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Fueled by negative sentiment toward the federal government and President Trump, young people are expected to turn out in record numbers in the upcoming election. A new poll by released this week by Harvard University added fuel to that outlook, suggesting that 40 percent of voters under 30 planned to cast a ballot in a congressional race by Nov. 6.
The forecast does not bode well for other parts of California, experts say, where the stakes are not as high and there’s little or no connection to Washington D.C.
Early figures suggest that voters in Sacramento County are casting ballots at a faster pace than during the same time during the primary. Eight days before the June primary election, there were slightly more than 50,000 votes casts, according to figures tracked by the firm Political Data Inc.
The latest numbers for the general election show more than 120,000 people have already voted. That represents about 16 percent of the electorate. Still, the youth vote, meaning those between the ages 18 and 34, has lagged compared with older age groups, the data show.
“In general, there’s a big gap between (the) intention to vote and actually voting. A bigger gap among young people than among older people,” said Laura Stoker, a UC Berkeley professor who studies political attitudes and behavior.
“The intention to vote can be misleading and represents enthusiasm. Usually, it is the case that the closeness of the election does have some bearing on turnout rates.”
There’s no high-stakes congressional fight in Sacramento but younger voters have already cast about 7,300 more ballots for the general election than the primary — a 2 percent difference.
Voter turnout all boils down to motivation and mechanics, said Paul Mitchell, a consultant and vice president for Political Data Inc. The motivational factors are influenced by the voters’ emotional connection to a race or issue and the mechanics include marketing and other get-out-the-vote efforts like knocking on doors.
“If you pick any congressional district that is competitive, you’ll see that they are vastly outperforming the primary — where there is a connection between the vote and what’s happening in Washington DC,” Mitchell said. “In Sacramento, there is isn’t as much of a connection. If the motivation was coming from state issues, we would see higher turnout statewide.”
It’s still unclear what else could drive turnout during this election, with numerous ballot measures and a gubernatorial race on the ticket. But Stoker said she expected turnout to be higher than usual since the election has been “hyped for so long,” particularly among Democrats.
“Because of the hype on the election and the antipathy towards President Donald Trump among many young people, I think that could produce a slightly tighter connection between intention to vote and actually voting than we usually see,” Stoker said. “Again, there is a big gap among young people.”