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Politics & Policy

New poll, new mayor? Latest survey suggests challenger beating Breed

Mark Farrell walks with a group of people at a parade.
Mark Farrell is coming out ahead in a new poll released by his campaign on Wednesday. | Source: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu/Getty Images

San Francisco mayoral candidates will square off Wednesday in their first public debate, and one likely topic will be new polling that suggests a moderate could unseat Mayor London Breed.

Mark Farrell’s campaign released results from a new poll showing the former supervisor and mayor coming in first in a ranked-choice-vote simulation—nabbing 57% of the electorate—while Breed finished in second with 43%. 

Farrell’s poll is the first to be released by one of the five major candidates since Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin entered the race at the beginning of April. The results, which were limited to a one-page press release, found him starting with 23% of the vote in the first round. Breed received 21% of first-place votes, nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie got 20%, Peskin landed 17% and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí secured 4%.

The poll’s release could project strength for Farrell’s campaign, as candidates don’t always release polling data to the public due to concerns that the findings may show weaknesses or have a candidate coming out on the losing end. 

However, the poll’s margin of error (4.5%), a sizable share of undecided voters (11%), and nearly five months until Election Day mean the race’s outcome could look very different come November. 

A woman with a serious expression stands in focus, surrounded by blurred figures in the foreground, against a backdrop of store shelves.
Mayor London Breed came in second in a poll released Wednesday by the Mark Farrell campaign. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

“San Franciscans want an effective, experienced leader as their next mayor who can help get our city back on track,” Farrell said in a statement. “I understand the challenges our city faces and have the vision and bold policies to create a safer, cleaner, and stronger San Francisco.”

A ranked-choice contest allows San Francisco voters to choose multiple candidates on their ballot. If a candidate wins a majority of votes after the first round of counting, the election is over. If no majority is reached, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the votes are redistributed based on voter preference until a contender achieves a majority. Supporters of the method argue it leads to more victories for grassroots candidates and less negative campaigning, while critics say it’s confusing for voters.

In Farrell’s poll, 5% of people surveyed didn’t choose from the five candidates. The poll sampled 500 likely San Francisco voters between June 1 and 6.

The analysis also measured favorability, with Lurie taking the top spot at 39%. Approval ratings followed, with Farrell at 36%, Breed at 32%, Peskin at 26%, and Safaí at 17%. Breed had the highest unfavorable figures at 61%, with Peskin coming in second at 50%. The poll was based on phone and web survey results in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

Impact Research conducted the Farrell poll with results that reflect findings from another ranked-choice simulation released in mid-May, which found Breed scraping by with a slim lead and Farrell close behind. Moderate-leaning political group GrowSF commissioned the poll and also found a large share of undecideds.

A row of people is seated in partitioned booths, casting votes. The dividers feature an American flag and "VOTE" text. Signs in multiple languages are visible above them.
Voters will gain insight into each campaign's financial performance at the end of July after candidates are required to file fundraising figures. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

Impact Research is rated as the No. 166th best pollster by FiveThirtyEight, a website that tracks the reputability of various polling companies. The San Francisco Chronicle also released a poll in February which found the sitting mayor facing re-election trouble. 

On the campaign trail, Farrell and Breed have presented two diverging messages about the state of San Francisco, despite both being considered moderate Democrats. Farrell has taken a conservative turn when it comes to public safety policy, suggesting armed National Guard should police neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. The former supervisor raised $350,000 within a month of announcing his candidacy and has been highly critical of the sitting mayor’s track record while trying to capitalize on the deep dissatisfaction with City Hall. 

With four opponents and money against her reelection mounting, Breed has found herself in a bit of a defensive position while staking her hopes on residents feeling that the city is turning the corner. The mayor recently pointed to police data that shows falling crime figures and a reinvigorated downtown, including concerts featuring Skrillex booming out tunes for 25,000 people.

Impact Research’s poll found that just 16% of voters think the city is on the right track, while 46% think San Francisco is going in the wrong direction. Another 34% feel mixed on the issue, while 56% “agree that things in San Francisco are going poorly, and we need a drastic change to get back on track.”

Molly Murphy, president of Impact Research, said that Farrell is in a “strong position” to win November’s election. An influx of spending by candidates such as Farrell and Lurie might be skewing polling, according to supporters of other candidates, since a large amount of money has been spent on their names being pushed in front of San Francisco voters.

The next major insight into each campaign’s performance will come at the end of July, when candidates are required to file financial records for the first half of the year.