Little has changed in German public opinion on the large influx of refugees since the fall of 2015, according to a new study. Readiness to help is also about the same, though there is skepticism in the East.
On the issue of refugees, levels of optimism and skepticism vary between former East and West Germany. Views have changed little since the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) published its first survey in the fall of 2015. Pollsters queried around 2,000 respondents in five phone surveys between November 2015 and April 2017 on their experience with refugees and their opinions of the current situation.
Of those polled, 36.7 percent said they are very or mostly sure that Germany can overcome the challenges posed by migration flows. The more doubtful totaled 31.6 percent, a reversal from the first polling in 2015, when the skeptics were in the majority.
Skepticism remains prevalent in the former East, however refugee engagement - meaning people in some way involved in refugee issues - is higher than in the West: 7.7 percent compared to 7.4 percent. "This engagement deserves strong recognition, especially in light of the overriding skepticism among a majority of the population," said Petra-Angela Ahrens, a sociologist who presented the findings. "All in all, people's engagement has remained unbroken."
Deportation support, but with exceptions
On the issue of deportation, 39 percent of respondents said that those denied asylum should be deported "no matter what." However, a majority of them would also consider certain exceptions, such as well-integrated asylum seekers who have established themselves in Germany and lived in the country for several years, with a slim majority saying that family cohesion could also be cause for preventing deportation.
"There appears to be a broad, fundamental deference to humanitarian" exceptions, said Ahrens.
Direct contact between Germans and refugees makes it easier to form positive opinions of refugees. A slim majority had had no contact with refugees at the time of the first survey in 2015, with 26 percent reporting a positive experience with refugees and 8.5 percent a negative one. By 2017, only a third of those surveyed had no contact with refugees. The positive experience rate increased to 36 percent, with negatives holding steady.
The uptick in positive feelings does not automatically result in reduced concerns overall about the influx of reguees. Roughly two-thirds of those asked fear more crime and more Muslim extremists in Germany, while one-third worry that Muslim culture will dominate German society in everyday life. In a reverse trend, there are fewer concerns about the competency of Germany's security services: 54 percent now, down from 64 percent in the earlier study.
Refugees are a "victim of failed policy," said Manfred Rekowski, the head of EKD in the Rhineland. In the current election-year refugee debate in Germany, he said, voters should be concerned with standards being set rather than measures being commented on. Rekowski added that the EKD is also interested in maintaining contact with people who have differing views on refugee policy - an often difficult undertaking.