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San Francisco tech workers didn’t vote — and maybe never will

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Noted tech investor Ron Conway says thousands of tech workers registered to vote in last week’s election, but early data shows that may not be the case. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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Seems like Ron Conway is eating crow — apparently tech workers didn’t vote in large numbers this election, and maybe they never will.

That’s a barometer not only on their political influence (as opposed to the influence of their CEO’s wallets) but also on their ties to the community.

Last week on Election Day, Conway, the tech billionaire and Airbnb, Google and Twitter investor, sounded a triumphant note on turning out tech voters.

I ran into him at the Election Day luncheon at John’s Grill, as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Mayor Willie Brown, a gaggle (flock?) of supervisors and others wined and dined on delicious dishes spread out by the house.

“Thousands have registered,” Conway told me. “We had a whole effort to get tech workers to vote, [to] register and then vote.”

I told him I was surprised, since tech workers didn’t register last election at all. “Well they have now,” Conway barked. “You have to vote. It’s very fundamental.”

On that last point, Conway and I can agree on. Your tendency to vote says a lot about your connection to your community.

Last week, 186,863 San Franciscan ballots were tallied, many I’d wager cast by those worried about our city. Tech workers did not join them, early data shows.

“I can promise you [tech workers] had no effect — turnout was abysmal,” said Corey Cook, a former University of San Francisco politics professor and political analyst.

“Turnout in the growing tech areas,” he told me, “is close to zero.”

Last election (2014), Cook sliced and diced the numbers to search for likely tech worker voters: Newly registered, 22-34 years old, and within a quarter mile of registered commuter shuttle (“Google Bus”) stops. Tech didn’t vote then, either.

Most of the data pollsters have from the Department of Elections is not quite complete — but it isn’t too early to make calls from, either.

“Where are the tech voters from SoMa? Oh right, nowhere,” tweeted prominent TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler, on Election Day.

She’s referring to South of Market, which, as of now, has an abysmal turnout of 34 percent. Chinatown, the focus of a tide of political campaigning, had a more respectable turnout of 46 percent so far, according to the DOE.

Unlike tech, Chinatown citizens had a big stake in this election.

As community organizer (oft-described as a “powerbroker”) Rose Pak told me, Chinatown is worried about evictions. That’s why its citizens turned out to support Aaron Peskin for supervisor.

Of course, tech workers are mostly younger, a cohort of people often less personally invested in their communities — this is common.

But political consultant Jim Ross, who ran an independent expenditure committee supporting newly elected Supervisor Peskin, told me that as a practical matter, the tech community here now may not be here in the future to vote.

“You have 250,000 new voters every four years in San Francisco,” he told me.

Other than homeowners and other cohorts of longtime San Franciscans, “an electorate 10 years from now will be completely different than the electorate two years from now.”

Tech workers move here for a time, then hop out to geekier pastures. As publication Geekwire noted earlier this year, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Apple are all opening locations in Seattle, a fast-growing tech hub.

Ross noted this too. “You see those going to Seattle or Portland, they go to another community,” he said.

Meanwhile, the longtime San Franciscans will still be here.

Our civic leaders should take note of tech’s lackluster showing at the ballot. We’re catering our city — even reshaping our city — for people who have shown us through inaction that they don’t care about its future.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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