2016 Election: Can the Primary Results Predict the Next Six Days?

After the 2015 election in San Francisco, I noticed something that I’m sure other more practiced election watchers have known for a long time: San Franciscans don’t vote consistently. Specifically, I was curious how Aaron Peskin was elected to Supervisor in District 3 even as those same voters rejected major policy initiatives he supported (Propositions F [AirBnb regulation] and I [Mission Housing Development Moratorium]). That inspired me to look at the election results for the whole city and see how that might impact the local races in the 2016 election.

With just a few weeks to go, I’m going to try to do the same thing with the primary election results.

Note #1: the results were finalized waaaay back on June 24, 2016.  The reason I didn’t publish this sooner is that I screwed up all my excel tables and didn’t notice until I was about to hit publish on the post. So I went back and had to redo all my analysis and rebuild all my visuals. It was a real bummer, but I’m not perfect and this blog is more for my own edification than anything else. The end result is that this post is super late and looks at far fewer election results than originally planned.

The central question of the previous post was “do local election results give us any insight into what will happen in November 2016?” Today we’ll look at the results of the (1) presidential primary, (2) state senate primary, and (3) results of Prop C (raising the affordable housing %).

Note #2: I’m going to focus on who I believe are the two main candidates in each race. Sorry other candidates. Many of you are great and deserve attention, but I’m not really promoting anyone here. I’m trying to better understand how San Franciscans vote.

Disclosure #1: even though I literally just said “I’m not really promoting anyone here” I have my favorites. I can’t help it. That’s how I feel, and I just want to be honest. Marjan Philhour is way up there.  The reason? She’s committed to a high information campaign. Her medium page is full of very nuanced policy positions, which she began writing back in April and continues to update. Her opponent, Sandra Lee Fewer, is very smart and accomplished, but took a lot longer to get her policy positions out to the public. On the issue I care most about, housing, I believe Ms. Fewer’s positions, which mirror those of Aaron Peskin, will only increase prices and expedite displacement to the detriment of the neighborhood and the city. At a debate on October 26, she reiterated her commitment to building only 100% subsidized housing, which is tantamount to building nothing. I have no qualms with subsidized housing; we need as much of it as we can get. However, we currently fund affordable housing projects through fees on market rate developments. Building 100% affordable housing means disallowing market rate housing, which would simultaneously exhaust our affordable housing funding, provide very few units, and eliminate a crucial source of funding for future projects. Promoting the construction of only “100% affordable housing” sounds great, but it’s basically the policy equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping.

Joel Engardio is another fave. He’s also committed to an extremely high information campaign. He also has the right idea on housing and transportation. His opponent, incumbent Norman Yee, doesn’t; but is pretty low key about it. He doesn’t quite get my hackles up like Fewer does because he’s less forward leaning in his backward views.

District 1: Sandra Lee Fewer & Marjan Philhour

Back in February, I wrote that based on the previous election results, I thought Marjan Philhour would win in a squeaker. Most residents of the district supported Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection and rejected Props F and I, though these results were less overwhelming than in other parts of the city.

However, the primary results indicate that District 1 voters have a very idiosyncratic relationship with Progressive candidates and causes. When it comes to progressive ballot initiatives, they tend to vote very similarly to the city as a whole, but the results for Progressive candidates are a little more muddled.

About 68% of District 1 voters supported Prop C, the map of support below. This is basically identical to the city-wide results (D1 voters were slightly more supportive, but by less than 1%).


You can see the Prop’s main support in the district comes from the “Progressive Arc” that starts in precinct 9136 in the SW corner, rises up to California Ave in the Middle Richmond and then heads south again as we head East toward the University of San Francisco.

Jane Kim was Prop C’s sponsor and main proponent and she carried the district in state senate primary with about 47.5% of the vote (her main opponent Scott Wiener received 41.5% of the vote). Compared to the city as a whole, Jane Kim over performed among District 1 voters, but again by only about 1% whereas Scott Wiener under performed by the relatively dire 4%.


Progressives and moderates can both find reasons to celebrate the map above. Jane Kim surpassed Scott Wiener by a very healthy 6%. She carried the vast majority of precincts. However, she failed to carry a majority of the districts’ voters and only won two precincts with over 50%. The reason both candidates failed to get over 50% is because Republican Ken Loo received 11%, a relatively strong showing for a Republican in San Francisco.

