It’s Official: S.F. Just Had the Largest Midterm Voter Turnout Since 1938

Who wants to take bets on 2020 turnout?

Ballots are wheeled in to the Department of Elections for counting. (Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco, prepare to feel smug.

A whopping 74.5 percent of voters in the city turned out for the midterm elections certified on Tuesday, the highest in contemporary history. Nationwide turnout hit 49.4 percent, up from 36.7 percent in the 2014 midterms, according to the United States Election Project.

San Francisco, too, rebounded from a low 2014 midterm turnout when just 53 percent of voters cast ballots. As Democrats painfully learned in 2016, down-ballot power can easily slip through the cracks when your president of choice is at the top for eight years.

The November’s election turnout rivals the 1938 midterm when almost 76 percent of voters turned out. While voters were strongly motivated by President Donald Trump in 2018, San Francisco voters may have been compelled by gubernatorial election and Market Street Railway Purchase proposition in 1938.

But the highest known midterm turnout hit a whopping 83 percent in 1914 when the city had far fewer voters and women didn’t yet have suffrage. (Alas, the San Francisco Public Library doesn’t have those city measures online with the rest but California had propositions on alcohol prohibition, eight-hour work week regulations, abolishing the poll tax,  creating a state water commission, and crackdowns on prostitution that election.) 

It’s worth taking a look at turnout on a neighborhood level. In 2014, the precinct that San Francisco State University falls within had just 11.3 percent midterm voter turnout, the Chronicle reports. That jumped to 61 percent for the 2018 midterms.

Neighborhoods that had particularly high turnout tended to be in the city center, like West Portal and Castro, but strayed out to the Marina and Dogpatch. The southwestern corner of the city, like Bayview-Hunters Point, hovered in the 50 percent range.

As for general election turnout, San Francisco’s all-time high of 86 percent happened in 1960 when John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon for the presidency. If November 2016 saw nearly 81 percent voter turnout in San Francisco, we can only guess how many will turn out in 2020. Any wagers?

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