Proposition 187, which appeared on the California ballot in 1994, was the first voter referendum aimed at curbing illegal immigration anywhere in the nation. The initiative was approved overwhelmingly, winning support from 59 percent of California voters, including about one-third of Latino voters. Unfortunately, in spite of winning in a landslide, Prop. 187 never took effect because a single federal judge overturned it, while the political leadership in California – both Democrats and Republicans – refused to appeal the decision on behalf of the voters.
A new poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California finds that if Prop. 187 were on the ballot today, it would still likely win approval by voters (although one would never guess that from the headline in the LA Times). According to the poll, an initiative like Prop. 187 would have the support of 46 percent of voters, while 44 percent say they would oppose it.
However, it is worth recalling just how far off the polls were in 1994 in predicting the outcome of the vote on Prop. 187. An article published on Election Day eighteen years ago reported “a virtual dead heat after a barrage of criticism from high-profile conservatives and newspaper editorials.” With the possible exception of “Dewey Defeats Truman!” it is hard to think of a wider disparity between the polls and the actual vote. Numerous explanations have been offered for the inaccuracy of the polling on Prop. 187, but the most likely is that, given the massive campaign mounted by opponents insinuating that the measure was somehow racist, many people were reluctant to admit to pollsters that they favored the initiative.
Things have changed in California since 1994, of course. Many illegal aliens who received amnesty as a result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 have gained citizenship and have registered to vote. Many native born residents, who supported the measure in overwhelming numbers, have left the state, while many of the older voters have died. What has also changed is the enormity of the cost associated with illegal immigration – more than $20 billion annually – and the gravity of California’s fiscal crisis. Under the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to assume that a referendum similar to Prop. 187 would be favored by a larger margin than 46 percent to 44 percent found in the LA Times/USC poll.
Even if the poll is close to accurate – with voters more or less evenly split – the findings demonstrate the incredible disconnect between California’s political establishment and the people of California. For the most part, state and local officials who continue to offer new benefits, services, privileges, and protections to illegal aliens act as though the plurality (perhaps even the majority) of voters in California do not exist.