An opinion poll published in the July 1938 edition of the US-based Fortune magazine, and recently retweeted by the Twitter account @HistOpinion, found that less than five percent of people surveyed at the time believed that Washington should raise immigration quotas or encourage mostly Jewish refugees to flee fascist European states and seek asylum in the US.
Some comments claim today's refugees different from Jews in 30s b/c no perceived threat to country then. Nope: pic.twitter.com/ycwivT4mo2— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 18, 2015
Perhaps even more startling, was the response from two-thirds (67.4 percent) of those surveyed, who agreed with the response that "we should try to keep them out."
Many historians have noted that the anti-immigrant sentiment may have stemmed from the weak economic times as the US was still recovering from the Great Depression.
For more on fear of fifth columnists infiltrating flow of Jewish refugees (same page as above): pic.twitter.com/4cm7fLfakW— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 18, 2015
However, another opinion poll published in January 1939 — well after more visible signs of anti-Jewish discrimination in Nazi Germany had ramped up — asked if the US government should house 10,000 German Jewish refugee children from Germany.
Once again, close to two-thirds of people (61 percent) were against such a suggestion, while only 30 percent were in favor.
Terror Debate Turns to Refugees
The figures were released amid ongoing debate about whether European and North American nations should accept refugees from Syria, with the concerns of Americans in the late 30s being mirrored by many today.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, many activists and political figures have raised concerns about accepting people from the Middle East over fears they may in fact be terrorists in disguise.
While French leader Francois Hollande has urged people to separate the debate between Islamic terrorists and refugees from the Middle East, Slovakian Prime Minister Roberto Fico said authorities were "monitoring every Muslim" in the country, along with far-right extremists, as part of efforts to crack down on terrorism.
While some European nations such as Germany and Sweden have openly accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, many other countries have remained opposed to the idea.
Republicans Call for Ban on Syrian Refugees
The debate has also reached the US, with a number of Republican presidential candidates voicing their opposition to the government's plans to house 10,000 Syrian refugees displaced by the country's four-year war, with candidate Jeb Bush among those saying the government should only accept Christian refugees from Syria.
A terrorist caliphate the size of Indiana can’t be contained. It must be destroyed. pic.twitter.com/kxJVUNMYPx— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) November 17, 2015
US President Obama was quick to criticize such suggestions labeling them "offensive" and "hysterical," while adding that all refugees would be subject to thorough screening tests to ensure they were no threat to the US.
Anti-refugee campaigners were criticized for scaremongering and stirring up bigotry following the release of statistics that revealed of the 750,000 refugees accepted into the US since 9/11, not one had been charged with a domestic terror offence.
However, the re-release of the 30s poll has highlighted some of the parallels between public opinion and the levels of anti-refugee sentiment in the US and Europe.