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Empty downtown offices, economic turmoil weigh heavily on SF voters

Pedestrians walk along Battery Street in Downtown San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, September 7, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The slow recovery of Downtown San Francisco is a major source of worry for the city’s voters.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents to the fall SF Standard Voter Poll agree that the “emptiness of Downtown worries me.” Looking at respondents working in the tech industry, which helped to drive much of the city’s growth before the pandemic, that number goes up to 71%. 

“SF has been living on borrowed time from a bloated tech industry era. With that, taxes have been able to command a premium and price a lot of restaurants out of business, people out of the city, [as] small businesses struggle,” said one poll respondent.  

The fall SF Standard Voter Poll surveyed 944 registered voters in English and Simplified Chinese about their opinions on the city, its government and its challenges. Fielded by Embold Research from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7, 2022, the poll results are representative of the SF voter population within an error range of +/-3.9%.

Concern about the emptiness of Downtown was relatively high across age groups, but particularly strong among those 65 and older (77%), along with those between 18 and 34 (68%). Wealthier and more educated residents were generally more worried about the state of Downtown, with college-educated respondents more likely to voice concern.

The poll also showed a split across racial lines, with 70% of white respondents saying they were worried, compared with only 44% of Black respondents. Sixty-seven percent of Asian American/Pacific Islander and 58% of Hispanic respondents said they were concerned about the state of Downtown. 

A slim majority of respondents overall (51%) said they wished the city could return to San Francisco’s pre-pandemic economy, a number that went up to 56% for tech workers. A large majority of Gen Z (72%), Republicans (64%) and Asian American/Pacific Islander San Franciscans (60%) said they hoped for a return. 

Despite widespread concerns about Downtown, only one-third of San Franciscans said they wished that business and tech CEOs would encourage workers to come back to the office. 

Asked where they want to work in the next year, a majority of respondents (57%) said they’d like to work in the office on some days. Thirty-one percent wanted to work fully remote, while just 3% wanted to work in the office every day. The most popular option, at 37% support, was working 1-2 days in the office. Twenty percent said they’d prefer to work 3-4 days in the office.  

The poll also weighed opinions about the tech industry’s dominance in San Francisco—a frequent topic among economic and government leaders seeking to build a resilient economic base.

About 43% of respondents said they wished San Francisco was not as dependent on the tech industry, while 28% said they were happy to see the influence of the tech industry declining. Among tech workers, those numbers fell to 28% and 18%, respectively. 

“It’s actually really bad if SF loses its intellectual community. Not only will it probably bankrupt the city, but it’s such a loss for the world. Like you want to lose the climate tech folks? The AI safety folks? The pandemic prevention folks? The anti-aging folks?” said one respondent, a 27-year-old white male who works in the tech industry.

Seventeen percent of poll respondents reported that they work in the tech industry, and tech worker respondents also held a range of distinctive views. 

Tech workers were more likely to have voted for President Biden, at 88% versus 77% among overall poll respondents. They were more likely to be married or in a committed partnership, at 61% versus 47% of overall respondents.

Tech workers also expressed more confidence that San Francisco will always be “one of the world’s capitals of industry,” with 43% agreeing with that sentiment versus only 29% among respondents overall. 

Forty-nine percent of tech workers also said recent news of layoffs made them concerned about the future of San Francisco, compared to 43% overall.


Liz Lindqwister contributed additional research for this story.
Kevin Truong can be reached at