On first blush, it would appear that Bernie Sanders beat Jane Kim in District 1. There’s a much more visible Progressive Arc in the map below. Bernie won an outright majority in many more precincts than Kim did.


However, while his strength among progressives was stronger than Kim’s, he was weaker among moderate voters. He beat Hillary Clinton in the district, but received a lower vote percentage than Kim.

I predict the race for district Supervisor will be very close, perhaps the closest in the city. In the primary, there were more than enough Republican voters (who will vote in the non-partisan Supervisors race) to swing the results to less progressive candidates. If neither Philhour or Fewer receive 50%+1 of the vote, a result I believe is likely, than it will come down to voter’s second and third choice.

District 3: Aaron Peskin & Tim Donnelly

Tim who? Good question. Incumbent Aaron Peskin faces token opposition in late-entrant Tim Donnelly, who’s running because he “couldn’t let Aaron run unopposed.” Democracy is about choices, and Mr. Donnelly should be applauded for doing his district this service.

Aaron Peskin will win re-election to his seat, but let’s take a look at the results anyway.


The results in District 3 largely mirror those in District 1. Aaron Peskin was a big proponent of Prop C, and it performed slightly better in D3 than it did city-wide.

The Prop C map does a good job illustrating areas of political strength in the district. Progressive candidates and causes do well in the Tenderloin-adjacent areas in the SW corner, Chinatown, and along Columbus Ave (North Beach-ish). They do poorly in the Financial District, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and along the Embarcadero.

This pattern is repeated in the State Senate results.


Like in District 1, Jane Kim and Republican Ken Loo over performed, while Wiener under performed their city-wide results. Also, like in District 1, Kim won without winning a full majority. Despite that, she still beat Wiener by about 7%. Kim is a close ally of Peskin on the Board of Supervisors and her strength is probably a reflection on his.

Unlike District 1, where Bernie Sanders did very well, he under performed in District 3 relative to his support city-wide.

Figure 6: Bernie and Hillary in D3

Figure 6: Bernie and Hillary in D3

Bernie’s failure in District 3 is interesting because he and Jane Kim campaigned together and performed similarly in most districts. This was decidedly not the case in District 3 thanks, in large part, to the voters of Chinatown who strongly supported Kim AND strongly supported Hillary Clinton. These results show that Chinatown continues to be the key to District 3.

As I said, Aaron Peskin is the prohibitive favorite to win reelection. It will be interesting to see exactly what level of support he garners. He’s rumored to want to run for mayor, and a decisive reelection win will go a long way toward helping him realize that goal.

District 5: London Breed & Dean Preston

As I wrote previously, London Breed has the benefit of incumbency despite the fact that she is perhaps not the best ideological fit for District 5, which is, along with District 9, among the most strongly progressive parts of the city. Prop C is a great example of that progressive strength. Almost 75% of District voters were in favor of Prop C. It only did better in District 9.

Figure X: Prop C in D5

Breed’s opponent, Dean Preston, is desperate to brand her as allied with the mayor/too moderate for this district, and back in February I agreed that this might be an effective strategy. However, the results of the primary offer both candidates a pathway forward.


Jane Kim had her third best performance among the voters of District 5, making this district among those that make up the core of her progressive support. It was one of three Districts where she won an outright majority. As you can see in the bar chart, she won a huge number of precincts. Her strongest area of support within the District was what I call “Greater Haight” – Upper and Lower Haight, NOPA, and Alamo Square. Wiener did best in Cole Valley, Japantown, and Lower Pacific Heights. Hayes Valley, the Western Addition, and the Inner Sunset are sort somewhere in the middle, though Kim generally swept them all. This is exactly the path that Dean Preston would like to recreate as he runs for Supervisor.

London Breed, on the other hand, wants to mirror Hillary Clinton, who squeaked out a slim win against Bernie Sanders.


Like Wiener, Hillary lost the Greater Haight, but managed to run up the score in Cole Valley, Lower Pacific Heights and Japantown. However, she managed eke out small victories in Western Addition, Hayes Valley precincts, such that she was able to win the District by a very thin margin.

I’m inclined to believe that London Breed will win re-election largely by following Hillary Clinton’s path. Bernie Sanders, for whatever reason, has endorsed Breed’s opponent (sort of), but his endorsement matters little with the voters Breed needs in order to win her race. She’s from the Western Addition and will probably perform strongly there. Still the path she must walk is a very narrow one, and it should be noted that Hillary won the district with a plurality, rather than majority of votes. If this were a 3+ candidate race, Breed’s name recognition would probably allow her to prevail through ranked-choice voting. With only two candidates, the winner must get a majority of first-choice votes and that happens very rarely for moderate candidates or causes in District 5.

