Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, October 15, 1997
THE TIMES POLL
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
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
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
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 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
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
"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
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
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.
* * *
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
All voters: 80%
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll