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THE TIMES POLL : Voters Back Service Cuts for Illegal Immigrants

May 29, 1994|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

California voters have little knowledge of the array of ballot measures awaiting them on primary day, but they broadly support the controversial anti-immigration initiative that will likely be on the November ballot, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

The so-called "Save Our State" initiative--which would bar illegal immigrant children from public schools, exclude illegal immigrants from all but emergency medical care and require state agencies to report them to the attorney general--was leading by a substantial 59%-32% margin.

Breaking down reaction along ethnic lines, the poll found that almost three-fifths of Latinos opposed the measure and blacks also opposed it by a narrow margin. But whites overwhelmingly favored it, 64% to 26%.

Along ideological lines, support for the initiative was broad. All voter groups except liberals favored it, and even among liberals the verdict was split.

"It reaches out from a conservative Republican core to the more moderate and independent parts of the electorate," said Times Poll director John Brennan.

In other prospective November measures, voters disapproved of a statewide single-payer medical plan and were divided over whether to set a statewide smoking standard that would overrule tougher local anti-smoking laws.

The Times Poll was based on interviews with a total of 1,471 registered voters, questioned May 21-25. Because of the length of the poll--which also surveyed opinions on the state political races and other issues--half were asked about the propositions on the June ballot and half were queried about the likely November measures.

The sampling error for the June propositions, which focused on likely voters, was 6 points in either direction. The sampling error for November issues, which focused on all registered voters, was 4 points in either direction.

The most striking finding about the June propositions--which voters will decide on in nine days--is how little they know about them.

The poll found that most of the likely June voters could not say how they felt about each of the proposals without having them explained. When the measures were explained, three large bond issues were winning--a $2-billion earthquake retrofitting act, a $1-billion measure to improve safety and construction at public schools, and a $900,000 act to upgrade colleges.

The earthquake retrofitting measure was passing by a 53%-27% margin, the school safety issue was more popular, with a 59%-30% margin, and the college upgrading effort was winning 53% to 35%.

Two were losing. Proposition 175, which would re-establish a renter's income tax credit, was failing by a 48%-41% margin among likely voters, and Proposition 180, which would approve $2 billion in bonds to buy parklands and wildlife areas, was losing 49% to 38%.

Not coincidentally, the cost of the losing issues was listed on the ballot description; the costs of the winning issues were not. The state estimates that the renter's credit would cost about $100 million in 1995 and 1996. The parklands statute could cost $3.6 billion over the life of the bonds.

The earthquake bonds have no fiscal estimates listed on the ballot because the Legislature ordered specific wording.

Times Poll director Brennan said that voters, aware of the financial troubles facing the state, are clearly concerned about the costs.

"People are being asked to put out billions and billions in bonds," Brennan said. "There's a possibility that people are going to set priorities. . . . These bond issues are competing with each other."

While those issues were foundering anonymously, voters were far more opinionated about the hot-button measures likely to be on the November ballot. State officials have until June 30 to determine which of the initiatives qualify for the ballot--a distinction that requires 424,000 valid voter signatures.

The anti-immigration measure is being spearheaded by Alan Nelson, the Immigration and Naturalization Service chief under President Ronald Reagan, and Harold Ezell, head of the INS' western region from 1983-89.

Supporters argue that the initiative would stem the flow of illegal immigration by denying social services to those without the proper papers. Opponents counter that immigrants are drawn by jobs, not social programs, and that the initiative would divide an already fractious state.

Gov. Pete Wilson last week indicated that he favored the initiative, while all three of the Democratic challengers for governor--state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and state Sen. Tom Hayden--oppose it.

The poll showed that Wilson could extract some political benefit from his support of the measure. It is favored by majorities of independents, moderates, whites, the elderly and women--all groups Wilson must court aggressively in the fall if he is to win.

However, the governor has been making an issue of illegal immigration for a year now, and may have already gained as many votes as he is capable of attracting on this issue, Brennan said.

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