Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, October 15, 1997

Bilingual Education Gets Little Support
Latinos, even more than whites, favor dismantling the program. Californians also back assault weapons ban and don't want unions' political activity restricted.
By MARK Z. BARABAK, Times Political Writer

Opponents of bilingual education enjoy overwhelming support in a brewing ballot fight that has sparked early skirmishing in the 1998 campaign, with strong backing among California voters of all races, ethnicities and political persuasions.
     A proposed measure to virtually dismantle California's system of bilingual public education garnered huge support among the state's electorate, with 80% in favor and 18% against, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.
     Support was in the 75% to 80% range virtually across the board, among all races, income levels and age groups. Latinos voters surveyed favored the initiative by a slightly higher margin--84% to 16%--than whites, at 80% to 18%.
     Even two-thirds of self-described liberals supported the proposed initiative, aimed at the June 1998 ballot.
     The Times survey offered the first independent sounding of public opinions on a wide range of social and public policy issues that could face California voters when they go to the polls next year.
     Among its other findings:
     * A proposed measure aimed at curbing the influence of organized labor by restricting the political use of union dues was opposed by nearly 2 to 1. Those not in unions were only slightly less opposed than union members.
     * Californians evidently look forward to their expanded choices under the state's new "open primary" law, which allows them to vote next June for whichever candidate they prefer, regardless of party. Only a minuscule percentage said they intended to use the opportunity to make political mischief.
     * Californians strongly support the state's ban on assault weapons, though most question its effectiveness. Such doubts notwithstanding, an overwhelming majority would like to see the ban strengthened.
     * Californians strongly support legalized abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. At the same time, however, a large majority believe parental consent should be required for girls under 18.
     The poll surveyed 1,396 adults statewide Oct. 4-7. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
     Much of the early attention surrounding the 1998 campaign has focused on the proposed bilingual education initiative. The measure, pushed by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz and Orange County schoolteacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, promotes English-only instruction for California's 1.3 million students with limited English skills.
     Some Latino political activists have criticized the proposal and the negative reaction has, in turn, made some Republican leaders skittish about associating the party with the so-called Unz initiative, for fear of a backlash.
     But the GOP rank and file was solidly behind the measure, with 89% support. Seventy-three percent of Democrats backed the initiative.
     "The immigrant community has long viewed education as a way up the socioeconomic ladder," said Susan Pinkus, director of the Times Poll. But, she continued, "a lot will depend on how the campaign for the Unz initiative is waged and how the Latino community responds."
     As a case in point, she noted the polling history of Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-illegal immigration initiative. A Times poll conducted in September 1994 found that Latinos supported Proposition 187, 52% to 42%.
     However, sentiment toward the initiative had turned decidedly negative by election day, after a campaign that many Latinos perceived as scapegoating their community. Although Proposition 187 won statewide approval by a handy margin, exit interviews conducted at polling places found that 77% of Latinos ended up voting against the measure.
     "The Unz initiative starts out a lot less controversial," Pinkus said. "The campaign to follow will determine if it stays that way."
     A second proposed ballot initiative fraught with potential political undertones aims to inhibit the use of union dues for campaign activities.
     The measure, also intended for the June ballot, would require union members to expressly approve part of their membership dues to be used for political candidates or initiatives.
     Republicans have seized upon the issue as a way to undercut the influence of Democratic-leaning labor unions. In Washington, the controversy over a similar provision sidetracked campaign finance reform legislation.
     In California, Gov. Pete Wilson has enthusiastically embraced the initiative, sponsored by conservative activists, and has indicated that he may use the issue to help him realize his presidential ambitions.
     But the Times Poll found little initial support among voters for the concept of a crackdown on unions' political activities, with opposition to the proposed ballot measure running 59% to 33%. Sixty-three percent of union members were opposed, only slightly more than the 58% among those not in unions.
     Democrats were strongly opposed, 62% to 31%, with Republicans less so, 54% to 37%.
     "That finding is counterintuitive," said Pinkus, noting the political import that leading Republicans have staked on the issue.
     One of the ballot measures that voters approved last year will have its first tryout next June. Under the so-called open primary system, California voters can cast their ballots for any candidate, regardless of party registration.
     Proponents of the measure suggested that it would encourage voter participation and promote bipartisanship and problem-solving in government by boosting more moderate candidates.
     Opponents--including the two major political parties--have gone to court seeking to overturn the measure. Among their objections, Democratic and Republican leaders have asserted that the law impinges on the rights of their members to choose their own parties' nominees, and invites mischief by cross-over voters.
     But the Times poll suggests that voters are enticed by the notion of greater choice and not terribly interested in causing trouble.
     Seventy-seven percent of voters said they could think of circumstances in which they might vote for a candidate from a party other than their own. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans said so, along with 75% of Democrats.
     Independents and voters who decline to state a party preference stand to gain the most from the new primary system because, for the first time in years, they can vote for candidates seeking office. Before, independents and decline-to-state registrants could vote only for initiatives on the ballot. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said they would take advantage of their new status to cast ballots in contested primaries.
     As for mischief-making, most voters said they would mix and match their ballots with benign intent. Eighty-six percent of those registered in a party said they would vote for a candidate of a different party because they supported that individual. A mere 5% said they would support an opposing party's candidate in hopes of sabotaging that party by nominating the weakest possible general-election candidate.
     On the assault weapons issue, 59% of respondents strongly favored the 1989 California law banning possession, sale or manufacture of 75 specific semiautomatic firearms, with an additional 14% somewhat favorably disposed. Sixteen percent were strongly opposed to the legislation, with an additional 8% somewhat opposed.
     Eighty-one percent of Democrats viewed the ban favorably, compared with 67% of Republicans and a like percentage of independents.
     Despite the strong support for the 1989 legislation, 58% of respondents felt the ban had done little or nothing to take such weapons out of the hands of criminals. Thirty-three percent felt the ban had been somewhat or very effective.
     An overwhelming majority, 71%, expressed support for legislation that would close the loopholes in the 1989 law and expand the definition of what constitutes an illegal weapon to include so-called copycat firearms.
     Even 63% of those who felt the 1989 ban was ineffective favored strengthening the law.
     Democrats, at 80%, and independents, at 77%, were the most favorably disposed to follow-up legislation, compared to 58% of Republicans.
     Sixty-three percent of gun owners favored the initial legislation and 56% favored strengthening the ban. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said there was at least one gun in their household.
     On the abortion issue, 59% of those surveyed expressed support for the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. At the same time, 67% of respondents said that girls under 18 should be required to obtain parental consent before they could have an abortion. Twenty-six percent said no such permission should be required.
     Pinkus said: "People feel that you need parental consent for body piercing, to get a driver's license, to get a tattoo. This is an event that is far more serious in a child's life and people feel that the parents should be involved."
     The California Supreme Court overturned the state's parental consent law in August. Proponents of the requirement hope to qualify a ballot measure in 1998 reinstating the law.
     * * *

     English-Only Support
     Percentage of each group supporting a proposed initiative to have all public school instruction conducted in English, and to place students not fluent in English in a short-term English immersion program.
     All voters: 80%
     Whites: 80%
     Latinos: 84%

      Source: Los Angeles Times Poll