As the campaigns over a host of state initiatives begin to take shape, Californians of all political and ethnic backgrounds heartily endorse a measure that would ban bilingual education in the state’s schools, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
Among registered voters, 63% said they approved of the measure, once they were read its language, and 24% opposed it. The margin was consistent--63% to 23%--among voters considered most likely to cast ballots on June 2.
Across the board, no voter group--measured by age, income, gender, geography or any other definition--opposed the initiative, which will be Proposition 227 on the ballot. Even among Latino voters, 50% supported the measure, which is being promoted by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, while 32% opposed it. Larger majorities of blacks and whites supported it.
If history is any guide, it may be too early to accurately predict the response of Latinos, Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus cautioned. In campaigns for two earlier controversial initiatives that cut services for illegal immigrants and ended state-sponsored affirmative action, early Latino support eventually changed to opposition as the races heated up. On the other hand, bilingual education may prompt a more homogenized response from the state’s disparate ethnic groups, she said.
The initiative would place children with limited English skills into mainstream classes after about one year of English-language tutoring. With limited exceptions, it would end the practice of teaching in native languages.
“Latino voters see the value of learning English,” Pinkus said. “There are a lot of Latinos very much in favor of English immersion for school students. And education is the most important issue for new immigrants in particular.”
The relative silence from backers and opponents of various initiatives on the ballot--little television advertising for or against the initiatives has yet aired--was underscored by voters’ bewilderment about the measures, which will be on the ballot in seven weeks.
Before they were read the ballot language, most voters said they didn’t know enough about the issues to cast a judgment on the bilingual measure or two others--Proposition 226, which would require labor groups to seek approval from their members before donating to campaigns, and Proposition 223, which would require school districts to spend 95% of their money in the classroom.
When told what the ballot measures would do, however, a majority of registered voters strongly supported Propositions 226 and 227, and a healthy plurality favored Proposition 223. Like the bilingual initiative, the union dues measure was popular with about two-thirds of voters. The school funding measure led by a narrower 49%-30% margin among registered voters, the poll found.
A previous Times Poll, conducted in October before Proposition 227 qualified for the ballot and its wording was finalized, found 80% support for English-only instruction in public schools coupled with immersion programs for non-fluent speakers. Support was in the 75% to 80% range virtually across the board, among all races, income levels and age groups. The current poll includes most of the text of the ballot summary to be placed before voters in June.
3 Incumbents Leading Foes
In statewide races, the newest Times poll determined that three incumbents--state Controller Kathleen Connell, Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush and Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin--led in their races, while Secretary of State Bill Jones was in a dead heat with Democrat Michela Alioto. Candidates were bunched tightly--with few voters knowing much about any of them--for other races where the incumbents are not running.
Under Pinkus’ direction, the Times Poll questioned 1,409 Californians, including 1,105 registered voters and 566 likely voters from April 4-9. The margin of sampling error is 3 points in either direction for registered voters and 4 points for likely voters.
The relative uniformity--ethnic and otherwise--on the bilingual matter may reflect that neither proponents nor opponents have yet mounted a full-scale attack of the sort that transformed the two contests over illegal immigration and affirmative action into contentious and racially tinged clashes.
The similarities also mask sharp differences of opinion between elected leaders in California and the rank-and-file voters they represent. Although the state Democratic Party opposes the anti-bilingual education measure, 62% of Democrats in the poll supported it. Similarly, 63% of Republicans, whose party supports the measure, endorsed it. And 65% of independent voters followed suit.
The strongest ideological support for the initiative came from conservative Republicans, 69% of whom favored it.
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who is a Republican, endorsed the proposition last week, describing bilingual education as a well-intended experiment overtaken by special interests and now badly failing the state’s children.
“Proposition 227 is very popular at this moment in the campaign among all groups,” Pinkus said. “But remember, so was Proposition 187 in the early stages of its campaign.”
The 50%-32% Latino support for the initiative, although weaker than that among whites and blacks, was clear-cut. It sharply diverges from the views of the elected Latino leadership in California, which uniformly opposes the measure. The well-known Latinos most strongly affiliated with the Unz initiative are two educators: Jaime Escalante, the former Los Angeles high school calculus teacher who was the subject of the movie “Stand and Deliver,” and Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction.
