Phrasing impacts support for Prop. 58

Sep 28, 2016 by

A new Field-IGS Poll reveals that California voters favor Proposition 58, a November ballot measure that would let schools expand bilingual education — but the support turns to opposition when voters are told the measure would replace much of Proposition 227.

Prop. 227 has been state law for nearly two decades and requires that most students who don’t speak the language receive a year of intense English instruction before being placed in classes taught in English. Prop. 227 passed with 60 percent of the vote in 1998.

The ballot description of Prop. 58 doesn’t mention its effect on Prop. 227. If it did, voters would reject it, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,800 registered voters.

“If you tell people this most significant feature, you see an enormous change. Prop. 58 fails, and it fails substantially,” said Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, which co-authored the Field Poll released late Tuesday.

The results show that the way ballot measures are phrased “really does matter,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “No reference to Prop. 227 was the tipping point.”

Surprised at the omission, the pollsters decided to see how voters would react if the ballot wording had included Prop. 227. They divided survey recipients into three groups and offered a differently worded ballot measure to each.

One group received the actual ballot wording that describes Prop. 58 in four positive phrases, including that it “preserves requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency.”

The measure passes by an overwhelming 69 percent, with 14 percent opposed and 17 percent undecided, according to the poll.

The second group received an alternate description saying Prop. 58 would repeal the part of Prop. 227 that requires public schools to “move most students who are learning English into classes taught only in English after one year,” and that it “could allow students to take some classes in their native language rather than English throughout high school.”

Described that way, Prop. 58 would lose by a margin of 51 to 30 percent, with 19 percent undecided.

The third group was given the same alternate description plus a summary of arguments for and against Prop. 58. Described that way, Prop. 58 would lose by a smaller margin: 41 to 39 percent, with 20 percent undecided.

How to teach children who don’t speak English has long been a volatile theme in California. It led to simmering “bilingual education wars” in the 1980s and 1990s as Latino voters grew in numbers and power. And it has cost some politicians their jobs — notably Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who as president of the state Board of Education in 2005 lost his seat when a state Senate committee refused to forward his name for reaffirmation. Hastings originally opposed Prop. 227 but switched his allegiance after seeing children doing well in English.

Now, the vastly different poll results raise the question of whether politicians should be writing the ballot language, as is currently the case, or whether the job should go to a nonpartisan person such as a law professor, a retired judge or the state’s legislative analyst, said Citrin, the poll’s co-author.

Under state law, the attorney general writes ballot language. That is now Kamala Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Her spokeswoman, Kristin Ford, said politics played no role in the wording of Prop. 58’s ballot summary.

“This is not about politicizing it one way or another,” Ford said. “This is about describing it as accurately and succinctly as possible.”

Ron Unz, the software executive who bankrolled Prop. 227 18 years ago, said the new poll “shows it’s much better to have ballot descriptions written by nonpartisan groups rather than people tied in with the political system.”

Regardless of the differing results, English proficiency “almost certainly is a unified goal for the electorate, even if there are sharp disagreements about how this is achieved,” the pollsters wrote.

The poll was conducted in English and Spanish from Sept. 7 to 13. As an online survey, no sampling error could be accurately calculated, the pollsters said. Of the 1,800 registered voters surveyed, 79 percent were considered likely to vote on Nov. 8.

Source: Phrasing impacts support for Prop. 58 – SFGate

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.