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The kingmakers in California’s 2020 elections could be independent millennial Latinos

Hispanic voters now make up well over a quarter of all registered voters in California, after a surge of interest in the 2018 election, new data released Tuesday by Univision and political data company L2 shows.

Their research, unveiled at an event in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, reveals that nearly 1.2 million Hispanic citizens registered to vote in the state between 2014 and 2018, an increase of 29 percent. That’s more than double the rate of increase among non-Hispanics in California, which was 13 percent for the same time period. Another way of putting it: 2 in 5 new registered voters in California were Hispanic.

Along with Texas, that represents the largest proportion of new voters of any of the six states the research covered.

The spike in both registration and turnout in 2018 was particularly pronounced among Hispanic millennials those between the ages of 18 and 34 and those Hispanics who registered as “no party preference.”

With one election under their belts, these new, young, independent voters are now positioned to be kingmakers in California’s high-stakes 2020 elections.

Decades of academic research have found that voting is habit-forming: the act of voting in one election makes it far more likely an individual will vote in subsequent elections. It’s one of the reasons Democrats and allied groups worked so hard in 2018 to connect with and turn out young voters in California and particularly young Hispanic voters, demographic groups that have typically low rates of voter participation, especially in midterm elections.

A number of post-election analyses have found that both Hispanic voters and young voters were major factors in California’s historic midterm election turnout in 2018, which was the highest its been in more than 30 years. The data from Univision and L2 reinforces those findings and sheds new light on how the new voters who came out the polls are poised to shape elections in the state, going forward.

Since 2014, the majority of new Hispanic voters in California registered as Democrat. But the percentage of Hispanics who registered as independents, or “no party preference,” saw the biggest jump, from 1.1 million to 1.8 million. Those independent Hispanic voters also had the biggest increase in turnout 200 percent since the last midterm.

A similar pattern emerges for Hispanic voters under the age of 35. Registration leapt 40 percent among that age group, while turnout increased 125 percent for Hispanics aged 18 to 24 and more than 300 percent for the 25 to 34 age bracket.

The Sacramento, San Diego and Fresno regions saw the biggest leaps in Hispanic voter registration in 2018, the Univision and L2 data reveals. Hispanic voter registration was up 46 percent in the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto metropolitan area, the highest of any in the state. And Hispanic voter turnout more than doubled in the region, with young Hispanic voters turning out at three times the rate they did in 2014. In San Diego, Hispanic registration jumped 40 percent and in the Fresno-Visalia metro area it was up by one-third.

Those also happen to be parts of the state where the fight for presidential primary delegates and congressional seats are likely to be most contested. Republicans are aiming to seat two freshmen Democrats who represent congressional districts around Modesto and Fresno, while Democrats are targeting Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of Tulare and Duncan Hunter in San Diego County.

In the presidential race, home-state candidates Kamala Harris, California’s junior senator, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, have deep ties in the Bay Area and a handful of Democrats have made inroads into Los Angeles. But the Central Valley and San Diego region are firmly in play in the state’s presidential primary next March.

Democratic presidential nominee Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, visited Modesto and Yosemite on Tuesday to announce an ambitious climate change agenda.

A majority of the state’s nearly 500 delegates will be awarded based on how candidates finish in congressional districts. Candidates must receive at least 15 percent of the state vote, overall, to receive those delegates.

Independent voters — the fastest growing segment of the state’s voters — are allowed to vote in California’s Democratic primary. A bill being pushed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego could increase how many of them actually participate, including many of the young Hispanics who are now part of California’s electorate.

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