Why Individual-Level Public Opinion Rapidly Shifted Against Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order

Guest post by Kassra Oskooii, Nazita Lajevardi, and Loren Collingwood

Shortly after assuming office, President Donald Trump delivered on one of his campaign promises by signing Executive Order 13679, which barred individuals from seven predominately Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. Within a day of this decree, thousands of protestors flooded airports around the country in opposition to what quickly became known as a “Muslim ban.”

Leveraging broadcast and newspaper transcripts, as well as a unique two-wave panel study, our research, published in the journal of Political Behavior, suggests that Trump’s ban quickly backfired partly due to an influx of information portraying the “Muslim Ban” as deeply “un-American” and incompatible with American values of religious liberty.

Muslim Ban Figure
Note: The universe of available broadcast transcripts from Lexis Nexis Academic demonstrates that the discussion over the travel ban increased shortly after the EO announcement.

Media outlets started to air live broadcasts of the demonstrations that depicted Americans protesting coast to coast shrouded in American flags and invited pundits to interpret the events as they unfolded. Evaluations of the ban were highly unfavorable, with various news commentators and politicians characterizing the ban as antithetical to core American ideals. Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, for instance, called the ban in a televised press conference as ‘‘mean-spirited and un-American.’’ Various Republicans such as Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, and Rob Portman also criticized the ban, arguing that it pitted America against one religion and weakened efforts to battle terrorist organizations.

Our findings reveal that this information environment brought to bear new considerations to mind for individuals, particularly prompting high American identifiers to change their pre-existing ban attitudes.[1] More specifically, we found that opinions toward the ban were fairly split pre-EO announcement. However, when the same survey respondents were re-interviewed a few days after the EO announcement, a clear majority indicated opposing the ban.

Muslim Ban 2

This rapid shift in public opinion is rare, and provides an optimistic account of how mass movements and protests could contribute to opinion change. The profound response to the ban also provides one instance in which the priming of American identity shifted citizens’ opinions toward more inclusive, rather than restrictive, immigration-related policy stances.


Kassra Oskooii is an Assistant Professor of political science and International Relations at the University of Delaware.  He can be contacted via Twitter. Further information can be found on his personal website.  

Nazita Lajevardi is an Assistant Professor of political science Michigan State University.  She can be contacted via Twitter. Further information can be found on her personal website.  

Loren Collingwood is an Assistant Professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside.  He can be contacted via Twitter. Further information can be found on his personal website.  

Notes

[1] Consistent with prior scholarship, we define American identity as a subjective or internalized sense of belonging to the nation. National identity is a construct that emphasizes the importance of one’s nationality in defining one’s identity and the very basic idea that one can belong to a national ‘us’ (Gustavsson 2017). American identity is thus related to a sense of being or feeling American (Citrin et al. 2001; Huddy 2001; Huddy 2015; Huddy and Khatib 2007).

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