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Bay Area residents unhappy with region says every poll ever

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Pollsters have said San Franciscans are spoiling to leave—and now it’s more of the same

Dark clouds above glass San Francisco skyscrapers, shot from an extremely low angle. Via Shutterstock

Update: Originally published in March of 2019, this story has been updated to reflect new polling findings.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A new survey, this one commissioned by the San Francisco Foundation and released this week, finds that more and more people are convinced that the Bay Area is headed in the wrong direction and that anxiety over housing is one of the primary drivers.

Survey results like this have become so common since the start of the latest tech boom that it’s becoming hard to remember a time when pollsters weren’t peppering the region with anxiety-related figures every two months.

To help keep it all straight, here’s what polling numbers published since 2018 say:

  • In the newest survey (conducted online in October, with 800 people from San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Contra Costa, and Marin counties), 53 percent of those surveyed say that they feel the Bay Area is “on the wrong track,” up from 45 percent three years ago. Sixty-seven percent of people call themselves “unhappy or worried” about the region, compared to 57 percent in 2016. Additionally, 79 percent said that they feel housing affordability should be the region’s top priority, and 85 percent agreed with the phrase “housing is a basic human need” (although the question stopped short of using the phrase “human right”).
  • In November of 2019, the San Francisco Controller’s Office released additional data from the city’s annual resident survey showing that among those polled, 20 percent say they’re “somewhat likely” to leave in the next three years and another 15 percent say they’re “very likely,” numbers mostly flat compared to the past 15 years. Another 42 percent say they’re “not likely at all” to leave, but the numbers are skewed by age—48 percent of those under 35 considered themselves at least “somewhat likely” to relocate, versus just 22 percent of those 55 or older.
  • A March 2019 poll of 1,568 registered voters in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties conducted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group for Bay Area News Group found that 44 percent of those asked say they plan to leave the region, “but only six percent say they have definite plans to leave in 2019.” Of those polled, 60 percent cited housing costs as the reason most likely to drive them away, with “cost of living overall” the second most likely rationale at 57 percent.
  • Online real estate company Redfin posts quarterly “migration reports” every few months, estimating how many of its users are shopping for homes in other cities and ranking which metros have the highest likely “outflow.” Ever since Redfin began this tally, San Francisco (a term Redfin applies to the Bay Area as a whole) has ranked in the No. 1 spot, but in the most report for Q3 2019 New York nudged SF off the top, nearly doubling San Francisco’s outbound search rating of 20.6 percent. As Curbed SF noted before, it’s impossible to tell how many SF Redfin users actually take the plunge, go into escrow, and leave.
  • In February, 2019 Chicago-based public relations firm Edelman released its annual Trust Barometer for California, which surveyed 1,500 California residents, including 500 from the Bay Area. Of those asked, 53 percent of Californians say they are considering leaving the state, including 50 percent of Bay Area residents. Tellingly, among Bay Area millennials, the total was 66 percent. For residents with children (under 18 years of age), the figure was 63 percent.
  • Also in February, regional think tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley released its annual Silicon Valley Index and found that “for the third year in a row, people are moving out of Silicon Valley nearly as quickly as they are moving in.”
  • In August of 2018, Washington DC-based non-profit the Public Religion Research Institute surveyed 3,300 Californians and found that 64 percent of residents statewide would advise out-of-towners to move to some other state. However, in a surprise bit of optimism, 55 percent of Bay Area residents said they would tell others to come to California for opportunities despite the gloomy attitudes of neighboring regions.
  • In June of last year, the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy advocacy group, released results of its annual survey of 1,000 Bay Area households, including 120 from SF. In those results, 46 percent of respondents said they were “likely to move out of the Bay Area in the next few years.” For the 2017 survey, that same figure was just 40 percent. One year prior, the number was 36 percent. The high cost of housing was the most commonly cited complaint about the region.
  • In February 2018, another Edelman poll found that 49 percent of 500 Bay Area residents questioned agreed with this statement: “I am considering moving away from California because of the high cost of living.”

And that’s just in the past year; polling stretching back through previous years shows a persistent trend toward pessimism, housing anxiety, and speculation about abandoning San Francisco, the Bay Area, and the entire state of California.

Despite denizens' desires to vacate the area, San Francisco’s population continues to grow, although growth has slowed significantly in recent years.