New polling project releases first results

How do Bay Area residents define their community and the issues that are most important to them? A San Francisco State University project launched last year has now released its first set of results.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Marcela Garcia-Castañon

Assistant Professor of Political Science Marcela Garcia-Castañon

The Bay Area Research Initiative is a polling center run by Marcela Garcia-Castañon and Jason McDaniel, both assistant professors of political science at SF State. With the help of political science students, they began surveying Bay Area residents last fall. Internet surveys continued throughout the spring, and the initial results were released earlier this summer.

The goal is to create a political research center focused specifically on the region at large -- as opposed to other projects that either take a narrower look just at the city of San Francisco or a wider look at the state of California or nation -- to learn how Bay Area residents feel about the issues most important to them.

The project's first survey results, centered around the issues of law enforcement, immigration and community investment, show that Bay Area residents are overwhelmingly in favor of instituting body cameras on police and law enforcement agents.

Among other findings:

  • Eighty-three percent of respondents feel neighborhoods are equally protected by law enforcement. Whites and Latinos were more likely to agree with this statement (84 percent and 82 percent, respectively), and blacks were least likely (70 percent).
  • While the majority of respondents reported having positive police interactions, only 40 percent of blacks indicated positive contact. Fifty-three percent of all respondents had confidence in the law enforcement system overall.
  • Only 20 percent of respondents said they personally knew an undocumented or detained immigrant. Thirty-five percent said immigration-related experiences affected them indirectly.
  • Seventy-one percent of Bay Area residents felt close to or invested in their neighborhood, 69 percent felt close to or invested in their city, and 73 percent felt close to or invested in the state of California.

The last finding is indicative of Garcia-Castañon and McDaniel's desire to go beyond demographics and hot-button issues to ask broader questions of community and belonging, such as whether living in a diverse area affects residents' feelings of community cohesion and how different neighborhoods interact.

"At the core of the project is finding out whether people who live in the Bay Area see their community as representing themselves, and whether or not they fit the community they live in," said Garcia-Castañon.

One example, she added, is how various communities organize themselves for political action.

"Participation reflects the community. Oakland and Berkeley may both have participatory communities, but they engage with the political system through different activities," Garcia-Castañon said. "You may have protests about housing in both, but they'll reflect different behaviors. One community may rely on visible behaviors like rallies or marches, the other may focus on electoral outcomes or ballot initiatives. They both engage their respective governments, but the level of participation -- formal versus informal -- may affect the visibility of that behavior."

The Bay Area Research Initiative plans to resume its polling activities after the Fall 2015 semester begins.