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Did Asian Voter Turnout Play a Decisive Role in the SF School Board Recall? Maybe Not
Friday, May 20, 2022

Did Asian Voter Turnout Play a Decisive Role in the SF School Board Recall? Maybe Not

A common media narrative of the San Francisco school board recall paints a picture of masses of angry Asian parents at the polls for the first time, demanding more advanced placement classes for their ambitious children. 

But a Standard analysis of the voter turnout in three neighborhoods that are more than half Asian – Sunset, Visitacion Valley and Chinatown – shows that their turnout patterns were more or less in line with the most recent prior election, the California gubernatorial recall. 

For these two votes, The Standard compared the difference between each neighborhood’s turnout and the citywide average turnout for that election. For the school board recall, the citywide average turnout was 36%, and for the gubernatorial recall it was 68%. In the Sunset, turnout for both recalls were almost the same as the citywide average, though a tad higher for the school board: 38% and 68%. For Chinatown, turnout for both elections was a bit lower than the citywide average: 34% for the school board recall and 64% for the gubernatorial recall. And for Visitacion Valley, turnout was below average by about the same amount in both elections: 26% for the school board recall and 51% for the gubernatorial recall. (The accompanying chart below shows each neighborhood’s turnout percent change from the citywide average turnout.)

And the neighborhoods that turned out highest for the school board recall? The “heights” neighborhoods: Diamond Heights, Presidio Heights and Bernal Heights, in addition to neighboring Twin Peaks, Noe Valley and Castro / Eureka Valley. Those neighborhoods are wealthy, white, older and have more homeowners.

“I’m not really surprised,” said longtime political analyst David Latterman. “The recall wasn’t enough to bring anybody out other than the hardcore San Francisco voters, who are the angry NIMBYs and homeowners.”

Latterman said that the comparatively low turnout was what he’d expect for an off-season municipal election, and in his experience those most likely to come out for such votes are conservative homeowners whose politics would align with recalling the school board.

“The only time elections really bring out voters besides the hardcore voters are for big players like President or Governor,” he said. “And the only time I have seen Asian turnout skyrocket was for Mayor Ed Lee.”

Others say that they think Asians did turn out higher than normal for the school board recall. 

“Asian turnout tends to be 10 to 15% lower than citywide turnout,” said David Lee, Executive Director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee. “And anecdotal evidence shows that Asian Americans had a very high turnout.”

Lee said he’ll be running an analysis of Asian American turnout when the master voter file is available, which provides an individual-level record of who voted.

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All are agreed on one thing: the recall enjoyed high support in the Asian community.

“The Asians that did come out sure as hell voted for the recall,” said Latterman.

About the Data 

The Standard took neighborhood-level voter turnout data from the 2022 school board recall and the 2021 gubernatorial recall and compared each neighborhood’s turnout to the average citywide turnout. The comparison was calculated with a percent difference formula, which was (neighborhood turnout - average citywide turnout ) / average citywide turnout. The neighborhood map that the SF Department of Elections uses is here

Anna Tong can be reached at [email protected].
  • I haven’t seen so many sour grapes since the 2016 presidential debacle. Every news outlet in this town is doing the same “Hillbilly Elegy” type soul searching trying to figure out how THEIR board members could have possibly lost an election.

    The truth is that this wasn’t a referendum on national issues, and it wasn’t about a schism in the Democratic Party: most of the Asian American voters who turned out probably are liberals, and I doubt any of them were swayed by the proclivities of recall funders.

    Speaking anecdotally, the main reason for the APA community being pro-recall is that the Progressive leadership in the City has been too busy virtue-signaling to listen to our needs. Chesa Boudin has, from day one, set an agenda that does not take anti-Asian hate crimes seriously, while Alison Collins’ blatantly racist tweets are largely ignored by Progressive leaders. This outlet and Mission Local have spent more time on possible irregularities in the election than on Jason Kruta’s election interference. When the APA community has expressed grievances over these issues, we’ve been “white-splained” to by white Progressives.

    In the face of this in attentiveness and outright gaslighting on issues that matter to our community, how did the anti-recall crowd think the community was going to vote?

  • A lot of people are very proud od their hard work and sacrifice in studying 15+ hours a week and don’t want to be accused of privilege, white adjacency, white supremacy, nerdiness, or anything negative by people whose kids study 2-5 hours a week and could easily have chosen to study 15 or 25 hours and sacrificed time they just used to relax. Most kids, rich and poor, have a lot of free time. Low income Asians use that time better, on average, than high income whites. Therefore, when they make Lowell lottery, cancel AP prep to give teachers a one time 2k bonus, delay algebra a year when the only reason anyone isn’t ready is not studying hard enough, and eliminate honors, you are basically sentencing most Asian kids to free community service, studying more hours without the public saying, I admire you, you did the moral thing, you deserve Lowell, honors, more income as an adult and a better life as an adult and happiness because you made the right choices and sacrifices. That’s what happened. America is a meritocracy and systemic racism is a myth designed to distribute resources by grievances rather than effort and sacrifice. We need to go back to content of character. If you study 3 hours a week the content of your character is terrible and if you study 20 it’s admirable and good. Our goal should be to convince those studying 3 hours to study 20 hours or more. At least 13. That’s what this is about. Asian Americans are proud of their morals and work ethic. Ali Collins should have tried to get others to emulate them rather than insult them and call them white-adjacent.

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