San Francisco’s Asian community might greatly impact mayoral race 

If this were a typical election year in San Francisco, political pundits would be talking about how three high-profile Asian-American candidates for mayor will split the Asian vote in The City and hurt their individual chances of winning.

Click on the photo to the right for a breakdown of demographics by supervisorial district.

But this is not a typical election year. This will be the first election in which ranked-choice voting — where voters pick their top three choices and a winner is declared without holding a runoff — will play a key role in deciding the
next mayor.

As a result, pundits are debating how the three Asian-American candidates — state Sen. Leland Yee, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and city Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting — might actually help, rather than hurt, each other’s cause.

Jim Stearns, who is running Yee’s campaign, said before ranked-choice voting, “David Chiu or Phil Ting entering the race would be a severe blow to Leland.” Stearns said as long as all three candidates run civil campaigns against one another, the Asian community will likely vote as a slate and then the outcome will depend on “the interplay” of the other voting groups.

With San Francisco’s Asian base becoming more influential in local politics — in part due to an increase in voters and population — it is seen as a significant demographic with the power to determine the outcome of the mayor’s race. Asian residents are expected to make up more than 20 percent of the voters Nov. 8.

“It’s a vote that’s large enough now that every candidate in the race will attempt to court,” said David Lee, the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee and a political science instructor at San Francisco State University. “It’s too large a vote to ignore. It’s a vote large enough to swing elections.”

Lee said one factor giving Asians more political muscle is that they tend to vote as a bloc. In other words, voters of Asian descent often vote for political candidates of Asian descent — even across ideological lines.

In the 2006 District 4 supervisor race, Ron Dudum lost after ranked-choice calculations were applied. He had come in second with first-place votes while Asian candidate Ed Jew took first, and two other Asian candidates placed third and fourth.

Dudum lost “because he was not Chinese,” political analyst David Latterman said.

In a precinct analysis Latterman did of the 2006 race, he concluded that Jew received more second-choice votes than Dudum “due to Asian identity voting.”

“The trend in this city is Asian-Americans will vote for Asian-Americans more so than gays will vote for gays,” said Latterman, who is working on Chiu’s campaign. “They are much more likely to identity-vote than other groups in The City.”

Corey Cook, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, said while the Asian community tends to vote for Asian candidates, it would be an “overstatement” to suggest ballots cast would be monolithic. However, Cook said if a candidate were able to build a strong base with large support from the Chinese community, “that would be a formidable coalition,” Cook said.

“It’s 20 percent of the electorate. It’s significant, but it’s not determinative.”  

Interim Mayor Ed Lee, The City’s first Chinese-American mayor, has said he doesn’t plan to run for a full term in November.

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