San Francisco Examiner

Wednesday, May 27, 1998

Bilingual Poll: S.F. Chinese Back Fong, Oppose Prop. 227
By JULIE CHAO of the Examiner Staff

The first bilingual poll of Chinese American voters in San Francisco has found that they support state Treasurer Matt Fong for the U.S. Senate and oppose Proposition 227, which would effectively end bilingual education.

In a primary race in which Fong and Darrell Issa, both Republicans, are running neck and neck, Chinese American voters are in a position to make the difference, said pollster Jon Kaufman, executive vice president of Solem & Associates in San Francisco, which announced the results Tuesday.

With 77 percent of the 500 randomly selected respondents choosing to answer in Mandarin or Cantonese, the poll has tapped a population overlooked by mainstream surveys, which are conducted largely in English and sometimes in Spanish.

About 16 percent of registered voters in San Francisco are Chinese American, compared with 3.5 percent statewide. The high percentage of Chinese speakers in the poll reflects the shift of the Asian American electorate toward more foreign-born voters, said David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, a nonpartisan San Francisco voter registration group that commissioned the poll.

In some districts in San Francisco, foreign-born Asian Americans are starting to outnumber native-born Asian Americans in voter registration and voter turnout as more and more immigrants are naturalized, he said. Most foreign-born voters choose no party affiliation.

The telephone poll was conducted in the 10 days ending Friday by randomly selecting registered voters with Chinese surnames. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Many for Fong; more undecided
Those surveyed chose Fong over Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer by a 3-1 ratio. Thirty-seven percent said they'd vote for Fong, 13 percent for Boxer and less than 0.5 percent for Issa. Half the voters were unsure for whom they would vote.

Statewide, a recent Los Angeles Times poll found Fong and Issa statistically tied at around 21 percent, Boxer with 40 percent and 18 percent undecided.

Lee said the high percentage of undecideds among Chinese American voters might reflect lackluster media coverage of a seat that might not be familiar to some first-time voters.

"Newer voters may be less aware of what a U.S. senator does vs., say, the governor or mayor," he said. "It takes a few more years, essentially, of political experience before there's that much interest."

Issa has been running TV ads for months, while Fong just started commercials - in both Chinese and English - last week.

On Prop. 227, which would require all students with limited English to master it in one year, 73 percent of respondents opposed it, 16 percent supported it and 11 percent were undecided.

"That's pretty clear to me that as minority groups figure out what 227 is, they move against it very strongly," said Kaufman.

The results contrast with a Los Angeles Times poll of California voters released Saturday that showed 63 percent support for the measure, including 62 percent of Latino voters.

Marketing to Latinos
Results for Latino voters vary, with the Times finding Latino support for 227 has increased, while San Francisco pollster David Binder shows it declining.

Latinos, with 27 percent of the adult population in the state and 15 percent of voters, have been the target of unprecedented campaigning from politicians this year. Candidates' efforts with Asian Americans, 11 percent of the population and 6 percent of voters, has been considerably less, say political consultants.

"Many campaign managers around the state just don't get it," said Tom Hsieh Jr., who runs a political consulting firm in San Francisco. "I think the consensus of campaign managers is Asian Americans don't vote."

Gregory Rodriguez, research fellow at Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy in Los Angeles County, suggested candidates had been more interested in Asian donations than Asian votes.

But Hsieh said the experience of San Francisco had shown the importance of the Asian American electorate. With a 34 percent Asian population, The City is far ahead of the rest of the state in educating Asian voters and electing Asian officials, political experts agree.

'Makes a big difference'
"What's happened in San Francisco is a little test of what's going to happen in the state of California," said Hsieh. "When you get into close elections, that extra 10,000 votes makes a big difference."

The poll also highlighted the importance of the ethnic media. Half of those surveyed said they were more likely to get their news from the Chinese-language media, 20 percent from English-language media, and 28 percent from both. Chinese media also were rated as somewhat more reliable than English media.

Of course, Asian American voters are far from monolithic, with a multitude of ethnicities and no discernible party loyalty.

"Candidates are having a hard enough time figuring out the Latino vote, which is relatively homogenous," said Rodriguez. "The Asian American vote is incomprehensible."