I have a neighbor who has been obsessed with local voting patterns for decades. After every election, he studies the results from every precinct. Last week, I attended the (online) neighborhood association meeting where he shared his conclusions about the most recent election. Practically the first thing he said was that Trump got more votes in our neighborhood, San Francisco as a whole, and California as a whole in 2020 than in 2016. He has never seen a Republican presidential candidate get so many votes in San Francisco. Trump did particularly well in certain (though not all) working-class neighborhoods with many residents of color. To him, this feels like the beginning of an important trend. He believes that if this trend continues, then Trump supporters are going to build a real power base in the city and increase their influence over local politics. He also went into more detail about the California-wide votes and how it reflects that California Democrat Party is losing ground.
He looked up voting results in other urban areas, and in every city he looked at, Trump did better in 2020 than 2016. “Trump got 70,000 more votes in Philadelphia this year than in 2016,” he said. “Biden won Pennsylvania because he did well in the suburbs, he lost ground in the urban areas.”
Prop 16 (Affirmative Action) failed despite Governor Newsom’s (and the California Democrat Party’s) endorsement; Prop 22 (Do Uber/Lyft/etc. get exemption from minimum wage laws?) passed despite Newsom’s (and the California Democrat Party’s) opposition. My neighbor claimed that this would not have been possible without a lot of registered Democrats voting against Prop 16/for Prop 22, and that Newsom’s/the California Democrat Party’s endorsement/opposition did not sway them means that the governor and the party are not connecting with the Democrat voting base.
To be clear, the overwhelming majority of San Francisco voters chose Biden. But when a guy this obsessed with local voting data says that there is a critical new trend, I pay attention.
Many people asked him, ‘Why did this happen?’ His theory is that the Democrat Party takes urban voters for granted because we have been so loyal to the Democrat Party for so long, therefore they have abandoned us. They no longer take urban issues, especially urban working-class issues, seriously. “Has Biden said anything about transit?” he asks. “Has Governor Newsom?”
I am not completely convinced by his theory. I’d want to see/hear interviews with various San Francisco residents who voted for Trump before drawing conclusions. Did the increase in votes for Trump come from working-class voters who had lived in San Francisco since before 2016, or did they come from gentrifiers who moved into working-class neighborhoods from outside the city after 2016? Precinct data does not answer that question.
That said, he raises good questions: why are urban voters turning away from the Democrat Party, and what is the Democrat Party planning to do about it? He found it incredibly frustrating that, after the Democrats lost seats in the House and Biden barely won despite Trump’s horrible failures, the Democrats chose the same leadership. He did not explicitly say, ‘Nancy Pelosi should stop being the Speaker of the House to make way for someone more competent,’ but that was heavily implied (note: we are in Nancy Pelosi’s district).
Personally, I think if the leaders of the ‘Democrat Party’ were going to have an awakening and radically change their approach, or lose their positions to new leaders, it would have happened in 2016. It’s didn’t happen, the upper leadership is basically the same, and they are doubling down on the same kinds of strategies used in 2016.
So what is to be done? How about getting a better understanding of what is happening? That means doing more research on people who did not vote for Trump in 2016 but did vote for him in 2020 (or if the increase in Trump votes is primarily because of Trump voters moving into San Francisco after 2016, confirm that that is the cause). It also means doing more research on non-voters since there are many, their choice to not-vote has a tremendous impact, and much political research neglects them.
The guy obsessed with voting data believes Governor Gavin Newsom might be recalled in 2021 and possibly replaced with a Republican governor. He thinks that the key factor will be the success of the vaccine rollout. If it’s like the rollout of Affordable Care Act in 2014 (with the crashing website), he expects that Newsom (and the California Democrat Party) will be in trouble. In the short term, he says the (Democrat) California political leadership needs to make sure the vaccination distribution happens as smoothly and with as few screwups as possible. Personally, I think our political leaders should do their utmost to handle the vaccines responsibly simply because it’s the right thing to do.