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Americans preferred Syrian refugees who are female, English-speaking, and Christian on the eve of Donald Trump's election.


What types of refugees do Americans prefer for admission into the United States? Scholars have explored the immigrant characteristics that appeal to Americans and the characteristics that Europeans prioritize in asylum-seekers, but we currently do not know which refugee characteristics Americans prefer. We conduct a conjoint experiment on a representative sample of 1800 US adults, manipulating refugee attributes in pairs of Syrian refugee profiles, and ask respondents to rate each refugee's appeal. Our focus on Syrian refugees in a 2016 survey experiment allows us to speak to the concurrent refugee crisis on the eve of a polarizing election, while also identifying religious discrimination, holding constant the refugee's national origin. We find that Americans prefer Syrian refugees who are female, high-skilled, English-speaking, and Christian, suggesting they prioritize refugee integration into the U.S. labor and cultural markets. We find that the preference for female refugees is not driven by the desire to exclude Muslim male refugees, casting doubt that American preferences at the time were motivated by security concerns. Finally, we find that anti-Muslim bias in refugee preferences varies in magnitude across key subgroups, though it prevails across all sample demographics.

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