District 7: Norman Yee & Joel Engardio (and others)

Like District 5, the seat in District 7 is held by an incumbent running for reelection (Norman Yee) who may not be the best ideological fit for the district. He’s a progressive in what is probably the least progressive district in the city.

District 7 voters were among the least in favor of Prop C in city. It was one of two districts (District 2 is the other), where it garnered less than 60% of the vote. In fact, in many areas of the district it flat out lost.


Progressive candidates fared even worse.  Jane Kim received only about 38.5% of the vote, losing all but 11 precincts. Scott Wiener received almost 49% and Republican Ken Loo received about 12.5% of the vote.


Mirroring the results of the state senate race, Bernie Sanders received about 38.5% of the vote, Hillary Clinton received almost 49%, and Republicans received 12.6%. These results underscore how ideologically consistent voters in District 7 are.


You might think that progressive Norman Yee would be facing an uphill battle in his reelection effort, given these results. Indeed, the results above indicate he will. However, Yee got a lucky break in that he’s being challenged by four candidates, all of whom are less progressive (Joel Engardio, Ben Matranga. Mike Young, and John Farrell). A divided race benefits the incumbent because higher name recognition will make him more likely to be voters second or third choice.

Joel Engardio ran for the seat in 2012, and was the first challenger out of the gate this cycle. That experience was definitely on display during a recent debate between the candidates (except Yee, who declined to participate). Engardio’s answers reflected a fluency with the issues that the newer entrants did not always have. Had this been a two person race, I think Norman Yee would be facing a very tough race. Case-in-point, both the Chronicle and the Examiner, which are often at odds, endorsed Engardio, making Yee the only incumbent who failed to receive their endorsements. As it is, the fundraising and moderate political establishment is divided. All the challengers would be aided by a coordinated “1-2-3 Defeat Norman Yee” campaign in order to diminish the number of 2nd or 3rd choice votes Yee picks up through name recognition.

District 9: Hillary Ronen and Josh Arce

District 9 remains the most progressive part of the city. Prop C received 75% of the voters in D9, higher than any other district. Only the residents of the Portola, in the very southern part of the district, were lukewarm on the measure.



This was also Jane Kim’s best district. She won 56% of the vote among D9 residents and won the vast majority of the precincts. She performed best in the Mission; in the northern part of the District, and worst in, again, the Portola.



Like in District 5, the other progressive stronghold, there was a neighborhood schism in the presidential primary.


While Bernie remained strong in the Mission, Hillary managed to perform well ahead of Scott Wiener among voters in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. Hillary lost Bernal Heights by less than 100 votes. Wiener lost Bernal Heights by over 1000 votes. Bernie still managed to win a a majority of D9 voters, it was by a much slimmer margin than Kim’s victory.

The progressive establishment has lined up behind Hillary Ronen, and her path to victory is clear; just do what every other progressive candidate has done before her. If Josh Arce has any chance at an upset, he’ll need to outdo Hillary Clinton’s performance, which probably means winning Bernal Heights, and minimizing losses in the Mission.

District 11: Ahsha Safai and Kimberly Alvarenga

I must admit that of all the areas in the city, this is the one I visit least. Hopefully that means the election results will speak for themselves; uncolored by any preconceived ideas I might have had. Most likely it means I have no idea what’s going on.

I do know that many progressive columnists have been hitting moderate candidate Ahsha Safai harder than candidates in other races, a sign that they believe their candidate, Kimberly Alvarenga, is in danger of losing. My previous analysis justified these fears. The district was almost entirely in favor of the mayor’s reelection and against Props F and I. This time, however, Prop C performed fairly well. About 69% of voters were in favor of Prop C, which is slightly better than District 1 and slightly worse than District 3 and higher than the city-wide results.


Likewise, Jane Kim enjoyed similar success. She captured about two-thirds of the districts precincts’ and almost 47% of the vote, which is slightly better than her city-wide result. Scott Wiener’s silver lining is that this was among Kim’s narrower wins, and there are more than enough Republican votes (9%) in this district to impact the outcome.


Like we’ve now seen in several districts, Hillary Clinton out performed the other moderate candidates She also received almost 48% of the district vote, to Bernie’s 45%. We see that the Republican share of the vote was 2% lower in this race than it was in the State Senate race. Hillary had to win a few Kim voters in order to win, but this Republican shift gives us some indication of who they can impact the outcome of close local races.


