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Poll Analysis: Bilingual Education Initiative Attracts Broad-Based Support

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If the California primary election were held today, Californians would pass into law Proposition 227, a measure that would essentially end bilingual education in public schools throughout the state, according to a recent Los Angeles Times poll. Support for the measure is far-reaching, including 50% of Latinos and majorities of voters from all regions of the state; and regardless of party affiliation, ideology, age, income, educational background or gender. There is also strong support for a measure requiring unions to get permission from members before using union dues for political contributions. However, voters are less certain about a ballot measure that would restrict administrative costs in public schools to 5% of a districtís budget. Overall, most voters are not familiar with the measures on the June ballot nor have they considered their choices for statewide offices.

Prop. 227: The English language
in public schools initiative

Prop. 227 has failed to become the divisive electoral issue that many projected it would become. No major candidate for governor is backing the measure. Yet, despite that, support for the measure surpasses opposition by nearly 3 to 1 among voters who are familiar with it. After hearing the ballot language, support increases substantially, with nearly two-thirds giving Prop. 227 their support.

Currently, a high proportion of voters are not familiar with the English-only initiative. Fifty-five percent of registered voters and 47% of likely voters said they have not heard of the measure or have heard of it but do not know enough to give an opinion. Among those who are familiar with the measure, far more support Prop. 227 than oppose it: 33% to 12% among registered voters and 40% to 13% among likely voters.

Support for the measure increases after voters are read the ballot language, with 63% of registered and likely voters saying they would vote in favor of the measure. Just 24% of registered and 23% of likely voters said they would oppose the measure. In fact, 60% of registered voters who were unfamiliar with the measure when first asked about it, said they would vote in favor of the measure after hearing the ballot language.

No more than one-third of any one voter subgroup (among registered voters) said they would oppose Prop. 227. Support crosses party lines, with 62% of Democrats, 65% of independents and 63% of Republicans supporting the measure. Furthermore, 61% of liberals, 60% of moderates, and 67% of conservatives would pass the measure based on the ballot language as well. The measure receives similar high levels of support among men and women, young and older voters, parents and non-parents, married and non-married voters, and lower income and affluent voters.

Even half of Latino voters support Prop. 227 after hearing the ballot language (although significantly lower than the 66% of whites and 67% of African-Americans who support the measure). This result is in sharp contrast to the position held by Latino leadershipóvirtually all Latino leaders up and down the state oppose Prop. 227. The most outspoken Latinos in support of the measure are educators Jaime Escalante (on whom the movie ìStand and Deliverî was based) and Gloria Matta Tuchman, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction.

If history repeats itself, proponents of Prop. 227 should not expect the current high level of support among rank-and-file Latinos to persist. In 1994 and 1996, a majority of Latino voters also supported Prop. 187 (which made illegal immigrants ineligible for some state public services) and Prop. 209 (which eliminated racial preferences and affirmative action) at a similar juncture in each campaign. However, that support slipped away as election day drew near. Just seven weeks before the election in November 1996, 55% of Latinos supported Prop. 209. That proportion was down to 24% by election day. And eight weeks before the election in November 1994, 52% of Latinos supported Prop. 187. That number had dwindled to 23% by election day. (Statistics on Latino support for Prop. 187 and 209 are from Los Angeles Times polls.) Prop. 227ís Latino support could hold, given that this measure may not appear as hostile to the Latino community as did Propositions 187 and 209. With history as a guide, it may be too early to predict Latino voting patterns on the English-only initiative.

While majorities of all voter subgroups support the measure, support is weaker with the least educated voters and the most educated voters. Forty-nine percent of voters who did not graduate from high school said they would support the measure, compared to 69% of those with a high school education, 67% of those with some college education, and 59% of those with a college degree or more. And the measure is somewhat weaker in Southern California areas outside of Los Angeles County (56% voting yes and 31% voting no) and in the Bay Area (59%ñ25%).

The belief that everyone living in America needs to speak English underlies support for Prop. 227 at this time. Two-thirds of registered voters and nearly three-fourths of likely voters said they would vote in favor of the measure because they believe you need to speak English if you are living in America. Another 12% of registered voters and 13% of likely voters said they would vote in favor of the measure because they believe bilingual education hurts students who do not speak English, causing them to fall behind.

