San Jose spotlight: Poll - San Jose voters overwhelmingly support moving mayoral election, limiting campaign cash

by Staff Reports
September 11, 2019

A new poll released Wednesday found 80 percent of San Jose voters would support a measure to limit campaign contributions and move mayoral elections to presidential years to boost voter turnout.

The three-day poll was funded by the campaign supporting the measure, called The Fair Elections Initiative. 504 likely Nov. 2020 voters were surveyed.

The labor-backed initiative would prohibit mayoral and city council candidates from accepting donations from lobbyists, anyone who’s received city contracts equaling more than $250,000 and large residential or for-profit developers. It would also move mayoral elections to presidential years in an effort to attract a higher concentration of voters, particularly minorities and communities of color.

Labor leaders in July filed papers to launch the initiative. Now they’re in the process of collecting the required 36,000 signatures to place it on the ballot next year.

Garrick Percival, associate professor of political science at San Jose State University, said moving the elections to a presidential year can increase voter turnout by about 30 to 35 percent, citing citywide turnout data from gubernatorial and presidential elections.

The poll results found that even after hearing arguments against the measure, 74 percent of those surveyed still voiced support.

“The survey results strongly indicate that voters in San Jose place a high value on boosting participation rates in the city’s mayoral elections,” Percival said in a statement. “In doing so, voters are expressing their support for efforts designed to strengthen our local democratic institutions. It shows that voters value the idea of having a broader, more inclusive, electorate choose who serves in one of the city’s most important elected positions.”

But business leaders and the city council’s conservative faction criticized the measure for not including labor unions on the list of prohibited donors. Mayor Sam Liccardo also expressed concern with the mayoral election getting lost amid high profile presidential elections, and voters not paying attention to the local race.

“While I appreciate the importance of voter turnout… it’s critical that our mayoral election focuses on San Jose’s own local issues and challenges, without the distraction of the chronic dysfunction of national politics,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight in April.

Currently, San Jose’s even-numbered council districts are up for election in presidential years. Its odd-numbered districts have their elections coincide with midterm elections. No local elections in Santa Clara County are held in odd-numbered years.

Liccardo himself won the mayor’s office in Nov. 2014, a non-presidential year, with just 2,750 votes — about 1.5 percentage points — over Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese. A higher turnout, some political analysts said, could have changed the results of that election and those before him.

There are about 434,000 registered voters in the city, Percival said, and only 36 percent voted for mayor during the most recent mayoral election. On the contrary, 81 percent voted on local policy measures during the 2016 presidential election.