TL;DR/Supervisor Wrap Up

In the bag: Aaron Peskin has the race in District 3 sown up, in what could ordinarily be a swing district. Watch his support in Chinatown for an indication of what the future holds.

Progressive Girl in a Progressive World: Hillary Ronen is the favorite to win the race in District 9. District 9 voters have voted in favor of every progressive candidate or cause I’ve looked at.

The Benefit of Incumbency?: moderate London Breed (D5) and progressive Norman Yee (D7) aren’t the best ideological fit for voters in their districts. Will Breed’s less-dogmatic voting record and focus on neighborhood services history save her? This writer thinks so based on Hillary Clinton’s victory over Bernie in the district. Norman Yee’s chances seem slimmer. Voters in D7 are very consistent and very conservative (by SF standards). If  he win’s it will be because the field of opposition is crowded and his higher name recognition allowed him to pick up voters as voters second or third choice.

Wide Open: It could go either way in swing districts 1 and 11. Progressives would seem to have the advantage in D1, given the twin victories of Kim and Sanders, but both races could have swung differently had Republicans been included. As we’ve seen in previous elections, D1 voters have history of being lukewarm on progressive causes. Democrats in D11 are slightly less progressive than D1, but the district also has fewer Republicans. I think either of these races could go either way. Both districts have elected Progressive supervisors in the past, but by only the thinnest of margins.

State Senate: Kim and Wiener

Kim’s narrow primary shocked the world! Though I was never really sure why. Jane Kim and Scott Wiener are, in my opinion, our two most forward leaning supervisors. Unlike some of their peers, who receive complaints for being unresponsive, Wiener and Kim are both extremely active Supervisors with lots of legislative accomplishments. On one hand this race should be easy to predict because they already ran against each other (with Republican Ken Loo) in the primary and Kim won, albeit ever so slightly.


Kim’s areas of greatest strength are progressive strongholds District 9 and 5, and District 6, which she currently represents. Wiener’s base is in the ultra moderate Districts 7 and 2; and in District 8, which he currently represents. She won narrowly in District 4 and 11, and by wider margins in Districts 1 and 3. Aside from his strongholds, Wiener only won narrowly in D10. Kim supporters shouldn’t get too excited though. If the November election is as close as as June’s primary was, Wiener will probably win because Loo is no longer on the ballot and there were more than enough Loo voters to alter the results.

If I had to pick today, I would say Wiener in a squeaker.

Reasons why I could be wrong!

Turnout will be high!

The primary had a 56% voter turnout rate, which is actually pretty good for an SF primary (the 2012 primary only had a 30% turnout; 2008 only had about 40%). As high as that is, the November election will almost certainly be much higher. The 2012 presidential election had a 72.5% voter turnout, and 2008 had an 81%. If an extra 120,000 San Franciscans turn out to vote who knows what could happen.

Does race matter?

One important dynamic that I am in no way qualified to discuss is the impact of candidate’s race. Will the Chinese-American candidates (Fewer, Yee) get a boost from Chinese-American voters in their district? If such a benefit exists, will that extend to the Korean-American Kim? Some have argued that it does. Likewise, will Joshua Arce’s Latino heritage help him in the Mission?

I have no idea. I just started looking at elections last year. Let’s wait and find out.

Courting Republicans might turn off other Democrats

I’ve written quite a lot about there are more than enough Republicans to impact the results of the races for Supervisor in District 1 and District 11 as well as in the State Senate race, but candidates like Wiener, Philhour and Safai have to be careful. It’s possible that courting Republicans could backfire and turn off other moderate Democratic voters. It’s also possible that Republicans could be so bummed about being on the San Francisco endangered species list that they could stay home entirely.

Who knows? Life is a grand adventure, isn’t it?

Individual candidates may have other issues

Voters may be ideologically attracted to a candidate, but feel like that candidate has other overriding flaws. Sandra Lee Fewer attracted negative press over her fundraising activities. Likewise, Ahsha Safai attracted negative attention concerning is tenure at the Housing Authority. These issues are personal, rather than ideological. I don’t account for them, but voters certainly will.

Other issues may have come to the fore

I only focus on a handful of propositions, mostly concerning housing and development. However, voters’ attention may have shifted such that other issues like homelessness, policing, or transportation may have increased in relative importance.

We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in just under a week.


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