It has been claimed that most California voters support Proposition 227, the proposal to end bilingual education. In this study, we attempt to demonstrate that the results of polls depend on how the question is asked. We asked undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a course on language education to interview six registered voters. Three were asked the question used by the Los Angeles Times Poll, and three were asked an alternative, that more accurately, in our view, describes what proposition 227 entails. Subjects were asked if they would support the proposal, vote against it, or had no opinion.
No attempt was made to gather demographic data of any kind. Our goal was not to assess public opinion but to simply contrast reactions to the two questions. Students were, however, asked not to bias their selection of subjects and to alternate questions. The survey was conducted during February and March 1998.
There is a new initiative trying to qualify for the June primary ballot that would require all public school instruction to be conducted in English and for students not fluent in English to be placed in a short-term English immersion program. If the June, 1998 primary election were being held today, would you vote for or against this measure?
There is a new initiative trying to qualify for the June primary ballot that would severely restrict the use of the child's native language in school. This initiative would limit special help in English to one year (180 school days). After this time, limited English proficient children would be expected to know enough English to do school work at the same level as native speakers of English their age. The initiative would dismantle many current programs that have been demonstrated to be successful in helping children acquire English, and would hold teachers financially responsible if they violate this policy. If passed, schools would have 60 days to conform to the new policy. If the June, 1998 primary election were being held today, would you vote for or against this policy?
The original and modified questions produced very different results. In agreement with the LA Times results, voters supported the original version, with 57% saying they would vote for the initiative. Only 15% supported the modified version, however. The difference between the two sets of responses was statistically significant.
University of Southern California Poll, Feb.-Mar. 1998
For Against Don't Know Original Question 74
Modified Question 18
n = 251
chi square = 51.51
df = 2
p << .001
These results cast serious doubts on the validity of the original question and suggests that once voters are aware of what is actually in proposition 227, it will not be supported.