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Governors Who Want To Ban Syrian Refugees Have Something In Common

UPDATE (Nov. 17, 6:15 p.m.): The table and the analysis in this article have been updated to reflect a statement by Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.

UPDATE (Nov. 17, 5:15 p.m.): The table and the analysis in this article have been updated to reflect new announcements by five more governors.

UPDATE (Nov. 17, 2:45 p.m.): The table and the analysis in this article have been updated to reflect new announcements by 12 governors.

Governors of more than half of U.S. states have now said they won’t accept additional refugees from Syria after the attacks Friday in Paris, which French officials say were masterminded by a Belgian who fought for the Islamic State in Syria. As of Tuesday afternoon, governors in 12 states said they would welcome refugees as part of President Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 people in 2016 who are fleeing the Islamic State and Syria’s civil war.

That means most governors have weighed in, even though they can’t block refugees from entering the United States (though they could complicate settlement within their states’ borders).

There is one stark, obvious difference between these two groups of states: the party that controls the statehouse. Just one of the 30 governors who oppose taking in more refugees is a Democrat: Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. All 12 who said their states will continue welcoming refugees are Democrats, as is Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C.1

Tennessee No 0 Haslam R 75%
Nevada No 0 Sandoval R 75
South Dakota Undeclared 0 Daugaard R 73
Utah Undeclared 1 Herbert R 71
Louisiana No 0 Jindal R 70
Wyoming No 0 Mead R 69
Mississippi No 0 Bryant R 67
Ohio No 4 Kasich R 66
North Dakota No 0 Dalrymple R 65
Alabama No 0 Bentley R 64
Iowa No 0 Branstad R 61
New Jersey No 8 Christie R 61
Texas No 10 Abbott R 60
Nebraska No 0 Ricketts R 59
Idaho No 3 Otter R 58
Oklahoma No 0 Fallin R 58
South Carolina No 0 Haley R 57
New Mexico No 0 Martinez R 57
Arkansas No 0 Hutchinson R 57
Arizona No 15 Ducey R 56
North Carolina No 11 McCrory R 56
Georgia No 6 Deal R 54
Wisconsin No 2 Walker R 53
Maine No 2 LePage R 53
Michigan No 6 Snyder R 52
Illinois No 7 Rauner R 52
Kansas No 0 Brownback R 52
Maryland No 2 Hogan R 52
Indiana No 0 Pence R 52
Massachusetts No 2 Baker R 51
Florida No 6 Scott R 51
Vermont Yes 0 Shumlin D 49
Montana Undeclared 0 Bullock D 49
Alaska Undeclared 0 Walker I 49
Connecticut Yes 1 Malloy D 49
Virginia Undeclared 6 McAuliffe D 49
Washington Yes 2 Inslee D 48
Colorado Yes 1 Hickenlooper D 48
New Hampshire No 0 Hassan D 48
West Virginia Undeclared 1 Tomblin D 47
Rhode Island Undeclared 0 Raimondo D 47
Minnesota Yes 0 Dayton D 47
Oregon Yes 1 Brown D 47
Pennsylvania Yes 0 Wolf D 45
Missouri Undeclared 0 Nixon D 44
Hawaii Yes 0 Ige D 43
New York Yes 2 Cuomo D 43
California Yes 32 Brown D 40
Washington, D.C. Yes 0 Bowser D 39
Kentucky Yes 1 Beshear D 39
Delaware Yes 0 Markell D 29

Little differentiates the two groups of states in terms of their Syria-born population,2 their prior acceptance of refugees from all countries in fiscal year 2014 (between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2014)3 or their acceptance of refugees from Syria during that period.4 The overall number of refugees to the U.S. from Syria last fiscal year, though, was tiny: Just 124 settled in 21 of 42 states whose governors have taken a stand — and none at all settled in 21 of the states or in Washington, D.C. Just eight more settled in the rest of the U.S. in 2014.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was one of the first governors to call for a halt to refugees from Syria. “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said in a statement Sunday announcing his position on refugees. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”

Obama defended his plan to welcome more refugees from Syria at a news conference in Turkey on Monday. “The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism; they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife,” Obama said.

CLARIFICATION: The data on acceptance of refugees from Syria is from fiscal year 2014 — between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2014. It is not from calendar year 2014.

CORRECTION (Nov. 17, 4:30 p.m.): A table in an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the party and position of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, as well as giving an incorrect figure for the Republican Party’s vote share in Beshear’s most recent election. Beshear is a Democrat, not a Republican, and he has said the state would accept refugees from Syria; he has not refused to accept them. And the Republican vote share in his most recent election was 39 percent, not 55 percent. The table also misidentified the party of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker; he is an independent, not a Republican. The table has been corrected.


  1. Michael Czin, Mayor Bowser’s spokesman, said in an email that the mayor believes that “refugees from Syria should be treated like all other refugees who come legally to the United States — with respect.”

  2. A median of 75 per million residents were born in Syria among states whose governors said “no” to more refugees; the figure is 94 per million in states whose governors said “yes” and Washington, D.C., according to the American Community Survey conducted from 2009 to 2013.

  3. A median of 214 per million residents in states whose governors said “no” and an identical 214 per million residents in states whose governors said “yes” and Washington, D.C., according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

  4. An average of 0.44 per million residents in states whose governors said “no” and 0.38 per million in states whose governors said “yes.” (The median is a less useful comparison because many of the states took in no refugees from Syria during the period, making the median 0.1 in states whose governors said “yes” and Washington, D.C.; and 0 per million residents in states whose governors said “no.”)

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.