While the thousands of young, highly skilled workers who have flocked to San Francisco for high-paying jobs have helped to jack up the price of real estate, they haven’t coalesced into a political force
(Tribune News Service) -- Tech moguls and venture capitalists influence San Francisco politics through major political donations, but as of now they don’t have an army of like-minded foot soldiers of tech workers — a “tech voting bloc” — backing them up.
Those are among the preliminary findings of University of San Francisco political science Professor Corey Cook, who’s researching whether tech workers have formed a significant political alliance that could reshape San Francisco.
Cook’s early answer: They have not. While the thousands of young, highly skilled workers who have flocked to San Francisco for high-paying jobs have helped to jack up the price of real estate and restaurant meals, they haven’t coalesced into a political force. Yet.
“The assumption is that because a handful of folks are getting involved in politics, the people that work for them will have the same interests or vote the same way,” Cook said. “That’s not at all clear yet.”
“Tech may never develop as a tech bloc vote in San Francisco,” he said. “We’re trying to see if it does.”
To begin his research — which he plans to present as a formal paper soon at a conference in Florida — Cook used some basic assumptions to try to sift out the number of tech voters in the city.
He started by looking at the number of new voters who have registered in San Francisco since 2010. Then he looked at the number of those folks who are between 23 and 34 years old. He then zeroed in on people in that group who live within walking distance of a tech shuttle bus.
Among the people who fit that criteria, only about 18,000 of them — roughly one-third — voted in November’s election in San Francisco. Most of them live in the South of Market area near the city’s tech hub and are, Cook said, “overwhelmingly white” in a city that isn’t.
They do share one trait consistent with people their age: Apathy. Relatively few voted in November, which is typical of young voters in a non-presidential election year.
So while wealthy tech moguls like venture capitalist Ron Conway, a major contributor to Mayor Ed Lee’s campaigns and to ballot measures, may have an outsize influence in the city’s political scene, “tech workers are not politically engaging yet,” Cook said. While there is a libertarian bent in the tech world, Cook hasn’t seen evidence of that in voting behavior or patterns.
But Alex Tourk, a veteran San Francisco political operative who is also spokesman for Conway’s nonprofit organization representing tech interests, San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, said that “there are aligned interests within the tech community but not necessarily a bloc as of yet. The potential is there, and we have seen increased momentum and engagement from the tech community over the past few years.”
The tech community — from executives to entry-level workers — has coalesced around philanthropic campaigns to some degree. Last fall, Conway’s tech nonprofit created the Circle the Schools program, which hopes to pair a technology firm with each of the city’s 116 public schools by the end of the school year. And top tech CEOs, including Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, have donated millions to health care and nonprofits that deal with poverty in the region.
Philanthropic involvement is not the same as political involvement, but some analysts say it could be a precursor. Observers predict that young tech workers will probably get more involved in voting as they age, when they start caring about issues like taxes and schools.
Until then, one progressive leader in San Francisco, Supervisor Eric Mar, thinks tech workers could be recruited — by the city’s political left.
Mar says young techies share many left-leaning values — like preserving the environment and improving transportation — with progressives. Plus, with many in the industry working on a contract basis, Mar said that “even though they may make more money, many are feeling the same sort of anxiety about job security that low-wage workers feel.”
“There’s a tendency to demonize tech workers,” Mar said. “There’s the stereotype of how the CEO may act, but a lot of them — particularly people working for startups — may be empathetic to many of the labor issues as other progressives.”
©2015 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC