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THE TIMES POLL

Bilingual Education Ban Widely Supported

Overall backing for Prop. 227 is a strong 63%, with all demographic groups favoring it. Respondents also support initiatives to curb school administration spending and restrict union donations to campaigns.

April 13, 1998|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

As the campaigns over a host of state initiatives begin to take shape, Californians of all political and ethnic backgrounds heartily endorse a measure that would ban bilingual education in the state's schools, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

Among registered voters, 63% said they approved of the measure, once they were read its language, and 24% opposed it. The margin was consistent--63% to 23%--among voters considered most likely to cast ballots on June 2.

Across the board, no voter group--measured by age, income, gender, geography or any other definition--opposed the initiative, which will be Proposition 227 on the ballot. Even among Latino voters, 50% supported the measure, which is being promoted by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, while 32% opposed it. Larger majorities of blacks and whites supported it.

If history is any guide, it may be too early to accurately predict the response of Latinos, Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus cautioned. In campaigns for two earlier controversial initiatives that cut services for illegal immigrants and ended state-sponsored affirmative action, early Latino support eventually changed to opposition as the races heated up. On the other hand, bilingual education may prompt a more homogenized response from the state's disparate ethnic groups, she said.

The initiative would place children with limited English skills into mainstream classes after about one year of English-language tutoring. With limited exceptions, it would end the practice of teaching in native languages.

"Latino voters see the value of learning English," Pinkus said. "There are a lot of Latinos very much in favor of English immersion for school students. And education is the most important issue for new immigrants in particular."

The relative silence from backers and opponents of various initiatives on the ballot--little television advertising for or against the initiatives has yet aired--was underscored by voters' bewilderment about the measures, which will be on the ballot in seven weeks.

Before they were read the ballot language, most voters said they didn't know enough about the issues to cast a judgment on the bilingual measure or two others--Proposition 226, which would require labor groups to seek approval from their members before donating to campaigns, and Proposition 223, which would require school districts to spend 95% of their money in the classroom.

When told what the ballot measures would do, however, a majority of registered voters strongly supported Propositions 226 and 227, and a healthy plurality favored Proposition 223. Like the bilingual initiative, the union dues measure was popular with about two-thirds of voters. The school funding measure led by a narrower 49%-30% margin among registered voters, the poll found.

A previous Times Poll, conducted in October before Proposition 227 qualified for the ballot and its wording was finalized, found 80% support for English-only instruction in public schools coupled with immersion programs for non-fluent speakers. Support was in the 75% to 80% range virtually across the board, among all races, income levels and age groups. The current poll includes most of the text of the ballot summary to be placed before voters in June.

3 Incumbents Leading Foes

In statewide races, the newest Times poll determined that three incumbents--state Controller Kathleen Connell, Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush and Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin--led in their races, while Secretary of State Bill Jones was in a dead heat with Democrat Michela Alioto. Candidates were bunched tightly--with few voters knowing much about any of them--for other races where the incumbents are not running.

Under Pinkus' direction, the Times Poll questioned 1,409 Californians, including 1,105 registered voters and 566 likely voters from April 4-9. The margin of sampling error is 3 points in either direction for registered voters and 4 points for likely voters.

The relative uniformity--ethnic and otherwise--on the bilingual matter may reflect that neither proponents nor opponents have yet mounted a full-scale attack of the sort that transformed the two contests over illegal immigration and affirmative action into contentious and racially tinged clashes.

The similarities also mask sharp differences of opinion between elected leaders in California and the rank-and-file voters they represent. Although the state Democratic Party opposes the anti-bilingual education measure, 62% of Democrats in the poll supported it. Similarly, 63% of Republicans, whose party supports the measure, endorsed it. And 65% of independent voters followed suit.

The strongest ideological support for the initiative came from conservative Republicans, 69% of whom favored it.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who is a Republican, endorsed the proposition last week, describing bilingual education as a well-intended experiment overtaken by special interests and now badly failing the state's children.

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