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We Figured Out Why Ed Lee Is Smiling

Scott Lucas | December 10, 2013 | Story Politics

Despite what yesterday's Google Bus blockading protestors might be saying (not to mention cranky New York Times columnists), most people in SF are pretty damn happy with how things are going in the city. New poll numbers released today in the Chronicle reveal that overwhelming majorities of San Francisco residents approve of the job that Mayor Ed Lee is doing and feel that the city is moving in the right direction. It's all in line with our cover story this month: Ed Lee, for the moment at least, is crushing it.

That's according to the numbers released by USF professor Corey Cook and USF lecturer and political consultant David Latterman. In an online poll of 553 residents between November 18 and 25, 17.9% of respondents strongly approved of the Mayor's performance and 54.7% somewhat approved. In contrast, only 19.1% said they somewhat disapproved and 6.3% strongly disapproved. There's no two ways to cut it: Those are powerfully high numbers. Ed Lee is about as popular as a free round of House Cappuccinos at Tosca.

Though the next election is still far away, these are tough numbers for any challenger who hopes that the 8 Washington vote prefigures a larger pushback against the mayor's pro-business agenda. Frankly, progressives in San Francisco face a steep challenge with the voters. But there's potential for a wedge issue to emerge around affordability.

Because there is discontent in the city. 39.1% of respondents said that the cost of living in the city was a big problem, with 28.1% saying it was somewhat a problem. A whopping 70% of voters said that the government should enact policies to make the city more affordable. Those concerns cut across all demographic categories. And when voters talk affordability, they mean rent and home ownership, which topped their list of concerns. If the mayor becomes seen as failing at taming those negative spillovers, he could be vulnerable to the right challenger. But the challenge would have to be framed carefully, political insiders say, as being against Lee's handling of the booming tech ecomony, not to the tech economy itself.

Progressive activists hoping for a full scale voter revolt won't find much to cheer them in these results. The poll's authors wrote that "there was little interest in making it harder for tech companies to come to San Francisco. For now, keeping the economy strong appears to be the priority, and we expect that feelings about the economy will stave off a substantial political backlash at least for the time being." The real chance for a challenge to the mayor from the left comes from the disconnect that respondents experienced in the distribution of the benefits of the tech sector. 80.7% said that its growth had benefited tech executives, while only 35% said it had personally benefited them or their families.

Respondents for the most part rejected the idea that the city should discourage tech firms from locating here. Rather, they agreed that the City should seek financial concessions from firms that receive incentives to locate in town, which included donations to schools, volunteerism, and funds for public transit.

For now, the basic message is clear. Absent a major change in the underlying voter preferences or the economic situation, the mayor will be in strong shape heading into his 2015 reelection. And he'll probably keep smiling.

Read the full results of the poll here.

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