Cost was the major factor behind opposition to Prop. 227. Thirty-one percent of registered voters and 25% of likely voters opposed to Prop. 227 named the cost of the measure as the reason for their opposition. Nearly half of Republicans cite cost as well. The ballot language specifies that 50 million dollars a year, for ten years, will be dedicated to community English tutoring. This clause undoubtedly stands behind the perception that the measure will cost too muchóeven though eliminating bilingual education from public schools could save substantially more money than this measure would cost.

Just 16% of registered voters and 19% of likely voters who oppose Prop. 227 said they are doing so because bilingual education works. Other top reasons to vote against the measure were that it discriminates against non-English speaking students (15% of registered voters and 12% of likely voters who oppose the measure), that non-English speaking students would fall behind (12% of registered and 16% of likely voters) and that the measure is poorly written (9% of registered and 10% of likely voters).

Despite overwhelmingly support for Prop. 227óa measure that would allow no flexibility in teaching bilingual studentsómore voters believe that local school districts should have the flexibility to decide the best teaching methods for students with limited English skills than believe there should be one uniform standard in California for teaching these students (52% to 40% respectively). This finding points out that, while many voters support Prop. 227 on its face, they may not really support eliminating all bilingual programs entirely. Younger voters are the most likely to choose flexibility over uniform standards, with 67% of 18ñ29 year old voters giving this response compared to 34% of voters 65 years of age or older.

Prop. 227 has not generated the intensity of debate that was expected. This lack of debate and attention may only further bolster the measure. With no vocal criticism against it, Prop. 227 may quietly pass into law on June 2. It will take a strong opposition campaign or a boost in media attention to move voters away from the English-only initiative.

Prop. 226: The political contributions
by union members initiative

Most voters have yet to hear about Prop. 226, a measure that will prevent unions and employee organizations from using union or organization dues for political contributions without obtaining permission from their members. Three out of 4 voters are unfamiliar with the measure. However, after hearing the ballot language, two-thirds of registered and likely voters said they would vote in favor of the proposition. Most observers expect labor unions to launch an all-out campaign to defeat this measure, including a get-out-the-vote campaign that could make a difference in a potentially low-to-moderate turnout year. Support is at a solid level at this point, but a strong labor campaign could undermine current support and produce a closer election day outcome.

Union members are only slightly less likely to support the measure than non-members, 58% to 66% at this point. Among registered voters, support for Prop. 226 is stronger among independents (77%) and Republicans (69%) than Democrats (58%)óunion members are disproportionately Democrats. Support is also stronger in the Central Valley (71%) and Northern California excluding the Bay Area (74%) than in other regions of the state. Furthermore, whites (67%) support the measure more than African-Americans (56%) and Latinos (59%), and conservative Republicans (75%) support the measure more than other Republicans (60%).

Despite strong support for Prop. 226, most voters do not think labor unions in California have too much influence. Just 30% of registered voters and 35% of likely voters think unions have too much influence. Twenty percent of both groups think they have too little. Thirty-seven percent of registered voters and 36% of likely voters think labor unions have the right amount of power. No more than 42% of any subgroup said that unions have too much power (42% among Republicans and 39% among conservatives and far less among other subgroups). Between the currently low awareness of the initiative and the general belief that unions are not overly powerful, support for Prop. 226 is most likely soft and malleable.

Prop. 223: The school spending
on administration initiative

Continuing the trend, most votersó8 out of 10óare not familiar with Prop. 223, a measure that would require that no more than five percent of school funds be spent on administration, leaving 95% for the classroom. Yet, unlike Prop. 226 and 227, after hearing the ballot language, Prop. 223 receives the support of just 49% of registered voters and 55% of likely voters. Thirty percent of registered voters and 26% of likely voters oppose it and 21% of registered and 19% of likely voters remain uncertain.

Support for this measure is stronger with conservatives (57%) than liberals (48%) and moderates (43%). White voters support the measure in higher proportions (52%) than African-Americans (34%) or Latinos (45%)óthe latter two groups more likely to be undecided. It is weaker in the Bay Area (39%) than other regions in the state.

Contests for statewide office

In the absence of virtually any campaign communication or advertisements from candidates for down-ballot statewide races (all races, excluding governor and U.S. senator), most voters have yet to make up their minds in statewide candidate races.

Choosing a candidate is made even more complicated for many voters because of the new ìopenî or ìblanketî primary system that will be in place for the first time this June. In 1996, California voters approved a ballot initiative that allows all candidates running for state office in a primary election to be listed on one ballot, regardless of party affiliation. This open or blanket primary system will allow Californians who are registered to vote in any party, or who have registered to vote as independents or decline-to-state, to cast their ballot for any candidate on the ballot regardless of the party affiliation of the candidate. The candidate with the highest number of votes from each party will qualify for the general election in November. As a result of this system, voters may face twice the number of names on their ballot in June for particular contests and will be forced to make a choice between a larger field of contenders.

