Can 2015 Foreshadow 2016?

One question I’ve been wondering about is “Do San Franciscans vote consistently?” In the most recent election, we found that the voters of District 3 do not. They voted for Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection and for his pro-housing development legislative initiatives, but they also elected Aaron Peskin who opposed the Mayor’s agenda. Why? My best guess is that the voters generally supported the Mayor and his agenda, but also really liked Aaron Peskin’s retail politics:


Aaron Peskin has quietly backed off some of his less popular positions, like further regulating short-term rentals (Prop F) or a development moratorium in the Mission (Prop I). Despite the fact that both of these initiatives were billed by supporters as necessary to “save the soul of San Francisco,” the rest of the city disagreed. With Peskin’s election, the Board of Supervisors ostensibly has enough votes to pass both initiatives, and yet nary a peep. Luckily for them, the progressive media and cabal of activists have given them a pass. Truthfully, the pall of next year’s election where all the Progressives are termed out of office (Mar, Avalos, Campos) or are facing another election (Peskin, Yee, Kim). As much as Mar, Avalos, and Campos might like to bring these issues up again, they probably don’t want to jeopardize the future electoral successes of their colleagues.

However, just because those issues aren’t going before the Board of Supervisors again doesn’t mean they won’t lurk over the 2016 election. Or, at least, that’s the question I am am here to posit. Do the 2015 election results have any predictive relationship to 2016?

A few caveats: Only 45% of San Franciscans voted in 2015, the 2016 presidential election will drive turnout much higher. The conventional wisdom is that higher turnout benefits progressive candidates and positions.

Note: Here is the key for the maps below. Blue means the Mayor won with over 50 percent. Darker blues indicate that opposition to Props F or I (or both). Pink/Red means the Mayor received under 50%. Darker reds indicate support for Props F or I (or both). Generally, the darker the blue, the more moderate the vote in that precinct was; the darker the red the more progressive the vote in that precinct was.

Lee > 50%, No on F, No on I

Lee > 50%, Yes on F, No on I

Lee < 50%, No on F, No on I

Lee < 50%, No on either F or I, but not both

Lee < 50%, Yes on F and Yes on I

Board of Supervisors

District 1: Fewer and Philhour

Progressive Supervisor Eric Mar is termed out of office and the two most visible candidates to succeed him are progressive member of the school board Sandra Lee Fewer and the moderate Marjan Philhour. While Fewer is the more well known of the two and has Mar’s endorsement, the results of the most recent election suggest that her positions aren’t necessarily in step with the District. If we look at the precinct-level results, we see that the Mayor and his legislative agenda carried the district. Though its worth noting that while the Mayor won most of the precincts, that doesn’t mean he won them by very much. Compared to the city as a whole, Ed Lee was slightly less popular and Props F and I were slightly more popular.


While this district has historically elected progressive supervisors (Eric Mar and Jake McGoldrick before that), but sometimes only by the thinnest of margins. Eric Mar won his first election in 2008 (where turnout was 81%) with only 50.67 percent of the vote. Demographically, this is toss-up and if residents vote in 2016 the way they did in 2016, than Fewer faces a slightly uphill battle.

It’s worth noting that Philhour seems to be out campaigning Fewer, at least initially. Philhour has many more followers on social media and posts daily with content from different events. Fewer has a twitter and facebook account, but you can’t necessarily tell from the content that she’s running a campaign for Supervisor. Additionally, it’s actually really hard to find Fewer’s website. It doesn’t come up in a google search, and the only link is in very small print on her Facebook page. If you do manage to find it, it isn’t that helpful. Meanwhile Philhour has a fully-functioning website that’s easy to find and has content in English, Russian, and Mandarin.









Social media and a web presence may not be that important to your average District 1 voter, but it may indicate a general level of campaign activity and sophistication.

If I’m using the results of 2015 to predict the results of 2016, than I have to bet on Philhour, but it’ll be a squeaker.

Update: Philhour raised a crazy amount of money for her race. No wonder her website looks so good. I think this is going to be the election to watch this year. These are two good candidates with strong institutional support duking it out in a competitive district.

District 5: Breed and Preston

Moderate Board of Supervisors President London Breed faces a tough reelection challenge from Dean Preston, the progressive director of Tenants Together. Unseating an incumbent supervisor is hard (it, like, hasn’t ever happened), so a Breed defeat would be historic. However, based on the 2015 results, Breed appears to have quite the fight ahead of her.


The Mayor is deeply unpopular in District 5. He was the first choice for only about 43 percent of voters.  Props F and I failed in District 5, but just barely. They were more popular here than in any other district except for District 9. Breed will clearly run strongest in the Western Addition, Fillmore, Japan Town, and Lower Pacific Heights neighborhoods.

I have to admit that I’m not very fond of Dean Preston. He wrote this hit piece about the San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation (SFBarf). SFBarf is pro-development, but is also pro-tenant. His piece is so inaccurate it’s practically libel. SFBarf has no affiliation to nor did the organization oppose any tenant protection legislation. Even after being corrected, Preston did not edit or remove his piece.

My personal feelings aside, Preston has the advantage based on the 2015 results.

District 7: Yee and Engardio

At first glance this race looks like the mirror of the District 5 election. Incumbent progressive Norman Yee represents one of the most moderate districts in the city. Unlike District 1 (which was similarly blue), District 7 voters cast their ballots for Ed Lee and against Props F and I waaaaay more frequently the rest of the city.


