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Poll shows voters split on Baker’s refugee stance

Syrian refugees prayed last week at the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester in Worcester. Voters are deeply split over Governor Charlie Baker’s resistance to accepting Syrian refugees here, according to a Suffolk University poll.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Massachusetts voters are deeply split over Governor Charlie Baker's resistance to accepting Syrian refugees in the state, according to a new poll from Suffolk University.

A plurality, 47 percent, backed the chief executive's stance, according to the survey. Forty percent of survey respondents disagreed with Baker, and 13 percent were undecided.

Baker lined up with more than 30 governors last week, in the wake of terror attacks in Paris, in expressing reluctance to take in refugees from Syria. But Baker later declined to join more than two dozen GOP governors who asked President Obama to halt the country's resettlement efforts for Syrian refugees.


The poll found that public opinion shifts slightly in favor — to 51 percent — of accepting Syrian refugees if they have been properly vetted by the federal
government. Forty percent said Massachusetts should not take in any Syrian refugees because they pose too great a risk of terrorism.

The survey also affirms Baker's popularity, with 70 percent viewing the Republican favorably and the same number approving of his job performance. Just 15 percent view Baker unfavorably, with 12 percent disapproving of the job he's doing.

Forty-three percent of voters call Baker a better governor than his predecessor, Democrat Deval Patrick, while 24 percent preferred Patrick. Fourteen percent of respondents rated them equally in the survey by Suffolk University, which partners with the Globe on other polls.

The results of the comparison with Patrick, while essentially unchanged since an April poll, is striking in a state where 35 percent of the state's registered voters are Democrats and 11 percent are Republicans, as of Feb. 1, according to state enrollment records.

"He hasn't had any major early gaffes like Deval Patrick did, and he's attacking the problems that need to be attacked," Suffolk pollster David Paleologos said, pointing to Baker initiatives on opioid addiction, the MBTA, and the state's troubled Department of Children and Families.


"Even his position on the refugees isn't hurting his popularity or his job performance," Paleologos said.

Last week, Baker told reporters, "No, I'm not interested in accepting refugees from Syria." No Syrian refugees have been implicated in the Paris attacks, although it has been reported that one terrorist traveled to Europe with refugees from the war-torn country.

Baker's original comments on Syrian refugees drew some backlash from elected Democrats, although others signaled support for his position. In general, Massachusetts Democratic politicians have hesitated to criticize the governor since he took office in January.

Representative Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat, garnered headlines last week for engaging the governor on the issue, tweeting that it was "a shame that Governor Baker doesn't know the difference between refugees and those from whom they need refuge."

Voters also were asked about the plan Baker rolled out last month to ameliorate the state's opioid addiction crisis. Sixty-five percent of those polled backed Baker's proposal to allow hospitals to hold substance abuse patients for up to 72 hours against their will, while 22 percent opposed it.

Fifty-four percent said they supported separate language in the bill limiting first-time opioid prescriptions to a three-day supply for any patient, with 30 percent opposing that proposal.

Overall, survey respondents grouped drugs as one of the three most important issues facing the governor.

The poll, conducted from Nov. 19 to Nov. 22 among 500 Massachusetts voters, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.


Also in the survey, 32 percent of likely Republican primary voters called Donald Trump their first choice, while 18 percent picked Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Ted Cruz earned 10 percent, followed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 7 percent, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 5 percent, and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina both at 4 percent.

No other GOP candidate drew significant support, and four of them — Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former New York governor George Pataki, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum — failed to register any backing. Fourteen percent were undecided.

Among respondents who had a first choice, 46 percent in Massachusetts said they would switch their top pick to former governor Mitt Romney if he were added to the list. Similarly, a poll of New Hampshire voters found they favored Romney by a 2-to-1 margin over Trump. Romney has said he is not planning another run, however.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead among Massachusetts Democratic primary voters with 54 percent saying they lean her way. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont drew 29 percent, and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley collected 3 percent.Twelve percent were undecided.

Baker was the most popular of the politicians about whom voters were asked. Knotted in second were Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Senator Elizabeth Warren, both drawing 54 percent approval. Warren also received the highest unfavorable rating, of 34 percent.


Forty-seven percent held favorable views of Senator Edward J. Markey, and 43 percent said the same of Attorney General Maura Healey.

Jim O'Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.