San Jose Mercury News
Friday, May 29, 1998
Prop. 227 Slips, Still Holds Lead
Support for a ballot measure requiring public school classes to be taught in English has slipped considerably in a statewide poll, but it still appears headed to a strong victory in Tuesday's election.
Proposition 227, which would ban most bilingual instruction, has lost support from every major voter group over the last month, according to a Field Poll released today. But the initiative continues to appeal to a strong majority of voters, with 61 percent saying they would vote for it and 33 percent opposed.
``It looks like the odds are good for its passage,'' said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo.
Proposition 227 would require that ``all children be placed in English-language classrooms.'' The 1.4 million students statewide who are not fluent in English would spend about a year in an intensive ``sheltered English immersion'' class and then move into regular classrooms.
Parents who want bilingual instruction could seek waivers under certain circumstances.
The initiative also allocates $50 million annually for 10 years to teach English to parents or other community members so they could tutor students.
Backers placed the measure on the ballot in response to what they say is a ``failed'' bilingual education system. Opponents say the measure would harm students and rob schools and parents of educational choice.
The measure, drafted by Palo Alto software developer Ron Unz, has polled strongly from the outset, garnering support from upward of 70 percent of the electorate. In an April Field Poll, 71 percent of voters supported it, and just 21 percent opposed it.
But a recent infusion of cash -- including a single $1.5 million donation last month -- has allowed the opposition to mount an aggressive media campaign in recent weeks.
Earlier this week, a nervous Unz told the Mercury News that an internal campaign tracking poll showed his support as low as 54 percent. But on Thursday, campaign spokeswoman Sheri Annis discounted those results, saying the poll's sample size was too small.
``Our support is holding strong and steady throughout the state, and it's very likely we will win on June 2,'' Annis said. ``The lowered numbers are humbling, but that only invigorates us more.''
The opposition campaign discounted the Field Poll results, saying the true test will come on Tuesday.
``The only poll that matters is Election Day,'' said Holli Thier, spokeswoman for Citizens for an Educated America. ``Once people realize what's in 227, they are strongly against it.''
The Field Poll surveyed 1,051 registered voters in English and Spanish between May 20-26. The results are from the 714 of those who are likely voters.
One of the most noticeable shifts since the April survey was with Democratic voters. A month ago, 61 percent of Democrats favored the measure. But now 44 percent would vote for it.
Latino support also continues to slide, with 52 percent favoring it now, compared with 58 percent in April. African-American support dropped off 18 percentage points over the last month, down to 48 percent.
Nonetheless, DiCamillo said, the overwhelming support from Republicans -- 78 percent would vote for it -- counteracts the growing opposition in the other groups.
``If 40 percent of the electorate is 5-to-1 or 4-to-1 in favor of this,'' DiCamillo said, ``how can you beat it?''