On the heels of a vociferous advertising campaign against it, support for a statewide initiative that would gut the political power of organized labor has shrunk dramatically, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

With opponents spending about $15 million to press their case, likely voters now support Proposition 226 by a 51%-37% margin, the poll has found. In a Times poll taken last month, the ballot measure was overwhelmingly popular, winning by a 66%-26% margin.

Another high-profile ballot measure, Proposition 227, which would essentially end bilingual education in California, continues to be highly popular. Its 63%-23% backing is unchanged since April.

The initiative is currently supported by about two-thirds of both registered Latino and white voters, a consensus that was absent in the state’s past battles over racially sensitive initiatives on illegal immigration and affirmative action.

“Rank and file Latinos are not united behind the ‘No on 227′ campaign like their community leaders are,” said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus. “They have kids in school, and they want them to do well. This is not a polarizing initiative at this point.”

The poll also showed that past support by likely voters for Proposition 223, which would tightly limit spending for school administration, has ebbed, leaving the results essentially a draw.

In other findings, the poll determined that most voters still have little idea about their choices for several other statewide races, including those for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Most were also undecided about the initiatives until they were given explanations.

But television–a major factor in California elections–has had a clear impact. Not only were the results of the most hotly contested initiative changed in the wake of a massive commercial war, but the ads also boosted the fortunes of candidates in more obscure races. The one who benefited the most was state Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), who has mounted the most noticeable television campaign of those races. In the past month, Lockyer has doubled his support in the Democratic race for attorney general, finishing with 27% among likely voters. The next highest candidate, Republican David Stirling, had 10%.

>From May 16-20, the Times Poll interviewed 1,097 registered voters in California, including 506 voters considered likely to cast ballots. The margin of sampling error for registered voters is three percentage points in either direction; the margin for likely voters is five points in either direction.

The trend on Proposition 226 provides a telling example of the impact of television. When the Times Poll surveyed voters in April, ads against the initiative had not yet run. All told, 71% of likely voters said they had no opinion then about the measure before they were read the ballot language. Simply put, it would require labor unions to get annual permission from a member before using his or her dues for political purposes.

Now, the likely voter group with no opinion has shrunk to 38%.

The results have also swung dramatically. Support for the initiative, once it is explained to voters, dropped from 66% last month to 51%. Opposition rose from 26% to 37%. In other words, an initiative that led by 40 points in April is now ahead by 14 points.

“If the ‘no’ campaign continues to get out its message, it could drive opposition to above 50% and hold it there,” said Sharon Pinkerton, associate director of the Times Poll.

Beliefs have changed among both union and nonunion members.

In April, union members who were registered to vote supported the measure by a 58%-28% margin. Now, they oppose it by a 53%-36% margin. Among nonunion members, the proposition still leads, but more narrowly than before. In April, they supported it by a massive 66%-23%; now it holds a comfortable but smaller 50%-34% margin.

Support for the measure is apparently being undercut by the lack of strong anti-labor sentiment among voters. Only 31% of likely voters say that labor wields too much political power, while 19% said it has too little. Thirty-five percent said labor has the right amount of political influence.

In contrast with the movement on the union measure, sentiment on the anti-bilingual initiative, Proposition 227, has barely changed despite English- and Spanish-language advertising. Among likely voters, 63% favor it and 23% oppose it, exactly the numbers the poll found in April. Among the larger group of registered voters, 63% approved and 25% opposed it, nearly equivalent to the 63%-24% margin in April.

Opponents of the measure have counted on unified opposition by Latinos, but the poll showed that that has yet to occur. Among Latino registered voters, 62% supported it, about the same as the 64% of whites who backed it. Also, 26% of Latino registered voters opposed it, as did 23% of whites.

Although the numbers for whites have remained constant, Latino support has actually grown in the past month, from 50% in April to 62% now. The level among likely Latino voters, however, remains lower, but Latinos still support the measure. Most blacks aso support the measure, though by a slightly smaller margin.