State Controller Kathleen Connell, Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush and Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin enjoy the benefit of incumbency in the open-primary system, with each leading in their bids for re-election.

Both Democrat incumbent controller Kathleen Connell and her Republican challenger Ruben Barrales are virtually assured of making the general election since neither has serious opposition for the job of controller from other candidates in their respective parties. However, despite being the only serious Democratic contender, Connell does not receive majority support. Just 40% of registered voters and 42% of likely voters would cast their vote for Connell. Barrales, a San Mateo County supervisor, receives 22% of the vote from registered voters and 25% from likely voters, with approximately one-third of voters still uncertain. Connell is stronger among Democrats, with 58% giving her their support. However, even with the incumbent Connell as the only Democrat in the race, one-third of Democrats remain undecided.

Democrat incumbent Delaine Eastin and her Republican challenger Gloria Matta Tuchman are without serious challenges in their parties for state superintendent of public instruction as well. Like Connell, Eastin still fails to muster much support, garnering just 36% of the vote among registered voters and 39% among likely voters. Matta Tuchman receives 20% of the vote among registered voters and 23% among likely voters. Forty-four percent of registered voters and 38% of likely voters remain uncertain. Eastin also fails to generate substantial support among Democrats, with 54% saying they will vote for her and 38% remaining undecided.

Incumbent Republican Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush fares better in his bid for re-election among likely voters than registered voters. Among likely voters he receives 50% of the vote compared to 40% among registered voters. Democrats Diane Martinez and Hal Brown are virtually tied among likely voters (14% to 13% respectively) and Martinez has a slight lead among registered voters (17% to 12%). Thirty percent of voters are undecided. Demonstrating the impact of the open primary, Republican Quackenbush is currently pulling in 25% of the vote among Democratsómore than either of his lesser-known Democratic opponents receives at this time. The Republican incumbent succeeds in holding on to his own partyís vote, receiving 65% of the Republican vote while Brown and Martinez attract just 8% of Republicans combined.

The only incumbent not leading is Secretary of State Bill Jones. The Republican trails his Democratic challenger, Michela Alioto, 29% to 33% among registered voters and 33% to 35% among likely voters. Thirty-eight percent of registered voters and 31% of likely voters are undecided. Jones receives less than half of the vote from his own party, with 49% of Republicans supporting him. Alioto pulls in 12% of Republicans at this point and 38% are undecided.

In the races without an incumbent, even higher proportions of voters have yet to make up their minds. In the contest for lieutenant governor, 64% of registered voters and 57% of likely voters are undecided. As a result, the race is wide open, with none of the candidates receiving more than 13% of the vote. Democrat and former Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante has a slight lead over fellow Democrat and former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Miller, 12% to 10% among registered voters and 13% to 12% among likely voters. Among the Republican contenders, State Senator Tim Leslie receives 7% of the vote from registered voters and 10% from likely voters, while State Senator Richard Mountjoy receives 5% and 7% respectively and businesswoman Noel Irwin-Hentschel garners 2% from registered voters and 1% from likely voters.

In the race for attorney general, former State Senate President Bill Lockyer leads the Democratic field with 10% of the vote among registered voters, to former U.S. Rep. Lynn Schenkís 7% and State Senator Charles Calderonís 5%. Among likely voters his lead is slightly higher with 13% versus 6% for Schenk and Calderon. Among Republican contenders, former Deputy Attorney General Dave Stirling receives 9% of the vote among registered voters and 10% among likely voters to Orange County District Attorney Mike Capizziís 5% among both groups. Sixty-four percent of registered voters and 60% of likely voters are undecided.

Former state party chairman Phil Angelides is the only major Democratic contender in the treasurerís race and receives 25% of the vote among registered voters and 27% among likely voters. His Republican opponents, both assemblymen, are virtually tied. Jan Goldsmith receives 14% of the vote among registered voters to Curt Pringleís 11%. Among likely voters, Pringle receives 14% and Goldsmith garners 13%. Fifty percent of registered voters and 46% of likely voters are undecided.

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 4ñ9. 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, region and registration.

The margin of sampling 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 in English and Spanish. Although Asians were interviewed and are included in the total sample, there were not enough Asian voters to break out as a separate subgroup.

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