Yet even support among Latinos can evaporate under the pressure of the campaign. In September 1994, a Times Poll found that Latinos backed Proposition 187, which sharply cut state services for illegal immigrants, by a 52%-42% margin. By the time the November election rolled around, a Times exit poll found that only 23% favored it, while 77% disapproved.
Similarly, in September 1996, Latinos supported Proposition 209--which outlawed racial and gender-based preferences in state schools, hiring and contracting--by a 55%-29% margin. By election day, the exit poll found, only 24% favored it and 76% opposed it.
So far, voters who back the anti-bilingual education measure overwhelmingly cite as their reason the necessity of speaking English in America. Fully 66% of registered voters and 73% of likely voters shared that belief. Another 12% of registered voters and 13% of likely voters said that children who do not speak English fall behind those who are fluent.
Perhaps because they have been raised in a more diverse society, younger voters were less inclined to see English as a necessity than their older counterparts, particularly those aged 65 or older.
Generally, those who opposed the anti-bilingual measure cited the cost--it would provide $50 million a year for 10 years to assist schools with English-language tutoring. Republicans were most offended by the cost, with almost half of those opposing the measure citing that reason alone.
Significantly, only 16% of registered voters who oppose the measure said it was because the current bilingual system works. But there was clear ambivalence among most voters about junking it altogether.
Support for Flexibility
Proposition 227 would not allow school districts the flexibility to handle bilingual education as they wish. But in the same poll that demonstrated broad support for Proposition 227, a majority of voters favored such flexibility. Even among the voters who favored Proposition 227, about half advocated giving schools the leeway to craft their own bilingual programs.
The other ballot measure aimed at the state’s education establishment is Proposition 223, the measure that would limit to 5% the amount of money spent for school district administration. Under the initiative, the rest would go into the classroom.
Overall, 49% of registered voters favored the measure, while 30% opposed it after hearing what the initiative would do. The measure’s chances increase slightly among likely voters, who approved it by a 55%-26% margin. Conservatives, not surprisingly, were the most supportive, but liberals and independents also favored it.
Men and women favored the measure by about the same margin. Support for the measure was only slightly more pronounced among parents than those without children, 51% to 44%.
When ethnic backgrounds were considered, different views emerged. Whites approved by a 52%-29% margin, while Latinos were less supportive, 45% to 26%. Among blacks, however, only 34% said they favored the initiative, and 36% opposed it.
All in all, much of the support may be soft, because few voters had heard anything about the initiatives. Fully 83% of registered voters said they did not know enough about Proposition 223 to give an opinion before they were told what it would do. Similarly, 76% of registered voters said they were generally unaware of Proposition 226, the union dues initiative.
That measure has been angrily--though not very visibly--fought by labor groups, which consider it retaliation for the traditionally Democratic-leaning organizations’ success in promoting their candidates in 1996.
Republican Gov. Pete Wilson has signed on as chairman of the effort, and similar anti-labor measures are popping up elsewhere in the nation.
In California, registered voters endorse it by a 65%-24% margin, and the most likely voters support it as well, 66%-26%. Union members and nonunion workers alike support the measure, by similar 58%-28% and 66%-23% margins.
Despite the anti-union sentiment, however, registered voters were unwilling to assert that labor unions hold too much sway over California politics. Those who thought labor was too powerful--30%--were virtually canceled out by the 20% who felt that it had too little power. The largest group of voters, 37%, said labor’s influence was about right.
Like the initiatives, the down-ballot races for state constitutional offices appear to be lost in a voter fog, at least at this point in the campaign. None of the candidates for statewide office--other than governor or U.S. Senate--is advertising on television, and they remain invisible even to likely voters.
It helps, however, to be an incumbent. Controller Connell holds a 42%-25% lead among likely voters over Republican Ruben Barrales, a San Mateo County supervisor, in her bid for reelection. Both are virtually certain to make the November ballot, because they have only token opposition.