Proposition 223, which would require that 95% of a school district’s budget be spent in the classroom, has slipped in popularity. Overall, 40% of likely voters say they support it and a virtually equal 38% oppose it. In April, the measure led by 29 points, 55%-26%.

The results of the poll on the constitutional offices below governor confirm what California television audiences know: Most of the races are nearly invisible. Thus, Californians are having difficulty making a decision.

In all of the races, a substantial segment of likely voters said they don’t know enough about the candidates to come to a decision, ranging from 28% in the race for insurance commissioner to 55% in the contest for lieutenant governor.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, former Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante has bolted into the lead. He had 19% of likely voters, three times the 6% registered by former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Miller. Republicans were tightly packed, with state Sen. Richard Mountjoy of Arcadia at 9%, state Sen. Tim Leslie of Carnelian Bay at 6% and businesswoman Noel Irwin-Hentschel of Los Angeles at 5%.

Lockyer swept ahead in the contest for attorney general, his 27 points among likely voters easily outdistancing fellow Democrats Charles M. Calderon of Los Angeles at 4% and former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk at 3%. Stirling led fellow Republican Mike Capizzi, 10% to 5%.

In the race for controller, where the only major candidates for the Republican and Democratic nominations are virtually assured their nominations, the race is an early marker for the general election. There, incumbent Democrat Kathleen Connell has a comfortable lead over Republican Ruben Barrales, a San Mateo County supervisor, 41%-26%.

Another incumbent, Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones, has improved his standing, pulling ahead of Democrat Michela Alioto by a 36%-30% margin among likely voters. They were statistically tied in April, with Jones at 33% and Alioto at 35%.

A third incumbent, Republican insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, held onto his lead among likely voters, with 41%. His Democratic opponents, Marin County Supervisor Hal Brown and Assemblywoman Diane Martinez of Los Angeles, had 12% and 18% respectively.

And the last of the incumbents, Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, held a 31% to 16% lead over Gloria Matta Tuchman, the Santa Ana teacher who is among the organizers of the anti-bilingual education initiative.

The open seat of state treasurer is provoking a contest for the Republican nomination. Former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle of Orange County is running behind Assemblyman Jan Goldsmith of Poway among likely voters, 15%-9%. Former Democratic state party Chairman Phil Angelides had 27%.

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Sliding Support

Opposition to Propositions 223 and 226 has increased substantially in the past month, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll. But Proposition 227, which would dismantle bilingual education in California, continues to enjoy strong support.

If the June election were held today, how would you vote on these ballot initiatives? (among likely voters)

Prop. 223* Prop. 226** Prop. 227***
Now April Now April Now April
For 40% 55% 51% 66% 63% 23%
Against 38% 26% 37% 26% 23% 23%
Don’t Know 22% 19% 12% 8% 14% 14%

* (Spending limits on school administration)
** (Union dues)
*** (Bilingual education)

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Why would you vote FOR Prop. 227? (asked of those who support it; two replies accepted; top four responses shown)

If you live in America, you need to speak English: 57%
Bilingual programs hurt students who don’t speak English: 12%
Prefer immersion programs: 11%
Bilingual education is not effective: 10%

* * *

Why would you vote AGAINST Prop. 227? (asked of those opposed to it; two replies accepted; top four responses shown)

It costs too much: 14%
Students who don’t speak English will fall behind: 13%
Bilingual education works: 13%
It discriminates against students who don’t speak English: 12%

Note: Percentages may not total 100 where more than one reply was accepted from each respondent or some answer categories are not shown.

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The Times Poll contacted 1,514 California adults, including 1,097 registered voters and 506 likely voters, by telephone May 16 through 20. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, region and registration. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and registered voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for likely voters it is 5 points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Times Poll results are also available on the World Wide Web athttp://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/POLLS/.

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