Bilingual teaching initiative lead slips

Union dues, school proposals now trail

SACRAMENTO — An initiative that would end most bilingual education programs continues to hold a large but shrinking lead, while measures on political use of union dues and school administration spending are trailing for the first time, according to a new statewide Field Poll.

The telephone survey that ended a week before the election next Tuesday found that Proposition 227, which would replace bilingual education with a one-year English immersion program, is supported by 61 percent of all likely voters and 52 percent of likely Latino voters.

An initiative that would require unions to get written permission from members before spending their dues on political campaigns, Proposition 226,
plummeted from 72 percent support in November to trailing by 2 percentage points in the new poll, 47 percent “no” to 45 percent “yes.”

The new survey also shows that Proposition 223, which would prevent school districts from spending more than 5 percent of their funds on administration,
lost its thin lead and fell behind with 43 percent opposed and 40 percent in support.

Although Proposition 226 is backed by Gov. Pete Wilson, the supporters of the initiative are being dramatically outspent by the unions who oppose the measure. Total spending has already reached $20 million, making it one of the most expensive battles over a single initiative.

Only last month, Proposition 226 held a lead of 55 percent to 34 percent in the Field Poll. But the opponents were just beginning a barrage of television ads, backed by phone banks, mailers and a door-to-door campaign.

The opponents of Proposition 226 reported contributions of nearly $19 million as of May 16, compared to about $3 million for the backers of the initiative. The backers did not begin running television ads until about two weeks ago.

The new poll shows that Democrats and households with union members,
who supported the measure as late as March, are now solidly opposed by a 2-1 ratio. Republicans support the measure 2-1.

Wilson said in a statement yesterday that backers of Proposition 226 are investing heavily in television ads and “will continue to travel the state, setting the record straight.” He said the campaign remains too close to call.

But Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll research director, said past experience shows that initiatives that start with high support and then drop below 50 percent before election day are likely to be defeated.

“It looks like we are getting our message out,” said Gail Kaufman,
consultant for the No on Proposition 226 campaign.

Opponents contend that Proposition 226 is backed by out-of-state interests who want to weaken the political clout of unions, so they can weaken medicare,
public education, worker safety and other programs. Backers say the initiative is “paycheck protection,” giving workers the right to control how their money is spent on political campaigns.

The battle over Proposition 226 is drawing national attention. Republicans have launched drives for similar measures in a number of other states.

The 2-1 lead held by the initiative on bilingual education, with 61 percent in support and 33 percent opposed, prompted backers of the measure sponsored by businessman Ron Unz to predict a victory on Tuesday.

“Our support is holding steady and seems strong and secure,”
said Sherry Annis, spokeswoman for the Yes on 227 campaign. “It certainly indicates that we are extremely likely to win on June 2.”

Although still formidable, Proposition 227’s lead fell 10 points from a Field Poll last month when the measure led 71 percent to 21 percent. The biggest movement came among Democratic voters, who went from 61 percent in favor and 29 percent opposed last month to 48 percent opposed and 44 percent in favor in the new poll.

“We are encouraged by the movement,” said Richie Ross, consultant for the No on Proposition 227 campaign. “Obviously, we have another 12 points to go. We are confident we will get there.”

The campaign against Proposition 227, buoyed by a $1.5 million contribution from Jerry Perenchio of Univision Spanish-language television, began running a television ad this week showing opposition to the initiative from all four leading candidates for governor, including Republican Dan Lungren.

Support for Proposition 227 remained strong among likely Republican voters in the survey last week, 78 percent to 16 percent opposed. The Field Poll’s DiCamillo said support among Republicans, who are 40 percent of the electorate,
would have to fall sharply if the initiative is to fail.

Among likely Latino voters, the support in the new poll, 52 percent,
is down from 58 percent last month. The number of Latinos polled is small,
only 86 of the 714 people deemed likely to vote in a survey of 1,051 registered voters, conducted May 20 to May 26 with an error margin of 3.8 percentage points.

Support for Proposition 227 has dropped among all ethnic groups since last month. Support still remains strong among whites, 63 percent, and Asians and others, 60 percent. But support among blacks fell sharply to 48 percent,
down from 66 percent last month.

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