Map and analysis of voting data by David Lee, the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee.

The turnout of Asian voters in last month’s election, which ended in the overwhelming recall of three school board members, was indeed historic. But in reality, it may have been less statistically significant than some imagine, according to David Lee, a lecturer of political science at San Francisco State University and the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee.

School board members Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga were all given the thumbs-down by at least 69 percent of the voters, but only 22.8 percent of those casting ballots in the Feb. 15 election were Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters, making it unlikely that the community was decisive in the recall election.

In the school board recall, Asian turnout was

unusually high compared to citywide turnout.

% turnout

Citywide

Asian and Pacific Islander

100

90

Lee’s analysis suggests that

Asian turnout was higher

than general turnout, which

has not been typical in recent

San Francisco elections

80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

2020 Presidential Election

2021 Governor Recall

2022 School Board Recall

In the school board recall, Asian

turnout was unusually high

compared to citywide turnout.

Citywide

Asian and Pacific Islander

2020 Presidential Election

2021 Governor Recall

2022 School Board Recall

Lee’s analysis suggests

that Asian turnout was

higher than general

turnout, which has not

been typical in recent

San Francisco elections

0

60

20

40

80

100

% turnout

Chart by Will Jarrett. Analysis of voting data by David Lee.

Still, with the Chinese community’s turnout 10.5 percent higher than the citywide turnout, “The Chinese turnout was unusual,” Lee said. This number was unprecedented since 1993, when Lee began tracking turnout in San Francisco. Over the years, Lee has been able to derive a rough pattern of Chinese voter turnout based on the turnout of those who requested Chinese-language ballots.

A similar pattern held for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) voters as a whole, with a turnout 4.3 percent higher than citywide. 

“I will say that, in almost all the elections I’ve seen in the last 10 years, Chinese and Asian voters voted between five to 15 percent below the citywide average,” Lee said. About a quarter of San Francisco’s population is Chinese, and they represent 21.4 percent of those over 18. But low participation has made the Chinese community a minor factor in elections until the last 20 or even 10 years, according to Lee.

In the September, 2021, gubernatorial recall election, for example, overall Asian turnout was 14.1 percent lower than citywide; Chinese turnout was 9.7 lower, Lee estimated. In the November, 2020, presidential election, turnout was 18.3 percent and 12.1 percent lower, respectively.

So far, the data to confirm the AAPI community’s overwhelming support of the recall remains unavailable to the public. Still, Lee’s research shows that, of all the precincts in San Francisco, “statistically, the higher the Asian voter turnout, the higher the recall support.” In other words: The higher the percentage of eligible Asian voters participated in a precinct, the more that precinct went for the recall.

This map compiled by Lee also reveals that Parkside and Lake Shore — the area surrounding Lowell High School — had one one of the highest AAPI turnouts. This is likely to confirm another widely circulated expectation.

“Of course, the Lowell issue was one of the important drivers,” said Lee.

Other precincts with high AAPI turnouts included Cole Valley (District 5), West Portal (District 7), Forest Hill (District 7), Golden Gate Heights (District 7) and Glen Park (District 8). All of these are affluent residential neighborhoods.

And, although the voters were so engaged in this election, Lee is skeptical of the widely held perception that AAPI voters will be so active in the District Attorney recall election. He guessed that in June, as the city votes in a statewide primary for governor and congressional seats, the general population will have “a much higher” turnout in comparison to the February election.

“That is a completely different election dynamic,” he said.

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Yujie Zhou is our newest intern. Before falling in love with the Mission, she covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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