After three members of San Francisco’s Board of Education lost a special election in a landslide vote, many of the city’s residents were hesitant to predict the same fate for district attorney Chesa Boudin, who faces a recall referendum in June. Boudin has backers with broad influence and deep pockets—but a new poll suggests even those pockets might not be deep enough. On March 16, EMC Research, a Democratic firm retained by backers of the recall campaign, released the results of a survey conducted in mid-February showing that 74 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of Boudin, and 68 percent plan on voting him out of office.
For Team Boudin, spinning this news into something positive will be challenging, if not impossible. The numbers point to the folly of his strategy of trying to convince the people of San Francisco that all is well, and that justice is being served. The D.A.’s office has tried hard to paint the recall as a predominantly right-wing effort, but San Francisco is an overwhelmingly liberal city. Just 6.7 percent of registered voters are Republicans. The right-wing slur—and that is what it is intended to be—doesn’t resonate.
Insisting that crime is down, and even getting reporters to disseminate statistical misinformation, are also failing to persuade voters. Too many San Franciscans now have personal experience with crime. Residents’ car windows are repeatedly smashed and catalytic converters are carved out. “Smash and grabs” are so routine that the San Francisco Chronicle even publishes a tracker for car break-ins. Burglars pry into garages and homes with impunity. Bicycles get stolen so often that no one with any sense would leave one outside anymore, even with the sturdiest of locks. Drug dealers sell their lethal substances out in the open, just steps from City Hall and the Department of Justice, as users overdose and die in record numbers. Boudin does not seek convictions of fentanyl dealers and instead downgrades their pleas to unrelated misdemeanor charges. Even armed felons who commit homicides are let go. Shoplifting is a daily occurrence in nearly every store, large or small. Victims often don’t bother filing police reports, since no consequences will follow for the thief, even if caught.
It’s not that people feel unsafe in San Francisco—they are unsafe. This distinction is critical. To pretend that people are overreacting, or that criminal activity isn’t occurring, has made the district attorney’s office seem not just inept but abusive. Such political gaslighting has turned people who once may have supported Boudin for his progressive values into detractors who want him out. “Chesa brings violence to our streets” has become a common refrain on Twitter.
With the powerful, wealthy individuals and organizations funding him, will Boudin beat the recall anyway? Not necessarily. Even Boudin donors like Patty Quillin (wife of Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings), Elizabeth Simons (billionaire heiress of the Renaissance Technologies hedge fund), and George Soros himself can’t persuade people to vote their way if the people feel differently. The campaign to save Boudin’s seat is like an embarrassingly bad blockbuster movie. The company can bring in the best directors and producers, hire Oscar-winning actors, and host a spectacular premier—but they can’t make people buy a ticket. A dud is a dud.
No one knows what will happen in June. But to keep his job, Boudin has only two choices: fool the voters into believing that he really is making the city a safer place, or actually make it safer. Odds are he’ll do neither.
Photo by Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images