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Politics & Policy

Nearly one-third of SF voters don’t know their supervisor district

Board of Supervisors meeting on May 3, 2022 | Camille Cohen/The Standard

With five Board of Supervisor seats on the Nov. 8 ballot, The Standard’s Voter Poll shows a big gap between the SF voters who are involved in local politics—and those who aren’t.

One statistic stands out: 30% of SF voters do not know which supervisor district they live in. 

“You have a lot of people who aren’t politically engaged,” says David Latterman, longtime political analyst, who says he believes that figure, based on his experience working in the city. “Those who work in politics and media forget that many people just don’t care.” 

Looking closer at findings from The Standard’s Poll, 40% of respondents live in districts not on the ballot this November. Of the 30% who say they live in an even-numbered district up for election, 22% say they already know which supervisory candidate they’ll vote for while 8% are still unsure.

“Nobody comes to the polling place to vote for supervisor,” Latterman says. “They come to vote top-of-ticket—president, governor, mayor—and stick around for whatever else is on the ballot.”

Profiling Don't-Know vs. In-the-Know Voters

So who cares about local politics—and who doesn’t? One way to find out is to compare the voters who “Don’t Know” their district with those already “In-the-Know” about who they’ll support for supervisor.

A few key characteristics differentiate the two groups. Most notably, the Don’t Know voters are more likely to be between the ages of 18 and 34, unmarried and planning to leave the city in the short term.

Like many big cities, SF attracts many young adults looking for job opportunities and an urban lifestyle. Latterman says this transitory nature of the SF population means many don’t bother getting deeply involved in politics because they don’t plan to stay long term.

“It’s not unique to San Francisco,” says Latterman. “Most people know who is running for mayor, but obviously, if you go down ticket, you have a lot less recognition for candidates.”

Interestingly, those who Don’t Know their supervisor are not likely to rate the performance of the Board of Supervisors any worse than other voters in the city. They are, however, a bit more likely to disapprove of Mayor Breed’s performance.

One key political attribute that separates the two types of voters? Only 69% of Don’t Know voters are definitely planning to vote in November compared with 98% of In-the-Know voters.

Does "Don't Know" Mean "Don't Care?"

However, it may not be fair to say that Don’t Know voters don’t care about SF politics. The Standard’s Poll found half of Don’t Know voters do say they follow local political news “somewhat” closely, just not “very” closely as 53% of In-the-Know voters do.

The findings show that candidates running for supervisor have extra work to do to educate their constituents about SF’s districts before they can communicate their merits as a contender. 

“You will still have voters voting for supes who don’t know anything,” Latterman says, “They have no idea about who these candidates are or what they do but they’re still voting—and the more down-ticket you go, the less they know.”

“It makes you think that maybe, as a society, we should know our local politicians, doesn’t it?,” Latterman says.