In the nearly two decades since Californians voted to bar undocumented immigrants from utilizing public schools and hospitals, the state’s electorate has become increasingly tolerant toward people who are in the country illegally, although it remains tough on border security and enforcement, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows.
The shift is partly explained by the growing clout of Latinos, who now make up 20% of California voters. But the attitudes of whites also appear to have changed.
If placed on the ballot today, a measure similar to Proposition 187 would be supported by 46% of voters, according to the poll, with 44% against—a statistical tie, given the 2.9% margin of error. In 1994, by contrast, the proposition passed with 59% of the vote.
The primary provisions of the measure did not survive legal challenges, and were never enacted.
In another sign of the electorate’s evolving attitudes, Californians overwhelmingly are in favor of President Obama’s new program granting work permits and a two-year reprieve from deportation to some young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Respondents also favor granting driver’s licenses to the same group.
But voters’ generosity toward the undocumented apparently has limits: The poll found that most Californians want increased border enforcement and think that local police and sheriffs should have a role in apprehending suspected illegal immigrants.
Schnur called the electorate’s move away from Proposition 187 “a profound change”—with the opinions of whites and Latinos converging over the last two decades.
A Times exit poll the day of the 1994 election found that 63% of whites voted for the proposition. White respondents in the latest poll remain in favor, but by a narrower 51%-41% margin.
Only 23% of Latino voters favored Proposition 187 in 1994, when about 8% of voters were Latino. Today, 33% favor such a proposal at a time when Latinos make up 20% of the electorate.
Increased contact with immigrants may have softened opinions among white voters, while the second- and third-generation offspring of Latino immigrants may adopt harder stances against newcomers, pollsters and immigration experts said.