Insurance Commissioner Quackenbush, a Republican, was running strong, with 50% to 14% for Democrat Diane Martinez and 13% for Democrat Hal Brown. State Supt. of Public Instruction Eastin, a Democrat, led Tuchman, a Republican, by a 39%-23% margin.
The only incumbent not leading was Secretary of State Jones, a Republican seeking his second term against Democrat Alioto. Likely voters split on them, with 35% for Alioto and 33% for Jones.
In the races lacking an incumbent, few of the candidates were well-known to voters. In the race for lieutenant governor, former Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante of Fresno, a Democrat, was at 13% with fellow Democrat and former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Miller at 12%. Among Republicans, state Sen. Tim Leslie of Carnelian Bay led his upper-house mate Richard Mountjoy of Arcadia, 10%-7%, with businesswoman Noel Irwin-Hentschel at 1%.
Among Republicans running for attorney general, former Deputy Atty. Gen. Dave Stirling had 10% to Orange County Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi’s 5%. Former state Senate President Bill Lockyer led Democrats with 13%, to 6% each for state Sen. Charles Calderon and former U.S. Rep. Lynn Schenk.
In the treasurer’s race, the only major Democrat is former state party chairman Phil Angelides, who garnered 27%. His Republican opponents, Assemblymen Curt Pringle of Garden Grove and Jan Goldsmith of Poway, carried 14% and 13% respectively.
Under the provisions of the state’s new blanket, or open, primary, contenders from all parties will be listed on the same ballot. Voters will be able to choose the candidate of their liking and will not be required to vote for the party in which they are registered.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll contacted 1,409 adults in California, including 1,105 registered voters and 566 likely voters, by telephone April 4-9. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, religion and registration. The margin of error for all adults and registered voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points and 4 points for likely voters; for certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors, such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted and English and Spanish. Although Asians were interviewed and are part of the total sample, there were not enough Asian voters to break out as a separate subgroup.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
If the June primary election were being held today, would you vote for or against Proposition 226, the Political Contributions/Employers Union Members/Foreign Entities initiative statute?
Vote for: 66%
Vote against: 26%
Don’t know: 8%
All Registered Voters
Vote for: 65
Vote against: 24
Don’t know: 11
Union Member Voters
Vote for: 58
Vote against: 28
Don’t know: 14
Non-Union Member Voters
Vote for: 66
Vote against: 23
Don’t know: 11
If the June primary election were being held today, would you vote for or against Proposition 227, the English Language in Public schools initiative statute?
Vote for: 63%
Vote against: 23%
Don’t know: 14%
All Registered Voters
Vote for: 63
Vote against: 24
Don’t know: 13
Vote for: 66
Vote against: 23
Don’t know: 11
Vote for: 67
Vote against: 19
Don’t know: 14
Vote for: 50
Vote against: 32
Don’t know: 18
If the June primary election were being held today, would you vote for or against Proposition 223, the Schools/Spending Limits on Administration initiative statute?
Likely Voters All Registered Voters Vote for 55% 49% Vote against 26 30 Don’t know 19 21
Which statement comes closer to your point of view: “Local school districts should have more flexibility to choose the method they think is best to teach students with limited English skills,” or “There should be one uniform standard in California for teaching students with limited English skills”?
More flexibility: 52%
One uniform standard: 40%
Don’t know: 8%
Do you think labor unions in California have too much influence or too little or just about the right amount?
Too much: 30%
Too little: 20%
Right amount: 37%
Don’t know: 13%
Which of these statements comes closer to your point of view about how to educate students who are not fluent in English: “Students should be taught only in English because that is the best way for them to learn English,” or “Students should be assisted in their native language for only a brief period of time, such as a year or two,” or “Students should be taught in both their native language and English as long as their educators and parents believe it is necessary”?
Only English: 32%
Native language for a brief time: 39%
Both languages if educators and parents think necessary: 25%
Don’t know: 4%
Source: L.A. Times Poll
Times Poll results are also available on the World Wide Web at https://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/POLL/