San Francisco is a great place to live. Just don't ask about how much it costs to live here or how hard it is to find housing.
That's the major takeaway from the latest round of the San Francisco Survey, a polling effort by David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics and Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research on behalf of the Committee on Jobs, a centrist pro-business group.
It also showed that voters support a wide range of initiatives, from many ideological points of view, to combat the housing problem.
The survey found that 88% of San Franciscans either strongly or somewhat agreed that the city was a good place to live. That number is largely the same as September's 90%. That's good news for incumbents city-wide, including the mayor, who clocked a 55% approval rating—essentially unchanged from 52% in the fall. The Board of Supervisors as a whole did fairly well too, with a voter approval rate of 44%. (Compare that to a recent poll that put Congress at 8%.)
But there are continuing signs of trouble on the issues, with 50% of voters saying that the cost of living was a top issue for the city to address, 44% naming housing, and 41% homelessness. (Voters were asked to pick their top three issues for this question.) That could be bad news for incumbents if the voters come to think that their performance on those issues isn't up to par come election day.
The cost of living has remained in the top spot in the poll's three administrations since September, while housing concerns have surpassed homelessness as the second-ranked issue. The voters' lowest concerns were the city's politicians and government, followed by development, poverty, and the economy and jobs.
One way to view these numbers is to conclude that many voters are more or less in line with the mayor's approach to these issues. That's what Jason McDaniel, an assistant professor of political science at San Francisco State, said. "I think the detailed break out of opinions on housing tracks very closely with what Mayor Lee has been talking about," he said. "Especially the prevalence of 'middle-income' housing, compared to 'low income' housing and public and affordable housing, and the importance of protecting rent control laws."
Interestingly, the voters were enthusiastic about every option presented in the poll to address the housing and cost of living issues. Voters went for the "All of the above option" on housing—with 68% supported building more, while 64% were in favor of fighting evictions and gentrification. In separate questions, 78% of voters were in favor of increased levels of middle-income housing, 75% in favor of spending development fees within the same neighborhoods as construction, 68% in favor of protecting rent controlled stock, 67% in favor of building more below-market rate housing, and 65% for legalization of in-law units.
"It's indicative to me that there is a plurality or consensus opinion on the issue of building more middle-class housing," said McDaniel, "the existence of which has probably been under-reported in the public debates on housing."
On homelessness, voters were asked for their opinions of the implementation of something called "Laura's Law," which provides for court-ordered mental health treatment of the mentally ill who pose a danger to themselves or others. Support for such a measure ranged from 66% to 69%, although the wording of the question may have played a role in increasing those numbers.
The survey was conducted with a sample size of 616 respondents over the period from February 11-17. The study is conducted in English and Chinese over email rather than by phone, and relies on demographic weighting rather than random sampling to match the population distribution. The survey's methods have come in for criticism and defense.