Not only is he ideologically out of place, he won his first election in 2012 with only 50.27 percent of the vote. Norman Yee should be a dead man walking, but so far he doesn’t seem to be.

His opponent, Joel Engardio hasn’t yet received much attention or many endorsements (Only District 4’s Katy Tang has endorsed him). Why? I have no idea. Maybe everyone loves Norman Yee. He is our city’s most adorable supervisor. He also has great taste in restaurants.

Besides incumbency, Yee’s other advantage is that District 7 has its own brand of ideology. The District is very politically moderate, but it’s also fairly anti-development.  Yee has voted against legalizing accessory dwelling units and against removing the need for a conditional use permit for affordable housing, both are positions that are probably in line with his constituents. Engardio, on the other hand, is running on a platform that includes increasing housing density along transit corridors, which may be enough to turn off voters’ who like the leafy, suburban feel of District 7.

Still, the point of this exercise is to see if 2015 presages 2016. If that’s true, Yee’s going down.



District 9: Ronen, Lindo, and Arce

District 9 is one of our city’s most progressive districts. Supervisor David Campos is termed out and his chief of staff, Hillary Ronen, is competing against fellow progressive Edward Lindo and moderate Joshua Arce for the chance to replace him.

Ed Lee is so unpopular in District 9 that he performed worse than former Sherriff Ross Mirkarimi (who was charged with domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness). Lee was the first choice for only about 37 percent of the voters in District 9.

District 9 is also the only District where Props F and I received over 50 percent of the vote, thought neither did so overwhelmingly. The two Props passed in ever precinct in the Mission, but were less popular in Bernal Heights (and unpopular in Portola). The lack luster performance of those Props suggests that the city as a whole has become more pro-housing development than it was just a few years ago.

Based on the 2015 results, this race is Ronen or Lindo’s to lose. Ronen appears to be the better funded and more active of the two. They have very similar views, so I imagine that under our ranked-choice voting system, their supporters will each select the other as their second choice.

I haven’t been able to find an election where any moderate candidate received any meaningful support in this district.


District 11: Alvarenga and Safai

Like District 1’s Eric Mar and District 9’s David Campos, District 11’s progressive firebrand (and almost mayor) John Avalos is term-limited out of office. If there’s a comparison to be made, it’s to the District 1 campaign between Philhour and Fewer.

D11-FIMIf Philhour is a moderate running aggressively in a slightly more progressive than average district, than the reverse is true here. Kimberly Alvarenga is a progressive running hard in a slightly more moderate than average district.

I say it’s slight more moderate than average because the mayor was slightly more popular here than he was city-wide. Prop F was hugely unpopular here; (it was so much less popular here and in nearby District 10, that I have to believe there’s more to the story that I don’t know). Prop I was slightly more popular here than in the rest of the city, though that mostly came from that small pocket of red in the Portola neighborhood. Props A (Affordable Housing Bond), D (development at Mission Rock), K (turning surplus city property into housing) were very unpopular here. This may be because the Balboa Reservoir (not an actual reservoir, just a huge parking lot) is nearby and many pro-housing advocates want to see it developed.

The current supervisor, John Avalos, won his first election with only 52.93 percent of the vote against Ahsha Safai, who happens to be running again. While I can’t find much evidence that Safai has been actively campaigning (another candidate without a web presence), I understand that he’s drawn a lot of endorsements and has been active in the district.

If 2015 is really predictive of 2016, than Ahsha Safai should win this election.

Possible Flaws in this Analysis

Vote Splitting

Voters are not always ideologically consistent. I wrote earlier about how the voters in District 3 elected Aaron Peskin despite the fact that they didn’t agree with his positions on Props F and I. Additionally, these same voters were more likely than average to vote for the Mayor’s re-election, despite the fact that Peskin’s candidacy emerged in response to, what many believe, the Mayor’s poor performance.

On the left is a map of Peskin vs Christensen (Peskin is red/pink) with the results of Props F and I (from my earlier post). On the right is the same map, but instead Peskin vs. Christensen, it shows precincts where Ed Lee received over 50% of the vote. Obviously, Ed Lee won a lot of precincts that Aaron Peskin also won.

D3 comparison

Voters can and will split their ballots. Maybe housing isn’t the number one issue on voters minds. Maybe one candidate is a better retail politician. Maybe the other candidate is weak or gaffe prone. These kinds of factors are hard to calculate, but (as D3 demonstrates) clearly have an impact on the vote.

Fundraising and Organization 

I am not (yet) trying to analyze the impact of fundraising or campaign organization. There are several races that we expect will be close (D1 & D11) or where an incumbent faces a strong challenge (D5 & D8). Candidates in these races who are able to raise more money and better organize will be able to move the needle in their direction. In races where the outcome is close, this kind of advantage could impact the final outcome.

That Being Said

I’m not actually trying to predict the next election. I’m trying to see (1) can the results of future elections be predicted by the results of the past, and (2) is the housing crisis the foremost issue on voters’ minds?

If the above is true, then I predict that Philhour, Ronen, and Safai will win their elections, while Yee and Breed will lose their re-elections. This doesn’t necessarily reflect what I want to happen, but it’s the hypothesis I aim to test.


One thought on “Can 2015 Foreshadow 2016?

  1. Pingback: 2016 Election: Can the Primary Results Predict the Next Six Days? | Lord of the Fails

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