Poll: Anti-bilingual education measure has broad support

A ballot measure requiring public schools to educate all students in English continues to appeal to a large majority of voters, including Latinos, a new statewide poll says.

Statewide, 70 percent of likely voters would vote for Proposition 227, according to the Field Poll results released today. Just 20 percent opposed the measure, with 10 percent undecided.

Republicans and Asians were the strongest supporters. But a majority of every ethnic and political voter group endorsed the measure.

Poll officials said public opinion could easily shift before the June election, especially once campaigning heats up. But overall Field Poll support for the measure has consistently been above 60 percent since November.

“That’s excellent,” said Ron Unz, the Palo Alto businessman who placed the initiative on the ballot. “I’m very pleased to see our numbers have stayed up.”

‘Statistically insignificant’

The “No On Prop 227” campaign criticized the relatively small sample of voters, particularly among ethnic groups, and dismissed the results as “statistically insignificant.”

Inspired by a 1996 parent boycott of bilingual education programs in Los Angeles, Proposition 227 would require that all California schoolchildren “be taught English by being taught in English.”

Students not fluent in English could enroll in a special English immersion class for a year and then move into a mainstream classroom. The ballot measure would dismantle the current bilingual system, which educates about 1.4 million students — 80 percent of them Spanish-speaking — using their native language, English or a combination of the two.

The Field Institute interviewed 1,178 registered voters March 5-15. Today’s results are taken from the 727 likely voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent.

Latino support varies

Latino support for the ballot measure — closely watched by both campaigns — has variedly widely over the last three Field Polls, the result of admittedly small, less-reliable samplings from ethnic groups, poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

Of the 71 likely Latino voters interviewed this month, 61 percent supported the initiative. That is 15 percentage points higher than February’s poll, but slightly lower than the 66 percent who supported it in November.

DiCamillo said the best estimate of Latino support is probably an average of all three polls, or about 58 percent.

“That’s my sense of where Latinos are right now,” he said. “I’d say the majority support it.”

But the “No On Prop. 227” campaign scoffed at that interpretation.

“The sample is way, way too small,” said campaign spokeswoman Holly Thier. “When you talk to 71 Latinos, that’s probably as good as looking at a crystal ball.”

The poll was conducted during the same week the State Board of Education voted to scrap its bilingual education policies. Observers have speculated the board’s philosophical shift away from bilingual education would undermine support for Proposition 227, since many voters would now see it as irrelevant.

But DiCamillo said few voters probably paid attention to the board’s action, and he doubted it would affect voting.

DiCamillo cautioned against reading too much into poll results released more than two months before Election Day. Of the 82 statewide ballot measures that had early poll leads between 1978 and 1996, just 42 — about half — ended up winning on Election Day, a Field Institute analysis found.

“Right now (the public) is just reacting to the idea, the concept,” DiCamillo said.

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