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Attitudes about refugees and immigrants arriving in the United States: a conjoint experiment

Liza G. Steele, Lamis Abdelaaty, Nga Than

Ethnic and Racial Studies, January 2023

Lamis Abdelaaty

Lamis Abdelaaty


From 2013 to 2018, the global refugee population increased by about 50 per cent. Although public opinion toward refugees plays a key role in shaping related policies, scholarly research on this topic remains limited.

Using original data from a nationally representative conjoint survey experiment conducted in 2019, we examine whether U.S. citizens’ attitudes toward refugees are distinct from their attitudes toward other types of immigrants to the US, and how applicant attributes shape American citizens’ preferences about admission of foreigners.

We find that immigrant and refugee reasons (as defined by law) for migrating to the US affect attitudes, with refugee reasons garnering greater support. The labels “immigrant” and “refugee” on their own have smaller effects, in general, but can be salient in combination with other characteristics. We also find marked effects of newcomers’ characteristics, especially country of origin, profession, gender and religion.