Los Angeles Times
Monday, April 13, 1998
THE TIMES POLL
Bilingual Education Ban Widely Supported
Overall backing for Prop. 227 is a strong 63%, with all demographic
groups favoring it. Respondents also support initiatives to curb school
administration spending and restrict union donations to campaigns.
By CATHLEEN DECKER, Times Political Writer
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
* * * If the June primary election were being held today, would you vote
for or against Proposition 227, the English Language in Public schools
|| Vote for
|All Registered Voters
* * * 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%
* * * 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 http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/POLLS/PDF/410pa2da.pdf
(requires Adobe Acrobat)