in 2014.
  • Thirty-two percent of Independents would support admitting them, compared to 40 percent in 2014. 


Support for Limited Military Action Against ISIS 

  • Airstrikes: Seventy-two percent of Americans overall support airstrikes against violent Islamic extremist groups in Syria, including 80 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Independents.
  • Special Ops: Fifty-seven percent of Americans support sending Special Ops forces to fight violent Islamic extremist groups in Syria, with a larger majority of Republicans (66 percent) than other partisans in favor (Democrats 56 percent, Independents 52 percent).
  • Combat Troops: Only 42 percent of Americans support sending combat troops into Syria to fight Islamic extremist groups (though 53 percent of Republicans support, only 42 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of Independents support).


No-Fly Zone 

  • Creating a no-fly zone over Syria is supported by 52 percent of Americans overall, including 54 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Independents.


Americans Cautious About Taking Sides 

Americans are especially wary of U.S. involvement in the conflict between the regime of Syrian President Assad and the anti-government forces fighting against him. 

  • Just 26 percent of Americans support sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, with little variation across parties (27 percent Republicans and Democrats, 25 percent Independents).
  • Only 31 percent of Americans support the United States helping to negotiate a peace agreement that would allow President Assad of Syria to remain in power. Republicans are particularly skeptical of negotiating an agreement that allows Assad to remain in power (only 22 percent support compared to 39 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Independents).



The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel June 10-27, 2016 among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges ±2.2 to ±3.5 percentage points, depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups (Republicans ±5.8, Democrats ±5.1, Independents ±5.3). Partisan identification is based on respondents’ answer to a standard partisan self-identification question: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, or what?”

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.