Houston Chronicle

Friday, April 24, 1998

Many Back Bilingual Education
Poll of Hispanics also indicates 64% believe effort has succeeded
By BENNETT ROTH, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- As conservatives step up efforts to curb bilingual education, a survey of Hispanics released Thursday shows that an overwhelming majority support such programs.

The survey, commissioned by the Spanish-language television company Univision, found that 83 percent of those polled either strongly or somewhat supported bilingual education, and 64 percent believe these efforts have succeeded.

The new survey comes at a time when there is increasing pressure by Republicans to eliminate federal funding for such programs. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, this week introduced legislation that would leave it up to the states to determine whether such programs should be funded.

In California, an initiative has been placed on the ballot that would ban bilingual education. The proposition, which will be voted on in June, would place children with limited English skills in English-tutoring classes for one year and then place them in mainstream classes.

The poll also found that 54 percent of those surveyed opposed the California proposition, with more than two-thirds agreeing the measure is too harsh.

However, a recent poll by the Los Angeles Times found a majority of Californians of all ethnic and political backgrounds strongly endorsed an end to bilingual education.

The Univision poll surveyed 755 eligible Hispanic voters between April 5 and 18 in eight cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

It was conducted by Clinton pollster Mark Penn and former Reagan official Michael Deaver. The two men presented their findings at a Univision-sponsored forum.

The event also featured a speech by Univision President Henry Cisneros emphasizing the increasing clout that will flow from Hispanic population growth in the United States. "By 2050, a quarter of the U.S. population could well be of Hispanic heritage," Cisneros said.

The political survey, which examined Hispanic attitudes on a wide range of political issues, presented a rather bleak picture for Republicans, who in recent years have been steadily losing the support of this rapidly growing minority.

It found that Hispanics overwhelmingly give Democrats credit for putting the country on the right track and believe Democrats have done a better job than Republicans on a range of issues, from taxes to crime to health care and jobs.

Eighty-two percent of those surveyed approved of the job President Clinton is doing, and 66 percent like the performance of congressional Democrats.

By contrast, only 43 percent approve of the work of congressional Republicans.

A majority of those surveyed said they believed the GOP either ignores them or takes them for granted.

"I was disappointed to see Hispanic voters have moved so strongly to the Democratic Party," said Deaver, who was Reagan's chief image-maker. "Why can't Republicans be loyal to their agenda and reach out to Hispanics?"

Penn said the Hispanic vote was up for grabs until 1996 when a number of GOP initiatives, including a proposal to expel children of illegal immigrants from public schools, soured many of Hispanic voters on the Republican Party.

He said the GOP opposition to bilingual education is another example of how destructive the party is when it comes to courting Hispanic voters.

The poll found that most Hispanics believe that bilingual education is the best way to learn English while maintaining their cultural heritage.

There were a few bright spots for the GOP in the survey. Hispanics give high ratings to a few Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who has actively courted their vote. Hispanics surveyed in Texas gave Bush an 81 percent approval rating.

California's GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, who has spearheaded anti-immigration and anti-affirmative action measures, received just a 26 percent approval rating from Hispanics polled in his state.

Hispanics also sided with Republicans on a number of issues, the poll found. A vast majority opposed abortion and supported school prayer.