San Diegans Are Worried, But They Have Not Lost Trust

Politics

San Diegans Are Worried, But They Have Not Lost Trust

As we process the Election Night results, we wanted San Diego residents to have a baseline – a benchmark reflection of where San Diegans stand on challenges from schools to the border to the crisis in trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Clockwise, top right: Homeless residents sheltered at the Convention Center during the pandemic, San Diego Police officers barricade a downtown street during a recent racial justice protest, a student at Magnolia Elementary works on a class assignment, and health care workers with Family Health Centers of San Diego stand ready to help patients at a coronavirus testing center. / Photos by Adriana Heldiz

Outside the county of San Diego’s headquarters along the waterfront, protestors often demonstrate frustrations that things like live events and youth sports competitions are not allowed. There’s ongoing discontent about the quality of information the county is releasing about its response to the pandemic and why and where outbreaks occur.

Every few weeks we’re reminded, through some kind of stumble or head-scratching contradiction, that this is our first pandemic.

Residents, though, are being very patient and supportive of the county. Fully 68 percent of those surveyed in our poll of San Diegans strongly or somewhat approve of the way the county has handled COVID-19. Voice of San Diego commissioned the Voice Poll from FM3 Research. The county had higher approval ratings in its handling of the virus than the state and far better than the federal government.

Even a majority of self-identified conservatives approved of the way the county has handled the pandemic. Fifty-three percent of people who identified as conservatives said they approved or strongly approved of the county’s response to the virus compared to 71 percent of liberals and 74 percent of moderates.

They may approve but that doesn’t mean they aren’t very concerned.

As we process the Election Night results, we wanted San Diego residents to have a baseline – a benchmark reflection of where San Diegans stand on challenges we’re all dealing with now, from schools to the closed border to the crisis in trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. That’s what led to The Voice Poll.

What better way to hold leadership accountable than to measure what residents are concerned about and see if it improves?

Over the past few days, we have done several stories on the poll. But here are the full results so you can peruse the hundreds of pages of data we have: the full poll, the full crosstabs and the full matrix. (Feel free to email me at scott@voiceofsandiego.org if you notice anything interesting in the data. Remember, the samples of just the county supervisor race and just the city of San Diego do not necessarily reflect the broader regional poll.)

To explain a bit more: We essentially did three polls with 1,200 responses: We tested the District 3 race for county supervisor between Kristin Gaspar and Terra Lawson-Remer. We tested the mayor’s race in the city of San Diego between Barbara Bry and Todd Gloria. In both of those samples we asked some of the questions we asked to a large group of 712 county residents from across the region.

The Biggest Concerns

One of the things we learned: County residents consider the economic impacts of the pandemic the most serious problem facing the region — more pressing than the health impacts of COVID-19. Right behind that: housing and homelessness.

Eighty-five percent of the respondents cited the economic effects of the pandemic as a very or extremely serious problem, while 67 percent said the same for the virus’ health impacts.

To County Supervisor Jim Desmond, this was a validating finding.

“We feel all businesses should be able to safely reopen,” he wrote in an email. While most businesses can operate, there are restrictions on how many customers can be inside. Live events (concerts, weddings, etc.) are on hiatus indefinitely.

For months, Desmond has been making the case on his podcast and from his seat on the Board of Supervisors that public health officials should loosen their restrictions. He even advocated last month that the county stop enforcing the rules.

But the approval of the county’s, and even the state’s, response to the virus indicates a more nuanced view: Yes, residents are upset about the economic crisis the region is facing but they have endorsed the county’s effort to contain it.

Jim Gerber, an economics professor at SDSU, said this debate is not one about individual liberties.

“You don’t have a right to dump pollution into the community’s water supply,” he said, comparing adherence to COVID-19 health restrictions to other issues. “You don’t have a right to drive through stop signs. There are a lot of things you cannot do because it harms other people. This is one of those things.”

Other Concerns Aren’t Minor

Fewer residents said police mistreatment of people of color and lack of access to public transit were very or extremely concerning. Of the people surveyed, 44 percent said police mistreatment was extremely or very concerning and just 32 percent said that about access to public transportation.

But if 44 percent of San Diegans are extremely or very concerned about people of color’s experience with law enforcement, that would represent well more than 1 million adults. Indeed, when we dug further, people were willing to consider significant budget changes to reallocate funding from police departments and the sheriff’s department and toward other public services to address mental health problems in the streets or other situations where law enforcement is the primary response now.

Rosa Olascoaga, a community organizer with Mid-City CAN and transportation justice activist, said she’s noticed that issues regarding public transportation are often ignored by the general public, but they remain integral to communities of color and working-class families who don’t have the option of using a car. According to a 2019 study of San Diego’s transit system, riders are predominantly people of color, with White people making up only 30 percent of ridership.

Although public transit wound up at the bottom of the list, Olascoaga said it’s directly related to many of the other major problems that registered as more serious concerns. More than 50 percent of respondents cited environmental concerns like wildfires, pollution and climate change as very or extremely serious problems, but they all related to and are exacerbated by a lack of public transit. Transportation, she argued, is inherently an environmental issue.

“We need to change how we get around,” she said. “It all goes back to the climate crisis.”

Another nuance: On almost all these issues, women were far more worried than men. Our Sara Libby explored why that may be.

The Institutions We Trust

We also asked San Diegans to rate, on a scale of 1 to 7, how much they trust some institutions and agencies.

The military and police agencies did quite well as a whole.

And Then There Are Schools

One of the hardest problems for local governments to solve since the pandemic set in has been children: Are they safe at schools? Are the people who work with them safe at schools? What about daycare?

In the chaos, some schools have opened. Some daycares have opened actually at schools. Private schools have opened but the region’s largest public school districts have remained largely closed to in-person learning.

People, it turns out, are torn.

They’re desperately worried about kids falling behind. But they are also concerned about the risk of the virus.

And while 54 percent of respondents felt like the quality of K-12 education was an extremely or very serious problem, the results were quite different for different groups of people. Latinos were far more concerned about it than Whites.

That said, a majority of people were not willing to blame school districts. About 59 percent said they strongly or somewhat approved of how their local school district has responded to the pandemic. There was only a 1-point difference (58 percent approval) when you broke out people who have kids from the broader group of respondents.

Takeaways

What seems most clear from the poll is that San Diego residents are very worried about the economy, the availability of homes they can afford and the poverty on display on our streets. They’re worried about schools and kids. They’re worried about public health.

There are some big differences in these worries among people of color and between men and women.

But people have not lost trust in the institutions that are charting our future – and the future leaders of those are on the ballot Tuesday.

What do you think?
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