With education shaping up as the top issue in the 1998 elections, California voters overwhelmingly want to end bilingual classes and would approve a measure to control the amount of money school districts can spend on administration, according to a new Field Poll.

They also express overwhelming support for another controversial initiative which could affect education by requiring unions to seek permission from their individual members before withholding dues for political contributions, the poll showed.

One group specifically targeted by the measure: the powerful California Teachers’ Association — which contributed $2.7 million to political candidates in the 1996 election season.

“There’s no question education is the number one issue in California, and there’s a widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are going,” said pollster Mervyn Field. With pressure increasing to reform the system, he said, “you find there’s support for anything which promises something better for schools.”

The latest Field Poll, a random statewide telephone survey of 729 registered and likely voters, was taken January 29 to February 2. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent in the overall registered voter sampling, and plus or minus 5 percentage points with the likely voter sampling.

The survey showed that California voters are still largely unaware of the three measures considered the most controversial on the June ballot. While none of the measures has yet been assigned a number by the Secretary of State’s office, voters strongly favored all three when read a summary of the official ballot descriptions.

Among the findings of the poll:

— Two-thirds of likely voters in California said they would approve the current ballot summary to end bilingual education in state schools, 27 percent were against, and 7 percent undecided. The initiative enjoyed bipartisan support, with 70 percent of Republicans in favor to 18 percent opposed, and 60 percent of Democrats approving it to 34 percent opposed. Latinos also slightly favored the measure, though by a much closer margin: 46 percent in favor, 45 percent opposed, and 9 percent undecided. Asians were overwhelmingly in favor, by 79 to 10 percent, with 11 percent undecided.

“The people promoting this have struck a responsive chord with the public,” said Field. The landslide support stems from “the desire to get kids to learn English as quickly as possible . . . and the feeling that bilingual education is not doing the job.” Both Latino and Asian voters who favored the measure, while not wanting their kids to give up their native language and culture, expressed a strong desire for them “to make it in a society where English is spoken,” he said.

— On the ballot initiative aimed at controlling school district spending on administration costs, a majority (53 percent) of likely voters were in favor, with 27 percent opposed, and one in five still undecided.

“The public is saying they want teachers to teach, and too much money is spent on administration,” said Field. But he also noted that the slim margin of victory now enjoyed by the measure signals “this is going to be a battle, and you’ll be hearing from both sides.”

— An overwhelming 71 percent of likely voters favored a ballot measure requiring unions to obtain permission from individual members before withholding union dues for political contributions. Just 22 percent opposed the measure, and 7 percent were undecided. “A lot of voters don’t buy into the idea of putting money into a pot (for political contributions) in which the rank and file don’t get a say,” said Field.

Union members “want their dues spent on things that will help them in organizing, wages and benefits,” Field said. “And a lot of rank and file union members aren’t necessarily sure that supporting Democratic causes are the way (they want to go.)”



California initiatives

— Trend of voter opinions about initiative that would eliminate bilingual education

Dec. 1997 


69% 24% 7%

Feb. 1998

64% 27% 9%.

— Trend of voter opinions about initiative to restrict withholding of union dues

Dec. 1997


72% 22% 6%

Feb. 1998

69% 24% 7%.

— Trend

of voter opinions about initiative to limit school administration spending

Dec. 1997


51% 29% 17%

Feb. 1998

48% 31% 21%

The poll was conducted January 29-February 2 by the Field Institute. Results are from a telephone survey of 729 registered voters in California who were read a summary of each official ballot description. The margin of error among registered voters is 3.8 percentage points.

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