Two recall elections in San Francisco this year have spotlighted the increasing political influence of the city’s Asian American community. And the ability of Asian voters to shape the city’s politics remains a closely watched issue for political observers.
A poll conducted earlier this month by The Standard shows that Asian residents who are “extremely motivated” to vote in the upcoming election have increased by 9%, compared to a survey taken this past spring. The increase is similar to the city’s average, as general elections usually garner higher turnout than primaries and special elections.
The fall poll surveyed 944 registered voters in English and Simplified Chinese about their opinions on the city, its government and its challenges. Some 40% of the respondents identified as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The poll was fielded by Embold Research from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7, 2022, and the results are representative of the SF voter population within an error range of +/-3.9%.
The Board of Education recall in February and District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s recall in June drew enormous attention to the AAPI community, as both campaigns elicited strong Asian American participation due to frustration with education and public safety issues.
Ahead of the November election, AAPI voters might prove to be a deciding factor in the District Attorney race once again as they are showing stronger support for current DA Brooke Jenkins.
David Lee, a longtime political activist and the director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, said Asian voters’ influence is yet to be tested in this November’s likely high-turnout election.
He described election cycles as ebbing and flowing like an ocean tide. In relatively low-turnout elections, like the two recent recalls, Asian voters will make a more noticeable impact, he added.
“When you are going to high tide,” Lee said, Asian voters will comprise a relatively smaller voting bloc.
A Conservative Movement?
The Asian community’s support for San Francisco’s two 2022 recalls has prompted debate about whether the community was leaning more center-conservative, politically speaking.
According to the poll results, the portion of the AAPI community identifying as independent grew, while both AAPI Democrats and AAPI Republicans have decreased by 3%.
“[I]t’s essential to take note: Democrats are squandering their hard-won gains with Asian Americans,” Charles Jung, an activist and attorney, wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed in June. However, after the DA recall, former Supervisor Jane Kim expressed another take in a Chronicle op-ed titled, “Don’t be fooled—Asian American voters are more progressive than you might think.”
Lauren Chinn, a progressive activist and fifth-generation Chinese American San Franciscan who participated in The Standard’s recent survey, said she doesn’t identify with the new conservative trajectory seen in the city’s AAPI community.
“We have opposed all the recalls,” Chinn said. “I believe the police don’t keep us safe, and I support creating alternatives to policing, jails and prisons.”
Chinn expressed frustration with media portrayals of the Asian community as a monolith, saying there are plenty of progressive AAPI leaders who have long been outspoken and politically active.
In The Standard’s fall poll, AAPI respondents skewed more moderate than the average resident, and many of them highlighted crime as a major concern for the city.
“Crime must be addressed, immediately and with full focus,” a 43-year-old Asian male Democrat wrote in the survey response, “or our beautiful city will fall apart.”
“I’ve lived here for 18 years and I’m finally at my wit’s end,” added another respondent who described herself as a 40-year-old Democrat and AAPI resident. “I’m planning to leave the city this weekend.”
Traditionally, Asian voters lean more moderate and fiscally conservative, Lee noted, but there are a lot of new voters, activists and groups emerging in the community post-pandemic and it remains to be seen how the dynamics will develop in the coming election.
Mary Jung, the former chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and the chair of the DA recall, disagreed that the community is facing a rightward shift.
“I don’t know when caring about safety and education is a conservative issue,” she said. “That’s just a bread-and-butter issue.”