SACRAMENTO — Support for Proposition 227, the initiative that would eliminate most bilingual education programs, remains overwhelmingly strong,
even retaining a majority among Latino voters, according to a new statewide Field Poll.
But under a barrage of television ads from opponents, the lead continues to shrink for Proposition 226, the measure requiring unions to get permission from members to use dues for political campaigns. The proposition still leads by 21 points.
A third initiative, Proposition 223, which prohibits school districts from spending more than 5 percent of their money for administrative costs,
was supported by half the likely voters.
The bilingual education initiative on the June 2 ballot has drawn national attention as the first broad public vote on whether children who speak limited English should be taught in their native language or be made to learn English quickly.
Support for hotly contested initiatives that start with large leads usually drops as the election nears and opposition campaigns gear up.
But the new poll shows that Proposition 227 is supported by 71 percent of all likely California voters and 58 percent of Latino voters, similar to the results of a poll last November. The measure is opposed by 21 percent of likely voters.
Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll research director, compared the continuing high level of support for Proposition 227 to an initiative, Proposition 63, approved by voters in 1986, declaring that English is the official language of the state of California.
“Voters would prefer that students learn English to have a better chance to get ahead,” said DiCamillo. “They also look at it as good for California that we are all speaking English in this society.”
Twelve years ago, after holding a 3-to-1 lead in the polls, Proposition 63 was approved by a vote of 73 percent to 27 percent.
Similarly, support has continued to hold for Proposition 227 as the number of voters aware of the measure grows, according to the poll.
As with previous polls, the number of likely Latino voters in the new survey is small, only 63 — a point that opponents of the initiative have noted. But DiCamillo said that when combined with two other polls taken this year, the Latino sample is about 180 likely voters, all averaging nearly 60 percent support for the initiative.
DiCamillo said exit polling found that Latino voters opposed the English-language initiative 12 years ago. Some Latino leaders have predicted that Latinos also will oppose Proposition 227.
Supporters for Proposition 227 were buoyed by the latest survey.
“The latest Field Poll reconfirms that California citizens are positive that they want to see a change in California on the issue of native-language instruction,” said Sherry Annis, spokeswoman for the Yes on 227 campaign.
“Strong support among Democrats and Republicans proves that this is not a divisive issue.”
Neither side has been able to afford television ads, which often make a difference in initiative campaigns. Richie Ross, political consultant for the No on Proposition 227 campaign, remained optimistic, saying his polls show the initiative with a smaller lead.
Proposition 227, sponsored by businessman Ron Unz, would require that children who speak limited English take a sheltered English immersion course,
normally lasting a year, before being transferred into mainstream classes taught in English.
Can get waivers
Students can receive waivers from the immersion program if they are 10 or older, or if the principal and school staff agree they have “special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs.”
Bilingual education programs teach children in their native language for up to seven years, while they are gradually introduced to English.
Advocates say bilingual education allows students to keep up with their classmates while learning English and helps them perform advanced academic work later on. But opponents contend that most bilingual education programs do not work, calling it a 25-year-old failed experiment.
Acknowledging the criticism, President Clinton’s administration proposed a new federal plan last week that would limit bilingual education programs to three years. But Clinton opposes Proposition 227, saying it would do more harm than good.
Proposition 226, requiring unions to get individual permission from members to spend dues for political purposes, dropped to 55 percent support in the new poll, down from 60 percent in March and 72 percent last November. Thirty-four percent of likely voters are opposed.
“We are ahead by 20 points,” said Mark Bucher, the Orange County businessman who helped write the initiative. “They spent $2 million to attempt to confuse people and mislead them, and we are still ahead by those margins. It’s spectacular.”
The opponents began running television ads on April 21, a day after Field began a telephone survey of 1,312 California adults from Aug. 20 to 28 on all of the ballot measures. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percent.
Two Washington groups
Gail Kaufman, political consultant for the No on Proposition 226 campaign,
said that two groups based in Washington, D.C., have been running ads in support of Proposition 226 for several weeks, spending nearly $1 million.
“I am really pleased with these numbers because in fact we started out a lot further behind,” said Kaufman. “Our message seems to be working.”
The supporters of Proposition 226, led by Gov. Pete Wilson, plan to begin running their television ads next week. Supporters of the initiative call it “paycheck protection” and a matter of fairness for hard-pressed workers.
But the opponents say the initiative is part of a national movement by conservatives to weaken the political clout of organized labor, so the backers can pursue their agenda of school vouchers and weakening health and pension benefits.
If the measure passes, unions and their Democratic allies fear that campaign contributions from organized labor will drop sharply, giving Republicans an advantage. For the first time, Democrats and households with union members are opposed to the initiative in the new poll.
Proposition 223, requiring that no more than 5 percent of a school district’s budget be spent on administrative costs, is supported by 50 percent of voters in the new poll, down from 54 percent last November. Thirty-one percent are opposed.
The initiative is sponsored by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which says that too little of the school dollar is actually going into classrooms.
Opponents say the rigid requirement will cause duplication of services and could seriously harm small school districts, particularly in rural areas.